NEAR/far is a trilogy on proximity I created in 2003 as part of my degree studies. It is based on the writings of Roland Barthes A Lovers Discourse, in particular his chapter on Absence. The series is 3 video projections which were projected large to fill the dimensions of the theatre space it was shown in. The footage is slowed down and the figures move across the screen in a slow dance through space.
The footage was shot at Newstead Abbey near Nottingham, UK . This text was written as part of the documentation of the work also in 2003
The two figures seep out of the landscape, one in the distance and one out of the foreground, gradually a feint image of the other appears alongside each figure. As the sets of figures approach themselves, the feint images strengthen and the stronger figures weaken. The translucent figures meet and the process is reversed. In this first section the figures appear ghostly. They appear separate from reality, almost absent from the reality of their location. The translucent creation of the figures relates to the writings by Barthes (pg15), in which he describes the sigh, the sound of the incompleteness of the individual in the couple:
‘ a classic word comes from the body, which expresses the emotion of absence: to sigh: “to sigh from the bodily presence”: the two halves of the androgyne sigh for each other, as if each breath, being incomplete, sought to mingle with the other: the image of the embrace, in that it melts the two images into a single one: in amorous absence, I am sadly, an unglued image…’
As Barthes writes, the emotion of absence creates a ‘sigh’ for the other. By depicting the presence of the figures alongside each other I hoped to highlight the strength in appearance of the figures. As the sigh becomes stronger the real figure becomes more feint. This was a way of describing the transfer of mental energies of the lover experiencing the absence. As the stronger figure daydreams of the absent one, their link with reality weakens, they fade into the background as their thought becomes more alive than they. Roland Barthes (pg17) writes of the lover recreating the other in a situation when the other is absent:
‘I take a seat alone, in a café; people come over and speak to me; I feel that I am sought after, surrounded, flattered. But the other is absent; I invoke the other in-wardly to keep me on the brink of this mundane complacency, a temptation.’
In the footage in the rose garden, the figures appear to ‘invoke’ their other in their absence, to the depth that they dissolve into themselves. The loop of this footage occurs a more frequently than the other installations. This helps to represent the ease of the distraction by the other’s absence and their readiness to re-create a memory of them in their absence.
The landscape in the Rose garden section of footage is more ordered and ornamental. As an introduction to the NEAR/far trilogy I think it worked best in setting the scene to the other following sections of the installation. It mirrored the movement of the final ‘Ivy Tunnel’ section of footage in which the movement is to and from the camera, and in which visually the figures appear to partake in a connection with each other.
The maze footage is about connection through movement alone. The absence is continuous. Roland Barthes (pg 13) refers to the action of journeying in his work. It is his way he describes absence as a journey that I felt particularly relates to the part of the installation filmed in ‘the maze’:
‘Now, absence can only exist as a consequence of the other: it is the other who leaves, it is I who remain. The other is a condition of perpetual departure, of journeying; the other is, by vocation, migrant, fugitive; I-I who love, by converse vocation, am sedentary, motionless, at hand, in expectation, nailed to the spot, in suspense-like a package in some forgotten corner of a railway station.’
In NEAR/far the characters are the slowed down motion of the walking of the couple freezes individual moments between them. The couple are completely apart in this sequence, mostly facing in different directions. It is the physical barriers of the hedges that emphasises the distance and quality of absence. The suspense that Barthes writes about in A Lovers Discourse, is created as their journey is first discovered, do they meet? They don’t. Perhaps they are looking for each other.
This area of Newstead abbey is not actually a maze however this is the word that I instantly referred to the location as. The connotation of the garden as a maze immediately creates the idea that perhaps the couple are lost or indeed are looking for each other, or perhaps understanding. The environment of the maze refers to the separation of the individual. Placed together but clearly different, the pair are not united, their world does not allow it. The hedges are like a series of barriers. The two are on a journey between the two ends of the garden separated by the barrier hedges, their destination pre-empted, they slowly orbit each other as they negotiate their own paths.
Slowly they emerge from the background, they drift towards each other, then they part. Their presence is forced as their actions are repeated by means of a loop. The point at which the two cross is not the same. They are simultaneous, but not perfectly so, and occasionally though apart, they do walk in the same direction. They reply to each other in their movement, as if they are involved in their own language, slowly drifting between the hedges in an awkward slow dance. They are separated yet their movement joins them. Again, there is no explanation for their relationship other than their placement in the frame together. Only their presence and simultaneous movement provide clues to an explanation of their situation.
As the couple enters the tunnel they appear to jostle, their individual shapes indecipherable until suddenly one figure strides out of the screen, the other figure shrinks into the distance and becomes submerged in the background. This final part of the NEAR/far trilogy may appear to be more about nearness than absence. The gallery space is overwhelmed with the closer aspect of the ‘Ivy Tunnel’ and even more so when the figures appear in giant size as they approached the camera, they look as if they have potential to leave the canvas. Even though the aesthetic of the scenery is different to the others, and even though it’s symmetry may have lent itself better to be shown in between the rose garden and the maze footage, it was definitely the conclusion I had intended.
Within the tunnel the figures are close, and appear touching, however they are still absent of each other. The dialogue of the couple as they pass appears visually that of oneness, although in reality, it is just an illusion created by their silhouettes. Roland Barthes (pg 15) writes;
‘(But isn’t desire always the same, whether the object is present or absent? Isn’t the object always absent? –This isn’t the same languor: there are two words: Pothos, the desire for the absent being, and Himéros, the more burning desire for the present being.)’
Here Barthes explains a state of constant absence. In fact throughout the NEAR/far trilogy, the couple appear to be not absent of each other until they both leave the screen. As I am using the distance between the couple to explain their absence, I wanted to use this footage to present the absence that closeness can have. Even though the couple appear close, they do not connect. As Barthes writes, it is
Himéros, that is the greater desire, the desire for the present being, and so perhaps in nearness, the greater the desire, the longer the distance from love.
Even when the figures begin to leave their state of closeness and distance, they still visually interact. As they leave the tunnel they frame each other, the distant figure like a thought in the memory of the nearer figure. For a while their shapes still touch in distant dialogue with each other.
The peacocks strode around while we were filming, threatening to interrupt ideal shots…
The inclusion of the peacocks for graphical materials for NEAR/far came from ideas that I had about the framing of the work. The peacocks were part of the experience of visiting Newstead Abbey yet they never appear in the presented footage. Their distance from the audience in terms of visual information is shortened. For me in NEAR/far they represent the information that is missing from the work. A camera frame only shows a portion of what is really there. It depicts only a portion of the extent of the world at a time and in this case, only a fraction of the relationship illustrated between two people.
On researching the symbolism of the peacock I found there were many ancient beliefs and stories about the bird, mainly inspired by it’s stunning appearance and in particular the eye markings that cover its beautiful tale.
An occurring theme was one meaning given to the symbol of the peacock, its use to represent immortality. In relation to NEAR/far, the relationship described through the footage is immortalised for as long as the footage is played; the figures are locked into repetition, retracing their steps over and over, trapped in the frame of the camera.