“When a point becomes movement and line, it takes up time. Similarly, when a line pulls itself out into a plane. And the same when a flat plane becomes a three-dimensional enclosure. And the viewer, does he (she) respond to the work as a whole? Often yes, unfortunately.”
As I was transcribing this quote by Paul Klee from Peter Gidal’s article “Theory & Definition of Structural/Materialist Film,” my fingers, instead of typing “line” instinctively typed out the word “life.” My pinky reached for the backspace to correct this error, but I held it mid-air, thinking for a moment about this unintentional, loaded slip. I’ve been watching installation footage of Daniel Young & Christian Giroux’s Camera Path / Film Path with under-titles (2019) on repeat for the past week, refreshing my memory of their exhibition, and sitting with what, to that point, had seemed like an overly complex work of art. The typo struck me as a way to rethink my approach. Rather than obeying my first inclination – to try to disentangle and decipher the technical elements of the installation as a way of describing what the work is about – I decided to heed Klee’s remark, to soften my grip on responding to the work “as a whole” and instead, allow myself a more poetic approach, to trace my steps back through it using this new “life/line.”
Camera Path / Film Path with under-titles – which had its first installation at InterAccess Gallery in Toronto, and is now on view at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria – is simultaneously a film, a math problem, and a 3D model that contains its own critical interpretation. It comprises a 35mm film projection produced from the surface of the path of the film strip as it moves through a coiled, rollercoaster-like sculpture, which itself is the three-dimensional materialization of the film loop, and installed as an tangle around the projector. Comprising vibrant cyan, magenta, yellow, and pure black steel and aluminum armatures, the sculpture is a granny knot that folds back into itself to create a set of circuitous rings through which the film strip can pass. Young & Giroux collaborated with Daniel Hambleton of MESH Consultants in Toronto to devise the three-dimensional actualization of their initial concept sketches. Camera Path / Film Path with under-titles is a double visualization of a singular idea, a tautological device, a way of saying the same thing twice. What we see on the screen is the film as it flows through the sculpture, tracked by the omnipresent camera.
In the darkened gallery, the viewer remains outside the physical object, riding the wave along with the camera as though a Lilliputian figure atop its singular, ocular shoulder. Disorienting, hypnotizing, and loud, Camera Path / Film Path with under-titles is a highly engineered answer to a digital math problem. Having heard the design team and Young & Giroux speak on the work, I have a tertiary understanding of how the thing came into fruition, and, as impressive and complex as its invention was, I nevertheless fall prey to a dizzying impulse to get inside of it. Where am I in all of this? On their loop, on this loop, their line, my life?
Writing about structural film over thirty years ago, Gidal uncannily describes my experience with Camera Path … :
The mental activation of the viewer is necessary for the procedure of the film’s existence. Each film is not only structural but also structuring … The viewer is forming an equal and possibly more or less opposite ‘film’ in her/his head, constantly anticipating, correcting, re-correcting – constantly intervening in the arena of confrontation with the given reality, i.e., the isolated chosen area of each film’s work, of each film’s production.
It is as though I am seeing in triple: the camera path, the film path, and the reconstruction. In my head, I am attempting to smash them together so I can flatten them into one straight line. But then, shit, the film runs through the projector again, the loop starts over and just when I think I’ve figured it out, I’m back at the beginning. I need to get off this ride; I need a life/line.
So, I shift my gaze away from the circuit, and immediately, a voice breaks in, disrupting my existential crisis:
”You can’t outrun the strip. You can’t pause the puppy. Regret arises at the moment of passing from potential to actual. Best chance is music, music, continuously arriving, shifting the center note by note, a machine for transforming regret.”
The “voice” I’m experiencing is Judy Radul’s. Her words are not spoken, but rather scroll on an LED ticker tape that rests on the floor of the gallery below the projection screen. Hers is one of thirteen sets of “under-titles” by poets, theorists, and artists – Michael Snow, Bridget Moser, Geoffrey Farmer, Mohammad Salemy, among others – whom Young & Giroux have commissioned to respond to, and become part of the installation. These texts run on their own path across the ticker, line by line, flickering in and out as anonymous commentary for the sculpture.
Young & Giroux have stated that they “don’t make narrative artworks, [but] systems.” None of the texts presented here are didactic or linear. Short, rhetorical, lyrical, and technical, they thwart any desire to have the work explained. Epigraphs like “Losing is the strongest component in developing complex strength. Nothing alive would be without that strength. WE have to succeed; not fail and then blame; we have to succeed,” ( From John Barlow) act instead as life/lines: cracks in the perpetual motion of the installation, in the looping pattern of thought it provokes. They become invitations to interpret the piece as something more, vehicles to take you outside of routinized thinking, a push to get over your vertigo.
Recently I’ve been reading Michael Pollan’s 2018 book How to Change Your Mind, his personal exploration of the history and future of psychedelic drugs, but also, as he describes, the “eternal puzzle of human consciousness.” His interest in the subject was sparked by a search for more “neural diversity,” and the ways that certain psychotropic substances can potentially hold off a “premature closing” of our experiences with reality. I’m not entirely suggesting that the experience of Camera Path / Film Path with under-titles is akin to taking LSD; however, in the way they have incorporated the under-writing into their looping mechanism, Young & Giroux halt Klee’s “unfortunate” easy experience of the work “as a whole” and offer a new line of life into our otherwise routinized patterns of thought. As Pollan notes “one of the things that commends travel, art…and certain drugs…is the way [they], at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present…to which the adult brain has closed itself.” This is what Young & Giroux have accomplished with this work. The moment, as one of their writers Eric Cazdyn expresses “when the super identity is no longer one, when film and our dreams fly off into their separate orbits. They are no longer one. But neither are they two. Film is different to itself. Our dreams are different to themselves. We are different to ourselves. And now, there is room to become something else.” A new life/line.