Absences is a series of 3 of video Installations inspired by the writings of works by Roland Barthes on Absence in his book A Lovers Discourse and was created in 2004. The work was shown in conjunction with the Reflections video installation to form Reflections and Absences, a title I revisited in 2016. It follows on from a trilogy on proximity entitled NEAR/far which I created in 2003. Below is a still frame from each section of footage from Absences. The footage in each case was looped to form a repetition and was projected on a large scale, (3m x 6m) to fill the small theater space it was shown in. Further text follows below.
Projection size: 6m x 3m. A female figure appears walking into the frame from the left hand side of the frame and walks down the hill, gradually disappearing below the brow of the hill. This action repeats as the changing sunlight alters the mood of the work.
In his writings on Absence, Roland Barthes (2000 p.14) writes:
‘This endured absence is more or less than forgetfulness. I am, intermittently, unfaithful. This is the condition of my survival; for if I did not forget, I should die…’
The repetition of the action of the figure walking through the landscape repeats as the whole scene were caught in a state of forgetfulness. The moment continues, the absence exists as a present action repeating as if it had been forgotten that the figure had already walked away. This forgetfulness sustains the action of absence, the act of creating an absence continues, the figure walks away.
The installation footage is looped in a way that creates the repetition, a distortion of time, confusing the distance of the figure in the landscape. Barthes (2000 p.16) writes here that as absence persists, the person surviving the absence copes by manipulating their perception of the rhythm of time:
‘Absence persists- I must endure it. Hence I will manipulate it: transform the distortion of time into an oscillation, produce rhythm, make an entrance onto the stage of language…’
Relating to this, an interesting response that I received from this work was that it became a challenge to work out how many times the figure walked away before the footage was looped. Several viewers commented how they tried to count from when the figure, for instance, scratched her face, or strode off slightly in a different direction, but they could not work this out. It is interesting that the viewers tried to make sense of this work by understanding the rhythm at which it moved as a way of negotiating the work. As Barthes describes the lover experiencing the absence as creating the distortion of time into an oscillation, so the audience, when confronted with a representation of the act of absence, try and find its rhythm as a means of understanding it.
The first stage of the installation represents the journeying Absence of the one who leaves, who walks away and makes themselves absent of another. However the action could also be described in way that sees the figure searching, leaving what is behind and walking on to what is ahead. The first in the series of works, the figure enters the landscape. The second and third works of the series take the viewer deeper into the view of the first image – appearing like a painting that the figure disappears into.
This second stage creates absence through the act of waiting. The motion is suspended, the figure waits and waits… Absence exists for the figure waiting on the edge of a hill, unable to forget. There is a stillness in the blustery landscape; a pause as the viewer, with their own memories, joins the one who waits
“Am I in love? –Yes, since I’m waiting” The other never waits. Sometimes I want to play the part of the one who doesn’t wait; I try to busy myself elsewhere, to arrive late; but I always lose at this game: whatever I do, I find myself there, with nothing to do, punctual, even ahead of time. The lover’s fatal identity is precisely: I am the one who waits. ‘
The role absence creates here as Barthes (2000 p.39-40) writes is that of the one who waits. In waiting anticipation is created, there is an expectancy that something will happen, a moment is created between the present and the future tense as an arrival or a happening is expected.
The figure in the second section of the Absences series is framed by the edge of the hill she is sitting on and the hills that are in the distance.
She is suspended not only in time but in the landscape between the two spaces, between the present and the future spaces, held captive in the space, waiting. This static scene is punctuated only by the blowing of the wind ruffling the figure’s hair, the movement of her turning her head, or her arm moving as she sweeps the hair out of her face. These simple moments become exaggerated by the stillness of the landscape. The environment emphasises the space around her, the absence she experiences as she appears secluded on the edge of the hill, transfixed in a visual dialogue as she is wrapped in her surroundings as she waits.
The stillness and apparent emptiness of the lake emphasises the lack of human presence. The silvery lake is calm in comparison to the blustery hillside that over looks it. The absorbing atmosphere of the lake consumes the passage of time and the need for the presence of a figure. The lake appears in the view of the waiting figure. The atmosphere of the lake is also that of waiting, watching for signs, for something to occur in the stillness. Although the role of waiting is removed to an extent by the lack of human presence, it is replaced by the passage of time denoted by the rippling of the lake. Roland Barthes (2000 p.17) writes about the asphyxia that the absence of the other creates:
‘ The absence of the other holds my head underwater; gradually I drown, my air supply gives out: it is by this asphyxia that I reconstitute my “truth” and that I prepare for what in love is intractable.’
There is nothing left in the scene by the lake, except everything that exists there. Perhaps this moment is so quiet to allow room for contemplation, a chance to reconsider the truth. The solitude of the scene reflects on the emptiness and asphyxia of the calm. The water of the lake laps at the edge of the room absorbing the viewer into the landscape. The blurring of the borders between the viewer and the location reflect on the kind of drowning that Barthes describes here. The individual is lost as their reality is re-created beyond their control in the absence of the other.
The poetics involved with the scale of the images projected in the Absence series of works follows a natural inclination that the imagery lends itself to. In a chapter in ‘The Poetics of Space’ by Gaston Bachelard (1994 p.210) titled Intimate Immensity, Bachelard comments:
‘But any doctrine of the imaginary is necessarily a philosophy of excess, and all images are destined to be enlarged.’
I feel that working with such large images, it is definitely the sheer scale of the work that gives it the impact. The decision for me for the projection to be such a large scale is a natural progression of the ideas that I work with. By enlarging the scale of the work, the processes and depictions are exaggerated, and I find that the level explanation and meaning are heightened also. The same work does not have the same resonance when projected on a smaller scale, the layers of the landscape are diminished and they do not hold the same meaning or have the absorbing impact needed to communicate the ideas of the work.
Whilst documenting Absences, the work ultimately reflects on the presence created by the depiction of the absence. Where there is absence, there is presence, like an echo following a sound in a space. Only in Absence can we fully appreciate the presence of all that is around us and contemplate all that is held within.