Behind the Scenes with Blindsight
Recently, Massachusetts Cultural Council's blog Artsake invited me and my Blindsight collaborator, Rosalyn Driscoll, to articulate the process and intentions behind the creation of our ambitious installation, Blindsight.
Here's an excerpt:
Moving image artist Sarah Bliss and sculptor Rosalyn Driscoll (Sculpture/Installation/New Genres Fellows ’13) have just premiered their latest collaborative project, a four-channel, 30-minute, immersive sculptural video installation, Blindsight (6/11 – 7/19/15 at Boston Sculptors Gallery). Here, they retrace their journey through its maze.
Sarah Bliss: I’ve long grappled with the question of how to make meaning in the absence of a shared cultural story, religious framework or mythology. How do we face and embrace aging, loss, death, entrapment, destruction? Can we face the apocalypse of climate change without denial, and without collapse? For me, the answers lie in community and connection, and the creative act.
So I drew from a rich world of visual and cultural referents: early WWII-era paintings by Phillip Guston that depict troupes of street kids reenacting their world at war using the detritus of back alleys; filmmaker Bela Tarr’s remarkable opening scene in Werckmeister Harmonies, in which a young man injects possibility and meaning into listless has-beens in a barren bar, catalyzing them to co-create with him a literal dance of the spheres; the masks and costumes adopted by Carnival-goers as memento mori in medieval times; and Diane Arbus’ unsettling photographs of developmentally disabled people promenading in masks on Halloween.
We wanted to create an encounter with these elemental forces of Eros and Thanatos that was not fully tamed — still wild, raw, mysterious and sensual. It was also important to us to give people enough space to enter the risk of encounter. We needed to find ways they could modulate their distance.
Roz Driscoll: Right. We wanted to create an experience for visitors that would speak to the somatic, haptic dimensions of their perception—the way we sense with our bodies and respond empathically and viscerally to what we see. We wanted to create a range of sensory possibilities and to stimulate people’s perceptual powers. We wanted to reveal how context determines what we perceive — how the same image appears radically different on rippling cloth, wrinkled rawhide, hanging vellum or a flat wall; when seen from different sides, angles or perspectives; or when seen in changing relationship to other moving images, spaces or materials.
Throughout the project, we explored the territory between visual and tactile (optical and haptic) perception: in the film shoots, in the editing process, in the projections, and in the installation materials and structure. The film shoots, for example, were intensely physical and haptic as you moved with the actors and I moved with the light. The imagery then became optical when footage was transferred and compartmentalized onto the flat computer screen for editing. It was a revelation when you realized that the editing process could only be accomplished by projecting the images onto the materials and spaces of the maze, thus returning the imagery to hapticity and tangibility.