Kimberley O’Neill, Fall Breaks Back into Winter (A Cover Version), 2018. Video, 5 min 24 sec
Two large sound monitors positioned at either side of The Anatomy Room’s project space have a distinctly commandeering presence, erected taller than most in the room. Their large black bodies are almost monolithic, cradled upon elegant tripods and fed energy from a mass of cabling grouped along the periphery of the flooring towards a central amp. A distinct yet persistent buzz of audio feedback agitates and underlies the discussions had during Technologies of the Self.
At times this punctuates or interrupts the conversation, negotiated with through a series of movements of hands or MacBooks, sticking in the mechanics of my ears. When I ease into their crunched dialogue it’s as if they are communicating the volume of the space in which they can orate. You are sitting at this angle from me, they ascertain, but do you also notice the echo of the corridor behind you to the right? We are also present here, as well as in the reverb between its walls and the nape of your neck.
Often it is difficult to separate conceptions of technologies from our knowledge of them as consumable objects, understood through their marketed images rendered floating in pristine graphic planes outside of interaction, beyond the body. This erasure of the proximity between our bodies and technology is confronted in Kimberley O’Neill’s opening presentation. A skeleton records then re-records TV programmes continually in a Scotch VHS tape advert, presenting a medium which outlasts the human – or as O’Neill puts it ‘death for the human, life for the media’. Gifs show repetitions of Garret Brown (creator of the Steadicam camera) scaling sets of stairs with his initial Steadicam model encasing his frame. Each example presents technologies positioned in opposition to the faults of the corporeal, erasing its shakes and finitude in support of the media rather than the mediated.
The works chosen by O’Neill establish a practice of subjectivity within moving image that is in opposition to this diffusing of the human, performed not through, or around the camera, as in the previous examples, but within the touching points between producer and their production systems. In each film there is a surrendering to the abruptness of a narrative arch or recording device rubbing against its conditioning, wherein these contact points create visual feedback loops of response and entanglement.
Jenna Collins’ We Are The Road (2018) is perhaps the work which most directly explores thematically an encompassing entangled relationship with technologies. Titled in reference to The Whole Earth Catalogue publisher Stewart Brand’s statement, ‘Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road’, Collins’ film places image artefacts within the setting of a shopping mall, her handheld camera shifting between the two to create a quivering displacement of scale. Various holographic pictures held close to the camera are rotated, their scratched surfaces shifting from a cod silver through to iridescent fields of copper reds, yellow and then in sharp focus the globe rendered a collection of rainbow hues.
I am reminded of flooding moments where my perception somehow feels expanded upon encountering new technologies as Collins’ breathy dialogue describes an entranced experience of increased definition of image quality. The tilt-shifting of We Are The Road, that moves upwards from the macro details of imagery to the disjointed setting of the mall feels like the encasing of systems upon you, pressed close to its interface.
Steina Vasulka seemingly films from within this compression of infrastructures. Her body impacts with the camera through a series of actions utilising extensions, lens mirrors and attachments to explore a collaborative dialogue with this device. Summer Salt’s extreme point-of-view shots from the exterior of a moving car, high above as well as near its wheel pushing through an off-road field and blades of tall plants thwacking the lens, build a gestural language which seeks to narrate a whole environment understood within the framework of video.
O’Neill similarly uses a physical approach to filming Fall Breaks Back Into Winter (A Cover Version) to create around the destabilising process of illness, where one’s own body can take on the characteristics of a foreign object. In a series of shots of O’Neill’s body crashing against flooring, jolting the frame, there is a sense of seeking to create a vocabulary of bodily weight or force, understood by its volatile affects upon the camera. Yellow bands of text, similar to news alerts, run across O’Neill’s film that read; ‘The ear is the organ of fear, collision leads to collusion.’ contextualizing a growing alienation to one’s own body, or towards a narration around our health.
Siân Robinson Davies’ Penis and Credit Card picks at the mysticism deployed in the articulation of services through a comically unraveling poetic exchange around contactless payments. Credit Card (I’ve assumed the character’s names within this work) deploys typically evasive tech speak of spiritual energy and social connections to describe a lot of nothing, suggesting even that it is ‘beyond language’; Penis opts for more material reference points – the touch of soft cotton, humid air and strong attractions slipping away from you – before being shut down in this gendered exchange of analogies, ‘No, I don’t think you’ve quite got it’.
The collective silent gestation period which follows the screening of Wendelien van Oldenborgh’s Instruction, carried by the continual hum of those monitors, mirrored a difficulty of positioning subjectively within myriad systemic architectures which now encase individual identification and experience. Casting young members of The Netherlands’ armed forces within the roles of media, field reports and statements surrounding the institutionalised actions of soldiers during the countries intervention in Indonesia following the Second World War, we are dropped into a tense repulsion of inheriting responsibility for historic trauma. Shifting from acted dialogue through to debate of the material, similar in format to the evening screening, I leave The Anatomy Rooms* with a tense knot of thoughts around how spaces such as that building have rendered bodies as an apparatus of studied hardware, how the monitors’ speech fits in the shape of my ears and why I now read apparatus of technologies as authoring agents within contemporary narratives.
The Anatomy Rooms, an artists’ studio complex, is situated within what was once the University of Aberdeen’s Anatomy Department (until March 2009).
Donald Butler is an artist based in Aberdeen and a co-founder and committee member of the artist run organisation Tendency Towards. Through the use of various imaging technologies, video, photography and text his practice documents the experience of existing within a connected mass, and the implications of networked technologies and communication on individual experiences of place, inter-personal relationships and of communities.
This text was commissioned as a response to the SUPERLUX Screening and Discussion with Kimberley O’Neill: Technologies Of The Self that took place at the Anatomy Rooms, Aberdeen on Wednesday 27 March 2019. Both text and screening are part of LUX Scotland’s pilot programme of events in Aberdeen, supported by Aberdeen City Council’s Creative Funding Programme.