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Deictic transformers: Phenomenological analyses of time-shifts in video art installations

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This article seeks to define a phenomenon in video installations that emerged during the 1990s. It is a type of audio-visual architecture that I call deictic transformer. Deictic transformers are not representations, they are events that trigger a specific type of effect, namely, a shift in time-consciousness, which is characterized as total engagement with the present moment in its impermanence, non-substantiality and self-differentiation. The article unfolds in the form of experiment. As a first step, phenomenological accounts of Christian icons are compared to phenomenological readings of Bill Viola’s ultra slow-motion video art installations. The reader is guided to experience how different media (religious paintings, video) generate different engagements with the present moment. The main subject of this article is ‘the now’. The article suggests that there are various ways of engaging with ‘the now’ and these ways trigger specific shifts in present-time consciousness. These shifts are closely related to the formation of subjectivity and thus demonstrate that temporality is not a given, but could be seen as a technology of the self. Christian icons are representative of a metaphysical approach to the present moment, predominant in the arts and philosophy of the western tradition before the twentieth century. Bill Viola’s video installations The Greeting (1995) and The Passions series (2000–2001) represent a new sensitivity towards time brought by electronic media. The dualist experience of time that is deeply embedded in the Christian tradition is recomposed via video and digital manipulation into a dynamically holistic temporality. The second step addresses other video-based examples of deictic transformers such as Gary Hill’s Viewer (1996) and David Claerbout’s Rocking Chair (2003). The third step examines the aesthetic strategies of these video installations and formulates a definition of their modus operandi. This article does not claim that deictic transformers represent the mainstream of video art installations. Deictic transformers, however, are seen as a growing tendency in new media art praxis that demands intensive engagement with the emerging dynamic of embodied presencing; a tendency that is relatively unprecedented in western culture, and that could be considered an (in)direct result of the technological capacities of video and digital media. In other words, the analyses of Viola, Hill, and Claerbout’s audiovisual experiments demonstrate that video and digital technologies of late twentieth century shift our perception of time from attempts to escape everyday impermanence and the search for permanent metaphysical presence towards an entanglement with the non-substantiality of presencing.
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Keywords: Bill Viola; Christian icon; David Claerbout; Gary Hill; deictic transformers; presencing; temporality; video installation

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Shanghai Institute of Visual Art

Publication date: 01 December 2016

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  • The Moving Image Review & Art Journal (MIRAJ) is the first international peer-reviewed scholarly publication devoted to artists' film and video, and its contexts. It offers a forum for debates surrounding all forms of artists' moving image and media artworks: films, video installations, expanded cinema, video performance, experimental documentaries, animations, and other screen-based works made by artists. MIRAJ aims to consolidate artists' moving image as a distinct area of study that bridges a number of disciplines, not limited to, but including art, film, and media.
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