G.I. -6

June 7, 2010 · Posted in Documentation, Governor's Island, Media Art, seesaw · Comment 

video by Barrie Olsen

This past Saturday and Sunday were the first open studios weekend where the public had access to G.I. and the LMCC studios. I had rearranged the seesaw installation, hanging a three tiered metal desktop inbox acquired from MFTA to hold the Mac Mini computer and the projector. I had re-enforced the seesaw with another 1 x 10 plank that was ten feet long and raised the seesaw up to 36 inches off the floor. This gave it the proper feel for a seesaw; your feet would leave the ground when your opposite tipped the balance their way. I also had the interface for the computer wireless and battery operated so there were no wires to trip on. I moved the seesaw to the center of my studio space. The space is still too small for the piece but the projection and the seesaw were large enough to convey the sense of the piece. The interface worked very smoothly.

The first day there were 600 people who came through the LMCC space. Part of what I did was to engage the people and entice them to sit on the seesaw. Some very interesting things occurred. Perhaps the best duet on the seesaw were the daughters of Chin Chin another of the A.I.R.’s who is a wonderfully upbeat person. The little girls were around 10 and 12 years old. They played on the seesaw with a sweetness and joy that was fun for me to watch. As it happened, I realized I had made a work that was very attractive to women in general. The older ones got on the seesaw and were able to capture for a moment their childhood memories. I could see them relax and a smile break out on their faces. Lot’s of laughter ensued. The serious part of course is the synaesthetic memory that was triggered by getting on the seesaw. My intention had been to tie the movement of the seesaw to the video object. It worked much better than I anticipated. My studio was always crowded often with people waiting their turn to try out the seesaw. Can you imagine an artwork where the viewer turns to you smiling and says, “thank you, I really enjoyed that!” Many people asked what the movie was and when I said, “Two for the Seesaw they remarked they would have to rent it when the returned home. One fellow asked me about copyright issues. I always find those types to be tedious. I answered that MGM should be paying me for promoting their movie. In any case it’s a fair use purpose since I am not charging admission and it’s a critical analysis/ deconstruction of the film. The use of “found footage” is so prevalent that one can’t go to a museum without seeing an art installation that has some incorporated into it.

Two women who were arts administrators and my age got on the seesaw and started singing a seesaw song. One had grown up in the Bronx and one one the Lower East Side. The last line of the song was different for each and ended with the refrain of she went into the door marked … and an address for either location.

Some visitors asked what the work meant. It’s odd because they wanted some explanation. If I simply demurred and said get on the seesaw and find out, they were not satisfied. I’ve always said that artists make art because they want to surprise themselves. They don’t necessarily know what an artwork does or means. To quote Winston Churchill and Joe Pesci, it’s “… a puzzle inside a riddle wrapped in an enigma.” I try and explain the piece by saying that photography is about capturing a moment in time and that all film deals with memory in some manner or the illusion of a moment. In the case of Two for the Seesaw it’s a memory of a time in New York that no longer exists. The seesaw is also a archetype of childhood memories. I also explain that the motion changes the way you perceive the media object. What I don’t say is that I was going for an overlap of two disparate states. One is the visceral sense of joy and flying when you are on the seesaw and the other is the sense of disjunctive time and memory one gets from watching an old movie. This should rewire the brain to think in novel pathways or cause sensory disruption making the experience totally unique. Sometimes I would open up the programming interface to show them the way the piece functions and the logical structure. That seemed to satisfy a lot of people. They would remark in surprise, “you did all that?” This seemed to expand their idea of art beyond the normal parameters. I found this effect on the audience to be quite satisfying. One young man who was studying engineering at Lehigh College was surprised that I as an artist knew how to write programs. He became quite interested in the Pure Data programming language I was using. He felt that knowledge of programming was becoming a necessary skill for citizens of the 21st century.

Some of the more subtle effects of the seesaw were the necessity for the two people on the mechanism to find a smooth rhythm. This was part of the back and forth dialog. Many people realized this after which they began to immerse themselves in the narrative of film, the dialog of the mechanism and the random selection of the scenes. The seesaw is also an archetype for balance and has a meaning of the scales of justice, a balanced life etc..

Part of what I was exploring in the work was human interface design. I was trying to push it beyond it’s normal parameters so that the ways of feeling, seeing and perception of the virtual space were jumbled and reordered.