25 June 2020
TONGUE IN CRISIS
Super(im)position, enduring (non-place)
By Youjia Lu
HTTP.PARADISE at Incinerator Gallery
24 April - 7 June 2020
Super(im)position, enduring (non-place) can be watched in full here.
Zoomed out consciousness
Uncertainty or indeterminacy?
Lockdown as a pause
A gap year perhaps
Retention of a mirage with a red eye
Loss of smell and touch
I insist on zooming in and eyeing closer
A 'spiritual catastrophe'?1
There is no escape from this digital mnemonic game
Repeat the refrain
Stop and replay
Can a digital show have its own voice? How can it be differentiated from documentation, or become distinct from any another streaming service like the news or a cinematic film? Youjia Lu's Super(im)position: enduring (non-place) (2020) presents possible answers to these questions. I saw Lu’s work online in the exhibition HTTP.PARADISE (2020) curated by Jake Treacy for Incinerator gallery's website. The digital platform effectively employs scrolling, like a river pathway from one video work to another. The show is no longer available online — by making it temporal, the curator has distinguished the virtual exhibition from an archive.
To see Lu's work I first had to scroll down, see different artworks, like opening multiple rooms: we eventually arrive at Super(im)position: enduring (non-place). I press play, and an interplay of two flickering images appears. Two videos projected onto blinds that cover a window. It is a video of a projection set in a living room inside a small apartment. I start watching: the image of an extended-screaming tongue flickers through the blinds. The low-pitched sound in the background reflects a haunting machine; the projector, perhaps. The UV colours compose the palette. With its decolourised skin, the body speaks of a standardised figure rather than a culture-specific face.
Although Lu made this iteration of Super(im)position before lockdown, it relates to the current experience of isolation and the indeterminate consciousness of the self during a crisis. The domestic setting creates the illusion of reality and, by confining the projects to the room, mimics the isolated self. The heating radiator grounds the viewer in the space and dissolves the impression of a screen. Through the strobing effect, I occasionally lose the figure and rest at the radiator. The heater is in a standing position. My body feels warm. The radiator's light seems constant. The object's intense radiation operates as an anchor, a pause. Two uniform red lines positioned at an angle form a resting place from the strobing effect. As the images alternate, my dry eyes surrender to the unvarying heat emanating from the radiator's stillness.
My tongue is out, and my head starts moving up and down.
I feel warm again.
It is hot in here: I am stuck.
No exit sign.
Except for the masked window façade
double glazing isolates sound
The heatwave of the flicker
the incandescent light of the heater
Is this hell?
In the time of social distancing, what is hell? Not the other. Maybe the self? In its indeterminacy? In the uncertainty of what unfolds in a crisis? The volatility of an existential condition? Strobing consciousness of what is real and what is not? Volatile but also entrapped? Are the gaps and the flickers nothing more than a dreamlike revelation of the precarious vision? An apparition that one cannot prove or deny?
Photobleaching and strobing
Lost vision acuity
An image of an image of an image.
Radiators operate on the mechanism of convection.
Are energy and lethargy contagious?
Can I shout in this mechanical chamber?
Or shall I resist and keep my tongue out?
In Hindu iconography, the goddess Kali is depicted with her tongue stretched-out. The story goes that the goddess Durga summoned Kali onto a battlefield where she ‘swallows in one gulp, the swarm of blood-born demons.’ The stretched-out tongue interpreted as a symbol of mother nature's power becomes a weapon against domestication.
Is the flux of strobing energy and mechanical sounds in Lu's work the sign of a demonic presence in the technicity of the screen? Is the sound an echo of the machine? Has my scream become industrialised? The entrapped body struggles to retrieve energy through the stretched-out tongue.2 In this non-place, perhaps consciousness of a technical becoming is both revealed and contested. Through the female figure's stretched-out tongue ¬— Kali's strength — the work asserts a possible feminist redemption.
A kind of binocular vision overlaps two images of a moving head. The vision disorients. Talking to Lu, I understand that the two images are not technically overlapped. They are made by two projectors with intercutting timeframes — the images only overlap in our field of vision. Due to the gaps between the images, the eye merges the two figures in a flickering manner. Our sight materialises this image of a non-place or even a non-figure. While we see it through the screen, the non-place image could only materialise through physical space with two-channel projection and so it 'has been there'.3 The technological manipulation in the construction of the timeline triggers the incidental collage of two images.
Youjia Lu distinguishes her work from the structural films of the 1960s, which exposed the disjunction in celluloid’s moving images, such as in the work of Paul Sharits. Lu’s work is not framed around the double exposure of a film but, rather, the multichannel process of two digital timelines structured around gaps. Differentiating her process from Sharits’ method, Lu asserts that her editing doesn’t follow a deterministic timeline composition but is instead organic.4 This exposes the way that the cinematic is essentially durational and thus requires the viewer's engagement to construct an image. The eye's technical ability to unify images collaborates with Lu's technical exploration of intercutting timelines. Is the eye already technical? The viewer (and listener) is immersed in a mechanical trance melody that emerges in-between the sound and the strobing effect.5 Lu's process in this iteration is reminiscent of Bernard Stiegler's discussion of consciousness concerning retention as essentially cinematographic:
All of this is possible only because the structure of consciousness is thoroughly cinematographic, assuming that we can call "cinematographic" what unfolds through a montage of temporal objects — objects constituted through their movement.6
Like a corrugated surface, the flicker reveals an assembling act inherent in seeing, a 'co-incidence' of images. The technological act of the flickering image shows the pre-existing confluence of the technical and the organic in the eye. In an act of refusal, the stretched-out tongue retrieves consciousness.
Excuse the repeated words, retention matters.
Every time my eye blinks, my words shift positions.
I swallow my spit and stretch my body and tongue out.
And press join, mirror my video, mute and unmute
Again and again, I am in another zoom meeting.
At the limit, transversal boredom and awakened consciousness
In the co-incidence of images, I wish time doesn't matter.
Azza Zein is a Beirut-born, Melbourne-based artist and writer. Her research explores how artworks can comment on the dematerialisation of the economy and invisibility of labour. She recently completed a MFA at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Melbourne.
Bernard Stiegler uses this term in relation to system alienation and barbarity at the beginning of ‘Cinematic Consciousness’ in Bernard Stiegler, ‘Cinematic Consciousness,’ Technics and Time, 3: Cinematic Time and the Question of Malaise, Stanford University Press, 2010, p. 35. ↩
During a zoom conversation, Youjia Lu explained that the figure’s action combining the head movement, closed eyes and stretched-out tongue draws on her practice of kundalini yoga. ↩
‘In Photography, I can never deny that the thing has been there. There is a superimposition here: of reality and the past.’ Roland Barthes quoted in Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 3, p. 11. ↩
Discussion is based on Lu’s PhD completion seminar, a zoom presentation on 28 May 2020. ↩
See a summary by Ben Roberts of Stiegler’s take on mnemotechnics, retention and his analysis of Husserl’s melody as a flow and ‘temporal object’ in relation to tertiary retention in Ben Roberts, ‘Cinema as mnemotechnics’, Angelaki, 11 (1), 2006, pp. 55-63. ↩
Bernard Stiegler, Technics and Time, 3, p. 26. ↩