In 2005, the Croatian 'interdisciplinary artist' Ivana Müller (°1972) made the 'net-site specific' performance 'You are there but I cannot see you': 'A video about absence, presence and other strategies that make theatre theatre and Internet Internet'.
This performance deserves closer scrutiny for various reasons.
Let us begin with a description.
1. (→ 3'30") We hear the performer type a text and see it appear on the screen. The text describes the hypothetical situation that the performer is on the stage of a theatre - a 'big black room' - where we are the spectators. We are dealing here with written words that conjure up (visual, auditory and interoceptive) images - not with presence in flesh and blood, bur rather with imagined presence in an imagined space (mediated mimesis).
2. (→ 4'30") The performer, who is now visible on the screen, reminds us that she is merely sitting behind her screen and we behind ours. Although we see the performer and hear her words, she is not present in flesh and blood, but merely as an audiovisual appearance (unmediated mimesis). Her words do not conjure up images, but just refer to the situation behind and before the screen.
3. (→ 7'50") We hear the performer type a text and see the letters appear on the screen. The performer, who is transformed into a writing narrator again, describes how the lights are coming up on the stage in a theatre with 150 red seats, how she enters from the left etc. We are dealing with words that conjure up images, like in (1), with the sole difference that there are no auditory, but only visual and interoceptive images.
4. (→ 8'50") We see the performer and hear her say that we are not in a theatre, but behind our screens - the same formula as in (2).
5. (→ 9'50") We continue to see the performer, but hear her invite us to imagine her wearing diverse costumes. The imitation of the performer (unmediated mimesis) is combined with the imagination of her performing (mediated mimesis).
6. (→ 12'10") The performer disappears, and we see and hear her typing a text on the screen again. She describes how she dances on the scene, while the sound of the typing is drowned by music - the fugue from Mozart's Adagio & Fugue in C Minor K. 546. A (merely visual) mental representation (mediated mimesis) is thus combined with music (unmediated mimesis).
7. (→ 12''50") There is a blackout: we no longer hear the music, and the imagined performer stops dancing. The text on the screen says that we hear the performer breathing, and that her breathing is becoming quieter and quieter, whereas only the sound of the typing is fading. There is a switch from audible music to imagined breathing (mediated mimesis) combined with audible typing.
8. (→ 13.30) The text on the screen tells us that we applaud, very loudly (whereas there is nothing to be heard), together with the remaining 149 spectators. We are dealing here with imagined applause (mediated mimesis), like in (7).
9. (→ 15.00) We see the performer, and hear her say that we are not clapping with or hands and that the performance is finished.
NINE KINDS OF IMAGES IN NINE COMBINATIONS
This video is a rather complex phenomenon. At least nine kinds of images can be discerned. To begin with, there are the images that are genuinely perceptible: the face as a visual image of the speaker, the voice as an auditory image, the sound of the typing performer, and, finally, the music. Next, there is the equally perceptible visual image of a narrator (letters on the screen) and the auditory image of that same narrator (recorded voice). And, finally, there are the 'mental images' that are conjured up by the spoken or written words of the narrator - visual images (like the 'dark room' and the red seats'), auditory images (the breathing and the clapping) and interoceptive images (tensions, expectations and so on).
In the scheme below, the normal discursive words are marked with pink, the narrative words that conjure up images with grey, and the 'inner images' with yellow.
In the consecutive nine sections, the elements are combined as follows:
THEATRE OR CLASSROOM
Why did we go to such great lengths in analysing this video?
In the first place, this performance of Ivana Müller is very appropriate to illustrate that there are many forms of mimesis and that these many forms of mimesis can be combined into complex 'images'. Provided that some more possibilities would be included, it could well serve as an illustration to my text on Mimesis.
Next, we would like to highlight that we are not dealing here with theatre, nor with 'a video', but rather with a lecture - a discourse - where 'mental images' of a theatrical performance are used as an illustration of statements like 'this is not theatre, this is a video'. The lecture consists of two parts. In a first part, the lecturer has us imagine a theatrical performance (the yellow boxes). She thereby demonstrates diverse methods of conjuring up an 'inner image' of a theatrical performance. An interesting device is the use of the fading of the sound of the typing as an analog sign to conjure up the waning of the breathing in (7). The effect is so convincing, that I had to scroll back to ascertain whether the breathing was audible or merely an 'inner image". In a second part, the lecturer makes statements about the difference between 'theatre' and 'video''.
It is apparent, then, that the conjuring up of a theatrical performance is not an end in itself, but rather a means of substantiating a statement: the 'theatrical performance in the head' is merely the empirical material on which a discussion is built. We are dealing here with mere instrumental mimesis.
FILMED LECTURE OR PERFORMANCE/THEATRE
On the other hand, the lecture is not a real lecture - not a lecture by a lecturer in flesh and blood, but rather a mere recording - an image - of such a lecture. That strengthens the impression that the lecture is not a lecture, but rather a 'performance' - a 'theatrical performance'. The suggestion is further enhanced in that the lecturer is also a narrator, and is thus easily equated with an actor. This assimilation would disappear as soon as the spectator would receive the instructions for his imagination in the form of a neutral voice over or as a printed text. Only when we fully realise this can we clearly state that we are not dealing here with some kind of theatre or performance, but with the image - the imitation - of a discourse on theatre.
LECTURER OR SOPHIST
Finally, we want to make it clear that the discourse itself is erroneous. The thesis of Ivana Müller is that 'theatre is not video' - or, on a deeper level, that there is no 'presence' whatsoever in theatre and video alike. What she actually demonstrates is something totally different: that the audiovisual rendering of a lecture is not a real lesson and that the 'inner image' of a theatrical performance is not a real performance.
We are not dealing here with (the) genuine art (of making images), but with pseudo-art - meta-art, in casu: a discourse on the image, art about art. That could have been an interesting lesson, but it turns out to be rather an impediment to a proper understanding...
© Stefan Beyst, January 2012, translated January 2012
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See also: stefan beyst on contemporary artists