DURATION, MEDIATED TIME
It is a characteristic of Elisa Pessoa’s video installations the way the artist makes the medium elected speak. The resources adopted are varied: Super 8 film, mini dv cameras, analog cameras, and, on her latest work, the Canon camera 5D mark II. They all act as medium along with the furniture, room dividers, bones and clods of earth. In Time of Duration, the bones and the earth on the ground draw attention to the material dimension of projected images, ensuring its rightful “state of things”, as noted by Mammì of the works of Tacita Dean. The themes of Elisa Pessoa’s projections are empty spaces of an extended horizon: a forest covered in fog, a road, a large transgenic rice plantation, a long sunset in ochre, orange and black, the eye of a calf in extreme close up. The takes follow one another and have varied duration, ranging from nine to 15 minutes. Due to this imbalance, the projections always give shape to new image combinations.
In the background we have a range of horizons that capture us and suggest the intermittent search of a perspective. From this search remains the line cast over the images projected around the room. Even on the closed-up eye of the calf the line of the horizon is cast upon by the fence that curbs it – and evokes the “attempt to make time be seen”, as Pessoa describes the systematic record she made of the Pampas’ plains, on Brazil’s border with Uruguay. Hence, the horizon can also be perceived with the willingness to observe lengthily that the long close requires. This touches us, through the visualization of time provided by Pessoa’s work, to the details that can be noticed in each image. Slowly we realize that one second is never like another, that one image can be abruptly interrupted by a red truck that crosses the road heading south.
The time that the space of the horizon evokes is present in the hardly noticeable winks of the calf and the whiteness of the bones shed in the partially covered ground. Not that it is represented there, but the way the different media meet in the space of the exhibition intensifies a present being through an experience of aesthetic nature. Further elements in the exhibition that follow the projections are intended to emphasize the concreteness of the projected images, distracting us from what could eventually be in them represented. A journey to the south of the country, the adaptation to a drier and colder atmosphere, the walks with camera in tow, the setting of the tripod, the search for focus over the horizon, the dedication to the duration from take to technique. Also during the process of registering the exposed images the artist gives space for the medium to speak, for the mechanics of the Canon that keeps her company is susceptible to the atmosphere like the digital texture of the record of time performed. That is because she encloses her takes by herself, according to the variety of details of a scene or the room temperature; she has autonomy over the cuts made to the scenes.
In this way, time is recorded where it almost doesn’t act: over the sunset, on the morning of a calf, on the roads of the Pampas, in a sown field awaiting harvest. For the record of the moving images – cinematography – where there is almost no movement ends up dissolving the authorship of that who aims to “make time be seen” under the variation of natural light and the autonomy given to the camera on the scene cuts. If Pessoa’s initial gesture is to “make time be seen”, to put it before your eyes, it becomes real when there is a realization of this impossibility. It comes close to Tarkovsky’s gesture, which avoided the Eisensteinian editing, emphasizing raw time from the plan as captured. “A real film lives within time only if time lives within it”, says Tarkovsky. As well as that of Warhol before the Empire State Building, which after the rosy sunset behind the building portraits a long eight-hour night.
Here is where we realize an important point of inflection on the work shown at Mario Schemberg Gallery, at Espaço Funarte, in São Paulo, related to the attention paid to the art medium over the artist’s career. Time presents itself as a theme, in fixed plans produced by cameras that create images whose saturation our retinas usually associate to TV reports, to the internet, to documentaries and similar types of records known for their ability to represent, without mediators, what is being seen – despite instable plans, intermittent edition and variable focus. Although the images created by Pessoa enjoy a similar saturation, they change just enough so that a slowness rarely experienced is implied. The reproduction of long fixed plans by the mobilization of a medium that we usually connect to short and fragmented plans generate an imbalance, some sort of unfamiliarity between the texture of what is real and what it doesn’t encompass, during the time that, in the end, is not captured but is constantly present, from the duration of the takes to the metaphors of the horizon.
The beauty in Pessoa’s art derives from the amalgamation between the medium and what it reproduces. That is, the reflection about time, that the title suggests, is not in what the images can eventually contain, but in an emptiness of meaning, and in this sense creative, that the projections and the animal carcasses shed over the floor provide. This is why it doesn’t represent a specific idea of time that would be stored within long takes, the gaze of the calf or the sunset. But with the emphasis it gives to the medium, it makes time “be seen” through a sensitive experience, with intensification of a present perceived on the craftsmanship of the images seen in Time of Duration. Thus is woven a poetics of emptiness, in which there is a quest for the absence of sense and meaning so that new senses and meanings can emerge. No wonder, the emptiness, in which all meaning is suspended, arises regularly in the poetics of Pessoa. Poetics about the void, the space and nothing that, however, because of the experience it provides, fills with possible meanings the spaces projected and suggested in the exhibition. So that the void refers to a completeness, nothing to everything, the not-being to being, time not captured to time that, not allowing itself to be captured, makes itself present.
RENATA BELLICANTA SAMMER
Renata Bellicanta Sammer has a PhD in History from PUC-Rio. She acts in the areas of Theories and Criticism, focusing in modern and contemporary poetry and visual arts.
Buraco in Portuguese means hole, opening, gap, crack; a place of passage or to see through; a natural or artificial cavity.
Elisa Pessoa is a visual artist that lives and works in Rio de Janeiro. She presented a site-specific installation entitled Buraco at Fumées exhibition / occupation that took place at Hotel Paris, in February 2015.
The artist’s visit to the site was the starting point to create this piece. Elisa decided to work with something that was directly related to the history of that place which functioned as one of the oldest prostitution points in Rio de Janeiro.
The hole in the ceiling on the second floor, which opened view to a room in this ancient brothel, was the site chosen by Elisa for filming the video and, in addition, as the support for the video projection itself.
The content of the images is a performance based on “real events”, carried out by a woman, a transvestite and a man. The action was recorded through a hole between the second and the third floor and shot from an angle down below, in way that the viewers had the impression of watching something that didn’t concern them, but at the same time caused a sense of curiosity. What you see is an erotic drive, sensualized and graphic, often aggravated by the unusual situation of having to look up to see the artwork. The footage is made of silhouettes and shadows of their naked bodies, in nearby movements and on provocative physical positions.
To see those bodies from below and through a hole, in a scene that surely could have happened at that location, gives us a sense of sexy, horny tension, but at the same time, due to the previous and long abandonment of the building, brings up an idea of something hidden, marginal and dirty.
We are then, confronted by a private scene that suggests more than it shows.The situation in which this piece was made and presented brings up the following questions:What are our personal emotional holes? Why some part of us wants to move forward and other to move away?
We are taken by dubious feelings, in an uncomfortable angle. Even though we’re in the position of a spectator, we are no longer mere spectators, but active participants. The audience is part of the piece as much as the architecture, the history and the memory of that place are part of the work. And this is part of the history of Rio de Janeiro.
GABRIELA MACIEL – REVIEW OF THE WORK “BURACO” (HOLE), A SITE SPECIFIC VIDEO INSTALLATION BY ELISA PESSOA
FEBRUARY 26, 2015. BURACO (HOLE).10 MINUTES IN LOOP, WITHOUT SEQUENCE. SITE-SPECIFIC VIDEO INSTALLATION
FUMÉES EXHIBITION HOTEL PARIS RIO DE JANEIRO
ELISA PESSOA ENTRE MÍDIAS
About ten years ago, Elisa Pessoa bought her first Super 8 camera in Paris (where she studied education and arts), at a time when new digital cameras at affordable prices were emerging everyday in the market. Clearly the aesthetics of the Super 8 appealed to her, but above all, the developed films, hanging from a string across the walls of her studio in République, offered, like her photos spread on the floor, the possibility of cutting and assembling her work manually. A piece of tape between two Super 8 clippings ends up generating a single image, a particular aesthetic that has characterized Elisa’s work since.
Her collages, developed with consistency throughout her Parisian stay, although less known, are also witnesses of this particular way of treating her objects – the camera, the paper, the aforementioned tape or glue, participate on an equal level alongside light and film in her experiments. As the artist herself recalls: “I wanted to really understand what I saw.” And in the process of “understanding”, a new language was slowly constructed, a unique form of utilizing media. This facet of Elisa Pessoa can still be identified in the transposition of film to digital format.
“Televising” the film obtained at home, she would establish the color and light of her images. Once the editing of the movie on her computer was completed, Elisa would project it so she could record it again, presenting it with the vibration of the light of the old projector. This process, this cure, makes her images immediately recognizable. The images breathe, they vibrate. The texture of these images is fundamental in the development of the artist’s work.
Her work is truly multimedia, not only because it incorporates various media types but also because it concentrates on different languages and possible interpretations of the same object. Just as the effect of the masking tape between the Super 8 cut-outs fascinated her, the digital reading of her transparencies (or more recently her projections inserted into an elaborate three-dimensionality) represent the particular approach by the artist about the media utilized.
The series Overlays – which began in 2008 – explores the transparency of overlapping projections, creating new volumes and textures. It is here that Elisa Pessoa develops a theme dear to her, that of the moving body (the body also being explored as media).
As expected, the series that generated images that appeared to surpass the limits of the surface on which they were being projected, gave rise to a new professional phase for the artist. The celebrated exhibition Of Living (created in partnership with Celina Portela in SESC Copacabana in 2009) marked this new stage. Here three-dimensionality is built with sofas, walls, cabinets, ashtrays, books and shoes (here again the artist explores new media) arranged in a setting where images move. An apartment was reproduced as a scenario for the exhibit, where and from which a script about life as a couple was created. The action unfolds virtually in six projections, where two actors interact following a simple script. The virtual characters move about and relate with the scenic space in “real” time, as if in their own apartment. This new experience was named live video or ambiented cinema.
Her work is driven by a constant restlessness accompanied by a copious reflection on what we see, think, and feel. If her experimental phase was marked by deconstruction and development of a fragmented language, with overlays and live video, now Elisa Pessoa plays with the indelible presence of “ghosts” in our reality, inviting them to participate in a shared reflection upon our routine. The installations Of Living and In Circle (the latter presented in the Lake Gallery of the Republic Museum, in Rio de Janeiro, from November 2008 to May 2009), where the human body and objects are represented on a scale of 1 to 1, gave rise to questions that began to accompany the artist’s work: Is the viewer interfering in the work? Could the work be called interactive? Many spectators said they had the feeling that the virtual characters seemed to react to their presence.
In response to these questions, Elisa Pessoa now invites the viewers to effectively participate in the work, removing them from passivity, offering a unique experience of interaction with the character.
Thus, in 1/4, the artist’s projections react to the presence of the spectator, “dialoguing” with him. Even when still, the viewer is participating, interfering with the direction the projection takes. These “dialogues” are not repeated, as a software was created so that different image sequences are played out according the viewer’s movements – its size, type or sound, for example. The viewer’s imagination enters the artist’s space as the character interacts with him, always in a different way, and can occasionally disappear, leaving him in a state of pure contemplation of the imaginary. And it is in this room that this experience happens.
The creation of the script and of the character’s actions, was based on responses to an e-mail sent to 300 people, prompting the completion of the following sentence: “Alone in my room, I…”, which gave rise to simple sequences where the character reads, or sleep, for example, and more complex ones, resulting from more elaborate or random responses.
Elisa Pessoa built her path as a multimedia artist not only by using different media in her work but by “handling” each of them, investigating them, imposing her own aesthetic. Exploring the language used in depth, the artist presents a unique reflection on our use of the languages that surrounds us.
She is right when she says her work does not come from philosophy but only meets it later at one point in the path, for it is on the complexity of everyday activities that Elisa Pessoa creates her bedroom (or ¼).
RENATA BELLICANTA SAMMER
The reconfiguration of the private sphere and, consequently, the definition of the subject could be pointed out (amongst others) as a signifying phenomenon in the shift from the modern condition to the one in which we today live in – namely the post-modern or contemporary condition.
Elisa Pessoa’s work Um quarto (the room), amalgamates in its installation the superposition of the space in which all intimate desires are permitted, in a fully exposed space. Thus, it mirrors the very duplicity of the present world. A world in which the individual sphere is stretched time and time again – with the notable difference, however, of lacking any guarantee whatsoever that the persona presented publicly maintains any sort of commitment with a, let us say “real”, identity or subjectivity. Simultaneously, Elisa’s work sets other questions in motion. The character/ person here staged has been constructed through the many answers friends of the artist sent her in response to the question: what do you do when alone in your bedroom? It is interesting to note that as singular as they might be, the answers sometimes tend to demonstrate a certain collective projection. This, in turn, leads us to inquire to what extent we can guarantee that our privacy today, even with all possible imaginary defenses, is something truly unique. That is: to what extent are our privacy and our behaviors not manipulated and forged by television, cinema, novels, etc.
This sensation between the strenuous resistance of a desire which longs to be unique but which also risks being diluted within the collective, appears for instance when one of the artist’s interlocutors has difficulties in identifying his/ her answer in the mise-en-scène precisely at the very moment when he/ she recognizes other attitudes which also are his/ her own. This is also true for spectators who were not engaged in the process from the beginning. And it allows one to observe how the other (the actor, the visitor) interprets the foreign desire. In other words, what is it like to make one’s desire another person’s desire.
Desire… to insist upon this word reiterates the extremely secretive, almost magical character of this space to which we attribute an opening which is impossible for us to renounce. Elisa perceives this phenomenon making use of yet another no less factual circumstance: how does one react when someone penetrates that space. This is one of the key elements of the piece, for no images or spectators can stand in this space passively, as in a movie theater where images are shown independent of one’s will.
If there is a cinematographic dimension to it, it is precisely this situation in which we interact with an image, putting ourselves in a wavering space between materiality and fiction. This occurs because with every step made in that space, the character acts differently, at times getting up, changing its attitude or mood, once exposed to an invasion. In doing so we come to a peculiar situation: we become intruders of a space which, appropriated by the image, is just as real, or perhaps even more real than image itself. A space which belongs as much to the image, or perhaps even more to the image, than our own. It is above all an exercise in cohabitation, principally of two different worlds, one which fits between four walls and other between the four corners of a screen – a metaphor present in the digital and projected image itself, printed on the wall/screen upon which we discern, numbed, our own dreams.
(IS AN ART CRITIC AND CURATOR, DIRECTOR OF THE MUSEU DE ARTE CONTEMPORANEA OF NITEROI)
¼: Division. Of hour, space, time. All these dimensions are active in Elisa Pessoa’s exhibit. The room is the platform which sets off a “site specific” piece, summoning the audience to be an essential agent of the work. Their participation in the piece makes the audience reflect upon and experience the power of its presence within the space as a trigger for the entire work.
Inside the gallery, a large mdf square has been built, replicating a bedroom. Windows, doors, four walls. Scenes of a woman alone, in this same “real” bedroom which we can see/ inhabit are projected upon three of these walls. Sometimes this person is bored, sometimes she has nothing to do; or she reads, gives an imaginary interview for TV; or she sleeps, sings, laughs, is in a good mood or in a bad mood, etc. These situations are taken from answers to one simple question sent by the artist to 300 people: what do you do when you are alone in your bedroom? Around 100 answered and Elisa shot almost all of these testimonies objectively, not adding anything to them. The video performance is carried out by an actress.
What causes the actions of this bland “somebody” (who could be any of us) in her bedroom, though? The audience does. Inside the room, sensors make us see a different situation for every movement, each time on a different wall. She responds to every step. A silent dialog occurs. Dialog?
¼ can happen anywhere, but it needs physical presence, movement, and people in order to happen. If you move, she moves. Nothing happens autonomously. There is a desire to show that this is a construct, an image, a representation. We are simultaneously called into a game – a game in which we believe – and reminded of the artificial character of this relational kind of film.
Changes in the projection are dictated by each spectator, who is, somehow, transformed into a subject. The entirety of the piece depends on him/ her and, depending on individual reactions it can go down very different roads.
Nevertheless, as it brings forth doubts between reality and fiction, world and representation, this strategy is also pre-determined. No matter how extreme the variations of movement in the video are, they will always be part of some sort of catalog of pre-determined possibilities. Elisa wants to give the audience “control”, but, through testimonies given by others she continues to weave, on her own, a margin which can be moved upon. There is an edit, a choice. In this case movement means acknowledging the different and becoming aware of one’s place within the space, a sudden invitation for an improbable dance.
The work moves on this border between predictable and unpredictable, control and lack of it. We have already been taught to doubt what we see, knowing that it is all a construct. What does not let us fall into the complacency of what is a given in this work is not only the dynamic between movement and action, but also the memory that “it is reality which becomes possible, and not the possibility which becomes real”. Before reality, there were no possibilities.
The fact that this works originates from a “blind” dialog between hundreds of people means starting from a “reality” in order to create possibilities and, perhaps, surrendering to this experience, to the unknown, the unpredicted, to what was until then impossible. All under the cloak of a super-constructed image – generating “intentional chance occurrences” – and of individual testimony. Opposites which balance powerfully in the ¼ of Elisa Pessoa.
(IS CURATOR AND ART CRITIC)