Washington University in St. Louis,
Sam Fox Graduate School
The spatial relationship of the interior and the exterior to the subjective perception of time is at the core of Robert Gero’s work. Gero finds theoretical reinforcement in the work of Gottfriend Leibniz (binary systems) and Henri Bergson (concept of durée). His investigation into the folding and unfolding of space frames his theoretical argument and affects the physical and material practice of his sculptures and video works. Here, Gero describes not only his process but also the theoretical investigations that inform his work.
My works are experiments in the parallel mechanics of perception and subjectivity. This is to say that my works essentially involve the manipulation of points, parallel planes and fields. Over the last five years, I have continued to experiment both theoretically and practically with the temporal and the spatial, time and space. I currently produce works that exhibit the temporal mechanics of duration. At the same time, I am developing an aesthetic of duration or pure temporality. In other words, I investigate with material and form, and at the same time, I write about the ideas that cross-inform them. My latest body of work began when I asked myself a simple question, “How can I make a structure, build a space whose internal dimensions exceed the external ones?” In other words, could I create a structure that opens onto itself, and by doing so, will actually expand in dimension?
My starting point was this seemingly impossible structure. It became clear to me that if there were a physical opening up or unfolding, there must necessarily be some temporalizing function. I began wondering if there were any models for such objects either physical or theoretical, so I began my bookwork. In my investigation, I found conceptual reinforcement of my idea in two thinkers. The first is Gottfried Leibniz; the seventeenth century rationalist and inventor of the system of calculus, who also discovered the binary system, the foundation of modern computing. According to Leibniz, the smallest unit is the monad (think metaphysical subatomic particle). These monads are infinitely unfolding and expanding – he calls them “insides without outsides". In my work they become expanding insides with stable outsides. Here, I found a model. The second conceptual reinforcement comes from Henri Bergson who introduced the term durée or duration to refer to the flow of the temporal. He invented an alternative notion of time.
It is important to point out here that Bergson’s concept of durée (translated as duration) differs significantly from the English meaning of duration as ”a measurable period of time during which something happens”. His concept is closer to the French meaning of durée, which is “going through time”. Still he expands upon this offering a conception of duration that invokes an indivisible unity.
Bergson rejects the spatializing of time that represents the temporal as a string of instantaneous moments. To regard the present moment as a point is to cut the flow of lived time into isolated immobile units. This misrepresents the complexity and the continuity of lived time. According to Bergson, the past and the present necessarily coexist. Bergson compares the lived present to a melody that is grasped as a whole, not listened to by isolating note after note. Here I had my second model.
Fig 1: Robert Gero, “Transitory, Fugitive and Contigent”
It became evident to me that in order to create the possibility for new temporal forms, I would need to utilize new technologies
to imagine and produce them.
Now I will now describe my working process. The artworks began as a series of rough sketches and drawings. I then scanned the drawing data into a computer program called Rhino in order to render a model. Next, I went back and reworked the Rhino drawings by hand. I then made the drawings into large paper sculptures, building the sculptures from those models. The forms are generally a series of fragmented polygons that are morphed and made into room-size sculptures that employ a series of multi-facets and folds. These structures follow a contour, yet morph because of the shifting internal facets and the changing light throughout the day, which then modifies the shapes. These room-sized sculptures can be inhabited both physically and virtually.
Fig 2: Robert Gero, UICA Installation view, 2008
The next step in the process entails using a camera to shoot the spaces as a continuous “long take” (30 seconds to 30 minutes of uninterrupted movement without an edit). I tried to formulate the critical filmic decisions necessary in trying to create this kind of space, this kind of structure. In doing so, it became clear then that this investigation of space wasn’t simply an investigation of something outside. It struck me that this investigation of space should also be investigated and researched from the inside. I am in no way suggesting a dualism between the inside space of the rationalist, or the outside space of the empiricist. I am talking about the absolute interweaving and necessity of both. For me, there is always a body and presence of consciousness.
Fig 3: Robert Gero, UICA Detail, 2006
The first decision I made about the video concerns the way the video was shot. A continuous long take from the first
frame, the uninterrupted scene creates this temporalizing space, whereby, no event is privileged and time lacks finality.
I think of moving through these spaces with a camera as something akin to spelunking, a meandering, drifting journey through luminous variable curvatures and folds.
The continuous long shot is an example of the way that duration can occur. When one thinks of films, generally speaking you will notice that the edits or cuts are so rapid or often that one has difficulty in even counting how quickly they occur. Sometimes, just a second, sometimes three seconds. A longer take nowadays is generally 15-30 seconds, and on more rare occasions perhaps stretched to a minute. Here, I believe we see editing as an ideological function, as well as a spatializing function. This draws me back to my point about consciousness and its ideological limiting through the structuring of virtual, filmic space, as well as of determining exteriority, by exteriority I mean material or spatial objects. The ideological construction here is formed by editing – not simply the selection of content/image – but also the rapidity of the edits. In the rapid succession of images, there is a determination, a directing of where the eye goes and how long one can look. For example you have a medium shot of a door, then the shot of the doorknob, the door cracking open, and then the other side of the door. One is being led, moved through that frame, and moved through that space. It is authoritarian. I was trying to think of ways that this space both psychically and physically can get opened up and it occurred to me that the long take is one of those ways, since the continuous long take allows the eye in given time to move through the frame and space.
Fig 4: Robert Gero, “Apostate Structure,” 2008
I will next show my installation at the McDonough Museum in Ohio and one of the videos projected in the space. First this is a detail of some of the facets inside the structure; you notice the video projection on top of them. Here I’m showing you another temporal structure, notice it is all continuous long take moving through this form. There is a temporalization since there is always a moving and changing. The way I perceive this space is in large part how it is generated. It could be thought through the major theories of space such as the absolute space of Newton, the relational/measured space of Leibniz or space as a pure A priori intuition from Kant.
Fig 5: Robert Gero, Detail “Caesura 3,” 2009
My argument is that space is not just something out there between objects or substances or some metaphysical entity. It is also not simply being caught in solipsism like some brain in a vat. The something that generates or produces this space is a consciousness; consider how a body is a contained volume yet within it is an endless multiplicity, an endless folding and opening. It is in this way that there is a parallel to the type of structures I am trying to create.
Here I’m showing another of my installation works. This was a work form 2005. It marks the starting
point for this series of works. The video from this installation was shown on public television in Michigan and it
was included in the 2005 Ann Arbor Film Festival. These images are detail shots of the interiors of some of these structures. This
was an early piece and what you see are two different videos playing as a loop and after the sequence they will reverse
and flip. The next works I will show are from 2009; these were from an exhibition in New York at the Lab Gallery.
In another work of the same year I layered multiple videos, the videos are being projected on multi-faceted sculptural forms, which creates a breaking down, of image unity, but in each destruction you have a generative and productive force. There can’t be something productive generated without some level of destruction. I do not mean that in a negative way, I just mean it in the way of a lived life. That is the theme that comes back to the work, it is abstract on one level, abstract perhaps in terms of its philosophical premises, and at the same time it is about the experience in a lived life.
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