Shot Across the Mind 1989
Shot across the Mind is a video installation made by Bill Spinhoven and Paul Klomp which consists of two projection screens set up opposite each other, with the viewer in between. Because images are projected onto both of the screens at once, one of the two images is always hidden from the viewer. This image 'illuminates' the back of the viewer's head. It's different from that which is being projected on the screen in front of the viewer. The images tell a story about the four elements. Four geometric figures correspond to the elements: water to the circle, earth to the square, air to a double ellipsoid and fire to the triangle. One doesn't find out whether geometry here forms an ideal attribute of matter or the elements are real attributes of geometric concepts. Each element is represented in an image sequence of its own by means of a number of elementary geometrical mechanisms: for example, the earth appears in the brick facade of a house, or the teeth of a rake when it textures the grounds surface in a square pattern. Water appears as a wheel and as a sprinkler, air as a cloud or on a butterfly in the clouds. And fire appears, among other things, as a burning triangle, or on the head of a match which is struck diagonally across the image. This machinery of each element is accompanied by a corresponding sequence of images in the screen opposite, in which an element's geometrical figure appears against a black background: a sort of 'static' of white image-points which forms the figure, flat one moment, showing only the contours the next, finally disintegrating into a whirling swarm which forms itself into a transitional figure. Each screen shows a geometrical sequence followed by one representing an element, such that the two alternate; for example, the stroboscopic circle which follows the element earth. Thus, the story of the elements changes from screen to screen after each sequence, as does the story of the geometrical figures. At the end of each sequence, one sees a transitional image in which the disappearing and appearing geometric figure come together, on both screens simultaneously, but such that one screen remains white where the other is black. This indicates that one screen is the negative of the other: neither is designated negative or positive, however. Two screens, then: the representation of the elements and the geometric figures, both in flowing sequences. One in front of, and one behind, the head of the viewer. And then the sound: the sound of the elements and the sound of the machines, sound which makes one aware of the hidden image, makes it a volume between two planes, a sonorous matter which is the medium between the areas in front of and behind the head. So that the image is always double and removed from itself, like a split and splitting thought.
THE SKULL THEATRE
The eye is a window. Each window an eye, a surface where two worlds meet. The screen is an eye, as well. For example, in a film. In a film, the order of the everyday world is interrupted, the order in which you meet the world with your will. In blackness, in the night of the film theatre, this relationship is reflected: it is the world which sees and possesses you, which conceives you as an actor and pulls the strings of your performance in this skull theatre. The perspective of the film eye is nothing more than the cross section and reflection, the minimal distance in front of the mirror which the world holds up to itself in you. In this installation, rather, one is always between the screens. The illusion of a perspectivistic representation, of a privileged look into the depth of matter is absent completely. In a film, the world confronts one frontally, and one is unconsciously conquered by it; here, it pounces upon one from behind, as well. This confrontation is hidden from actual view because the frons , the frons scenae or the window is constantly shifting from front to back and back again. A 'trans-frontation', it might be called, this unbearable game of ricochets in which the image's trajectory passes directly through one and is endlessly reflected between two screens. As opposed to the film's art of immediacy, which occupies one entirely, one remains 'conscious', present at something which, in turn, is using one to accomplish itself. It's as though the second screen is constantly presenting itself into the corner of one's eye. Thus, one becomes a speculative thought oneself, a transparent speculum, ones looking consciousness becomes a modern mirror-glass in which one sees oneself being reflected while the world looks through one. But just spin around. What does the other screen see? Does it see you, the viewer? Of course not, it's looking through you at its double, too, saying something about the right of the first screen. Together, they observe this right on your retina. Around about you, and, nonetheless, in you as well. They shoot their considerations straight through the orb of your eye. As we've said, the one screen holds the mathematical-geometrical form of the other. A square is lit up like a sort of stroboscopic figure; on the other screen the end of a loaf of bread is seen, also almost a square. Something is being measured, checked, weighed: but what, exactly? Is geo-metry taking the earths measure, or is the earth taking the weight of these measuring instruments? And who comes first? Or: are they both weighing you, the weight of your thoughts, are they weighing them with the addled metric standard which you thought was invented by people themselves? This is the thought which is being shot through one, constantly.
THE MIRROR-HOLLOWS OF CONSCIOUSNESS
At the beginning of each new image sequence describing the mechanism of an element, an eye appears. This eye describes, with obvious awkwardness, the corresponding geometrical figure upon the front of ones own sight-orbs. Or: it traces it, sees it projected right through your skull onto your retina as a message from the other side. Shot across the Mind. A skull with three or four eyes. And an ear. The ear passes it on: the message, the hiatus from the other half. A sign which is disturbing because it's still empty, and must be filled with thoughts. The ear sets your sound-board and shoots the sound straight through it as a wave of matter. The ear fills the eye, fills the skull with the elements. A match flares, fire behind the eye. Water seeps like a thin stream through the hemispheres of one's inner world, between the folds of the walnut of your thinking. The wheel flushes the water as a spiraling column through the brain: trepanation. The voice of the elements sounds the images in the head like a sonar. Carried along at right angles to the bundles of projection, on the vector of light, they blow air like a flute through the head. From ear to ear. It's the eye of the world cutting a path through your thinking. The measure of geometry seems no more than a stubborn daydream: stroboscopic photons soon to be sown into static. The earth measures one's time: The skull becomes a geologic formation in which geometric forms seem to be glowing fossils from some other, long past millennium. Perhaps time is stretched here, the split second of seeing takes an age, the age of erosion or evolution. It's this stone time which is being struck with the blows of a sledge-hammer in your head, searching for the last mirror-hollows in which consciousness has hidden itself. It's been proposed that the importance accorded the audio-visual media in our times, the privilege of the organs of sight and hearing corresponds to the era of representative thought (a kind of thought which would involve a complete interiorising of the world, in a Hegelian sense, a way of thinking that would lose, firstly, matter, the world of the elements, the nature of the machine). The charm of an installation like Shot across the Mind is probably that it doesn't deny this simple fact, but, rather, shows this world of elements in an idealized form, an extra mirror in which the speculative mind, that great sublimating organ, should be able to contemplate its own end, not the shining end which it may have set its hopes on, but rather the slow fall through a mirror from which the quicksilver had already been eaten away by the time of the elements.This is all perhaps a bit too general. In a certain sense, one can even say that that other great audio-visual medium, the film, the post-war film in particular, had reached such a point. What, then, are the specific possibilities of video, and to what extent are they put to use here?
THE MIND WITHOUT WINDOWS
In the seventeenth century we learned that the earth is a sphere, rotating around others. As, likewise, the entire universe was. We were also taught that, turned inside out, this sphere was already present, complete and perfect, in our own heads. That, in order to see oneself, no window should be necessary. That your inner eye simply cast its light on your little piece of world, inside there. This is all preserved in Leibniz's concept of the 'monade', the soul without windows. Every perception in the hollow of your soul, every representation was a change of lighting, in that sphere, that sfera , that ball in your head. You're locked up in your soul or your mind without windows. Around you, the world with its mechanisms, machine-organic or mechanical nature progressing from cause to effect and so on, further, in the abundance of the elements, each movement becoming another one as an effect, causa efficiens , and thus, forming whole chains: from the stars to your cells, from China to Holland, everything decided in materiam , in advance. And when you perceived all that in the inner world of your monade, it was only because of God's plan, causa finalis , the correct division of all monades in God s representation as a final comprehensive monade, and because of the harmony which was established between the two domains in advance: the domain of inner perception, and that of nature, outside. And, thus, not because of the contact between you and the world; the control of the world by your will is a perfect illusion, and you are no more than a spiritual machine. Leibniz saw all that as the antinomy of the hollow of thought and the fullness of the universe. Gilles Deleuze, in his two books on cinema (L'image mouvement/L'image temps) describes the film as a monadological art par excellence, the art of the spiritual machine. Probably, one can go even further and say that, in general perception in our century is the inner perception of the monade, which, lacking a God, no longer corresponds to the mechanics of the world. Film, then, could be considered as being only the type of this desynchronisation of perception. Not only in the movie theatre (stepping out of the world and entering into a monadic mechanism), but also in the film itself, which remains tied to the perspectivistic ideality of the camera-eye, the light-cone which illuminates our little piece of the world, a transparent world, one without materiality. Certainly, as we've said, the film has gone to extremes in attempting to go beyond this perspectivistic ideality by cutting through the eye, the inner, automatic eye of the monadic spectator as a material theatre, that is, as the stasis of a postponed or broken immediacy. (Not only the films of Tarkovsky, in which the eye moves through the ruins of thought to be overpowered by the echo's of matter, echo's which measure the tactile inside of the earth, but also the glass of milk which is turned over and spills across the image, the completely blank perception in Hitchcock.) And yet, the film shall always remain bound to frontality, even when it returns the world to us as a distance, as a material play space, as in the films of Godard, which show us a nature which has been cut up and re-shuffled; will remain bound to the opposition of eye to world, whether in the deepest penetration or the most absolute denial. Even in the case of the turning-about of the perspective of the monade, in the sight-cone which is filled with matter and is supposed to bring an opaque world with it, seeing remains bound to a frontal, 'organic' conception of the eye, the eye as a single section of the world. Its difficult to even estimate the extent to which this limit of film has already been exhausted, but its clear, in any case, that the video installation has opened up the possibility of the inclusion of a whole other domain (just like, e.g., the hologram). A domain in which seeing is no longer tied to frontality, to the frons , the fronton that will always remain that of the (farewell to) the representation.
THE EARTH AS AGIGANTIC VISION
The power of an installation like Shot across the Mind is to be found in the fact that it explores this domain beyond frontality, from the point at which the film has left us (simply because the specific possibilities of video only become visible at that point)_ From the point at which matter itself has become a thought, the world itself has become thinking, which comes towards us in all of its massivity or recedes in silence (the stillness of Ozu, the receding spaces of Duras which the word has lost its hold on)_ Its precisely this kind of image which returns as the image of the element, the element which conquers the image as a turning-around of perspective. Eye which is filled with water, fire, earth and air. Horizon which is hidden from the eye in the gaze perpendicular to the earth s surface or the moving surface of the water, it's the world in its most elementary shape which appears here. The match's fire, the wheel's water, the earth which, in its cultivation, gives us a loaf of bread, the butterfly as a flying machine, they're all registered as res extensa , as a geometrically measurable, mechanical and machine-like nature. It's just this screen-filling extensiveness which is the consummate remembrance of the world as the opponent of the monade. But it's in precisely this doubling of the window, in front of and behind the viewer, that the world also shoots its thought through you, that the retina of things is pulled through you and the earth as pupil enters, the earth as a gigantic vision. And, likewise, one shoots the monadic perception outside, the intellectual hollow is shot through the fullness of things. One turns the monade inside out like a glove: thoughts escape and travel across your skull, backwards and forwards, like nomads, like meridians along the cheekbones and the ears, like points of light, they wander in geometric orbits around your head and measure the pattern of thought and the emptiness of the vanished universe there, your soul is 'lit up' with a fluttering of clouds, your mind crucified with four little posts; your arrid daydream is sprinkled with circling moisture pumped up out of the depths of echoing wells. Seeing is no longer the eye's single section, not the perception of the monade, nor of the world which looks into one; is no longer a frontality in which one of the two eyes has the most weight, no, here, in between the screens, the head becomes permeable, as in a universal perception, a sequence of sections, not only of time (as in the film) but also in space, as though one wasn't sitting in front of a cathode ray tube (like the TV), but had gotten lost inside of it. This may be the perception spoken of by Bergson, a perception without a privileged cut (consciousness, subjectivity), a seeing and thinking of extensiveness, of the res extensa itself. In any case, this looking into the fourth dimension, as it was called, with a certain pathos, in Bill Spinhoven's last video, has become visible here as a thought. What are we to do with such a massive thought, here at the close of the Hegelian era? In the removal of the dimensions of the exterior (described so masterfully in hyperbolic form in Paul Virilio's work), in the general sublimination of space and time for which light remains their only boundary, the light of the absolute mind, in the vacuum of this ideality, the world will one day be shot back as a gigantic mass: shot across the mind across the world across the mind.
(text Mediamatic by Sam Sturkenboom)