22 October 2004
"as seen by a particular man at a particular time"
As soon as I saw Elizabeth's exhibit I knew that I wanted to
try and make a web version of it. My first thoughts were to see
if I could make a "virtual" representation of the exhibit, something
that would give people the experience they would have themselves
have had visiting the "actual" exhibit. What emerged over several
weeks of photographing and playing with photographs is very much
not that. It is, for better or for worse, a reflection of Elizabeth's
exhibit "as seen by a particular man at a particular time".
It might have come out otherwise. The technology exists to create
something that would have been closer to a virtual representation
of the exhibit in the sense just defined. One can, using special
cameras and software, create representations of spaces that allow
viewers to themselves choose and continually vary the viewing
perspective (see, for example a virtual tour of St
Michael's Abbey). It's not a technology that I'm familiar
with, and that's certainly part of the reason that I didn't use
it. But even at its best that technology didn't and doesn't feel
right to me. Yes, it gives the viewer control over the viewing
location and perspective (to varying degrees) but it doesn't (to
me at least) feel "real". When I use it, I find myself thinking
about the technology and its limits rather than experiencing the
And THAT was what I wanted to do, to create something that would
give others an experience of the space Elizabeth created, where
the space was not just space but a particular space structured
by the existence of an outside and by the particular things and
distributions of those things inside the space. And so I fell
back on an older technology of creating space by using single
photographs, views from particular perspectives, and linking them
together to create a sense of space (cf Serendip's
House and Transformation).
What this means, of course, is that the web version is not a
virtual representation of Elizabeth's exhibit. It is a version
in which a viewer is invited to see things using the particular
perspectives from which I saw them, and is further constrained
by what I found my attention drawn to and hence photographed.
At the same time, it was, among other things, the "spaceness"
of Elizabeth's installation that attracted me and that I wanted
to convey. Where "spaceness" means, to me, the freedom to move
this way and that, to change perspectives, as one's attention
is drawn to one interesting thing or another. I hope the linking
of photographs gives visitors to this representation of Elizabeth's
installation THAT sense of space.
There are, I think, all sorts of interesting issues raised by
the relation between this web exhibit and Elizabeth's original
installation. Some of them are more specific and more technical:
what does and doesn't effectively represent space in a two dimensional
environment like the web? And some are more general. Ought a representation
be "faithful" to the original? And what exactly would that mean?
If the representation isn't supposed to be faithful, in what ways
is it derivative and in what ways new and what are the justifications
or rationales for either? By what right (or for what purpose)
does one person take the creation of another and revise it?
As I was working on this exhibit, I became increasingly aware
of how much it was in fact MY view of Elizabeth's exhibit because
I started thinking about an enormous variety of other ways the
exhibit could be represented. And I'd like to expand this exhibit
by adding some of those, and perhaps even by setting things up
in a way that visitors could use the raw materials (the photographs)
to create some of those other representations as well.
For the moment, I'm very pleased and grateful that Elizabeth
allowed me to work with her materials to create a version of Once
Upon a Time is Now "as seen by a particular man at a particular
time". It's my way of trying to convey to others the richness
I saw in Elizabeth's exhibit and, in trying to do so, to convey
as well some of the new things I learned in the process both about
the exhibit and about myself and how I see/represent the world.
My thanks also to Ann Dixon, for taking my working sketch of this
exhibit and transforming it into something that ... comes closer
to being art.
Your reactions/thoughts/comments are welcome in the "Once Upon
a Time is Now" on-line