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Fragments of an Unfinished Tale about the „Hybrids of Space-Time”

Published in: „Izabela Gustowska. 66 Persons Search for Iza G.”. Poznań 2012. 

Intro

… this text is but a fragment, a small part (or perhaps a particle); just as Hybrids of Space-Time are only a fragment of a larger whole – the Strings of Time, while these are only a fragment of the continually expanding oeuvre of Izabella Gustowska. In turn, Gustowska herself, as well as the author of these words are a fragment, or rather a piece of the whole which, unfathomable and indescribable exists solely as the potentiality of existence. Virtually? 

 

When discussing virtual reality, one often forgets that the ‘virtual’ is principally (with semantics in mind) – the real, the true, the actual. Gustowska’s virtual world is as much virtual as it is real. Zbigniew Rybczyński would at times make perverse remarks about the realness in audiovisual communication – after all, Mickey Mouse is just as real as other figures from the world of film, while the latter are possibly much more real than historical figures. And this is not about Baudrillard’s simulacra, but about a matter-of-fact assessment of the world we live in. The reference to the world of film is not incidental, as it plays a considerable role in the artist’s project.

            Film(s) and cinema as a reservoir of memory, a reference library of motifs, even less remote today since it is available at will via DVD/Blue-ray, video-on-demand services or network streaming. At will, or rather at a call. Just as once people used to raise spirits, now they invoke images from the past. These images may function not only as mental images; more and more frequently, as holograms for instance, they exist and are perceived as exposed spectres from the past, or perhaps from that n-multivalue reality, for which the four dimensions of conventional perception are insufficient.  Such a vision may be particularly attractive for the artist. The string theory, or a potential theory of everything presupposes existence of ten or even twenty six dimensions (twenty five spatial and a temporal one). Its critics claim that it is a return to pre-Baconian methodology of science, which is one which dispenses with experimental procedures. Consequently, neither can it be validated nor disproved. String theory is echoed in the Strings of Time, not as direct reference, but rather as a fuel for the artist’s imagination, unconstrained by the requirements of ‘scientific correctness’. An artist who remembers the perverse admission of an outstanding scientist, expert in AI and robotics, Steve Grand, who said that ‘the thing I’m most optimistic about is the strong possibility that we’ve got everything horribly wrong. All of it. Badly.’[1] It seems to us we know what the research procedures are all about, while it turns out that the problems do not stem from the assessment of specific facts but from the cognitive premises we apply. Kuhn’s diagnoses, concerning the (changes of) scientific paradigms, appear to be valid still.

             Let us return for a moment to the holographic 3D images – at Coachella Festival, the lifelike figure of a rapper who died several years ago, Tupac Shakur, appears on the stage. Lifelike, or simply returned to life, next to such stars as Dr Dre or Snoop Dogg. He appears from a different space, perhaps from a different, technologically engineered string of time. Materialised in an audiovisual show. It is an encounter with the ‘spirit’ but also a very actual manifestation of the coincidence of the virtual with the real and vice versa. The already quoted Rybczyński brilliantly anticipated these possibilities of not only mental but also actual meeting with the close ones, who now exist only in the virtual dimension. He would give the following answer to the question whether new technologies would bring the dead to life:

It may be one of the uses of such technology, it’s certain to be so. Such are our dreams – eternal. For this end, we look at photographs or watch videos today. Tomorrow we will be able to meet our dear departed in virtual reality”.[2]

Is it not something that the project Hybrids of Space-Time concerns as well?

            In order to be able to describe and interpret it fully, one has to realise that it is a crowning of sorts of the Strings of Time series, which Gustowska has worked on since 2008.  As the artist intended, it entails three principal components: the completed (albeit so far not shown) spaces dedicated to The Case of Edward H., The Case of Iza G. and the unfinished part of the project The Case of Josephine H. Edward Hopper, Iza Gustowska and once again Hopper, Josephine, Edward’s wife, actually forgotten as an artist, though having her own creative achievements and exerting a great influence on the work of her better known husband for over four decades. The decision to present Hybrids of Space-Time may seem risky, as the earlier spaces are an indispensable element of the whole, which was designed as a kind of journey through successive domains, crowned by Hybrids of Space-Time. Exhibited for the first time at the Manhattan Gallery in Łódź (May – June 2012) and during Mediations Biennale in Poznań (September – October 2012), as part of the accompanying exhibition Unknown Territories at Old Brewery’s Słodownia, the work evolves, although the display conditions do not change its essential shape.

            Its present form heralds the scale of the project. It maybe treated as an anticipatory advance notice of what the viewers of the presentation will see in the future, when (?) the entire project is shown in full. It is a kind of retrograde narrative, which does not have to disrupt the order and diachrony of cognition, since we know anyway that we are in a multidimensional synchrony of events, in those strings which one day will allow us to return to the past and approach it as a parallel space of our present. A space with distorted logic or else devoid of chronology, not linear, but cyclic and circular memory which within itself, in that very same timeless moment, combines that which is with that which was and what will be.   It is a metaphysical string of time – perhaps scientists would smile indulgingly on such a disquisition. But it is the artists who have the right and to put it bluntly, the obligation to move about in such speculative complexities of other dimensions and other times. One perfectly aware of it was the Drohobycz recluse and a great creator of ‘another reality’ Brunon Schulz, when in the Noc wielkiego sezonu he wrote that sometimes ‘there grows out somehow a thirteenth, false month’, adding in Genialna epoka that there exist such events ‘which do not have their own place in time […]. Can it be that time is too narrow to hold all events? May this be that all places in time have already been sold out […]. Has the reader heard about parallel streams of time in double-track time?’ And putting a point to his philosophical speculations: ‘Yes, there are such side branches of time; admittedly somewhat illegal and problematic […]’[3]. Let us only add that his brilliant intuition suggested something to him that the crowds of most advanced physicists now puzzle over: people who do not have to resort to literary metaphors since they study the most real quandaries of the universe.

            What strikes one in the case of the artist’s latest series, is the scale of the undertaking. Already with regard to SHE-ONA. Media Story (2008), one of the commentators observed that ‘the work may be considered the largest multimedia work in Polish art to date’[4]. The proportions of Strings of Time also leave none unimpressed: the first space (The Case of Edward H.) makes use of over forty plasma displays, the second (The Case of Iza G.) thirteen, the fourth space (The Case of Josephine H.) will feature several monitors as well, while Hybrids of Space-Time consist of one large central projection and over thirty small display screens. Still, there is something that may be more important – offering the viewers a complex narrative network whose structure is hypertextual, or hyper-mediatic, inviting one to devise, on their own, an infinite number of interpretations of the tale which, to use Borges’ metaphor, assumes the form of ‘the garden of forking paths’.

            In a folder accompanying the presentation of SHE at the Old Slaughterhouse, during 2008 Malta Theatre Festival, Gustowska explained her intentions thus:

 If I had not filmed all those women, I wouldn’t have believed that they were so intense, palpable, and so real. With this conviction I brought them back, this time to a virtual world. Media Story is not the contrived theatricality of the performance but a life merely glimpsed, fragmentary, chaotic, not subordinated to any stage rules. Because this is not theatre. It is the viewer who arranges his media story from fragments, films, texts, surveillance material. [5]

Hybrids are a little different – the viewer also has to reconstruct, or devise ‘their own story’ from the ready-made elements, though not from actual persons caught by (hidden) camera, but from short fragments displayed on small circular screens, showing looped stories composed of interwoven found footage and recordings made by the artist in various locations. These, in turn, appear in different configurations in earlier spaces. ‘In those repetitions of repetitions, SHE hides somewhere’[6] – writes the artist in the aforementioned commentary to SHE. This time however, the person in question is Izabela Gustowska, who made herself the heroine of the second space in the Strings of Time.

            The original formula according to which the found footage was reworked (colour, sound) continues and develops the technique and devices used previously in the multimedia installation The Art of Hard Choice (2006), which features 24 various sound sequences from videos and fragments of approximately 60 films[7]. Consequently, 54 round Plexiglas objects were made, showing presented images in a looped sequence. Currently, found footage is an exceedingly popular and artistically efficient means, utilised not only by filmmakers but also by new media artists. It would be sufficient to quote such diverse and yet outstanding examples as the monumental The Clock (2010) by Christian Marclay (which won him the Golden Lion for the best artist of the Venice Biennial in 2011), or the sensational reworking of Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) into a tri-channel installation Rear Window Loop (2010) by Jeff Desom (for which he was awarded the Golden Nica for animation and special effects at the Ars Electronica festival in Linz in 2012). In the age of repetitions, remixes, remediation, re-enactments etc. these strategies are by no means surprising, but rather confirm the salient features of the contemporary media art.

            If we concur with the suggestion of Paweł Leszkowicz that Gustowska may be considered a continuator of the tradition of Polish art initiated by Alina Szapocznikow, which he calls a ‘tradition of unconsciousness’, then it might seem a paradox that the artist, in her conscious and laborious preparation of the series, searches the archives of cinematographic (and her own as well) memory. On the one hand, this is a work of someone who finds their own dreams in the dreams of others, while on the other they mix it with projections (treated literally and slightly metaphorically) laid onto found footage. In this case, this involves films by Huston, Coppola, Cassavetes, Vidor, De Palma, Altman, Hitchcock, Mendes, Levinson, Preminger and many others. The tradition of unconsciousness is continually present in Gustowska’s art, with works such Dreams (1993) or L’amour passion (2001-05) for instance. Still, in order for the unconsciousness to flourish in specific works, one needs iron creative discipline as well as appropriate technology and media. In a brilliant essay dedicated largely to L’amour passion, Anna Jamroziakowa wrote:

Gustowska has gone beyond art, beyond limitations that the artistic language (artistic character, craft, form) imposed on the artist, enclosing them in what was conditioned by place and time.  These conditions, as it turns out, do not apply to her anymore. She was able to leave! To leave, not just slip away. How come? Here is the answer: by means of the new media, incorporated into the immemorial, semantic matter of art. [8]

And this is one of the keys – media technologies are not only a new means to express old contents, being a possible source of many aesthetic concepts, but above all they enable one to see and show something that was previously ‘unknown’ and invisible. Today, with the help of new technologies an artist may become truly free by liberating their imagination from the constraints of technological and media barriers. This brings to mind the words of Bill Viola concerning images which do not belong to him – just as Gustowska, he merely ‘performs’, ‘intercepts’ and ‘sees’ them technically, yet they come, perhaps from the other, the super-dimensional (in the traditional understanding) space, from the strings of time. In all likelihood, Izabella Gustowska would subscribe to the following disclosure of Viola’s:

 I find the absolute oneness of technology and inspiration very important. As I see it, these two things complement each other. There is no conflict, they are one. Therefore I had to create new ways of making images, since what the producers of technology were able to offer, did not go deep enough into my heart and mind. It was not able to penetrate close enough to what they saw […]. I think that technologies have an extraordinary potential to make the previously invisible world perceptible for human senses.9]

            Izabella Gustowska also finds new forms of presentation in multimedia installations utilising multiple screens and displays. A proclivity for circular displays or unconventional forms such as the lingams employed in L’amour… is a kind of search for planes of manifestation of images, which in going beyond the display format (virtually always rectangular) constitute, even in this rudimentary sense, a different field where images appear (and disappear). In Hybrids of Time the central spot is occupied by a film projection on a circular surface, to which small round displays are connected, both symbolically and actually.  The central projection is a computer processed image of ‘Alice’, an ion collision detector used in experiments conducted at the CERN research facility (European Centre for Nuclear Research) located in the suburbs of Geneva, on the Swiss-French border. Thus we arrive at the roots of the Hybrids of Space-Time project – the inspiration with science and today’s most advanced experiments in the domain of fundamental questions, both in terms of physics as well as metaphysics, concerning time, space, matter (and antimatter). Art, science and technology have become intertwined in a syntopic amalgam[10]: not competing but nourishing one another and providing mutual inspiration.

Techno-scientific art, sometimes denoted as sciart (science + art) is defined nowadays by various kinds of dependencies, though it should be remembered that putting it is not the exclusive province of the present times, to put very briefly. The birth of many currents of modernist art in the beginning of the 20th century was an indirect effect of revolutionary discoveries in physics. In this context, the groundbreaking discoveries and theories of Einstein are an incontrovertible example. Naturally, this is not about the very specific scientific discoveries being used by the artists, but about the kind of inspiration for imagination which stems from specific concepts offered by the world of science[11]. The singular nature of tensions between art, technology and science may also be found in Gustowska’s project. Her work may be a good example of how cutting edge media technology is rendered more human through art. Art is fuelled by science which designs new technologies, while these inspire and release artistic ideas.  It is a singular closed circuit – da capo senza fine. Nowadays, artistic and aesthetic intuitions encounter the most advanced scientific projects – not face to face, not directly but in a manner which is, shall we say, poetic. A manner to Einstein so frequently referred saying that the greatest scientist are always artists as well. With the exception that they express themselves by different means that the artists.

The main projection of Hybrids of Space-Time naturally attracts the attention of the audience, but at the same time the small connected displays intrigue and draw the eye. The work may be perceived variously – as a media composition we perceive it in its entirety, from a distance, but also in closer contact, as we wander in front of the successive display screens, constructing one’s own, unique and virtually infinite path, or rather many paths. In this sense we may speak of the work’s interactive nature, yet we do not have to employ any technological interfaces in order to be active co-creators of the work.  Furthermore the work is interactive in itself, as the images crash into one another, enter into a dialogue, become looped; their internal, repetitive dynamic throbs with mysterious images, which balance on the edge of truth and fiction. We recognize the processed fragments of classic films; these encounter images of the artist herself, woven into the fabric of fictitious matter conveyed in the motion pictures. Here, the nature of space time is hybridous (truth – fiction), but the images themselves are hybridous (film – video – digital computer processing). Their blueish colouring and deformations – resembling slightly those which were achieved many years ago by the pioneer of video art,  Nam June Paik, who used the effect of large magnets on TV screens – arouse a kind of anxiety, or rather curiosity. We are aware of communing with small, mysterious ‘black holes’ in space-time., They are windows, or rather a door to a different, unknown and simultaneously a very attractive reality, to a world hidden from our eyes, but one which is sensed and somehow experienced at the same time. Art may be this kind of an ‘interface’, thanks to which this world can be approached.

The central projection may evoke a range of associations. The image of the ‘Alice’ detector served here as a kind of matrix and a starting point to create a pulsating and mobile abstract form, which in a way resembles a mandala to me. As we know, creating a mandala and its subsequent destruction are a kind of meditation in tantric Buddhism. The wheel symbolizing heavens, transcendence, externality and infinity gives rise to similar connotations in Gustowska’s work. In a broader sense, mandala is a kind of diagram showing how chaos assumes a harmonious form. In Gustowska’s project, one discerns analogous emergence of harmony from an ostensibly chaotic structure of several dozen display screens, provided however, that the viewer is willing to be drawn into her world and give it their own shape. I also perceive some resemblance between the round central projections and Anémic Cinéma (1926) by Marcel Duchamp who, together with Man Ray and Marc Allégretem utilised his rotoreliefs in film-based work. One also thinks about the phenomenal Lapis (1966) by James and John Whitney’s Permutations (1966), although these are only loose associations with works which, similarly to Hybrids of Time, albeit in a different form, emanate an air of mystery, utilising the symbolic of the wheel at the same time.

Strings of Time result from the artist’s interest in contemporary issues which arise in the domain of scientific explorations. These, in turn, may be a very attractive material providing inspiration for the artists. In this particular case the direct aesthetic and above all cognitive incentive came from the communications concerning CERN. The research facility built near Geneva, gathering scientists from across the globe, who collaborate in a giant network (let it be noted that WWW created by Timothy Berners-Lee has its roots there), is not only a gigantic laboratory where the most extraordinary experiments of contemporary physics are carried out. It is also where artists reside, where exhibitions are held. That is the location of the Collide@CERN project, which awards research-artistic grants to creators of original projects in which science and art meet.

Where did Gustowska’s interest in this unusual place spring from? A possible answer might be that it was the occasion when the artist saw it herself. The Large Hadron Collider is the world’s largest machine, built solely for cognitive, theoretical purposes, with no practical application whatsoever. The very fact must necessarily evoke associations with art. For what is the purpose of art? Let us say perversely – precisely none. The only justification for the existence of art is art itself:

That gigantic structure has one unique feature: the results of its work do not serve any specific purpose: health care, defence or even telecommunications or aesthetics or business, only pure theory and acquisition of knowledge.[12]

The ‘Beautiful Beast’ or LHC is beautiful because it is seemingly useless. Obviously only in the practical or pragmatic sense. It serves pure theory, just as art is ‘useless’. The beauty of the ‘Alice’ detector and many of its processed visualisations is a beauty in an immaculate state so to speak – the world’s greatest device is used by artists in various ways, yet the most remarkable fact is that it primary function affects artistic imagination so much.     That was also the case with Izabella Gustowska, enchanted both with the tremendous beauty and mystery which can hardly be expressed verbally, so the language of art must be used.   Therefore we should not look for direct inspiration; this is rather an intuitive and extra-rational association, stemming from poetic, not rational logic.  

 *

Coda

This text should be seen (only) as a fragment of a larger whole. When Izabella Gustowska shows Strings of Time in the shape in which they function for the time being only in her imagination and the simulations known to me, the reflection on that work, its shape and aesthetic form will have to be resumed. Hence – this text is but a fragment…

 



[1] S. Grand, ‘Getting It All Wrong’,What Are You Optimistic About, ed. J.Brockman, New York: Harper Perennial, 2007, p. 262.

[2] Z. Rybczyński, ‘O obrazach’, Rozmowy na koniec wieku 3, inteviews by K. Janowska, P. Mucharski, Kraków:  Znak, 1999, p. 277.

[3] B. Schulz, Proza, letters edited by J.  Ficowski, Kraków: Wydawnictwo Literackie, 1964, pp. 145, 177.

[4] See: I.  Kowalczyk, Alicja w krainie mediów (Izabella Gustowska, »SHE-ONA.Media Story), last access 10.10.2012 <http://www.obieg.pl/artmix/4130>.

[5] I. Gustowska, SHE-ONA. Media Story, last access 10.10.2012 <http://gustowska.studioflow.pl>.

[6] Ibid.

[7] See: I. Gustowska, Life is a Story, ed. E. Hornowska, Poznań: NationalMuseum, 2007, p. 56.

[8] A.  Jamroziakowa, Brzmienie – Barwa – Blask w sztuce Izabelli Gustowskiej, Poznań: Wydawnictwo Fundacji. Humaniora, 2002, p. 21.

[9] F. Mennekes, Rana jest miejscem, przez które światło w ciebie wstępuje. Rozmowa z Billem Violą, last access 10.10.2012 <http://www.obieg.pl/teksty/26183>.

[10] See: P. Zawojski, Cyberkultura. Syntopia sztuki, nauki i technologii, Warszawa: Poltext, 2010.

[11] For more on that subject see C. Beanland, ‘When Science & Art Collide’, Traveller, no. 11, 2011, pp. 68-72 and P. Zawojski, ‘Nauka i sztuka w wieku technologii cyfrowych. Bezpieczne związki’, Digitalne dotknięcia. Teoria w praktyce/Praktyka w teorii, ed. Piotr Zawojski, Szczecin: Stowarzyszenie Make It Funky Production,  2010, pp. 29-42.

[12] P. G. Franzobel, ‘The Beauteous Beast. Or What I Can Verbalize about LHC in My Language’, Origin. Wie Alles Beginnt,  eds. H.Leopoldseder, G.Stocker, Ch. Schöpf, Osfildern: Hatje Cantz, 2011, p. 38. This is a reprint of a chapter from a beautiful publication presenting CERN as a place gathering scientists, researchers and artists, also thanks to the fascinating photographs of  Peter Ginter’s. The space where the ‘International’ of the most creative people seek fundamental answers, not only in contemporary physics. See: P.  Ginter, R.-D. Heuer, P.G. Franzobel, LHC: Large Hadron Collider,  Baden 2011.

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