rec(o)urse is a three-part installation made in collaboration with Evelyn Tsisin. Drawing on poetry, family photographs, and found footage, the exhibit considers the immateriality and dematerialization of memory as it is encountered through ‘double’ or stereoscopic forms of looking.
Poetry by Evelyn Tsisin.
Maya's Room, Silliman College, Yale University. Spring 2018.
three sequential viewmaster reels using images from personal family archive.
two-channel projection featuring found footage and digital renderings captured in Sweet Home 3D. 7m 40s.
augmented reality iOS application made for Holokit cardboard viewer.
bleachers, endurance, land, sidewalk, home, reflection.
A formula that located a set of vertices yet without volume, a network of nodes in need of edges.
Memories resurface and recede with each passing glance over a line, always dancing around an image or series of images. One recognizes a longing for the tenuous materiality of memory, and for which the speaker’s only recourse is to rearrange and reinscribe these fleeting thoughts within the deceivingly complete structure of the sestina - six words, six stanzas, six lines each. Three dimensions to yield the mathematically perfect three-dimensional cube. Not only is the poem a fraught recourse for the anxiety of remembering, but a recursive framework, a strategy of rigid repetition in hopes of conjuring that which can never again exist as it once was, suffocated by the intensified “heat” (6) of its own hyper self-reflection:
meet me underneath the bleachers
during the endurance
test their bodies stiff the land
arm’s length away sway nerves betrayed
they’re at prom with the sidewalk
but we take her home
skin cement skin heat trapped within aluminum reflection (Tsisin 1-6)
....I began to examine the conceptual connections between three-dimensional technologies and how they construct experiences of remembering, here by way of a poem that systematically breaks down and rebuilds itself to uncover the impossibility of a three-dimensional image from the onset, where the reflected image “surrender[s] only coaxed by threat of shatter” (Tsisin 10), enticed by the beauty of the “dazzling pattern” (Tsisin 12) that may emerge in its destruction:
In trying to best draw upon the cinematic sensuality of Evelyn’s poem, I needed a stereoscopic vision that also allowed for a particular experience of seriality, such as the View-Master... [which] struck me as a sentimental object that not only matched the nostalgia of the poem, but that would likewise allow me to honor the intimate and haptic qualities of the family photographs I had begun to pair with the text....The View-Master offered me the luxury of a material interaction, of a plastic, mechanical sound with the potential to trigger an affective response, as well as the richness of the physical film reel onto which my family photos were rescaled and reprinted as double images.
meet me on the other side of our reflection
watch us in our stillness smile without admission from the bleachers
inside the glass no one can reach us convince us to come home
surrender only coaxed by threat of shatter frail endurance
if we are trapped in scattered sidewalk
shards in dazzling pattern may we land (Tsisin 7-12)
[D]espite my predilection for digital technologies, I am unable to relinquish a fetishistic relationship to the materiality of film and print-based images, unable to fully release myself from the material realm where I can touch the “pavement of the sidewalk” that is “as prone to weathering as home” (Tsisin 15, 18):
Yet my argument dissolves itself, too, “like liquid bleachers” (Tsisin 16), as we witness both analog and digital continue in their inevitable process of decay. The space in which the speaker meditates upon these memories and the space of the memory itself now expose their complete instability, and the liminal space where land and water meet, the doubling of space through reflection, destroys the possibility of a coherent subjectivity, for there lies no more solace in spatio-temporal certainty. This is not perhaps the failure of the stereoscopic image to manifest or convincingly materialize a past world, but rather, a giving over of the self to a space where that spatio-temporal certainty is no longer the basis for thinking, feeling, seeing, or remembering. This is the speaker’s double gaze that constructs a vision of the future through the space in between two images - a gaze that can look through and beyond foreground and background, and that ultimately invites the viewer to do the same (“meet me”, she repeats each time).
meet me in the place where land
ends in reflection
where the pavement of the sidewalk
resorts to powder sloping to sea like liquid bleachers
knowing nothing of endurance
as prone to weathering as home (Tsisin 13-18)
Stills from the final video, made with Sweet Home 3D.
Earlier work I returned to in selecting footage.
From my personal archive, 2010.
I see the speaker salvaging an amalgamation of images from a time before she was born, trying to reconstruct some version of the world in which her parents came into adulthood, and, perhaps most importantly, unable to release her attachment to the “pipe dreams” that “rust like the magazines we keep ironically” (Tsisin 21). As someone who obsessively collects and catalogues various analog and digital media - which is always within reach yet always somewhere distant ‘on the cloud’ - what does it mean to cling to these magazines ironically, but also have them underlie my dreams and memories, as well as any possible conception of futurity I may imagine?
meet me at home
where promises do not take root in land
pipe dreams rust like magazines we keep ironically and endurance
is just a game we play with our reflection
sighing to ourselves three times trying to find what we lost beneath the bleachers
what we inscribed on one another bathed away like sidewalk chalk (Tsisin 19-24)
“[D]runk on the deception of youth’s fugitive endurance” (Tsisin 30), the speaker beckons the reader to share a journey of intoxicating nostalgia that leads them “the long way home” (Tsisin 26):
meet me when it rains on the north side walk
the long way home
be stupid show off for me alone and clamber up the bleachers
stand at the peak ladder at your back fog beneath your feet and land
in a pool of your reflection
drunk on the deception of youth’s fugitive endurance (Tsisin 25-30)
As the room grows unable to support the boundless and dream-like quality of the footage from a dim and colorless space, the speaker’s journey of remembering begins to climatically collapse in on itself, giving way to the dense overgrowth. A turn in the poem at line 36 signals a shift in tone, much darker now than when the speaker first loses herself to the “scattered sidewalk/shards” (Tsisin 11-12), “the eager hands of land” (35) having violated the intimate space of the bedroom and the space of memory, all now quietly eroding like the installation’s styrofoam plastic stand as it crumbles beneath the weight of the projector:
meet me where endurance
broke up with the sidewalk
left the scars as a reflection
of uprooted home
let the eager hands of land
surround her slowly defeat is holy only from the bleachers
As the culmination of the poem’s apocalyptic narrative that also undoes the sestina by unfolding in excess of the poem’s rigid form, the seventh stanza allows us to consider the dematerialization of memory alongside the shift to a technology like mobile augmented reality. When integrated with the Holokit cardboard headset, the mobile application that I developed through Unity also relies on stereoscopic vision to achieve the effect of three-dimensionality. The Holokit headset specifically constructs a hologram-like image through the reflective optics housed within a trapezoidal box, finally allowing the virtual world to be applied to the entirety of reality as we experience it through the lens of a smartphone. Given the close of the poem, when/where “there is nothing more to see” (Tsisin 39), I chose to omit any photographs, moving-image media, or 3D models, allowed the text to float outward from the gaze of the lens in a bleacher-like arrangement. What happens when images end? Will the end of history be the end of images, too? What if we were to no longer rely on images and visuality for memory, but to create space for other, differently experienced, recorded, and recalled forms of knowledge?
It is unclear whether this new reality has been forced upon the speaker, or has, in fact, been a deliberate choice, as if to end the very world she has created within the sestina. Perhaps the poem’s nostalgia has turned fatal, and the speaker has lost her ability to comfortably structure her memory around the images that now seem so overwrought, overdetermined by the recursive, mathematical framework of the sestina. And so she asks:
meet me where reflection has no home
where memory yields its endurance where the sidewalk
melts with land and there is nothing more to see there no one dreams of bleachers (Tsisin 37-39)
This ‘recourse’ taken by the speaker may suggest a path of transcendence, of the annihilation of the ego in the absence of a reflective surface by which to indulge; yet we could likewise take this final invitation, as it is read through an augmented reality viewer, as the total obliteration of the borders of the image, which condenses all backgrounds into one, which becomes the afterthought, the privatized space onto which the poetry is mapped, always ready to give the viewer the illusion of being at the center of the universe, no longer watching the spectacle only from the bleachers. She has lost herself within time and space not because the images stopped, but because she cannot see beyond or without the image at all - and it is there where “no one dreams of bleachers” (Tsisin 39).