Immersive Experiences of Time-based Media as a time machine

With (late)capitalism in acceleration, we are bombarded with visual images and material in all parts of our life. A point presciently illustrated in Guy Debord’s seminal text Society of Spectacle,[1] consumerism and representation triumph over value and authenticity, this phenomenon is highly accelerated in our time with the aid of social media and advertising. With these continuous sensory overloads, we are surrounded by art without acknowledging it is art, and art loses its “aura”. With developments in the contemporary art field, there are more and more intersections of expanded cinema and theatrical installation in terms of the presentation of artwork.

This essay will investigate how the “aura” of the artwork is restored and reconstructed in the field of contemporary art and how artworks transport and transform one sensually and perceptually. I will first start with a definition of the terms and explain my interpretation of the concept. I will explain what kind of methods and devices is used by artists and curators with the illustration of two best practices I have identified.

Definition

Time-based Media

To understand the word Time-based Media, I would like to break down what the concept of “time” and “media” means.

The definition of Media (taken from the Lexico, an online dictionary supported by Oxford Dictionary):

1. The main means of mass communication (broadcasting, publishing, and the Internet) regarded collectively.[2]

2. plural form of medium [3]

that brings me to the word “medium”, of which the definition is

a. An agency or means of doing something.[4]

b. The intervening substance through which sensory impressions are conveyed or physical forces are transmitted.[5]

c. A particular form of storage material for computer files, such as magnetic tape or discs.[6]

From which I can deduce that the word “media” in time-based media is directed at the artwork which communicates (to the audience).

The definition of time (taken from the Lexico, an online dictionary supported by Oxford Dictionary):

1. The indefinite continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future regarded as a whole.[7]

2. A point of time as measured in hours and minutes past midnight or noon.

3. Time as allotted, available, or used.[8]

4. An instance of something happening or being done; an occasion.[9]

5. (following a number) expressing multiplication.[10]

6. The rhythmic pattern of a piece of music, as expressed by a time signature.[11]

The word time by its definition, it means that it is a concept that rooted in one’s lived experience/existence. It can be by itself and its utility. It is ephemeral and plural but also unified. It is rhythmic and repetitive.

With this comprehensive and dynamic definition of time, I am going to explain further how time-based media perfectly capture and present the concept of time.

The term “Time-based Media” in the context of contemporary art is defined as any artwork that has a temporal dimension as well as the element of time, such as video, slide, audio, and computer technologies. It is heavily discussed in the fields of contemporary art, media studies, film studies as well as media art.

“Contemporary artworks that include video, film, slide, audio, or computer technologies are referred to as time-based media works because they have duration as a dimension and unfold to the viewer over time.” A definition from Guggenheim Museum.

Immersive

What it means to be immersed. The word “immerse” usually denotes to submerge one in liquid, to be fully surrounded. (definition of immerse from the Oxford dictionary: Dip or submerge in a liquid.)[12]

By changing space, by leaving the space of one’s usual sensibilities, one enters into communication with a space that is psychically innovating…For we do not change place, we change our Nature

A passage taken from The Poetics of Space by Gaston Bachelard.[13]

An immersive experience means one is being transported, out of your reality to another space perceptually and sensually.

Time-based media as an immersive experience

To illustrate what it means for a time-based media as an immersive experience, I will introduce the example of photograph capturing time and performing perceptual transportation.

Photograph as a transportation device as described by John Berger in his book on absence, photography and migration, A Seventh Man.

A friend came to see me in a dream, From far away, And I asked in the dream: “Did you come by photography or train?” All photographs are a form of transport and an expression of absence.[14]

In the process of forming a photograph, beams of light reflected from the surfaces of our surroundings traveling through the camera lenses and landing on the film (or on the sensor in digital imaging) and imprinted and exposes the slide. An instant moment or fragments of time (dictate by the length and times of the exposure) is captured and encapsulated in this image. As a viewer, by gazing at the images, one is transposed into the moments in time captured in these images.

One is genuinely immersed in the work of art when the work grabs your attention and transport you from your physical environment to the whelm of your imagination.

Our Relationship to Media in the Contemporary Environment

In John Berger’s Ways of Seeing,[15] he explored the way we perceive media and artwork through the investigation of “our gaze”. He studied extensively the work of Walter Benjamin — The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction and drew inspiration from it. [16]

With the technology of reproduction (using printing or photography, which are meant for mass production), the way we create had been changed. From which we are brought to the topic of “aura”, and our relationship to the authenticity of an artwork. [17]

Besides, he also talked about how media served as a reflection of our perceptions (collectively and individually), how we project our identity onto it, as well as its effect on our sense of self and society. [18]

When talking about the effects of publicity and advertising, he argued that these printed media, in forms of reproduction of the actual artwork, mediates our relationship and perception of the artwork, and as a result, such consumptions substitute the artwork and its “aura”. [19]

Technological advancement and capitalism further changes and accelerates such mediation and consumption. With these mediations and sensory overloads, how is an artwork performing its transportive property?

Intersection of Expanded Cinema and Theatrical Installation and its Devices and Methods

Expanded Cinema

Expanded Cinema emerged in the late 60s. The term is cemented and introduced by Gene Youngblood in the book of the same title, which brought cinema and video into the field of contemporary art.[20] He introduced how with new technologies; the artist/filmmakers re-orientate the relationship of the medium with the audience. The audience instead of being passive at the receiving end of the screen (as entertainment) to an active participant. This type of engagement is sometimes actualized by exposing the way the mechanics works.

One of the great examples is Light Music (1975) by Lis Rhodes. In her work, she uses a projection from the floor to a wall in a black box space.[21] The stripes of lights represent the rhythm of music. As the slides played, you can hear the ticking sound from the projector, which synchronizes with the visual projected onto the wall. The rays of lights are traveling across the room, when one enters the room, the motion of the viewer disrupts the rays of light and these motions are captured in the projection. The viewers in this sense can directly interact with the light as well as the visuals projected onto the wall.

Participation requires a high level of engagement from the viewers, when your senses are disrupted in such a sense it creates an immersive effect.

Theatrical devices

Often theatrical devices (such as stage design, projection mapping, black box etc) are employed in contemporary artworks especially in installation art.

Stage Design

Stage design is a specific field that deals with the design of the physical space where the performance takes place in a theatre setting. In the context of a theatrical installation, this directs at the design of the physical space where the artwork is situated — “the stage”, it is structural and architectural. It can house the viewers and putting the viewers in perspective with the artwork, and sometimes the design of the space situates the viewer inside the artwork. The stage is the crucial part of the artwork in theatrical installations.

Stage design also addresses the acoustic property of the elements in the space. Different material used in the stage will have different acoustic property. The artists or designers have to have in mind that material choice, positions of the elements and the size of the elements and how they play into the acoustic quality of the space.

The design of the stage and its terrain sometimes serves as a surface and a landscape for the projection to be taken place. This we will be further addressed in the following session.

Projection Mapping

With different stage installation and motion projection onto the “stage”, the elements in space will be morphing and changing in front of your eyes. Thus, transforming your space visually and changing the landscape around you. All “props” and elements in the space is dynamic. The viewer in the work is the actor. As ones moves around the space, the agency is with them. They can unfold the work as they move around the space.

Sometimes false wall or partitions are created as a surface for projection, or revolving elements can be used to change the surfaces of the stage. Projectors are usually mounted onto the structure of lighting grid. Light grid is a metallic structure which is suspended from the ceiling. It allows modular movements for different lighting equipment and hardware parts to be attached. The position of the attachments is flexible and can be movement around within the grid. The limits for the configuration of the stage and the grid is in the creativity of the artist and the stage designers.

Black Box

Black box theatre is a performance space with a flat surface for performance to take place. Such space usually has concealed openings to avoid light leaks from external environment, this creates a very controlled environment. The surfaces of the space are usually dark, which can absorb the lighting projected onto it and avoids the uncontrolled bouncing of light from it. It creates a disorientation and a void of dimension for the viewers. In such a space, the media — (lights projected onto the element in the space) is the only sensual element for the viewers. It aids to perceptually transport you out of your surroundings as your senses are directly controlled by the design of the artwork.

Immersive Audio

Surround sound system is a comprehensive system of multiple audio speakers installed in various locations in the space to create multi-direction sound immersion for the viewers. Sound designers must address different acoustic qualities in the space. As the structure of the design for each space is different, this could have complicated implications, for example in different areas in the space might have different acoustic quality. To address these differences, the artist and the sound designer have to use different audio equipment to mitigate the differences and delivered an overall all-direction immersion of sound into the space.

Dynamic Audio Installation

To create a dynamic experience for the viewer in an installation means to have plural and transition quality of sound as one moves around the space within the artwork. (as the viewers are encouraged to move around when experiencing the artwork). Directional speakers with a Sound Doom can serves as a localizer of sound. Such speakers facilitate controlled acoustic experience to a confined area.

Others means such as an acoustic installation that could allow ambiance sounds to be manipulated can be used too. These devices and sound mechanics are very much experiment by artists. Some of these devices can even be interactive. Such sophisticated and elegant elements add further layers to the experience of a viewer.

Using theatrical devices in terms of installation as well as the theories and methods of expanded cinema sets the premise for time-based media as an immersive experience. I am going to introduce two exhibitions that I identified as the best practices for this format of exhibitions in the further discussion and unfold more layers to the possibility of such work.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, Untitled 2014 — the National Gallery of Singapore

Image taken from the website of National gallery of Singapore (accessed on 15/4/2020)

Untitled 2014 is an installation by Thai Artist Rikrit Tiravanija in the National Gallery of Singapore. The dim gallery space resembled a black box theatre. Three-channel videos are projected on three surfaces wrapping up the gallery space, creating a panoramic view of the scene in which various events were taking place. At the center of the gallery a stove place on top of a mat — similar to the scene inside the video, ten stools are scattered around the gallery space. This installation attempts to restage the environment of the scene portrayed in the video work.

Rikirt is part of a group of post-studio artists who established their practices with socially engaged events Chiang Mai Social Installations in the 1990s Thailand. Chiang Mai Social Installation is a series of independent art festival that brought artists into the city of Chiang Mai through socially engaged activities. It was a reaction to the socio-political, economic changes as well as the institution art practices in the country at that time.

These socially engaged activities are defined by relational aesthetic as well as performative practices.

Before talking about the nature of the physical environment created in this installation, I would like to first explain the content of the artwork by expanding the topic to the two concepts that are the center of this artwork.

Relational Aesthetic

Relational aesthetic is a term coined by the curator Nicolas Bourriaud in his seminal homonymous text. The term refers to” a set of artistic practices which take as their theoretical and practical point of departure the whole of human relations and their social context, rather than an independent and private space.[22]

The artistic quality here lies in the social relation between the participants, in which it is expanding the private sphere out to the public through various social activities as well as spatial interventions. The event situates in the social reality of the physical space employed by the artist. In his text, he examined carefully the artistic practices of the socially engaged artist such as Rikrit.

“the role of artworks is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real, whatever scale chosen by the artist.”

Passage from Relational Aesthetic by Nicolas Bourriaud

These events can only be experienced by a limited amount of people engaged by the artist. Their narratives are limited by the second-hand account of the experience by the participants. Thus one can argue about the fictionality of such work.

With an installation to restore the scene and environment sensually in a gallery space, maybe the experience of the actual event can be recreated. The narration of such fictionality can be communicated and transpire in the gallery space.

Performance Art

Artworks that are created through actions performed by the artist or other participants, which may be live or recorded, spontaneous or scripted.[23]

Definition of Performance Art from Tate

Performance art is usually an event involving the body of the artist or “performer”. It can be situational and interventional. As it is a happening, it is ephemeral. The element of time is ever-present and sometimes crucial to the performance.

The term was introduced to the field of contemporary art in the 1970s. Its roots can be traced to the futurists and dada cabaret in the 1910s. This unconventional and ephemeral way of art-making was seen as a subversion to the traditional methods, the latter relies heavily on the materiality of the art object. This immaterial nature is sometimes discussed in relation to conceptual art. The documentation of such happenings is embraced into the “artwork” itself, sometimes intentionally. The form of documentation can be in video, photograph, or even installation, with which it can convey the ephemera to the audiences. [24]

Besides its time dimension, such artwork and its presentation situate perfectly in the intersection of an immersive experience. As it engages the audiences directly, with the design and installation of the work (in its documentation) transports one into the happening of the actions.

The ephemeral and fictional/second-hand narrative from the actual happenings is reactivated in the gallery space with the theatrical devices, such as the sound doom localizers installed in the ceiling and the physical elements displayed in the middle serve as the props to bring the audiences into the scene. One is invited to sit on the stools placed in front of the projections.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Primitive 2009 — the Tanks at Tate Modern

Image taken from the website of Tate[AN(P1] , (accessed on 15/4/2020)

Set up of the installation of the exhibition Primitive in Tate The Tank— Image taken from the website of Tate, (accessed on 15/4/2020)

Primitive is the installation of the film works by Thai artist/filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, displayed in the Tank at Tate Modern in 2009. The installation consists of seven videos of different lengths. “The seven videos” in the display was: “Primitive (duration 29 minutes 34 seconds), Nabua (duration 9 minutes 11 seconds), Making of the Spaceship (duration 28 minutes 13 seconds), A Dedicated Machine (duration 1 minute), An Evening Shoot (duration 4 minutes 10 seconds), I’m Still Breathing (music video, duration 11 minutes) and Nabua Song (music video, duration 4 minutes 12 seconds)[AN(P3] ”. [25] Two of the videos are close to half an hour, and four shorter videos of 1 to 11 minutes were screened.

Apichatpong Weerasethakul is a Thai filmmaker that works outside of the confirm of the studio, his work draws inspiration from folklore and the mystical of the Thai tradition. The ways of expression are surrealist and dream-like. [26]

A visual analysis from the photographs of the installation: A false wall was erected at one end of the gallery a long red carpet was laid at the center of the gallery space, soft pillows are placed around the pillars. Multiple holographic screens are suspended from the ceiling on the side of the gallery wrapping up the center space. Looking up, on the lighting grid projectors are mounted on the ceiling, allowing projection onto the multiple surfaces. Speakers are suspended from the lighting grid and lower to right above the human level surrounding the center of the gallery. The audiences were encouraged to relax and lie down on the carpet or move around the dim gallery to view the video work projected around them.

Here’s a photograph of friends.

Transported and present, who got off from the same station.[27]

- A passage taken from A Seventh Man by John Berger

The immersive power of Time-based Media lets the artistic ability of an artwork transport you from the present to the moment in the past, like a time machine. Be it an expanded cinematic work, a relational aesthetic practice, or a performative work embodied in a theatrical installation, or something as simple as a photograph can capture time so elegantly. This transportive power illustrated perfectly in this passage written by John Berger, it serves as a vehicle that brings you to the spooky state, where present and past are fused so seamlessly and letting your mind wander.

[1] Debord, Guy. Society of the Spectacle. Black & Red, 2016.

[2] “Media: Meaning of Media by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/definition/media.

[3] ibis

[4] “Medium: Meaning of Medium by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/definition/medium.

[5] ibis

[6] ibis

[7] “Time: Meaning of Time by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/definition/time.

[8] ibis

[9] ibis

[10] ibis

[11] ibis

[12] “Immerse: Meaning of Immerse by Lexico.” Lexico Dictionaries | English, Lexico Dictionaries, www.lexico.com/definition/immerse.

[13] Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Penguin Classics, 2014. pp. 203–210

[14] Berger, John. A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe. Viking Press, 1975.

[15] Berger, John. Ways of Seeing: Based on the BBC Television Series with John Berger. British Broadcasting Corp., 2012.

[16] ibis

[17] ibis

[18] ibis

[19] ibis

[20] Youngblood, Gene. Expanded Cinema. Dutton, 1970.

[21] Tate. “Lis Rhodes: Light Music.” Tate, www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern-tanks/display/lis-rhodes-light-music.

[22] Bourriaud, Nicolas, et al. Relational Aesthetics. Les Presses Du réel, 2010.

[23] Tate. “Performance Art — Art Term.” Tate, www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/p/performance-art.

[24] ibis

[25] Tate. “‘Primitive’, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, 2009.” Tate, 1 Jan. 1970, www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/weerasethakul-primitive-t13564.

[26] ibis

[27] Berger, John. A Seventh Man: Migrant Workers in Europe. Viking Press, 1975.

[AN(P1]The reference is ok. However, in a caption one expects to read a description of the image.

[AN(P2]Which installation? As discussed in class captions are self-standing items and need to have a complete and coherent narrative.

[AN(P3]Direct citations need to be in inverted commas.

i feel as i move as i feel