"You can't set up a camera here!"
Dead Flow, a video-sound-installation by Adam Geczy and Thomas Gerwin
(trans. Adam Geczy)
Images of a stirred watersurface - stirred neither by wind or current, in black and white and projected onto the wallwelcome the viewer's gaze. On other walls are two video projections. The moving images and pervading sound of four loudspeakers are a counterpoint to the otherwise calming effect of the slide-images. Each of the video tapes depict alternate scenes from two underground stations in Sydney and Berlin; while one is in Sydney, the other is of Berlin, each comprising three consecutive sequences. The Sydney video begins with people leaving a turnstile during peak hour at Town Hall, one of the city's busiest pedestrian networks. The camera is placed slightly above the exit-barrier with three ticket machines. The way the ex-passengers are clothed clearly indicates that it's rather hot outside. One can see their intent approach from a hundred or so metres away, moving more unconsciously than consciously, taking their ticket, putting it in the slot, passing the barriers, taking the ticket then walking past or crossing the camera, their exit resulting in a striking "chest shot". Toward the end of the sequence, coming from the left of the screen looms a security guard, who, a short time after and out of view, declares, "You can't set up a camera here!" After Adam Geczy's "why not?", the sequence ends, to resume at the beginning, but this time with intermittent intercessions of pedestrian flow, this time from the street above the train station. In the third sequence the two sequences encounter one another with a more tensile interplay.
The complementary video from Berlin acts like musical counterpoint to the other, a foil to the other three flowing streams. The videos are recorded very nearby in time, but at a distance of thousands of kilometres from one another. The way the people are clothed indicates a cold winter's day. This all occurs at the central subway station Berlin Alexanderplatz. The way the people stroll by suggests that the filming took place not on a work day, but a holiday. What is depicted here is not the direct entry or exit, rather a "transitory space" between the pedestrian traffic from the train and those entering the station. Here the video is structured to mirror the other: the tape begins with clipped sequences of people rising from an escalator and prospective passangers walking through the echo of an underground station. And here again the people verge toward the camera, though with more space to diverge and converge. This sequence ends with a young man in punk-like clothing approaching the camera and putting his face so close to the lens that it becomes a blur, and asking, "Hallo, seid ihr das?" ("Hallo, is that you?") Just as the security man conveniently brought the filming to a close, this scene is an apt conclusion, neither were Geczy's intention.
Geczy's "visuals" come together with the sound of Thomas Gerwin to form a homogeneous work. The sound comprises of an eight-channel installation reformatted for four speakers, here in a quadrilateral formation. The composition unfolds along three acoustic levels that come together in the room to effect a soundscape. The first musical level ties together image and sound - the material for this derives from the original time and place of the filming. It is a musique-concrète composition formed from the auditory elements from the places shown in the film. One can discern the voices of passers-by, the din from the street and resonating sounds of hurried steps as they recede into the distance. The second sound-levels are bound together by two facing loudspeakers. One group emits a pulsating clicking that fades away from time to time, recalling a heartbeat; the other group emits a sound evocative of a chewing or crunching sound, or the even the ticking of a clock. The two acoustic lines are related to one another as eigths in a 4/4 time relates to quarter thirds. The third acoustic line is an accord of four voices, bringing the other two compositions together. Tonally, the accord is indefinite. Each of the four speakers contains one additional tone different from the others that alternately emerge and recede. In all, as a result of the slow and gradual nature of each tonal transition, the perception is one continuous change. So each loudspeaker is bound to the others in a variety of ways. The accord complementarily dramatises what takes place in the sound of the second line, to instigate a feeling that, at any moment, something unexpected could happen.
But until we know about the security man's interruption, or the that of the young punk, this doesn't seem to be the case. But closer inspection and listening establishes that there is the material for numerous, and to some degree dramatic, narratives ready to be woven. In the broadest sense, the station (and the underground) is an essential touchstone for the dynamic of a large city. It is moreover curious that Geczy chose not to film the platform but rather a non-place between inside and outside where one commonly can't dawdle. As a result, Geczy made a point of not filming the synthetically conceived spaces near the big station, "leisure spaces" of shopping and lifestyle.
Furthermore, the people are here conceived as parts of a larger mass, converging and diverging according to their own unwritten laws, surging but not bumping up against one another in a confined space, moving according to some arcane choreography and driven by some secret, unknown energy. After longer, closer scrutiny the mimicry and gestures of these people, who have not consented to being filmed, become more and more interesting, as each begin to be seen as individuals, to the extent that an approacher looks like someone you have got to know. How will this semi-automised plot of ticket-in-the-slot-then-retrievel wind up? How are the people reacting to the fact of being suddenly confronted by a camera? Some pander in front of it to greater or lesser degrees, others show annoyance, others make an effort to ignore it. And what does it mean to be recorded by a camera? Today people in public spaces have to count on being monitored through the presence of countless hidden cameras. While Geczy, the observer, becomes the observed through the unforeseen interruptions concluding each film, it seems that most of the filmed people obviously do not consider the unquestioned camera as an intrusion on their personal space.
And the highly stylised way in which the two artists have edited the sequences, brought together by the sound, bring into play the respective motifs of the gaze and the glance. In places the editings are composed so that people flash into view, their movements broken into arbitrary segments. The rhythmic montage appears to be borrowed directly from their famous "inventor", Sergeij Eisenstein, whose editings function similarly to a piece of music. By the '60s, avant-garde film was already developing a new relationship between sound and image. (NB: Peter Weibel: Erzählte Theorie - Multiple Projektion und neue Narration in der Videokunst der neunziger Jahre; in: video cult/ures - multimediale Installationen der 90er Jahre, hg. von Ursula Frohne, Köln 1999, S.30) In a time when music clips in the pop musics industry have become the norm, the quality of what is shown here is not so noticeable. Despite the difference that in music clips the film is cut to the music, and not, as here, allowing the images to be there from the beginning, and letting the music arise from the editing, it was nevertheless the music clips after the '70s that facilitated a more widespread interest in video art.(NB.: Dagmar Streckel: Künstler-Videos, Entwicklung und Bedeutung, hg. von Ursula Perucchi-Petri, Ostfildern-Ruit 1996, S. 17) But only a few artists master the art of the rhythmic, musically composed technique of editing. The most eminent forerunners of this style are the Korean media artist Naim June Paik, who is also educated as a composer and musician, and the video artist Robert Cahen, who indeed originally studied electroacoustic composition and whose influence on the history of video art continues to be underrated.(see: Streckel 1996, p.34 ff.)
The Sydney-based Australian artist Adam Geczy (b. 1969) works in a variety of media. Since the middle of the '90s, he has worked with photography in which digitally (and manually) altered colouration plays a primary role, and now a characteristic of not only photographic but his video work. The greeny-grey tones he uses can be formally situated in a middling region between colour and non-colour; on the level of content these tones have a documentary effect on the one hand, on the other, an effect that is unreal and uncanny. The first time Geczy deployed these techniques was in the works "Der Knabentanz" [Little Boy Dancing], a large installation involving slide projections.(NB.: Catalog "Der Knabentanz - Little Boy Dancing", Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin 2001) Here two large slide projections of a small young boy framed a central projection alternately depicting the exterior of the former Nazi Air Force Ministry, and interior shots of the Jewish Museum in Berlin; to all this was a resonant, distant sound of a boy laughing. And in one of his first major video works, "Grotesk", 2001, colours and blurs also played a role. This was a huge projection of a boy's face, intercalating the tender sound's of his mother's song were his grimace, played in slow motion. In earlier works of Geczy's people also play a major part. He used plant imagery to interrogate beauty and transience. As a result, such images depict traces of putrefaction or horrific injury. What is left of life when in the clutches of age, death and decay? His sensitivity to the fragility of life - something he shares with many of his artist contemporaries - fluctuates against a fear of "traceless" disappearance. And in the same way the people of Dead Flow leave without a trace; the forward push of bodies is both with intent and directionsless, their disappearance is as swift as their appearance was sudden. Only the still images of water appear impervious and eternal. They represent a locus of calm and at the same time a locus of reflection for the people who, despite their unbroken movement, represent little change, thus "dead flow"; their is supposed to be flow, but there is only stagnation. From the ostensibly innocuous images come others that are unexpected and which quickly become threatening, as in the sudden approach of the security man in Sydney or the man in Berlin with the beannie and the sports jacket who advances directly toward the camera, evidently seeming about to plan one of those "assaults" on the camera. Glaring, he comes nearer then at the last minute disappears out of sight of the camera frame.
That a feeling of being glared at and the latent threat of danger from this figure and the appraching crowd - and the way it is so strikingly depictedis thanks to the artful multi-channel sound installation of the Berlin composer and media artist Thomas Gerwin (b. 1955). A hallmark of his work is a highly subtle relationship to sound, a far reach from many contemporary sound and video artists besotted with sheer volume of sound, so painful it is nearly injurious. For a dramatical body of sound [Klangkörper] which works by enhancing the images, Gerwin has no need of sound volume.
The sounds from the first acoustic line derive from the origibal sites are a reflection of how Gerwin is comfortable and experienced in soundscape composition, a form further developped in evidence in the ecological movement of "acoustic ecology" from the '70s. This form of composition is to do with characterising original sites in an aesthetic, compositional fashion. There is also a constructed spatiality in Gerwin's work, and this in fact is atypical to soundscape composition. A good example of this is the internationally recognised light and sound installation, the KlangWeltKarte [Acoustic World Atlas] of 1997 (Media Museum, ZKM Karlsruhe), which also performs as its own instrument whereby short soundscape compositions created from sounds of a place, region or continent can be configured to make a new musical work. In the middle of the '90s, Gerwin developed a special kind of interactivity, the so-called "situational sound installations" in which various situations are brought into play and within which the recipient is allowed free reign. Other examples of this are the sound installations "Space Experience" for the Pavilion of the European Union at the EXPO2000 in Hannover, or "Quader amorph mit Geheimnis" [Quader amorph with Secret], 2001.
Dead Flow is testament to Gerwin's mastery of manipulating various lines of sound, each of which function like actors in a play, at several points emerging then having their components overridden by other sounds. To the viewer the everyday din from the station and the street seems monotonous, repetitious, though always grating. Meanwhile there is a piercing ticking evocative of a clock and a heart-beat like rapping, like an auditory flash as if from within the breast of the surging throng, reminiscent of an internalised waisted lifetime. With this sound installation Gerwin has widened the basic structure of his concept of the performing of film with multi-channel.
The collaboration of Adam Geczy and Thomas Gerwin allows for a remarkable symbiosis of two artistic forms. Image and sound exist as partners on an equal footing, complementing and enhancing one another, yet without letting gow of their own particular specificity or truth.