"Continuum" (1977) Image from documentation of installation for two video players.

Continuum (1977) is the earliest existing video tape that I have made. Produced in collaboration with Gabrielle Bown, it is documentation of a two channel video work, intended to be “performed” using two separate video tape players and video monitors. The two tapes, started roughly in synch with each other were expected to drift out of synchronisation, the two prerecorded sequences progressively diverging, rendering the dialogue increasingly incomprehensible.

Early British video art differs from its American counterpart and British experimental film in that it is concerned less with identifying the specific properties of the medium than with analysing the conditions of viewing and the mechanics and shaping of perceptual and social space. Continuum is a good example of this sort of work. Originally a two-screen piece made in collaboration with Gabrielle Bown, it plays out the difficulty two lovers have in communicating with each other whilst at the same time revealing the illusoriness of the space in which their relationship is constructed. A man and a woman each occupy a tv screen. The screens are set side by side and a pendulum visible behind each of the two characters, who face each other, swings between them, first one screen then the other. The dialogue between the two is one of mutual misunderstanding and misread intentions. However, the piece ends rather humorously, with that dialogue breaking down, as both agree that the conversation need not go on in this manner as to do so would be to satisfy only what the situation of their performing the piece demands of them. Laughing, the two both rise from their seats and, if we had not already realised, we see that the space and time each of them occupies is in fact only illusorily separate, or only illusorily shared. The question is why this sort of space should be considered to be ‘illusory’ at all: why is it not real or architectural? This points to an essential difference, perhaps, between contemporary art and modern art: contemporary artists are less inclined to accept the autonomy of the art work, and consider the move of ‘revealing’ the conditions of viewing to be no less a construct than that which is thereby ‘revealed’ to be a construct.

Jonathan Dronsfield