The Power Plant

“Press/Enter: Between Seduction and Disbelief,” an exhibition of interactive technological works, investigated the potential eroticism in the relations between the human and the mechanical. In the best of these works, time is experienced as a viscous material on whose surface the viewer slips. Jim Campbell’s Memory/Recollection, 1980, often shown on the interactive-media circuit, captures and stores images of viewers, replaying them on a series of small monitors with increasing image decay. The image eventually disintegrates in the final monitor, occasioning a jab of nostalgia.

Campbell’s Untitled (for Heisenberg), 1994–95, is a concise and beautifully realized comment on voyeurism. In a completely dark room, a bed of salt on a shallow plinth receives the video-projection of two naked embracing bodies. As one approaches, the scale of the image increases while its resolution decreases, and finally it fades into chiaroscuro. In David Rokeby’s Silicon Remembers Carbon, 1993–95, video images of water were projected onto a bed of sand on the floor, whose ephemeral, granular texture, like that of Campbell’s, reminds us of how tenuous the image is. Visitors walked across the sand and knelt to trace lines in it. Rokeby’s video of shallow waves breaking on a shore or of reflections in urban rain puddles seemed to merge with the rippled surface of the sand as though it were reaching up to touch the images. Audio tapes synchronized with the images of water gave this work an almost palpable presence.

The ambient eroticism of a work like Rokeby’s finds its terroristic counterpart in Julia Scher’s Predictive Engineering, 1993. Scher mixed live surveillance video of the gallery with prerecorded images of institutional-looking corridors, inserting disturbing scenes that could have been taking place in the next room. The space felt dangerously porous, as though the shared surveillance system made us susceptible to invasion from other places.

One of the most compelling works in “Press/Enter” was not interactive in the contemporary sense. Christine Davis’ dictionnaire des inquisiteurs (tombeau) [inquisitor’s dictionary (tomb), 1994–95] comprised a collection of used contact lenses arranged in pairs in a long light-box, each pair laser-etched with words that were taken sequentially from the dictionary of the Spanish Inquisition, pairing, for example, folie (madness) with foi (faith ) and père (father) with peine (pain). In this work, Davis metaphorically addresses the ways in which language constructs vision, but in the context of this show the impact of the piece lay more in the way the gemlike lenses seemed to retain the power of vision independent of their users.

This show presented a number of works that depended on the viewer’s fascination with her/his own image, as if attempting to redefine the “esthetic of narcissism” that video art was accused of engaging in during the ’70s. But in its best work, “Press/Enter” made a case for a technological eroticism that, rather than probing a supposed subjective depth, presents an indiscriminate, distributive kind of fetishism: an embrace of surface appearance and fleeting moments.

Laura U. Marks