Overview, Images

Endless Projection

Tim Alves

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Stephen Palmer’s videos in Endless Projection at BLINDSIDE develop a dialectic of interiority and exteriority, and in particular, a sense that visual perceptions are predicated on an intermediary space between the subject and the external world. The metaphor for this intermediary space is commonly the camera obscura. The term refers to a dark chamber and connotes the invention of photographic images. The camera obscura is an apparatus that mediates between the external world and the world of images, which, conceptually speaking, construct our understanding of the external world. Yet unlike the camera obscura, which is a physical thing, Palmer’s silent digital videos engage with an abstract mediator. He doesn’t examine the apparatus in a positivist way; he examines it from within our constructs, within the dispositif, the word that can refer to both the apparatus and the constructs. Palmer’s videos serve to conceptually reconstruct the apparatus from the subtle marks it leaves on images of the external world.

As a way of reconstructing this intermediary space, the artist users the camera in a recently out of date cellular phone to carry out a series of rote gestures that are, in themselves, empty of significance. (Images produced by the latest iPhone somehow seem more transparent than those produced by its predecessors.) In doing so, he accentuates a series of emotions without necessarily dictating what they are. And within the emotional register of these videos, the role of the apparatus is coupled with the psychological notion of projection—in a non-clinical sense—which is that one looks for the cause of sensations externally, instead of, or to avoid, looking for them internally. We project our own feelings onto others, and sometimes the manifest content can be the opposite of our wishes.

Palmer’s twelve-minute video Exposures comprises a series of slideshow-like details of suburban spaces including small-scale streetscapes, house facades and domestic interiors. Mundane views of real estate and carpeted floors are lit by intense sunlight. Roof tiles frame a shard of bright sky. The light throws architraves into silhouette. Gradually, forms become clearer as the camera automatically adjusts its aperture. Palmer slows the motion. Then forms fade to white or are cut away, and the next image fades in. It’s a tilt shot of an interior, light streams in, the same bright light. A slight wind ruffles the tea trees in a small park wedged between wooden back fences. Cutaway. The next image shows a block of flats, wintery clear sky and polls garrisoning parking spots. Flywire shimmers in the wind. Fade to white. Sunlight streaks across the plastic lens glaring over the picture. The breeze is evident in the shadows on the nature-strip. Fade to white, but the streaks don’t disappear. In some images of carpeted interiors, the stark light projects patterns of leaves onto surfaces, and it symbolically positions viewers inside the apparatus. However, the video alludes to this abstract intermediary space between the object and the subject of perception more subtly through disjointed shot-reverse-shot conversations between driveways and yards, and especially through the slow motion footage of the phone adjusting its aperture in the uncomfortable glare.

Palmer uses an out of date iPhone because the camera in it takes a while adjust. He flips this phone from side to side, rolling it across the grass of an oval. When the camera lens is facing upwards it records an image of blue sky and white clouds, and when it’s facing downwards, it records an out of focus image of green grass. As it flips between the sky and the ground, it shows a quick glimpse of trees outside the oval. But between the ground and the sky, the aperture of the old phone has to adjust, and the image becomes overexposed. Once it arrives facing upwards again, the white retreats revealing areas of blue sky against the already white clouds. Displayed in this exhibition, these images are projected vertically—perhaps unexpectedly, from the experience of rolling across grass. This modification draws attention to the transitions, and they become like the cuts, dissolves and wipes of Hollywood and its afterlife in b-movies. If viewers become in synch with effect and see the footage in this way, it de-emphasises the illusion of movement – the phone flipping – and figuratively it reconstructs a visual culture, a symbolic language describing time and perception.

Prone is a video loop that is displayed horizontally, or lying prone, on the floor. Its colour scheme of warm greens, light browns, deep shadows and intense highlights takes Turning as a point of reference, suggesting the same topography of nature strips and ovals. The flowing visual patterns of Prone are abstract, but simultaneously they have a diffused pictorial depth—a bokeh character, which describes the blinking translucent circles of scattered light in photographic images. Unlike Turning, with its Sisyphean struggle, Prone is constantly facing downwards. The bokeh lens effect is gentler than the pulsating overexposed white. However, both these effects are technical projections of the phone’s lens onto the visual field. Each translucent circle of light indexes the camera’s aperture.

Finally, seeing the body of work in Endless Projection as reconstructing a visual apparatus, Box Video focuses inwardly. In this video the camera awkwardly jolts around the enclosed space of a cardboard box. Its light gropes around the walls and reflects off scattered particles of dust. It’s literally a camera obscura without an aperture. The title refers to vision in the etymology of the word video, but vision in this sense remains merely potential. Ultimately, in Box Video the apparatus subsists in its most abstract sense, unmoored from its mediating role. In Endless Projection Palmer displays a series of videos that index the apparatus within the images it produces, like the glare of the camera adjusting its aperture and the bokeh lens effect. However, in Box Video he distils this motif to the point where the apparatus can be reconstructed without reference to the external world.

Endless Projection explored the production of perceptual experience through the interposition of the eye and the photographic apparatus.

Tim Alves is a writer and a teacher at Monash University Library.

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Working on unceded sovereign land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, Blindside pays respect to Elders, past, present and emerging.


Working on unceded sovereign land of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation, Blindside pays respect to Elders, past, present and emerging.