In Pursuit of the Periphery
by Alice Clanachan
Bill Viola's sound and video installation The Messenger (1996) shows a naked man submerged in a pool of water who gradually floats up to the surface, gasps for air, and sinks back into the watery pool. At first ambient underwater sounds gently fill the space, and then swell to a climax as the figure breaks the water's surface. The cycle is repeated four times and the video loop is over 28 minutes long.
Art is normally the self-effacing cousin of film (and theatre, or dance), but The Messenger asks for more sustained attention than a buttery painting or a dimly-lit print. Time is deliberately slowed and stretched. The work creates a quiet, reflective space, and a bench encourages you to sit.
Other Viola works show the passing of knowledge from older to younger generations and draw our attention to the cyclic nature of existence, annihilation and rebirth. Contradictorily, the passing of meta-time is also visible, as whole life narratives are played out in 10 to 20 minute loops.
Viola uses the medium of video to communicate the liminal space between the unconscious and the present. And like Viola, I too have been in pursuit of the periphery. Earlier this year I participated in an academic study about lucid dreaming. Every morning, as soon as I woke up, I had to record what I could remember of my dreams the night before. I was encouraged to do so while staying in bed, to remain in the same warm imprint on my mattress to stimulate dream recall. In a semi-conscious state, I became more aware of what I had forgotten than what I could remember.
If a Rothko painting exists on the skin inside an eyelid, (1) a Viola work exists in my warm mattress, where I remember fragments of dreams before they start to slip away.