Sleeping within reach of a tape recorder has allowed me to harvest dream images soon after they occur. Upon awakening I record the contents of my dreams. After several years I’ve developed a library of these taped images and from them I have learned about the language and nature of the subconscious. These intriguing images from within form the core subject of my art and it is here that my passions lie.
The animation technique that I employ in this work retreats down the evolutionary tree of image-making creating an offshoot of a technology developed in the mid-19th century. This technique is the ancestor of current film and video and employs the scientific principle of the persistence of vision. Changing images are presented in rapid succession creating the illusion of movement. With this technique I am able to combine the infinite perspective available in three dimensions with the fourth dimension of time. The strobe light allows me to animate three-dimensional objects in real time allowing the viewer to share the same physical space with the animated sequence. While ideally suited to the realization of subconscious imagery, animation allows great freedom of expression as well as a platform to investigate the nature of perception. My goal is not simple reproduction as in television. Nothing is hidden in the presentation of these works. The exposed method of delivery enhances the dream reality of the installation.
One of the great myths of recent history is the dominance of rational thought. The human desire for the safety of order has in the last two centuries elevated rational thinking to the level of religion, a security blanket for a confused and frightened world. Our world, viewed from any one angle is incomplete and when viewed from all angles is incoherent. No single perspective takes into account the infinite variation of our experience. Our sciences comfort us somewhat with their posture of certainty and a vast array of practical knowledge but are plagued with uncertainties. In Jungian psychology, dreams are a safety valve of the psyche, venting a primordial distrust of human constructs and forming a road map into our deepest nature. Human needs are based on a long evolutionary past that cannot be met by reason alone.
Technology is just such a reasoned path subject to our mistrust. ICC has provided me with the opportunity to investigate the subconscious response to the vortex of modern telecommunications. For those fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be in its path, telecommunications promise greater communication and accessibility. At the same time there is a risk of dependency and the loss of intimacy, privacy, and identity.
My use of dream imagery is an attempt to confront the viewer physically with these tell-tale images. My task is to choose universal themes that each viewer can apply individually to their own experience. The power of sharing the same space with these three-dimensional images lies partially in witnessing your own act of interpretation. The rapidly changing images are knit together into a coherent (or incoherent, as the case may be) whole, illustrating the act of self-definition inherent in perception and cognition. Our minds have an overwhelming desire for order. We create the order. It is the nature of that order that defines us as human beings. Order, however, is not what I offer you. Instead, I offer a three-dimensional window into the domain of the unconscious where emotions run wild and self-deception is an oxymoron.
On the Artist’s Work
Gregory BARSAMIAN generates three-dimensional animation by linking together finely wrought sculptures and revolving them by motor under simultaneously flashing strobe lights. As the images rapidly change at several joints in the sequence, they are cyclically repeated. For instance, “Putti” (1991) repeats the metamorphoses between an angel and a helicopter; in “Dipping Digits” (1992) a hand scoops a lizard from the text of an open book; and in “Feral Fount” (1996) drops of water trickling from a water faucet metamorphose into a bomb, which passes through the hand like water to become a paper airplane that breaks a ceramic dish. These sequential, meditative images lead us on a journey to the subconscious. If dreams are the wellspring of images for the artist, then the artist’s work certainly overlaps with the interpretation of those dreams.
The technique of BARSAMIAN’s animation has its origins in the zoetrope, a spinning optical toy, the development of which forms part of the prehistory of cinema. By the 1880s, Etienne-Jules MAREY had already produced a stereographic zoetrope. The early animation technique preceding this, such as flipbooks and the phenakistiscope discs, also possessed a feeling of presence that differs from the light images seen on a CRT, forming a wellspring of creativity for other contemporary moving image artists as well, such as IWAI Toshio. But unlike IWAI, who sees a starting point for the interactivity of visual devices in the connection between sight and the hand that flips paper or spins a drum, BARSAMIAN uses the machine to revolve images, and he does not actively seek the bodily movement of the viewers. And yet BARSAMIAN does make his work on a scale larger than the human body, and by enveloping the viewer in the flashing light of a strobe, his work contemplates the body within space from a different angle. The metamorphoses of his work are not peeped into from a real external space; rather, they are revealed to us from within the overall space that simultaneously “envelops” both the body and the work. At that point, the body of the viewer has already shifted into another mode that differs from real space.
The theme for the current work is the telephone, described by BARSAMIAN during the work’s planning stage as “the most intimate symbol of this electronic interface between humankind and machine.” According to BARSAMIAN, the metamorphoses of images of the telephone that he employs, “embody our conflicting attitudes toward modern communication,” that between “hope” and “caution.” Furthermore, within these metamorphoses, he says, “the subconscious, serving as the safety valve of the conscious mind, acts to calm a primordial distrust of technology and serves as a gateway to the future.”
In its contact with the real, this dreamlike journey into the subconscious is an ambiguous one, at once critical and yet functioning at the same time as a safety valve. The distinctive features of this temporal space intersect in fascinating ways with one facet of virtual reality space as it occurs in an electronic media environment.