Saturday, October 28, 2006

Is this the first time a rainbow was featured in an art exhibition?

July 1967.

Gustav Metzger is setting up his exhibition in the Filtration Laboratory at Swansea University. The lab was purpose built to investigate the flow of air and water, fitted with precision equipment to regulate pressure and direction. But Metzger's an artist, not a scientist, and saw only lines and possibilities, tools and tangents amongst the sterilised surfaces.

Six exhibits were installed on site. For the first, Metzger used plastic tubes and airpipes to engineer a dance of water and air - a vertical jet of air hitting and merging with a horizontal jet of water. "The space was very long, and as you came in, you were faced by a long row of windows with venetian blinds. The binds were down, it was winter, and I noticed that at noon the light would come in at a certain angle and when it went through the water jet you got this extraordinary rainbow effect on the walls...quite fascinating."

A light space filled with rainbows. Walk through to find a clear plastic cube - inside, the sun reflects off thousands of mica pieces spinning through jets of air. Past the cube, three pieces of polystyrene hover uncannily just above the floor - suspended by four streams of compressed air that pinned down the corners of the objects. At the farthest end of the room, a "small cubicle where liquid crystal was projected with a controlling system. The heating of the liquid crystal went on systemacially and for the first time I had a liquid crystal project which was ceaseless, hour afer hour." Metzger recalled; "it's beautiful to have this element of stability which at the same time you could see was totally explosive..I feel I achieved something in that this was literally off the ground."

Is this the first time a rainbow has been included in an art exhibition?

Melik Ohanian Seven Minutes Before

Begins with a voiceover in French. A tragic accident, a freak storm. A herd of goats lost in the forest, the shepherd missing? Seven screens split through seven cameras, moving through an underground landscape, sous sol. Sometimes it seems like the cameras travel in the same direction, sometimes not. Surround sound, panorama. No edits - seemingly one take per screen. Three figures, a violinist, a poet and a child huddle outside in the half-light of dawn. The writing of memory is always a trace over. How did we get from there to here? No faces, no closeups.

A slam poet amongst stone ruins, lit by fire, yellow and orange. You always feel like you're missing something - the enormity of the projection space preventing absorption of narrative. On every screen a different motion. A man walking down a road at down, silhouetted, the camera tracking before him. A string of white sheets hangs over threads, stretching across a wet green field. A small explosion of fireworks. Clean water flowing over a rocky stream bed. Spiral jetty washes through the water - blue grey in the early light, tumble from above, shake each other. A bird tied to a bicycle. Memoria. A miniature house sawn in half.

The violinist climbs onto the back of a pick up truck, drives past the jetty, past the poet, past little sculpture houses immersed in water. The land through a kaleidoscope. Everywhere an incredibly sensuous enjoyment of light. The camera dips impossibly over the side of a fast travelling car down rocky, narrow mountain roads. From above, the house is lit up with a web of tiny golden lights. A string of energy, a maze of luminosity covers the grass. A trail, like hansel and gretel. A blue painted line. The alignment of seven view points to converge in one point in space. An explosion.

Melik Ohanian's Seven Minutes before is one of the most extraordinary film installations I have seen in a long time. Never sure whose eyes we are seeing through, whose eyes we are seeing. All details dispersed in the breadth of spacetime landscape. Never permit claustrophobia. An accident brings us to the scene, a freak storm, and an accident ends it - motorcycle crash. From the path it's impossible to see the road, just a split second of the truck, smashing and then it's everywhere on all screens simuntaneously, one camera races up the embankment over the shale and gravel and then the road itself is hazy, continuously rolling away beneath us, and we go toward the meeting point in reverse.

It takes time to make sense of space.