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"Me the Places Where You Went", three screens slide projection with sound accompainment

 

SYLVIAN FLANAGAN, ME, THE PLACES WHERE YOU WE

NT: GALAPAGOS ART SPACE • BROOKLYN, NEW YORK

by Bernardo Zavattini

 

Sylvain Flanagan’s installation piece: “Me, the Places Where You Went” was first presented at Galapagos Art Space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. It is a 14 minute long sequence of slides with a synchronized vocal sound track projected onto three identical large screens placed side by side in the darkened exhibition space. Flanagan works with a dissolve unit which synchronizes the projectors and the soundtrack. His voice is recorded in a previous session, without instruments or mixing, and is performed to a carefully composed sequence of slides which he marks out on a score sheet. The optical quality of the slides is well suited to the long-exposure night shots which characterize the work.

 

At first a sound. A low growling jeer, almost machine-like. Rising now a little. Testing.

In front of us a night shot of a single scraggly tree, harshly etched in some mercury glow near a wall. Almost black and white. Definitely werewolf this sound. Not human.

Where from? Is it the tree? A concealed observer? Images multiply. The tree is shifted. Blurred differently.

 

Our point of view moves. We approach. The sound grows louder, more expressive, insistent. A mocking, pre-human song.

 

Cut to a curb captured under the subacqueous glow of sodium lights. The voice changes to a demented humming. We approach at a tangent. The photos appear in a rotating variety of combinations. An eye which retains, follows, compares. There is an almost soothing sense of rhythmic mobility. With each changing scene the voice shifts register. An acrobatic range of vocal effects accompanies these sequences. Our eye is like a sonar. Sight goes out and sound comes back. Our ears create the location. Each separate scene is both a part of the whole as well as being a distinct little world of its own.

 

Cut to a turbulent morphing cloud of white beasts and personages locked in a vaguely distinguishable battle. The voice is an outraged caricature-like chatter. We see a raft, a sleeping figure, a jumping ram, a whale. An anthropomorphic pile of snow crossing in the night. With every approaching shot the chatter becomes increasingly hysterical until it finally reaches a barely sustained climax.

 

A dozen separate scenes comprise the total piece. The concluding sequence of images breaks with the nocturnal quality of the rest. The voice becomes a distant chant. A row of autumnal trees towers above us; in the stratospheric daylight sliding past, the ground is invisible.

 

With simple means Sylvain Flanagan creates a strong impact on the viewer. The environment of the work manages to suggest an inner psychological space through the combination of sound and multiple images. Throughout the set we sense an underlying unity. Like a solitary limping adventure among abandoned theater props in an electric Surreal décor with a disembodied voice for company. Motion of the image is a component part of seeing this piece. Stop-action images grouped in jump cut sequences. A shuttered spatial dance of the eye moving in a slow-motion staccato. Time is disconnected and threaded together again by song. Everything is in a state of flux.

 

The camera slides like a violin bow on chords of electric light. Visual features ringing in the concussion of mercury and sodium discharges. Images are not fixed but slide past like humming fish in the murky depth. Photos which are not composed but walked past, swung into. The speed of progress is unclear. Somewhere between hovering and rapid movement. Intervals are indeterminate, expanded and contracted like thought processes. Images hesitate and advance, in the same way that they are sometimes compared, delayed and multiplied in the mind’s eye.

 

There is an ambiguous relationship between the image and the sound. It is both an accompaniment to the image and a response? Is it onomatopoeic—the sound of a thing’s name shaped by the way it looks? Or is it synaesthetic—one sense directly translating itself into another? Is each one of these scenes a long drawn out onomatopoeia, a word beginning to form through the sensation of light, or is it cross-wiring at a perceptual level, a kind of hallucinatory echo? The voice plays the role of a primordial chorus accompanying us through this voyage. An antediluvian song of some sort. An emergent tale which is not told but felt. In which the eye and the voice still form one indivisible entity.

 

The piece has a Dionisiac feel. The fleeting passage of some intelligent spirit, never still; seeing but not seen. A disembodied observer, a shadow traveling on a modest initiating voyage, through stages of discovery; a kind of pocket Gilgamesh epic. With simple tools and subject matter, Flanagan manages to create a world that is coherent and captivating. As with his former photo series, Flanagan’s work gives the impression of dealing with the images as a membrane, which is floating, located between the viewer and the artist. The tension arises from the persistent desire of the work to break through this boundary or perhaps to dissolve it by confounding it.

 

Although the voice is equally present throughout the gallery space, it sometimes seems to originate from the viewer’s side, while at other times from the image itself. It can be understood as migrating from one side to the other, creating a collapsing or telescoping of the normally three distinct elements: the artist, the art work, and the viewer. In this case all are contained in the same space. A new kind of language emerges, where the clarity of the eye and the guttural singing voice create a bond between the primordial intelligence of seeing and the pure sensuality of being; where subjectivity and objectivity are not yet separated.

 

I feel this piece explores the area between seeing and recognition. It creates a mask between the spectator and the world, which we wear and through which we must experience it. It is a pre-conscious space in which images and afterimages switch back and forth in a stop-action dance on the inner surface of the mind’s eye. The gallery reveals split-second thought-sequences, neurological pulse trains broken down and developed into song. It can also be viewed as a kind of synaesthetic description, in which pictorial and musical means are employed to model fragments or micro-fragments of consciousness. Time is sandwiched between the blinking of the eye and the humming of the mind.

 

Is the voice a natural counterpart to the eye? Singing while you look at something is almost like singing while you draw. It is a most natural way of heightening the effect of the image and its sensual charge. Children often begin sing to themselves while drawing. They just as easily switch back and forth from tinkling chromatic melodies to descriptive sound effects. Is this just a form of self-absorption or is it the means to a greater range and dimensionality in what starts as a visual work?  Sight is built up over a multitude of stages, beginning with a simple spatial frequency spectrum and passing through a number of hardwired quantitative and qualitative tests. Our vision pieces together a conscious image through many layers of wordless poetry which, in our hypertextual daily routine, has become a cacophony of enumerated lists, a fever of naming and identifying things as they are perceived. This is a condition we can attenuate and sometimes escape from. The battle is to keep a more direct sensibility ringing as we gaze around us at the world.

 

Sylvain Flanagan works at keeping this sensibility alive.

 

Bernardo Zavattini

Brooklyn, New York

2001

 

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