The Device Isn’t a Spaceship, It’s a Time Machine

Wim Waelput

in "source book"
Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam

I had the pleasure of working with Edith Dekyndt in the context of her recent exhibition at KIOSK entitled Get outof My Cloud. During this collaboration, I became acquainted with the way the artist works and closely followed thecreation of Carousel, a new installation that Dekyndt conceived specifically for this exhibition. In retrospect,the story of the creation of Carousel may give us insight into Edith Dekyndt’s practice as a whole.
Carousel (2010), which was first presented between the 8th of May and the 13th of June, 2010, took advantage of thesemicircular spatial qualities of the central exhibition space at KIOSK. Dekyndt created a relatively sober presentationwith a rather ingenious intertwining of visual and audio components: Physically, the installation is largely made upof a Kodak slide projector, the familiar Carousel model made for 80 slide transparencies, which can be shown, oneby one, at fixed intervals. In this case, the slides are unusual in that they are actually glass slide mounts that haveremained in their original container for over fifty years, before coming into the possession of the artist. Each 35 mmmount holds two glass plates to protect the developed film frame that awaits insertion; some of these plates seem tohave been coated with an emulsion or lubricant that had dried and crackled over the decades. Despite the fact thatthe packaging has never been opened, minute dust particles have penetrated the boxes and adhered themselves to theglass. Dekyndt takes these as readymade “images,” created not by people exposing film, but by time itself. At KIOSK,these non-human images were presented on a large scale, projected onto a white wall one after the other, in a continuousloop, while the clicking sound of the projector was heard throughout the exhibition space, amplified by various speakers.
Thus far, we may observe that Carousel is modest and requires minimal physical intervention on the part of the artist,though, in terms of content, it demands multilayered interpretations. The artist seems to have positioned her installationon the boundary between prosaic representation and poetic form, opening a complex world to her audience, aworld that shifts back and forth between clinical coolness and a profound subjective tension.
Also included in the installation, on the backside of the projection wall, was a flat-screen monitor playing a fragmentfrom the recently created cult American television series, Mad Men. The fragment in question is a short monologuefrom an episode entitled The Wheel. Only the sound and the English subtitling were shown – the visuals having beenentirely removed. One heard and read the words of a senti- mental Don Draper, the series’ main protagonist, whoascribes almost magical powers to the Kodak Carousel projector:
Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally meansthe pain from an old wound. It’s a twinge in yourheart, far more powerful than memory alone. Thisdevice isn’t a space-ship, it’s a time machine. It goesbackwards, forwards. It takes us to a place wherewe ache to go again. It’s not called a wheel, it’s calleda carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels.Round and around and back home again, to a placewhere we know we are loved.
As an installation, Carousel requires consideration within the framework of an ongoing investigation that EdithDekyndt has pursued since 1999, which she refers to as “Universal Research of Subjectivity.” Dekyndt’s terminologyis certainly unconventional. In English, it is customary to speak of research “on” or “into” something, rather thanresearch “of” something. The incorrect formulation nevertheless relates two supposedly conflicting domains – research(which implies objective observation) and subjectivity (which implies the personal vision of the observer). It alsosuggests the field of tension in which Dekyndt places her art as a whole: At one pole are worlds that can be indexicallyregistered and at the other pole lie our personal, subjective or sensual perceptions.
On entering the semicircular KIOSK gallery, Carousel’s viewers are immediately confronted with the white rectangularwall, centrally placed, with the light from the Carousel projector (behind them) projected repeatedly onto itssurface. One might simply walk past this without connecting what is on view to any form of reality. The projectedimages may appear to be empty, giving the impression of a cumulative “nothingness.” On longer view, however, amore specific response might follow as the particles and the craquelure in the slide mounts strike the viewer – razorsharp and microscopically enlarged. We are suddenly confronted with the enormous pictorial power of these imagesand see a wealth of variations and subtleties.
At this level, Dekyndt’s work has elements in common with the visual vocabulary of certain works that bridged theMinimalist and the Conceptualist experiments of the 1960s and 1970s. A comparison with the work of Nam June Paikquickly comes to mind. In Paik’s Zen for Film (1968), a film shot without lighting is shown in a repeating loop. We cometo see that this moving image is made up of the light from the projector, which also reveals the damage to the film andthe dust that has settled on the celluloid. Edith Dekyndt’s Discrete Piece (1997), in which the dust particles floating ina space are captured by a projected light and seen onto the surface of a wall, has a similar visual aesthetic, whichemphasizes making something out of seemingly nothing. In both instances, we perceive a microscopic representationof time going by. Dust accumulates over the hours, days and years; and as such, it may be called the physicaltrace of time, aiding time’s poetic visualisation.
The work of Edith Dekyndt tends to disconnect perceptual phenomena from their indexical basis, entering the domainof subjective perception as the very object of representation. Thus, while they may bear the appearance of a seriesof clinical observations, the artist’s practical experiments do not aim at empirical results. The factual character of therecorded image has a different purpose: Namely, it aims to sensitize her audience, to sharpen the spectators’ senseof perception. Thus, in Carousel, while Dekyndt makes barely perceptible dust particles visible to us, the works’stimulus is not for the eyes alone. The countless visits that the artist made to KIOSK, during her preparations prior tothe exhibition, have undoubtedly contributed to a spatial integration and an experience of presence. With each of hervisits, the work gradually evolved into a whole, one that explicitly commanded its own place and which took fulladvantage of spatial characteristics inherent to the gallery. Even more than the spatial integration of the Carouselprojector, the addition of the sound component was of essential importance in that it intensified the experience ofpresence via sonic delay: As Dekyndt amplified the clicking of the projector, the sound was held up by a fraction of asecond, en route to the various loudspeakers. This did not result from extra manipulation on Dekyndt’s part. Rather,simply by using a wireless microphone, which amplified the clicking sound, the poor acoustics of the hemicyclespace produced an echo. Such direct aspects of sound and image recording and transmission are a notable priorityin Dekyndt’s work. She often starts from an elementary registration using remarkably simple technological means.It is the spatial context of the presentation, which becomes important in embodying the technical sensitivities of themedia at hand.
Along with the repetitive clicking of the projector, we also hear the sound of the video fragment. Here, organ musicaccompanies the aforementioned sentimental narrative spoken by Don Draper. The combination of music and voiceentice viewers to look behind the wall, where the television fragment is being played. In addition to this initial objectiveof attracting the audience, the audio component also plays a role in the visitors’ experience of the space itself. Organmusic echoes throughout the space, taking on an almost religious dimension, with the neo-Gothic architecture ofKIOSK reinforcing that experience. This aural effect adds subtlety and nuance to the enigmatic and minimal visualswhich initially confront the visitor to the gallery – it brings a prominent emotional aspect into play. This juxtapositionof the cerebral and the emotional sets the tone for a new openness to the subjective experience of the work of art, inwhich aesthetics, conceptualism and sensitivity reinforce one another for a better un-derstanding of reality.
If, in the reserved way that it relates to its environment and in its simple and pure formalism, Edith Dekyndt’s work isindebted to Minimalism, she sees no contradiction between the Minimalist principles of material facticity and simplicity,on the one hand, and complex human and emotional factors, on the other. She bends the process of reduction andlimitation, so that the metaphysical dimension and contemplative aspects of “nothingness” can take on new andmore pregnant meanings. Here, we no longer recognize an abstraction or objectification of reality, but rather graspthe complex realism of what, on first glance, appears abstract. With her work, Dekyndt undermines the binarycontrast between materiality and immateriality, between hyperrealistic reproduction and poetic image. The artistcreates the conditions within which our perception of reality does not need to be understood by way of the traditionally opposed relationship between object and subject. The observer becomes a part of the installation. She situates herwork in this expansive domain, so that each element of our sensual experience plays a role and the subjectivity of eachindividual viewer is offered all the space it requires to confront its own processes of perception.
Beyond the aural and the visual there is also a temporal dimension. The clicking of the projector may thus be understoodto set a pulse in time, relating to the viewer’s own actual experience of the present, yet accompanying theworks of many years past: In contrast to the presentness of the clicking, there is the unpacking and projecting of theold glass of the slide mounts, which, over the course of more than 50 years, have been registering the atmospheric conditionsto which they were subjected. Each click in real time announces the presentation of a time capsule. And thistime compression is subjected to further changes, starting from the moment the work is first shown to the public in2010. The act of taking the slide mounts out of their packaging exposed the glass to new atmospheric influences, with anew future condition already being introduced. With this idea, Carousel creates a specific relationship with time. Theprocess of change in the images continues into a future that cannot be measured.

June 2010

Translated from the Dutch by Mari Shields