New York

Bart Robbett

Bart Robbett’s installation consists of three black plastic-covered booths and two unboxed electronic set-ups which have to be turned on to dispense the experiences described by the printed titles.

Inside the narrow booth titled Projection Booth Projection is a screen on which is projected a projector in the act of continuously projecting white leader film. Working on the same principle as the camera obscura, this booth becomes a metaphor for vision. Like the booth, the eye is an enclosure with opaque walls, a circular hole and a chamber behind.

Slow Burn III also uses photographic technology as metaphor for the human sight apparatus. A strobe light on a 5-foot stand, covered by a black and white transparency, faces a video camera a few inches away. As the light flashes behind the transparency, the image is transmitted to a television screen which stands behind the stroke and the camera. A video camera has a photosensitive Vidicon tube which functions like the eye’s retina. The retina creates the sensation of vision by electrically discharging in that area which has not been stimulated and by inhibiting discharge in those areas which have been light stimulated. Continuous stimulation of either the human retinal mechanism (as in Robbett’s Luminous Circle booth, where split-second strobe flashes are directed to a circle coated with luminous paint) or of a retina-like mechanism such as the Vidicon tube, will bleach the designated area and slowly “burn” the image out. The Vidicon tube in Slow Burn III is slowly but surely having the flashed image burned and etched into it as seen on the television screen.

The booth titled Double Narrative houses a chair which faces a mirror. Above the mirror are two neon tube lights attached to a board. When the lights are on, our image reflected is as we would expect; when the intense light goes off, the reflected image of oneself disappears while that of the chair remains in view. The result is a disconcerting sense of the dematerialization of one’s flesh.

This booth is larger on the outside than on the inside, suggesting, of course, that there is something behind the mirror, “behind the looking glass,” so to speak. The mirror is, in fact, two-way, with an identical chamber and chair on the other side. When the light dims in the viewer’s box, it goes on in the other, weakening the mirror’s reflective capacity and enabling us to see through.

As its name suggests, this is a “double narrative.” It is a presentation of events, perhaps true, perhaps fictional, having two planes of existence: the actual and the reflective. While they usually mirror each other, here they form a contradiction of what we see, or should I say of what we don’t see, and what actually is.

The pianist Artur Rubenstein, after hearing a young prodigy play the piano, looked up and said: “But there is no music.” Bart Robbett is without question an excellent technician, and an astute, literate spokesman for his own work, but he has written such a complete statement of his techniques and rationales that the actual installation seems almost gratuitous, bordering on Classic comic strip experience. The issue of whether the persistence of vision or the persistence of memory sustains imagery is never satisfactorily resolved. Robbett’s technological approach to an artistic problem leaves as many gaps as does a neurological approach to understanding the problems of human existence. Nevertheless, this fun-house installation is intelligent and amusing.

Judith Lopes Cardozo