Catalogue essay for MVAS, Kings ARI, Melbourne, 2014
Without the vocabulary to decode the moving image, the erraticism of its electro signals would appear as an amorphous compound of shapes. Abstraction, as a critical strategy, undermines the readability of video by blurring the boundaries of its signs, turning them into a foreign utterance, a stream of meaninglessness or an assortment of mixed recognition and alienness. Ranging from long duration shots, to extreme close ups, and the queering of narrative conventions, abstraction strategies vary but share the transgression of representational limits.
In my mind, it is precisely this collision of forms that charge abstraction with its criticality, its ability to problematize naturalized paradigms, such as those inscribed by Western thought and more precisely, concerning televisual and cinematic communication (narrative structures, taste value, familiar phenotypes, etc.). In simple, and perhaps rather fantastical terms, abstract video art appears as T.V. transmissions from another planet, or a product of an altered state, in which the trivial has become hallucinogenic. A paradigm shift underlies this proposition of difference, in which the norms and conventions of reception and decoding are called into question. Indeed, abstraction not only disrupts moving image content but also the manner in which it is read, simultaneously disturbing the emitter and receiver. Video art practitioners collapse this continuum; they are consumers who have turned into cultural producers, activating different modes of spectatorship. Some may call it resistance, others may be less generous, but abstraction points to the social forces that generate the laws behind ‘mainstream’ moving image making (capitalism, neo-colonialism, patriarchy, and every other buzzword decorating your artist statement).
Temporality differentiates video from painting and other object-based outcomes dealing with abstraction. The capacity to manipulate time positions it as an instrument of prime disruption, as time is the measure that regulates the socio-economic mechanisms of the post-industrialized world. It is the glue that keeps provincial transactions in synch with the metropolis, the boss in control of the employee and public transport in circulation. The same networks of power that permeate these areas of life animate Television and Cinema, rendering their temporality as an utterly pre-scribed experience. Thus, abstracting time via the moving image generates a different embodied experience and a new vantage point to think about the self in relation to the world, allowing time to unfold in accordance to a different set of sensibilities and preoccupations.
A memory of a book I read in my adolescence came to mind during the process of writing this text: Taylor Ellwood’s Pop Culture Magick (2008). The book pertains to the occult practice of ‘chaos magick’ (popularized by the likes of William Burroughs and Sonic Youth) and lays out a range of strategies for the practice of chaos magic via pop cultural symbols. Not that I care about counter culture or Burroughs’ hobbies, but it contains a divinatory practice centred on the ‘reading’ of T.V. static – abstract material. This vernacular practice underlines the possibility for otherness found in abstract video and its potentiality to act as a portal for difference and the unknown, a gate into the past/present/future of the moving image.