By early afternoon, the Saturday sun has driven everyone to seek whatever kind of shade they can find. On the walk over the traffic had been relatively sparse, and turning onto the sleepy little side street the quiet became even more pronounced. But stepping inside the Braunstein/Quay Galleries the atmosphere feels like something captured and contained, a confined hush, helped no doubt by the trio of metronomes ticking away in the corner. The man at the desk barely nods as I stagger in. I must look like a wreck having walked all this way in the heat.
Perched on little plinths around the room are a collection of devices that wouldn’t look out of place in the Musee Mechanique: a stereoscope, hand cranked music box and an oversized cabinet that looks like a Mutoscope sputtering out frames of a film and its accompanying sound at the pace of a water clock. There is that “gallery effect” moment, when confronted by objects that beg to be manipulated your hand darts away at the last minute as if near a hot stove. And that moment is my first indication that the artist is trying to tell me something, something about how we interact with media nowadays as opposed to the past that these archaic devices represent.
I generally avoid reading the artist’s statements and curator summaries until after I’ve visited an exhibit. I prefer to be confronted with something new and unexpected and let it digest a few days and see what kinds of things start stirring in the imagination. So it’s not until Tuesday that I take the time to read what B/Q has to say by way of introduction to Paul DeMarinis’ show New Works. “Paul DeMarinis’ art explores humanity’s fascination with communication and its accompanying technologies. By merging early sound devices with contemporary components, DeMarinis questions our perceptions of how sound changes our environment and how machines integrate with our lives, affecting our modes of thought.”
Glad I read that later because at the time I was more fascinated with the visual aspects of the pieces than the audio component. I gave the music box a few halfhearted twists, and tried to be patient through the output of the Mutoscope-like device (or is it a Kinetoscope?) which moved so slowly that it took a while to convince myself that it wasn’t just a continual loop of a handful of frames of film. If you’ve had any experience working on editing software like Final Cut or Avid you’ll recognize the accompanying stutter of a few digitized vocal grunts as the software skips across an audio channel. This is the kind of art that convinces people that the artist is solely out to irritate them.
And it isn’t until I see an entire scene stretched across the wall paired with music notes below that I recognize the source of the visual components for the pieces, Goddard’s film Weekend. DeMarinis is especially fond of the long tracking shot from the beginning of the film, a ten minute ride-along across a stretch of road filled with backed up traffic whose terminus is the wreck that caused the jam. Stretched out here as a single piece I’m reminded of the only item of interest I found in Scott McCloud’s over-hyped book Understanding Comics. In a much too brief examination McCloud dissects a single panel from a comic of a dinner party in progress. Scattered about the room are people engaged in conversation captured by the usual word balloons floating above their heads. McCloud notes that we process this image in a strange way. There is some similarity here to a photographic snapshot and nowadays bad filmmakers like Zach Snyder preach the gospel that comic books are films in utero. But McCloud points out that unlike a snapshot, there are activities that occur simultaneously and others happening over indeterminate intervals. Are all the events in the panel happening at the exact same moment? Obviously impossible since we are reading the characters’ comments which consist of more than a single syllable. Our eyes sweep around the image, taking in the people and their utterances before moving on to the next, even while we accept that all these events are captured in a single tableau. So there are many bits of contained time passing, which our brain incorporates into a larger narrative wherein a different stretch of time is accepted as elapsing. It’s a remarkable juggling act, more so because we carry out this mental balancing act without ever being conscious of the discrepancies.
And this was what really struck me about the elongated reproduction of the tracking shot in pieces like Early Media Goes to the Movies, Part 1: Weekend – Traffic Jam: Panorama (detail), 2008. In it we are witnessing events that occur over time as if from afar, from a place far enough back to take it all in, which while it may not be immediately evident, is a place somehow outside of time as well. Underlining the images are splotches of white that represent the accompanying sound (most likely the honking of car horns in most instances if memory serves). While DiMarinis set out to get us thinking of archaic reproductions of sound I found myself thinking more of this bizarre point of view that calls to mind cyclorama or panoramas of historic scenes or landscapes, or even the spiralling troops that march their way up the columns of Trajan and Marcus Aurelius.
And the metronomes? Well, considering the soothing intonations from old hypnotists’ recordings that accompany their steady ticking, it’s safe to say they achieved their desired effect of “lull(ing) the listener into a sonic trance.” Coming in from the heat into the cool and quiet no doubt helped. As I was about to head across the entrance ramp to check out a panel from Darger’s notebooks in the gallery next door, it was probably the best possible state of mind to be in.