Experiment in Scale
sound and video installation
(Projekt: Medusa, Kunst.verladehalle, Rüsselsheim, Germany)

The demonstration of animal violence picks out barbaric conditions, the decline of social normality in liminal states, as a central theme. A decline which leads to the negation of any rule, on the raft of Medusa, in our times. Acoustically this rulelessness is rendered audible by a noise, which gradually amplifies the impression of the visual footage. The effects of sound and image get further emphasized by their repetition, whereas the images are enlarged […], until individuals can be discerned in the turmoil. The massive background noise is punctuated by articulations, which themselves were generated from the noise. The voices of the individuals.
Kunstverladehalle (Ed.), Projekt: Medusa, Rüsselsheim, 2000 (pp. 40)

Experiment in Scale was conceived specifically for a series of events entitled Projekt: Medusa, that referred to The Raft of Medusa, an accident from 1816 [1]. The participants were asked to address social issues like “the radical decline of society’s normality” which was described as “the backside of the law, the rule and the value”. In the call for works letter, references to wars, catastrophes and destructive computer games were made.

My participation was conceived as a single-channel large-scale video projection in a corridor-like warehouse space, dividing the space crosswise in its center. The video consisted of the recording of a fight between a tribe of nomadic ants and a tribe of termites. The termites, being driven from their mound, were subsequently killed by the ants [2]. To this I added a recording of TV noise, in German slang frequently called “Ameisenkrieg” (ant war), in a 5-minute loop. It visually refers to censorship, dubbing footage believed to be dangerous, the beginnings and ends of hastily compiled eye witness tapes in war and political conflict (as seen recently in the Kosovo, in Afghanistan and Chechnia).

The audio part of the installation was arranged in 4 channels: 2 above the video screen playing white noise fading in and out with the video loop, and two at the remote edges of the space playing narrow-band electronic “cries” that were re-synthesized from the white noise, independently from the video loop. This arrangement created an intense spatialization.

The noise—of equal value as the visual noise in the video—stood for chaos in a lawless state, but its interplay with the articulations relates to a figure/ground principle cited in information theory: background noise emphasizes articulations which are embedded in it.

I reckoned that a symbol of social facts had to “be such that it can be observed from different viewpoints, different social perspectives. That it is close to, and as well stands apart from our society. A symbol which comes from a society of social insects will, as an image projection standing in the space, be communicating by its being scaled in time and proportions, and by the means of commentative supplements such as sound and design of the space.”
The canvas’ size was 4.70 x 4.70 meters, so the individual ants would be about 1.20 meters in size. The alienation of their natural size would scale them to a human perspective. Also, the image was heavily pixelated, at first obstructing what was actually depicted. When approaching the canvas, one noticed that the image became gradually abstract, and only with a certain distance to the image the viewer can grasp the actual scenes.

[1] the first catastrophe/scandal story that gained widespread media coverage in its time, triggering the production of several art works (the first was a painting by Théodore Géricault 1819)
[2] this footage was licensed to me by Dr. Francisco López, Universidad Complutense, Madrid, Spain

Thanks to MESO Frankfurt for technical help, and the Institut für Neue Medien, Frankfurt, Germany.

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