Academic journal article Afterimage

Consciousness from the Ground Up

Academic journal article Afterimage

Consciousness from the Ground Up

Article excerpt

Future's Eve

by Anna Gaskell

New Langton Arts

San Francisco, California

April 4-May 5, 2001

At the entrance to Anna Gaskell's installation at New Langton Arts in San Francisco was a Goethe quote that read, "up or down, it's all the same." This fluid perception of the physical world, in which time might be suspended, reversed or infinitely replayed, is central to this installation. Future's Eve featured a new film and two series of intimate pen and ink drawings, all circling around ideas of feminine identity, the myths of creation and the nature of time. While the new work expands upon themes of her earlier photographs, gone are the young twins in pinafores who enacted troubling excerpts from Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland. She has moved beyond the familiar character and stories of the 1996-97 "Wonder" series to explore new terrain, finding the basis for her narratives in a complex range of texts and fictional characters.

New Langton Arts began its plans for this project four years ago, when the curatorial staff first approached Gaskell about creating an installation. In keeping with its mission to cultivate experimental artworks, New Langton commissioned her to create a film. At that time, she had made only one film, but this project enabled her to focus her efforts on the medium and now, as the installation opens in San Francisco, she has produced six films. Her work in film is not as widely known as her photographs, partly because she has shown the cinematic work more often in Europe. Future's Eve, the title a clever twist on L'Eve Future, the 1886 science fiction novel by Auguste de Villiers de l'lsle-Adam, presents one in a series of four related films. The film plays out an oblique, cyclical narrative, in which the viewer is abruptly drawn in as the central character. Unfortunately, only one of the four films was shown here, its powerful imagery immersing the viewer intensely, but only momentarily, in this spare install ation.

The film itself is approximately three minutes in length, set to loop continuously. Viewed in an enclosed rectangular space, the narrow configuration of the gallery proves to be perfectly proportioned for the experience that plays out on film. It is very dark as the film opens, complete blackness projected within an equally black space. Tight circles of light begin to appear, sporadically. As patches of light accumulate the formations materialize almost as cellular patterns viewed under a microscope. Piece by piece the bright areas dilute the blackness until the sky above is visible and our orientation becomes clear. The view is from the bottom of a grave, looking up, as the dirt that covers us is slowly removed, handful by handful. The ground is shooting upwards, out of the grave, being caught by small, outstretched hands. Clods of dirt fly frantically, as if perhaps viewers are digging themselves out of the grave. But the child's hands at the mouth of the grave are complicit in this process. Impossibly, th ey catch each piece of dirt, the earth meeting precisely with the open hands as it flies haphazardly out of the grave. Eventually, the sky begins to emerge, then a tree, and a brief moment of elation. And then cruelly, the film loops, and we are submerged underground again, but this time quite knowingly.

The film continues its sinister loop, covering and uncovering the person or object that is buried. The loop is brief, allowing little information or time to imagine anything but the darkest outcome. From within the tight confines of the space, instincts take over and we can only read this sequence as we experience it physically. As it loops the structure eventually reveals itself--that the film is run in reverse--and the small hands that are now eagerly grasping the flying bits of ground are the same hands that covered the grave over. Subtle editing draws out the moment in which the hands drop (and now catch) the earth, and is sped up again as the hands dash out of sight. …

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