Saturday 08 June 2013

The brutalist kiss

The brutalist kiss Photo by xname

For the last month, the Barbican has been running their second Digital Duchamp commission, an homage to the artist and his creations. Eleonora Oreggia’s Dusty Mariee is a work that embraces Duchamp’s groundbreaking 'readymade' approach to creating art. A live camera stream, complete with microphones has been filming through the large glass window of Eleonora's apartment high up on the 19th floor of the Balfron Tower, uniquely capturing East London’s council estates and the harsh but often beautiful sprawl: “a brutalist kiss between the Barbican and Balfron with all the dust and air and magnetism crushed between them.”


The stream represents the large glass that separates Eleonora’s personal space from the external world: private versus public. The camera focuses on the dust gathering on the surface of the glass, while London and the artist inhabiting the flat appear as projections, merging together in a strange sort of fourth dimension.

We caught up with Eleonora to find out what living inside a large piece of art has been like…

Dusty Mariee-27
Eleanora Oreggia, by Valentina Schivardi,

Why the focus on dust?

The focus on dust comes from Duchamp's declaration, after his piece The Large Glass had collected a year of dust while he was in New York, that the extra layer had become part of the art work. Man Ray documented it with a famous photograph, Dust Breading (Duchamp Large Glass with Dust Notes) from 1920. After the photograph was taken, Duchamp wiped The Large Glass almost clean, permanently affixing a section of it to the glass plate with diluted cement.

On the other hand there is the reality of facts, what we see outside the window: Poplar, the historically poor neighbourhood where the Balfron Tower is placed, is undergoing an implacable process of regeneration and gentrification, so that the tower block is encapsulated between the A12, with its production of toxic particulates, and the construction sites on the West side. As an experiment, I started throwing the word "dust" out to random passengers during my daily trips on the lift. I heard old ladies complaining "It's never been this bad, these construction sites are covering people's houses in dust" etcetera. So dust became at the same time the symbolic form representing the passing of time (and the urban transformations this implies), as well as the most uncompromised substance to represent humanity (as uninformed unstable matter).

What is the 'fourth dimension'?

There are many possible definitions of forth dimension, as many as our mind can think of. If in modern physics the fourth dimension can be described as that continuum where space and time are unified into the four-dimensional space-time, a non-Euclidean space that extends physical dimensions to their temporal distribution, in mathematics it is an abstract concept derived by applying the rules of vectors and coordinate geometry to a space with four dimensions.

While most contemporary art works are time based, in Duchamp's era, visual artists were still mostly compressing complex narratives into a single frame, or eventually in a tryptic. The glass was a way to break through these limitations, see through the image, including the uncontrollable reflections bouncing into it. The Large Glass is probably the most cryptic and ichnographically complex art work of the XX century. We can only imagine what the fourth dimension was for Duchamp, but he was definitely intrigued by it. If we prescind from the idea of time, I see it as a complex form, a three dimensional space unfolding within another three dimensional space (in this piece the internal space projected onto the external view), at the same time overlapping it and being contained into it. The fourth dimension could be the X dimension, that of extreme possibilities, when we realise that what we perceive is just an impression, a construction of the real, operated by our senses, and perception is illusion and illusion is a form of knowledge. The fourth dimension is, then, an illumination, the realisation that dimensions are just concomitant possibilities, and a change of state can disclose that which suddenly appears, yet was invisible.

What has it been like having this camera and mic set up in your apartment for so long?

The week before the broadcast started I was frightened by the idea of this invasion of my personal space, and by the position of the Self, myself, almost embedded into an art work. A peculiar, subtle anxiety invaded me.

At the start, I felt extremely exposed, and almost bound to the house. Day by day, I became even more obsessed with the piece, and the noise of the environment, I have been constantly listening to it, trying to categorise what noise is figurative, if you can recognise its source, and what is abstract, but eventually displaying some form of beauty.
Wherever I would go, I'd be checking the stream. Once I heard my house phone ringing while being elsewhere… That was displacing.

After the first couple of weeks, I developed some form of adaptation… The sense of exposure left me, I became aware of this connected space and I learnt how to behave in it.

In fact I thought: what is information without interpretation? What are 80 giga of my personal life if no one can make sense of it? Obfuscation and ambiguity became my parasol.

Have you discovered anything particularly surprising or unexpected throughout the course of the project?

When technology crosses the axes of simplicity and complexity, a number of unexpected behaviours emerge… For example, in this simple system, I was using a very large buffer to store, on my server, in a virtual space, the audio-video signal, so as to overcome the limitations that the poor bandwidth available in Poplar imposed. This buffer is basically a ghost, existing but not existing, cached but not saved in any particular file or memory address on the disk.

At random, using this immaterial data, the system displayed creative and unexpected behaviour, remixing present and past time, audio and video, in a completely chaotic manner.

Then there has been what I called the Duchamp-effect: my life seemed to be hunted by the parodic (and ironic) reflections of The Large Glass, like a distortion of its narratives, starting from the lower side of The Glass, with the bachelors and their stereotyped uniforms and the coffee grinder floating around me in symbolic zone… All those elements which I voluntarily omitted from the title of my contemporary and technological remake (Who Cares About Those Bachelors Anyway?) reintroduced themselves in the frame, exploding like furious chess pieces on a board, pushing logic (the logic of the game) out of reason.

But this is yet another story...

Have you received any particularly interesting or insightful feedback in response to the live stream?

Not really. At times I thought this durational piece, in its contemplative slowness, remained incomprehensible to those viewers imbued into the fast language of advertisement and popular cinema.

The most interesting insight has been this idea of shared time in extended remote space, that is to say: friends under the impression of having breakfast with me because they could hear the sound of my coffee cup, etcetera. What emerged was also a sort of shyness: the spectator, fearing to become a voyeur, stopped the program because of feeling completely thrown into my life. So what is this fear about?

The fear (and the need?) of seeing and being seen in the Internet…

Has this project helped change the way you see the (usually all-too familiar) view outside your window?

Ultimately, no. I am still extremely fascinated by the view from my flat, because it is alive, it changes, in almost two years I kept interrogating it, always identifying something I hadn't seen. Yet I have to admit I found myself staring at the screen, rather than at the window, as if the image, in its electronic reproduction, had acquired new incredible characteristics.

Is there anything else you would like to add?

I thought this art piece was particularly painful, immersive for the artist, almost caged in the piece, rather than for the viewer, comfortably receiving ubiquitous access. Still, when I tried to remember any occasion when the construction of an art work, a piece that meant something important at least to me, was not painful, I couldn't recall it. So I think of Aristotle's maieutic, and apply the idea of his methodology to the process of art making: art is latent in every human because of its innate essence, yet it has to be "given birth" through the process of creation. Hence, the pain.

Click here to watch a short film about the making of Dusty Mariee.

Eleonora Oreggia (also known as xname) is a new media artist and developer born in Milan and based in London. Her work focuses on audiovisual pieces, software art, and interactive installations.

Clare-Marie Grigg

Clare is the Managing Editor of Imperica.

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