An Imaginary Landscape

Images from "An Imaginary Landscape", 1986

An Imaginary Landscape makes reference to the title of a series of musical compositions by John Cage. Cage’s influence through Nam June Paik on early video art is significant. Imaginary Landscape No. 4 (1951) is a piece which incorporates live radios tuned and adjusted by players according to a score developed using aleatory compositional techniques.

The connections to John Cage in my video piece are less direct. I wanted to make reference to an imaginary electronic space- a ‘landscape’ which is inhabited purely by reference to the image. The image sequence in An Imaginary Landscape is in no sense narrative, and neither is the ‘place’ of the landscape depicted. I wanted to make a tape which described a space which was completely electronic; existing exclusively within the space of the screen. The landscape is imaginary in the sense that the mind is taken there through the unfolding of the (tele)visual experience. The progression on the screen from ‘real’ perspectival/architectural space is presented as a way of arriving there through perceptual means. (i.e. by watching the tape unfold as it progresses from a recognisable visual space to one which is purely electronic.)

The tape is composed of a series of 5 repeated loops of a single sequence, each progressively less digitally processed than the last, edited together in a series of discrete steps. The sequences were processed using an early digital time-base corrector, the Gemini II, which was basically a twin-channel frame-store with a limited range of digital effects. Using the Gemini, it was possible to digitally replicate a sequence from a single video source and process the resultant two channels independently. Using analogue technology, it had previously been possible to duplicate a video sequence electronically, but the digital process allowed a ‘live’ real-time replication of the image-sequence which pointed forward to a potential non-linear conception of the sequence as ‘frame’. Working with a digital system, an original video image-sequence could be ‘held’; stored as an image-object and re-deployed instantly. The digital storage and retreval of image-sequences suggested an entirely new approach to the presentation of moving images which problematised durational video work. The issues that arose from this new possibility were not simply in relation to the relationship between the viewer and the artwork, for example in terms of how the work was presented and how meaning was expressed and perceived, but had profound implications on the conception of the work itself. David Dunn and Woody Vasulka have written about this in their recent article “Digital Space: A Summary”:

Our interest and insight into this new perceptual environment results from our many years of creative use of digital technology as an aesthetic tool that has often brought us to a direct confrontation with traditional ways of composing images and sounds. this conflict has not only been initiated by our interest in new forms in general, but specifically by the profound implications of organising our materials through a numerical code. What becomes apparent from the structural demands of this technology is that there is an ability and even an affinity for discrete genre to interact through the binary code in ways which transcend linear cause and effect relationships, revealing new compositional concepts with regard to space, perspective and morphology.

In An Imaginary Landscape the second video image has been laterally ‘flipped’ and overlaid onto the first, and then the pixels have been enlarged to provide a simpler, less detailed video image. (This effect is called ‘mosaic’ for obvious reasons.) The original sequence has also been ‘frame-grabbed’, which means that a single field of video has been held for longer than the usual 1/50th of a second, and then released, which results in a jump in the image of a few seconds, skipping the intermediate frames. This produces a similar feel to slow motion, but is not the same, as picture information is jettisoned between frame grabs, which produces a perceivable jump in the continuous flow of the sequence. This breaking of the flow sheds the point-to-point relationship of the image sequence with the “visible reality” of the image source, creating a new and specifically digital flow.

The introduction of digital image-processing to my repertoire at this time heralded a shift in my work in that it highlighted a creative problem leading to a growing dissatisfaction with pure durational work. In my video tapes of this period I had began to explore ideas about a potential parallel perceptual space created by a relationship between the tape and the viewer. An Imaginary Landscape was my most explicit attempt to do this to date. In my subsequent video tape, The Stream,  I attempted to make this notion even more explicit. I believe that the implicit non-linearity of my tape work at this point lead directly into the sculptural video installation work of the next period.

An Imaginary Landscape was most often shown in its single-screen configuration, but was intended to be presented as a two screen piece. In the twin screen version of the work, two identical processed and edited single-screen video tapes are presented side-by-side, running in opposite directions- one ‘forward’ and one ‘reverse’, so that one image-sequence begins as a representation of the space it is recorded in, and the other begins as a digital abstraction. As the sequences unfold, the positions reverse, so that they end in opposite positions within the screen. My intention was that there would be no ‘real’ forward or reverse in the piece. In a sense, this also implies that there is no end to the work either, simply a set of cycling relationships, a sort of mobius strip of fluid images. This approach to linear presentation would later lead me to abandon durational tape-making and begin to concentrate on installations in which the image sequences would be made from repeating loop structures.