Texts Index | Playing in the black box | Playing in the perceptual fields:
Conversation | Exhibition Review 

The scars on the vidicon tube represent a kind of knowledge. If an inanimate system can be said to have self-awareness, this is where it resides: embodied in the burn hieroglyphs of the damaged phosphors is a memory that will be imposed on every new subject placed before that camera until its tube is replaced with a fresh one that has not yet been exposed to the shock of its own limitations.   
-Mary Lucier 

One rainy day in 1919, finding myself on a village on the Rhine, I was struck by the obsession which held under my gaze the pages of an illustrated catalogue showing objects designed for anthropologic, microscopic, psychologic, mineralogic, and paleontologic demonstration. There I found brought together elements of figuration so remote that the sheer absurdity of that collection provoked a sudden intensification of the visionary faculties in me and brought forth an illusive succession of contradictory images, double, triple, and multiple images, piling up on each other with the persisitance and rapidity which are particular to love memories and visions of half-sleep.   
     -Max Ernst 

chaos, in Greek mythology, the vacant, unfathomable space out of which everything arose. In the Olympian myth Gaea sprang from Chaos and became the mother of all things 
     -The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia 

. . . one can see video's ability to spatialize time and temporalize space as potentially a means to continue the dissection of the apprehension and meaning of an event.      -Maureen Turim  

Unlike any other visual image, a photograph is not a rendering, an imitation or an interpretation of its subject, but actually a trace of it  
     -John Berger  

The Photograph then becomes a bizarre medium, a new form of hallucination: false on the level of perception, true on the level of time: a temporal hallucination, so to speak, a modest, shared hallucination (on the one hand "it is not there," on the other "but it has indeed been"): a mad image, chafed by reality.   
     -Roland Barthes 

As artists deconstruct particular digital effects and attempt to explore their metaphoric and narrative meaning, they take steps toward the construction of a syntax. Hence, properties take on meaning as codes. What does it mean to use slow motion? What kind of meaning do certain digital effects impart - the potential of turning a moving image into a two-dimensional sheet that can be manipulated on the screen or the seemingly limitless possibilities of combining images within the frame?  
     -Marita Sturken 

A thought is a function of time, a pattern of growth, and not the "thing" that the lens of the printed word seems to objectify. It is more like a cloud than a rock, although its effects can be just as long lasting as a block of stone, and its aging subject to the similar process of destructive erosion and constructive edification. Duration is the medium that makes thought possible, therefore duration is to consciousness as light is to the eye.   
     -Bill Viola 

The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite sensations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.   
     -Mark Rothko, 1947 

In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.   
     -Susan Sontag 

Psychologically speaking, to discover something mysterious in objects is a system of cerebral abnormality related to certain kinds of insanity. I believe, however, that such abnormal moments can be found in everyone, and it is all the more fortunate when they occur in individuals with creative talent or with clairvoyant powers. Art is the fatal net which catches these strange moments on the wing like mysterious butterflies fleeing the innocence and distraction of common men.   
     -Giorgio di Chirico 

I am the reference of every photograph, and this is what generates my astonishment in adressing myself to the fundamental question: why is it that I am alive here and now?   
     -Roland Barthes


Bruce Hanks is trying to get in there and play with the phosphorescent blip of light that crosses the cathode ray tube, the screen on his monitor. He starts with a little piece of video, something incidental, a public event, a family outing. Hanks extracts a phrase of movement, a gesture, a jump, something windblown caught on videotape. This moving image of a motion is digitized by the computer and then it is trapped: a fraction of an instant in the blip's volatile trajectory is frozen.  

This is the critical moment of choice, the risk that rejects what came before and refuses to wait for what will come next. Hanks is looking for the trace that will be his to order. All is flux and chaos in the rythmic flow of the electronic impulse until Hanks induces a slow freeze and the screen churns like raspberry-chocolate- pistachio ripple ice cream, delicately veiled with the fine moiré of the grid-like reticulation of the cathode ray tube itself. He gridlocks the flux. Time and motion are arrested in the micro-electronic floodlight. It's a pinball game that requires acute eye-hand coordination to flip the ball and respond to the flashing lights, the bells and whistles. The flickering image gels, the form between the forms, in a moment of organic becoming. Holding the flux, suspended as time and space shift, mind out of body, an altered state of conciousness. Thought, image, intimacy and real time.  

Then he plays with the chosen fragment, toasts it with colour, replication and brightness. More choices. Whatever the original image once represented is now submerged, evaporated, transformed. What remains is luminous, out of time, in no space that ever existed. 

Finally Hanks photographs the image on the screen. As he puts it, this is the cheapest and most convenient form of reproduction for the stilled image on the monitor. We need the hard copy and, after all, this is about sharing. The photos are dramatic and huge but their size does not quite make up for the lost luminescence. Backlit in the duratrans the photographs have some of the glow of the video monitor but it is the original object, the image on the cathode ray tube, that is the closest to Hanks' vision; that is where he wants to take us. A place he's been and found awesome, dangerous, seductive. 

Hanks chases after the electronic beam that resonates inside the black box (a firefly in a glass jar); trying to see fast enough to watch the image as it happens, as it creates itself in the milky light. Pixillation is his brush, a scintillating fuse, a sparkler, a wand. The light is his paint; the tube is a canvas.  

But the resulting images are disorienting and mysterious to the viewer. The old laws of painting, art history and visual analysis cannot be applied to these works. Surface and depth are merged here and the light is virtual, not depicted. These are not portraits, still lives or even landscapes. They cannot be psychoanalysed; they do not resemble natural appearances. This is not TV even if it does happen on a monitor. This is creative image-making that resists television, that liberates us from the tyranny of commercial broadcast programming. And it's not video art either: Hanks apprehends the moving image and fixes it; the kinetic is transfixed as a photograph. The electronic pulse is made manifest as structure: the matrix of the cathode ray tube is made visible and the flicker is made tangible.  

These photographs are metaphors for movement. Hanks is trying to recreate the motion of video as a still, technologically extending us beyond the adventures of Edward Muybridge, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Norman McLaren and Jules Verne.  

Some secret visual memory (that fragment of videotape) lies in the back of Hanks' mind (the back of the black box) and is whirled around like molten glass, like a torch swallowed by a fire-eater, like silken scarves in the hands of a magician, to appear before our eyes as the tangible image of an impossible dreamscape. (Lucifer is also the planet Venus, the morning star, and the sudden flaring of a match.) Hanks' photographs are haunting and luscious. My eye travels up and down, in and out and through as the colour washes over me. Mountainous petrified layers; transparent skylike openings; vast oceans of turbulance. Why are these geographies so compelling? Perhaps occasionally, remotely, they evoke subliminal memories of our previous spatial and temporal experience. They may not look like anything in nature but they do exist.  

Perhaps that is why they are truly marvellous: because we've never seen anything like them before. As surprising as photos from space, or from deep inside the human body, these images offer us new visual information, perceptual and sensual discoveries, experiences from a new frontier, knowledge unforeseen.  

University of Winnipeg   


Works Cited 

Levey, Judith S. and Agnes Greenhall. The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. New York: Avon Books, 1983. 

Barthes, Roland. Camera Lucida. Reflections on Photography. London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1981: 84 and 115. 

Berger, John. About Looking. London: Writers and Readers Publishing Cooperative, Ltd., 1980: 50 

Chirico, Giorgio di. "On Metaphysical Art, 1919."  In Herschel B. Chipp. Theories of Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968: 448. 

Ernst, Max. "What is the mechanism of Collage? 1936"  In Herschel B. Chipp. Theories of Modern Art. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968: 427. 

Lucier, Mary. "Light and Death." In Hall, Doug and Sally Jo Fifer. Illuminating Video. An Essential Guide to Video Art. Aperture in association with the Bay Area Video Coalition. n.d.: 459. 

Rothko, Mark. In Hughes, Robert. The Shock of the New. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987: 262. 

Sontag, Susan. "Against Interpretation." A Susan Sontag Reader. Penguin (UK), 1983: 104. 

Sturken, Marita. "Paradox in the Evolution of an Art Form: Great Expectations and the Making of a History." In Hall, Doug and Sally Jo Fifer. Illuminating Video. An Essential Guide to Video Art. Aperture in association with the Bay Area Video Coalition. n.d.: 118. 

Turim, Maureen. "The Cultural Logic of Video." In Hall, Doug and Sally Jo Fifer. Illuminating Video. An Essential Guide to Video Art. Aperture in association with the Bay Area Video Coalition. n.d.: 339. 

Viola, Bill. "Video Black - The Morality of the Image." In Hall, Doug and Sally Jo Fifer. Illuminating Video. An Essential Guide to Video Art. Aperture in association with the Bay Area Video Coalition. n.d.: 482. 

Texts Index | Playing in the black box | Playing in the perceptual fields:
Conversation | Exhibition Review