A Matter Of Time

By the time you read this

‘ The movement-image provides one way of apprehending or understanding duration as an image or a spatialisation of time. If indeed…perception is the master of space in the measure to which action is the master of time, what happens when actions no longer “master” time in the image, that is, when duration is no longer measured by the translation of movements into actions? What does movement become, and what kinds of images are formed?’

Over the last couple of years, Brendan Lee has used the moving image to explore various methods in the linear motion of film to compact the narrative and, in doing so, the space of time. Through decontextualising ‘found’ and constructed filmic moments, using abrupt but strategic editing techniques and gaming influences to ‘tweak’ narrative structures, Lee has created a rhythmic dialogue of acceleration culture and all its by-products - anxiety, anger, aggression, violence and seduction. We know we want it.

In more recent work, Lee has explored randomly sequenced video, which provides a different take on repetition over a period of time. In …a matter of time, we are presented with variables of a narrative, where iconic fragments of this narrative are randomly spliced to offer different versions and variable outcomes. There is a sense of the ‘present’ to this narrative as its random combinations unfold before us.

In …a matter of time, Lee provides us with another site of present action – the installation. In doing so, he locates the ‘placelessness’ of the moving image. We enter the constructed film set, as viewer and participant, implicated. This is an elevator lobby in sensible, muted, corporate tones, yet there is evidence of relatively recent conflict. Disruptions to the scene provide us with a tactile and temporal immediacy.

Rene Magritte’s 1939 painting, Time Transfixed, hangs on the wall. As an appropriated installation prop, it is a suitable reference on several levels. Firstly, as a filmic reference, it appears almost subliminally in Jan de Bont’s 1994 film Speed. The painting uses the incongruity of banal objects’ to create mystery. This also becomes the painting’s function within the constructed set. Adding another temporal layer to the installation, it evokes the somewhat anaesthetised temporality of the corporate ‘non-zone’.

It is then that I begin to consider the curious temporality of non-spaces such as this one. I am met with the plasticised permanence of pleasantly arranged flora, and consider the inertia of such zones. Yet, this is also a site of transient occupation, designed entirely for the act of waiting, anticipating and projecting. The elevator becomes the mediator between the narrative of the moving image and the constructed set. This seems fitting.

‘ The long silences, the almost library hush, that we can observe where people wait for elevators are not only what they seem…The longer the silence the more likely one or more of us will become slightly embarrassed…The more embarrassing and tense are the little interior dramas that we play out each within our own theater or projection.’

Like most timesaving devices, the elevator has become both an icon of convenience and anxiety. With the promise of speed, immediacy and efficiency, comes the growing expectation of it being met. The subjective experience of waiting for an elevator, generally, tends to exceed the real-time experience - it always seems longer. So as the pace of our daily lives accelerates relentlessly, we are faced with a contemporary dilemma. We are highly adaptable creatures, but technology seems to have met with our biological capacity – our speed limit, if you like. There is a limit as to how fast elevators can travel, as they plummet from ever increasing heights, so as to not cause some permanent physical damage. And yet, we know we want more.

It is here that I recall the romanticisation of speed by the Futurist movement around a century ago, and Antonio Sant’ Elia’s architectural vision of progress - exposed elevator shafts and commuter conveyor belts. Technology has made these visions a banal reality. In Faster, James Gleick describes a world of no time for the idle, and the attempts to fill ‘empty’ space with the illusion of productivity [you may recall the days of tinned musak in elevators as attempts to entertain us in transit]. Our contemporary experience consists of an ever-increasing spatial and temporal domain. Ever since time became quantified, industrialised and commodified, the term ‘time is money’ has motivated most aspects of our day. So now we can grab time and make it, take it, buy it, save it and even kill it. As long as there is a purpose to it, we should not waste it. The modern convenience company, LG, released this slogan for their 2002 Ad campaign: ‘…because life’s too short to waste time’. But do these timesaving devices simply mean that we can cram more action-packed productivity into the ever-increasing increments that make up our daily rituals.

So where does Lee’s elevator takes us? Random generation provides us with varying viewpoints of the same scene and different narrative versions. We are provided with the ‘privileged’ perspective of the protagonist working against the clock, with not a second to spare. However, no matter how many different narrative combinations we are provided, the key protagonist’s identity remains ambiguous - is he friend or foe, ally or enemy? Is he committing an act of terrorism or bravery? Is he on our side? And if we suspend our disbelief for a moment, can we imagine his recent departure from the scene we stand in, and even anticipate his potential return?

Though the use of a time bomb, as its seconds count down to inevitable disaster, is a cliché used to inspire suspense, as a subject, along with the elevator, it becomes a convenient metaphor for the collective condition of ‘real time’ suspense that dominates our all-too-immediate reality in these troubled times. As a result, I begin to reflect on the filmic genres of suspense and action and of formulaic devices used to inspire anxiety in the viewer, as well as the ongoing quest to subvert expectations. How have we been conditioned to expect? How have we been conditioned to expect otherwise?

In a sense, Lee uses several devices in his work that illuminate and play with this conditioning. He creates comical, rhythmic renditions of isolated highlights for immediate impact and pure spectacle. It is all in the timing.

Jo. Scicluna, April 2003