Elena Volpato, Bianco-Valente: dust-like time, 2008
Bianco and Valente’s research stems from an immersive attitude to the world. It comes from a desire to push not just the gaze, but the mind and the whole body towards the heart of existence; to perceive its pulsations as concurrent and successive waves that are capable of crossing the mental and physical dimension, moved by a single thrust, in a single rush that does not shatter in transition.
Their unified feeling of reality not only overcomes the Cartesian dualism of body and mind; it extends its inclusive force beyond its own confines of perception, beyond what is natural, as far as the artificial and farther still, up to the projective domain of the possible. There, where our ancient western mindset marks an ending, a termination of meaning, the wave instead seems to find a new impulse towards the centre, in the form of an eternally returning echo of sound and vision.
The transformation of these waves from perceptive to projective takes place uninterruptedly, before and after the moment of awareness of what is real; just as the past and the future, before and after the present, make up time itself uninterruptedly. That which is suggested is not just a comparison, but the outline of a relationship of identity between flow of consciousness and essence of time.
We inherit this from the philosophy of St. Augustine, who released time from quantitative commensurability and entrusted it to the inner dimension of the emotions, making memory alone our measuring tool. Both the poetic history and the theoretical history of cinema and moving images rest on this; on that wholly inner nature of a length which is declination before memory. Whether through Bergson’s philosophy or through the writings of Proust, it is this interweaving of time and consciousness, as first described in book 11 of the Confessions, which makes up the essence of our relationship with filmic time.
“Time is the condition for the existence of our ego… History is not yet Time. And nor is evolution. They are a succession. Time is a state. It is the flame in which man’s salamander resides. Time and memory are merged into each other, they are two sides of the same coin. It is quite clear that, outside of time, not even memory exists”. These are the words with which the director and film scholar Tarkovsky(1) introduces time. And it is no accident that immediately afterwards he feels the argumentative need to define what is the true beginning in creating a film. “Film direction begins not at the moment in which one discusses the script with the scriptwriter, nor when one works with the actor, nor when one has an exchange of opinions with the composer; instead it begins at the moment in which the image of this film appears before the gaze of the person who is making the film, and who is called the director. It may be a series of minutely detailed episodes, or just a sensation about the style and the emotional atmosphere that must be recreated on the screen”.
One year prior to the publication of Tarkosvky’s Sculpting in Time, Gilles Deleuze had finished writing The Time-Image, in which he says, “A brain which flashes and reconnects and makes rings: that is cinema(2) .” Rings, connections, flashes are all expressions of the memory, forms in which the consciousness discovers, rejoins and gives meaning to time.
The phrases quoted from Tarkovsky could be used as they are to describe the underlying beliefs of Bianco and Valente on the wholly interior matrix of images and time. However, were we to go further in describing which aesthetic choices Tarkovsky believes are necessary for a cinematic rendering of inner thought, of the moment of memory or of dreaming, in short the flow of consciousness, we would discover that the director’s approach is totally different from the solutions of the two artists.
The director rejects any visual effect which changes the precise photographic definition and the realistic clarity of the image. Instead, Bianco and Valente thrive on the inherent noise of the old video signal; they tune the timbre of their voices with the thick grain of magnetic tape; they find the equivalent of the flame in which Tarkovsky’s salamander lives in the dark cavities that open up in the visual flow between electron and electron; they auscultate its inner volume, overturning emptiness and fullness into each other, as though each bright particle of image was accompanied by a little sack of shadow in which the memory of the image itself lives; as though the only possibility of an image having any meaning is by the interruption of that image.
However, the divergent results should not mislead us. The director and the artists find their solution with the same method. They look for it in the specific nature of the language which they use. Cinema is a photographic language and therefore in the first instance, it is realistic and mimetic.
Tarkosvky wrote, “No other art can be compared to the cinema for the strength, the precision and the hardness with which it renders the sensation of the fact and of the “creation”, which are living and mutating over time.(3) ” But that’s not video, especially not the video that the artistic due started out working with. The electronic image is not made by photographic clarity, by factual strength. Instead it has a dust-like structure which even before it formed as a technique for reproducing images, was used as a tool for sound recordings; and in the realm of vibrations, absolute silence does not exist. Just as the outline separating empty from full does not exist.
Everything comes to life through thickening, everything is made from the same matter. Whether it is extended or contracted, the electronic shape comes about like the designs of flocks of birds in the sky, or like the changing formations of clouds. Bianco and Valente have studied and reinvented these images of aggregation and of breaking up. The reality of this language is not the fact, or the thing. The reality of video is the electric, cerebral impulse with which we recall and at the same time think about facts and things. In the mental depths of video, the clear outlines of photographs are as troubling as ghosts.
The adjective phoney was once used to refer to the low visual quality of the video image. Bianco and Valente have given the word a precise emotional and expressive meaning. The hum of phone conversations of old, the metallic, crackling timbre is transformed from a primitive technological datum to an elective affinity between video image and mental image.
And since the interiority of the mind is where memory resides, the video image is the image of time par excellence.
Once again, it is the filmmaker Tarkovsky who gives us the best hint to understanding what temporal result is concealed behind the dustiness, the sandy grain of the video image. He does this by writing of the fascination he had for a Japanese philosophical concept, saba(4) , in which he had the impression that he could find the key to every possible aesthetic rendering of time, and a strong link with the Proustian adventure of “resuscitating the vast building of memory”.
Saba is the trace that time leaves on things. In a literal sense, it is the rust which reveals the true essence of objects; as though decay, instead of operating through destruction, functioned by means of the ontological purification of the world. So while rust does indeed corrode the surface of the world, instead of macerating that surface, it reveals it. Saba manifests itself in the “darkened colour of old wood”, in the “moss that covers stone”, in the “marks left by many hands on the frame of a painting”. What Tarkovsky’s films show is the slow action of time on objects: real time which is acting in every single frame. In fact, time is everything that appears within the frame.
But in video, it is as though there were no need to wait. The rust, the saba, which slowly works on the outlines, which seems to take them away just as the wind blows away the sand, already exists in the dust that agitates video images.
The formal structure of Bianco and Valente’s work communicates with the dust-like nature of time a little like in Kobo Abe’s Suna no onna – The Sand Woman. The writer sees sand as being the image, the very matter of the inner workings of man, of his passionate involvement in life. In the depth of a chasm, like in the depth of the mind of Bianco and Valente, a man and a woman are working. It is as though they were trapped in a metaphorical hourglass, each day subjugated by an infinite, exhausting emptying of the sand which ceaselessly resettles on the surfaces of everything, breaking those surfaces down. Just like in an hourglass, the inner time of Bianco and Valente is a constant anamorphosis of forms that are created from the agitation of full and of empty: an infinite combination of light particles with the dark cavity that is the shadow and the memory of that light.
The desire to make time and thought sensitive has led Bianco and Valente to construct mental environments in which interiority can be passed through with the entire body; where one can immerge oneself in it like dust particles floating in a cone of light; where one can feel the need for fullness and for emptiness, the intermittency of the video signal, and perceive that specific interruption of outlines, and things, and consciousness, on which the sense of memory depends.
In this kind of research, sound plays a fundamental compositional role. It offers the volumetric possibility to cross the perceptive waves that are projected by images. The slowed-down phone recordings used by the two artists in their installation Untitled from 1998-2000 are phoney – interrupted, dust-like sounds.
Also phoney are the short-wave radio frequencies with which they build rooms of the memory enclosed between walls of electronic images (Tempo universale 2007). So are the natural sounds reconstructed on the computer in Uneuclidean pattern from 2003; the sound-illusion of waves on the shoreline produced by computer sounds in Machine is dreaming from 2001, and the coarse-grained computer voice that recites in Breathless (2000).
And there are also interruptions found within the visions of Bianco and Valente. Not just the pulverised grain of the image, but in its very composition, in the perceptive latencies of Slow Brain and Altered State from 2001; in the impossibility of a continuous reading in Unità minima di senso from the year after; in that visual vacuity underlying the cartographic matrix which repeatedly returns in their work – not in the form of the over-used land map but in variations and metamorphoses of star charts and radar maps (Relational domain 2005, Reactive 2006-07, Over the Noise Floor 2007). In them, the dominating colour scheme of black and dark blue speaks of chasms of time and matter, of cosmic emptiness.
These are the same colours from which their first work arose, in which each image seemed to form through sudden illuminations on the black screen, or through the coagulation of milky matter from the depths of the white background.
On the one hand there is the black screen and the black space of the video environments; on the other, the white space of the wall or page on which Bianco and Valente arrange the disjointed cosmoses of Reactive and the uchronias of the Adaptive series. They are both dilated forms of that immersive interiority from which their images derive. They are the interruption which fluctuates in the discontinuous structure of video, which is extended to assimilate the image themselves.
They are the “simultaneous presence of negative or positive, of front and back, of full and empty, of past and future, of brain and cosmos, of inside and out(5) ”
Bianco and Valente haven’t stopped at blowing on the dust particles; they have gone so far as to understand the law of their movement. They have done this with time and with memory. They have captured their nature by isolating them as single specimens. The endless loops of their videos are, in this sense, samples of inner time. They are rings, a few seconds long, that are rotating constantly, the tracks of which are engraved with the breath of “universal time”. Bianco and Valente know how to arrange the light particles of video-time, thus recreating the simplicity and enchantment of a cloud of fireflies in a glass jar. It’s not enough to loop this for a few seconds for the hum of the universal to appear out of exhaustion, like the mute scraping of a forgotten needle on a record. The universal can only be born out of the ability to totally transfer into the image those inner impulses that our mind attributes to the Ego.
The memory which makes up the work of these two artists certainly resides in interiority – but not in subjectivity. Their videos do not need to imitate a thinking or dreaming character, as takes place in many films. Each element of narrative is done away with, as a narrative of thoughts, visions or memories contains in itself an irremediable element of duality which separates the thinking subject from that which is being thought. Inner time is made up of images that recall, of a thinking universe, of a world which does not have visions and dreams projected upon it, but which is consubstantiated by vision, thought and memory.
The constant anamorphoses found in all of Bianco and Valente’s images, along with the all-absorbing backgrounds which are immersive in the same way that all of their work is, are aspects of the universalisation of the inner time of what others might call the depersonalisation or pronominalization of movement. They are those movements of the world whereby “a road is not slippery without slipping on itself(6)”.
Their environments absorb everything that crosses them. They often receive the observer between two corner screens, as though pointing out a crease in time. While the light of the video bounces off the viewers, and the electronic sounds make the space that they cross vibrate, the individual mental space melts along the curves of the wave movement; it slips into the universal mental field.
The line of light which crosses the video signal of their most recent works with monotonous frequency is none other than this: the vital pulsing of a totalized time, which is intent on recalling itself.
1) A. Tarkovsky, Sculpting in Time, Italian edition, Ubu Libri, 1986, pg. 55
2) G. Deleuze, The Time-Image, Italian edition, Ubu Libri, 1985, pg. 238
3) A. Tarkovsky, op. cit., pg. 64
4) Ibidem, pg.56
5) Ibidem, pg. 239
6) Ibidem, pgg. 72-73
Taken from visibile invisibile, Bianco-Valente Opere video e ambienti 1995-2008, SHINfactory, Brescia_Paris, 2008