Barbara Steinman

Powerhouse Gallery

Video installation has always seemed problematic; the monitor screen is a given, a reference point within an otherwise sculptural object. In Barbara Steinman’s Montreal installation, the real-life connotations of video are treated literally, thereby avoiding the usual uneasy conjunctures caused by narrative flow set inside a static framework. Chambres à Louer (“Rooms for Rent”) consists of two monitors set in real window frames; the frames are placed in an angled wall in such a way that only one monitor can be seen at a time (when viewed from draped chairs placed in the room). The windows have venetian blinds on them, and radiators beneath them. The monitors behind the windows displayed urban or rural scenes: the spectator seemed to be looking out of the window onto a street—into “real” space. The monitor on the left showed a continuous, real-time tape of Park Avenue in New York (where the artist lives): the monitor on the right showed, at a rate of one per minute, a series of views that included frosted windowpanes, a brick wall, water rippling towards the camera (with a skyline in the background), and only one narrative sequence—of hands clawing up the “window” and then falling back, as if someone had just fallen from a ledge outside. The venetian blinds were backlit, with the Park Avenue side in warm yellow and the other in cold blue. The sound on the left was a tape of real-time street sound; on the right, a mixture of random sounds that included music, footsteps and television noise. The effect was one of voyeurism, displacement and fetishism.

Unlike a “real” situation, though, the windows did not present different views when a spectator moved around the room—it was only a video tape. While the images appeared “real,” they were actually inauthentic. And so, despite the fact that the production appeared at first glance to be “natural representation” of the world, the spectator was locked into the production of the artist.

Videotaping the Park Avenue scene released its content: whatever occurred on the street during the taping was presented. This contrasted nicely with the imagery on the other monitor, which was clearly chosen material. More people seemed to be interested in the varying images, than in Park Avenue. Perhaps if the situation had used film or “real” windows. Park Avenue would have seemed more interesting, since looking at the scene would not have been conditioned by the poor resolution of the TV image. Viewers shifted between awareness of the flatness of the television image and the “willing suspension of disbelief” called for by the framework.

Steinman is asking “What are the boundaries of a room? Does one extend one’s territory and lay claim to the view?” Jacques Lacan has said of painting that: “Something is given not so much to the gaze as to the eye, something that involves the abandonment, the laying down, of the gaze.” To shift this to television, and to Steinman’s installation, the gaze is trapped, and the real is appropriated, through a reproductive process. The pace of the installation allows an analysis of this process.

Alan Sondheim