Double Projection, Intersection,
the State of In-betweenness
in Wu Tsang’s Films
By Congle Fu
[Fig. 1] Wu Tsang, One emerging from a point of view, 2019, 2-channel overlapping projections, 5.1 surround sound, 43 minutes. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi,Berlin; Cabinet, London; Antenna Space, Shanghai.
Within Wu Tsang’s artistic practice, one of the most prominent techniques that she employs is the juxtaposition as well as partial intersection of two tracks of images. These techniques are visible in her films One Emerging from a Point of View (2019) (below: One Emerging) and We Hold Where Study(2017) (below: Study), both of which are two-channel films in which the projections of both tracks at times are made to intersect on a single screen. Occasionally, the video on the left or right side runs independently while the opposite side of the screen remains dark. At other moments, the two tracks of video are simultaneously projected onto the screen, producing an intersection of the two tracks. In other words, the two tracks of images overlap intermittently and partially, thereby creating an entangled visual space on the screen. Such an intersection gives rise to a state of in-betweenness in Tsang’s moving images. Hence, by analyzing Tsang’s two films, I intend to discuss how exactly this hybrid space, in which images cut and bleed into each other, make possible a state of in-betweenness.
Here, I will briefly provide some information on the two films. In One Emerging (Fig.1), which is set on the Greek island of Lesbos, two parallel narratives are intertwined. The first narrative follows a transgender woman from Morocco named Yassmine Flowers, and the second narrative draws from the work of photojournalist Eirini Vourloumis. Vourloumis gathered footage in the village of Skala Sikamineas, whose inhabitants were the first to respond to the mass influx of refugees that peaked in 2015. One channel of video consists of Vourloumis’s documentary segments filming local farmers during and after the peak of migration. The other channel centers on Flowers, who performs a fantastical narrative composed with Tsang, and together they imagine Flowers as a “witch” who is abandoned by her own family but is coveted by a king. Eventually, she escapes from the king with the help of a goat spirit.
Her other work, Study, is a response to an essay by Fred Moten and Stefano Harney, Leave Our Mikes Alone (2017), which addresses the violence enacted upon black, brown, and queer bodies, and posits ways of resistance for the always intertwined identities and unstable state of marginalized people. Study therefore imagines a form of resistance through the dancing of a choreographed duo.1 In one channel, projected onto the left side of the screen, artists Boychild and Josh Johnson perform an improvisational dance in a grassy landscape. The video of another pair of dancers that appears on the right side of the screen is an excerpt from Minor Matter (2017), a dance choreographed by Ligia Lewis and performed by Lewis and Jonathan Gonzalez in a dance studio. In both tracks, the shooting direction and movement of the camera are choreographed in such a way that visualizes resistance against the violence enacted upon the bodies of marginalized people. The bodies of dancers are continuously intertwined and disparate, in a constant tension with each other.
The first section of this essay responds to my main research question, namely, how does the intersection of images bring about a state of in-betweenness? In this section, I will mainly examine the technical aspects of Tsang’s artworks, and as such, my primary focus is the juxtaposition in her two-channel videos. I see Tsang’s exploration of blending two projections on a single screen as one experimentational approach among other approaches to projecting moving images. Tsang’s approach resonates, above all, with the artist Harun Farocki’s concept of soft montage—the technique of simultaneously projecting two tracks of moving image side by side. I argue that the state of in-betweenness produced in Tsang’s artworks appears in two distinct forms. The first way in which Tsang’s technical choices bring about a state of in-betweenness is examined by considering Tsang’s double projection alongside Farocki’s soft montage. Furthermore, Tsang’s technique can be traced back to other experiments with the projection of the moving image, such as avant-garde film and moving image installations made by artists in 1960s and 1970s. In linking Tsang’s technique with avant-garde film and moving image installations, the following question arises: might Tsang’s films be seen as experiments in line with what artists have made in the 1960s and onwards? I elaborate how, despite the fact that the technique Tsang applies has an apparent affinity to the aforementioned experiments with the moving image, the experience of watching Tsang’s films is closer to a classic cinematic state. This allows me to turn my analysis to the field of film. In order to examine the nature of Tsang’s technique from the perspective of this field, I apply Noël Burch’s idea of the off-screen. By shifting attention to the issue of the screen, a second possible explanation emerges for how Tsang’s technique brings about a state of in-betweenness.
The second part of this essay centers on a discussion of how one might situate Tsang’s films and examines in which ways Tsang’s practice is difficult to classify. Are her films more experimental, like artist’s films of the 1960s and 1970s, or more cinematic, as artist-made films have generally been since the 1990s? Do her films provide the same possibility for participation and mobile engagement as films from the 1960s and 1970s, or do they in this respect more closely resemble films from the 1990s onwards, which are intended for a more passive audience? Is it contradictory that Tsang intends to dismantle the camera’s position as an omnipresent eye but employs techniques that emphasize the medium-specificity of the camera? In conclusion, I consider how the challenges of situating Tsang’s films endow her practice with a destabilizing yet productive force that creates an opportunity for engaging in open dialogue with others.
A Technique Beyond Juxtaposition
There are two ways in which a state of in-betweenness is brought about through Tsang’s technique. The intersection of two juxtaposed video tracks not only (1) connects originally separate screens and produces a sense of ambiguity, but it also (2) brings about an in-between state that is pregnant with meaning by making visible what used to be fictional in the intersected, transitional space of the two tracks. The first mode is easily discernible, as it consists of the merging of two videos that would typically be projected onto separate screens. The second, more hidden way of bringing about in-betweenness is examined by discussing Noël Burch’s theory of the on-screen and the off-screen, namely, the transition between the off-screen space in which imaginary, fictional images exist and the concrete on-screen space.
The Equivocality of Juxtaposition
The first form I intend to address is that the intersected part creates a sense of entanglement and provides a visual ambiguity. Take Study (Fig.2), the two-channel video configured with two sets of dancers. Not only are two bodies already entangled in each duo, but because of the intermittent overlap of the two projections, the two pairs of moving bodies are sometimes doubly entangled with each other in the middle of the screen, where the green grass of the left video track and the architectural studio space of the right-side track are overlapped as well. The intersected images thereby generate a visually indeterminate space in which one is incapable of distinguishing what is really going on and becomes dizzied by the manifold images and mesmerized by the bodies of the four performers. The inherent equivocality of this format is similar to the effect produced in Farocki’s applications of soft montage—the montage of images through double projection. In order to further the discussion of Tsang’s use of double projections, I shall make a short detour to the notion and practice of soft montage.
[Fig.2] Wu Tsang, We hold where study, 2017 (Installation view Kunsthalle Münster, 2017; Photo: Roman Mensing), 2-channel HD video with stereo sound, 18:56 minutes. Courtesy the artist; Galerie Isabella Bortolozzi, Berlin and Cabinet, London.
According to Farocki, the notion of soft montage invokes Jean-Luc Godard’s film Numéro Deux (1975), in which Godard shows two video monitors, as well as the forms of expanded cinema in the 1960s, a period when double or multiple projections were increasingly being used by artists.2 Accordingly, Farocki creates some video installations, prominently his Interface (1995), with juxtaposition of two video monitors, or his Eye/Machine (2001), which enables double projection by re-editing two-channel video to single-channel and projecting two tracks of images on a single screen. In Farocki’s conception of it, soft montage emphasizes “general relatedness” rather than “strict opposition or equation” of the sequential montage.3 The format is inspired by the process in which a filmmaker edits filmed material with two video monitors and thinks of two images simultaneously. By employing double projection, Farocki intends to envisage the ambiguity of the relationship between two tracks of side-by-side images: “[e]quivocality can be attained with the simplest means [juxtaposition].”4
Farocki’s problematization of soft montage provides a potential framework by which to analyze Tsang’s use of double projections. In light of Farocki’s soft montage, one finds the equivocality in Tsang’s works. Two tracks of images, here the two pairs of dancers, could be seen as two elements in one film, and their association therefore builds up an in-between state. Moreover, Tsang not only juxtaposes two tracks of videos side by side but allows them to intersect partially and intermittently in the middle of the screen. The area in which the intersection is occurring is in a literal sense a transitional space because the two images keep passing through the margin of the frame. The existence of this literal space of intermediacy contributes to the production of a state of in-betweenness.
The Frame of the Screen: The Conversion Between On-Screen and Off-Screen
While Tsang’s experiment shares similarities with Farocki’s use of double projection, it resonates with many other forerunners who worked on moving images in 1960s and onwards. Tsang’s films might therefore be intuitively situated in the context of avant-garde cinema, video art, and expanded cinema of the 1960s and onwards, but to what extent is Tsang’s work really comparable to these forms? In examining Tsang’s films in terms of viewing experience, one finds that Tsang’s works more closely resemble cinematic films than experiments of the 1960s. The similarities Tsang’s films share with cinematic films allow me to examine Tsang’s films from the perspective of film studies and to apply Noël Burch’s theory of the on-screen and the off-screen.
When moving images were beginning to be projected in gallery spaces in the 1960s, the moving image was no longer limited to the cinema. Chrissie Iles has addressed this overlap between the space of the cinema and the gallery. In revisiting the projected moving images in the medium’s early years, Iles suggests that those installations with projected images shifted “the brightly lit architecture of the gallery to the dark, reverie-laden space of cinema,” meanwhile, the darkened gallery space “invites participation, movement, the sharing of multiple viewpoints, the dismantling of the single frontal screen, and an analytical distanced form of viewing.” Artists in the 1960s and 1970s who made moving image installations were trying to challenge the convention of cinema in single-screen films. These challenges to cinema included, for instance, repeatedly juxtaposing images (Andy Warhol’s expanded cinema projects, Exploding Plastic Inevitable, 1966–1967) and enabling interaction between the projection and viewers by playing with the projection of light (Anthony McCall’s sculptural projection, Line Describing a Cone, 1973). Another way of stepping across the limits of traditional cinema was to dismantle the single viewpoint of the camera by endowing the cinema with spatial experience (Michael Snow’s double-channel installation, Two Sides to Every Story, 1974) in order to redefine and reform both the white cube (the bright gallery space) and the black box (the dark cinema), and blend these spaces into a hybrid field within which viewers could actively participate.
However, can Tsang’s films be defined in terms of artists’ experimentation with moving images in the 1960s and 1970s? In assessing Tsang’s double projections in the context of hybrid black box/white cube, I instead come to the conclusion that viewers of Study and One Emerging find themselves in a position that is closer to a cinema spectator than to a gallery visitor. This is because her films rely on narratives, are made as high-definition videos by which pictorialism is emphasized (which is closer to how artists in the 1990s produced films), and are projected on a single frontal screen upon which the viewer’s attention is fixed. Rather than adopting the sort of active participatory role of viewers in 1960s gallery spaces, viewers of Tsang’s films obtain an experience that more closely resembles watching a film with a fixed perspective in the cinema.
The proximity of Tsang’s videos to cinematic film allows me to borrow ideas from the field of film, and I accordingly locate a second form of in-betweenness by considering Tsang’s juxtaposition as well as intersection of images in relation to film theorist Burch’s concept of the “off-screen.” Burch classifies film into two different spaces, the “on-screen” that is “included within the frame” and the “off-screen” space that is “outside the frame.” The off-screen space is, according to Burch, “purely imaginary” and contains what remains invisible to viewers—in other words, it is an extension of the image displayed on screen. The off-screen is a space in which an array of possibilities can play out beyond the material frame of the film. However, the off-screen space does not always stay imaginary. By using specific techniques, such as manipulating the camera movement or using shot and reverse shot, “an off-screen space that was imaginary in the initial shot [could be converted] into concrete space.” In other words, what ought to be off-screen (imaginary off-screen space) is converted to concrete space—essentially the space inside the frame (on-screen)—by applying techniques to make the invisible (imaginary off-screen) turn to visible (on-screen).
In light of Burch’s theory, I shall examine Tsang’s One Emerging to analyze how the state of in-betweenness is brought about through the conversion of imaginary off-screen space to concrete space. In One Emerging, two tracks of videos begin to increasingly intersect when Yassmine (in video on the left side) dies of poison, and when a local man (video on the right side) is digging and burning mounds of soil with waste material in a landfill. In some scenes, when Yassmine’s head is on the screen, viewers can see that she is lying on the ground, but cannot glean other information from the scene, such as how she is lying, because her body is outside the frame and therefore exists in the imaginary off-screen space. However, when the camera revolves in the next sequential shot, Yassmine’s full body comes into view—the imaginary off-screen space is converted into concrete space because what was formerly invisible has become visible on the screen. Likewise, when the local man’s hands appear on the screen, digging the soil with a shovel and flashlight, viewers can see two hands digging, but they will not know who the hands belong to until the camera revolves again. What is unseen in the imaginary off-screen space—the farmer’s body—is now seen on the screen, in a concrete space. That said, through some techniques of shooting, the imaginary off-screen space can be converted to the concrete.
Burch’s distinction becomes fascinating when the two tracks of video are juxtaposed and partially intersect in the middle of the screen. What ought to be the “off-screen,” i.e., the main bodies of Yassmine and the local man, is converted into the concrete by the movement of camera—in each video, the bodies of both Yassmine and the local man eventually come into their own frame when the cameras revolve around, thereby achieving a transition from the imaginary to the concrete. Again in the same scene, when Yassmine’s head is featured on the left track, the imaginary space where her body should be is now inside the frame of the right video, in which soil has been piled up by the local man in small mounds. When the man’s hands are seen digging the soil, the space outside the frame where his body should be enters the screen of the left side, where one sees Yassmine is lying in a spiritual space with many prism-shaped lanterns. In other words, the imaginary off-screen of one track of video is now on the screen of the other track. The invisible, imaginary space is overlapped with a visible space which has images projected onto it. As a result, viewers eventually see the following in two scenes: Yassmine’s head is connected to the piled-up soil, and the man’s hands are connected with the spiritual space. Yassmine’s imaginary body has been replaced by the mounds of soil—a metaphor for her death—whereas the man’s fictional body is immersed in the spiritual space, as if he were the incarnation of the goat spirit who helps Yassmine achieve rebirth. Through these cinematographic processes, Tsang achieves a state of in-betweenness that is charged with meaning. Because the transition between the imaginary off-screen and the concrete on-screen occurs continually, the two tracks of images hang together in a suspended state of equivocality.
Sustaining Ambiguity: Cinematic Conditions, Fluidity, and Instability
In this section, I discuss distinctive aspects of Tsang’s films and examine the difficulties of categorizing and situating Tsang’s practice. Are her films more experimental than cinematic or vice versa? I take the cinematic experience of watching Tsang’s film to be a return of moving image projection to the cinematic tradition—a transformation that could already be observed in the 1990s and 2000s. However, do Tsang’s films in this way eliminate the opportunity for participation that works in the 1960s and 1970s allowed, which freed the viewer and lent autonomy to the spectator? Although Tsang’s films more closely resemble cinematic films, her works nonetheless manage to evade the simple linear notion of pictorialism and illusionism of the cinematic tradition. In contextualizing Tsang’s works, instability and inconsistency are found, and this opens up the possibility of inspecting her strategy on technique in combination with her way of working.
The Return to the Flat Screen
As discussed before, viewers of Tsang’s films are more like spectators in a cinema than visitors in a gallery. Although they are situated in a dark gallery room, within which they can stand or sit anywhere, their bodies are static. Meanwhile, their attention is fixed on the screen (the image) in front of them. This—viewers’ fixation on the artwork in front of them—recalls artists’ films of the 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s, a time in which artists moved away from exploring the moving image’s sculptural and spatial possibilities, as artists working with moving images in the 1960s and 1970s had. Hal Foster describes the approach of artists in 1990s and 2000s as “rampant pictorialism” and “rampant virtualism.”8 As Foster’s description implies, artists’ films were in fact returning to the conditions of cinema. Narratives and illusionism within the frames of films reappeared, and the viewer’s attention was directed back to and fixed on the single screen, in what Catherine Fowler calls the return of “flat frontal image.”9 Both of Tsang’s videos rely heavily on narratives and illusionism, or what Tsang terms “magic realism.”10In One Emerging, two parallel narratives—the fantastic fiction constructed by Flowers’ imagination and Vourloumis’ documentary footage—poetically connect fantasy and trauma, entangling the virtual and the real. For example, viewers obtain a desperate feeling when they witness a farmer saying, “the easiest thing is to die, the hardest thing is the stay alive,”11 and yet at the same time, it is difficult to resist being seduced by the luminous light and iridescent images of Flowers’s magic realist narrative on the other side of the screen. The presence of two narratives promises an abundance of fantastical and illusory imagery, ensuring that viewers’ attentions remain fixed on the screen.
The viewers of Tsang’s video, in this case, resemble artist Robert Smithson’s description of spectators:
“Going to the cinema results in an immobilization of the body, Not much gets in the way of one’s perception. All one can do is look and listen. One forgets where one is sitting. The luminous screen spreads a murky light throughout the darkness. Making a film is one thing, viewing a film is another. Impassive, mute, still, the viewer sits. The outside world fades as the eye probes the screen. Does it matter what film one is watching? Perhaps. One thing all films have in common is the power to take perception elsewhere.”12
Smithson’s provocation is aligned with Walter Benjamin’s “absent-minded” spectator in that Smithson’s spectator is situated in a dark space in front of the luminous screen, without bodily mobility. Furthermore, the spectator is perceptually affected as they, for instance, is shocked by the illusionistic effects enabled by cinematic technologies.13
Here, I shall return back to what I first connected Tsang’s use of technique with—the projection of moving image in the 1960s. These experiments activated viewers’ environment around them, provided viewers with “a phenomenological experience of objects in relation to the architectural dimensions of the gallery”14 and freed the viewer “to experience an infinity of multiple viewpoints and planes through a physical movement around the film.”15 In other words, the cinema screen in these experiments was turned into a sculptural object, which brought the viewer’s attention to the space of gallery and its relationship to the moving images—an idea closely related to Rosalind Krauss’s notion of Minimalist sculpture.16 The return of moving image projections back to cinematic conditions beginning in the 1990s was then a withdrawal of sorts. However, does the return of the moving image to Fowler’s flat frontal image dismantle all possibilities of participatory engagement with Tsang videos?
Viewer Engagement and the Reverse of Fixity
In considering the theories of film scholars Stephen Heath and André Bazin, one finds that a return to the frontal image should not preclude a viewer’s interactive engagement with Tsang’s films. Heath argues that Renaissance perspective is the fundament of the cinematic camera. The cinematic camera provides a “fixed centrality” for spectators, while simultaneously the borders of the screen fix the spectator’s viewpoint. Significantly, Heath also draws one’s attention to the movement of the spectator’s eyes. While cinema may achieve fixed centrality and perfect illusionism, the eyes of the spectator are “never seized by some static spectacle” but rather have a “constant scanning movement to bring the different parts of whatever is observed to the fovea.”17 Hence, Heath indicates classic cinema could acquire “the mobility of the eye” while preserving fixed perspective, even though this might be difficult.18
Heath’s argument resonates with Bazin’s concept of deep focus, in which spectators choose which part of the frame to apply their attention and will to.19 This means that spectators are able to interact with the images, and hence this is not a process that eliminates participation. In the case of two-channel installations like Tsang’s, an even more frequent eye-scanning movement is required: it is the reverse of fixity that is at work in Tsang’s practice. In the way that Farocki’s soft montage “allows for an increased flexibility and openness of the text for the spectator,”20 qualities of flexibility and openness are embedded within Tsang’s double projections. In other words, if the eye movement and depth of focus that occur while watching one projection within one screen already enable the possibility of participation, then double projection goes much further by splitting the spectator’s vision between two screens, giving the viewer the opportunity to actively put together the narrative.21 Burch’s notion of the on-screen and off-screen further complicates how one might expect viewers to engage with Tsang’s videos. Viewers might find themselves following a continuously fluctuating state while watching Tsang’s videos because while their eyes keeps moving between two tracks of video, their attention is also caught by the constant conversion of the imaginary off-screen into the concrete on-screen space.
Camera choreography is another important aspect of Tsang’s practice and offers another way to examine whether or not Tsang’s films enable the possibility of participation. By letting the camera become an active participant and narrator that is engaging with the performance, viewers of Tsang’s films become entangled in a certain movement as well. In both Study and One Emerging, the movement (or choreography) of the camera filming the two tracks of video is synchronized—the cameras in the two tracks turn right, left, up, and down simultaneously. In other words, cameras for the two juxtaposed video tracks always move in the same trajectory, producing two narratives in a parallel. Especially in Study, the camera is treated as an element of the entanglement, moving continuously to stay consistent with the dancers’ bodies. Tsang’s use of the camera recalls an aspect of Iles’s argument about the projection of moving images in the 1960s and 1970s, namely, the fact that directing the viewer’s gaze can allow the viewer “to visually retrace the steps of the artists as the images were originally recorded.”22 Hence, one might assert that the camera choreography makes the viewer a dancer, too, actively engaged with the movement of the images, as if the camera were an extension of the viewer’s body.
Instability and Inconsistency
Both instability and inconsistency are present in Tsang’s works. Instability emerges from the difficulty of categorizing Tsang’s films, and the inconsistency is located in her contradictory technical choices. On the one hand, Tsang’s films have affinities to experimental films and installations of the 1960s that allowed “[t]he spectator’s attention [to] turn from the illusion on the screen to the surrounding space, and to the physical mechanisms and properties of the moving image.”23 On the other hand, her films can be regarded as approaching illusionistic cinema of the 1990s. In other words, One Emerging and Study are neither entirely artists’ experimental films, nor are they entirely cinematic films. Consequently, a particular tension between cinematic illusion and avant-garde provocation is embedded in her films, and this may stem from Tsang’s hybrid position as both a film director and video artist.
Inconsistency is present in Tsang’s practice in that Tsang’s intent behind emphasizing camera movement diverges from the effect of employing double projection and intersection. In the film notes accompanying Study, Tsang states the reason that led her to emphasize the choreography of the camera: “What if the camera was not an omniscient eye or master narrator–but instead just another element of the entanglement?”24 The idea of the camera as an omniscient eye was prevalent among many film critics in the twentieth century. For instance, the omnipotent camera is described by Heath as an autonomous vision.25 It was also experimented in the twentieth century by many artists, among them, Dziga Vertov, whose Man with a Movie Camera (1929) presents “the city as a vast machine seen by the omnipresent seeing machine that is the camera.”26 In other words, both Heath and Vertov take the perspective of the camera to be central, and hence the materiality of the camera is emphasized. In contrast, Tsang’s intention of disavowing the camera as an omniscient eye seemingly entails a sense of de-materialism. However, in Tsang’s application of double projection and the intersection of images, there is a great deal of emphasis on the materiality of the apparatus. Moreover, the choreography of the camera in fact emphasizes the specificity of the camera as a mobile medium. These aspects of Tsang’s work suggest Tsang might be concerned more with materiality, and this stands in opposition to the de-materialist tendency exhibited in her intention to disavow the omniscient camera. Therefore, I regard Tsang’s practice as existing somewhere between materialism and de-materialism. The inconsistency in Tsang’s mixture of de-materialist and materialist tendencies, which resists dichotomy, and the instability that arises from the difficulty of classifying her films together produce an always unstable and fluctuating state.
The Possibility of Dialogue
My intention in this essay has been to analyze how a state of in-betweenness is built up through Tsang’s use of technique, and I argue that a state of in-betweenness emerges in two ways: through the juxtaposition of two tracks of video and through the transition between the imaginary off-screen and concrete space. By examining these two forms of in-betweenness, whether Tsang’s videos enable the possibility of participation and their similarities and differences to experimental artists’ films and illusionistic cinema are discussed. Furthermore, instability and inconsistency are found in Tsang’s practice. Her practice, as seen in both Study and One Emerging, wanders between the categories of experimental films and illusionistic cinema. Her intention to disavow the materiality of the camera contradicts her emphasis on the medium specificity of the apparatus itself.
One could see the instability and inconsistency of her films as internal conflicts that signify a precarious, indeterminate, and transitional state that is always a feature of Tsang’s practice. This leads to the last point that I wish to discuss: what exactly does the state of in-betweenness denote in Tsang’s works? To answer this question, I shall refer once more to Farocki’s notion of soft montage. A key question raised by Farocki in his discussion of double projection is: what do two images have in common and what is the relationship between these two?27 Following Farocki, how is a “general relatedness” present in Tsang’s films and in the broader context of her practices?
Farocki offers an answer to his questions, writing that “[t]here is succession as well as simultaneity in a double projection, the relationship of an image to the one that follows as well as the one beside it; a relationship to the preceding as well as to the concurrent one.”28 This simultaneity and relatedness occur in Tsang’s videos, as two narratives keep intertwining with each other. One finds this in One Emerging, as I have already mentioned, when the channel with Yassmine and the channel featuring the village local are connected to each other visually and in content. In Study, two narratives emerge from the choreography of the two duets, and the two groups of performers seem to communicate with another as they move and struggle.
Two disparate screens, images, and narratives are connected, forming a constellation that Adorno would call a “force field.”29 As Nora Alter argues, double projection is “essentially a filmic parallel to Adorno’s essayistic schema” in which “discrete elements set off against one another come together to form a readable context,” and those elements “crystallize as a configuration through their motion.”30 The “general relatedness” in Tsang’s film is therefore represented not only by the juxtaposition of images, but also in a space of entanglement, a space where two tracks of video and two lines of narrative are in dialogue. This space of entanglement is a new space that exists alongside the two tracks of video, and it is where imagination exists and the possibility of communication is generated.
For Tsang, communication is a critical component of her work, and she often expresses that her method of working involves collaborating and having dialogue with others.31 Study and One Emerging are the crystallization of this approach. In these videos, the new space of entanglement that Tsang constructs enables a conversation between two disparate narratives and allows the participation and the interaction of viewers. It recalls one of Tsang’s earlier works, Wildness(2012), which features a gay bar in the Latin community in Los Angeles, a place regarded by Tsang as a “safe space” for marginalized people and a space in which one can engage with conversations and be understood. The new space of intersection that is realized in Study and One Emerging produces the possibility of dialogue, and it thereby creates a safe space as well, a place that promises communication and liberation.
Congle Fu is currently completing her MA in Global Art History at Freie Universität Berlin with her Master thesis on Harun Farocki and his investigations of the image. Her research interests include new media art, media studies, and film studies. From a hybrid perspective, she tries to examine modern and contemporary art in Western and Asian cultures. She also writes art reviews for Artforum China.
1 See the booklet accompanied with the exhibition, There Is No Violent Way to Look at Somebody, Gropius Bau, 2019–2020.
2 Harun Farocki, “Cross Influence / Soft Montage,” in Harun Farocki. Against What? Against Whom?, (Köln: König, 2009), 72.
3 Kaja Silverman, Harun Farocki and Constance Penley, Speaking about Godard, (New York: NYU Press, 1998), 142.
4 Farocki, “Cross Influence / Soft Montage,” 73.
5 Chrissie Iles, “Between the Still and Moving-image,” in Into the Light: The Projected Image in American Art, 1964–1977 (New York: Whitney Museum, 2001), 33.
6 Noël Burch, Theory of Film Practice (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1981), 17–21.
7 Ibid., 21.
8 Malcolm Turvey, Hal Foster, et al, “Round Table: The Projected Image in Contemporary Art,” in October, 104 (2003), 75.
9 Catherine Fowler, “Into the Light: Re-considering Off-frame and Off-screen Space in Gallery Films,” in New Review of Film and Television Studies, 6:3, 256.
10 Interview with Wu Tsang. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uXf9X5-41E.
11 Wu Tsang, One Emerging from a Point of View, 2019.
12 Robert Smithson, “A Cinematic Atopia,” in Artforum, ed. Annette Michelson, special film issue, Sep, 1971, 53.
13 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations, ed., Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn, (New York: Schocken Books, 1969).
14 Iles, “Between the Still and Moving-image,” 33.
15 Ibid., 45–56.
16 Rosalind Krauss, A Voyage on the North Sea: Art in the Age of the Post-medium Condition, (London: Thames & Hudson, 2000), 24–27.
17 Stephen Heath, “Narrative Space,” in Screen, vol. 17, issue 3, Autumn 1976 (68-112), 76–78.
18 Ibid., 78–80.
19 André Bazin, “The Evolution of the Language of Cinema,” in What Is Cinema? Vol.1, 1967, 35–36.
20 Nora M. Alter, “Addressing the Global in Recent Nonfiction Film Production,” inThe Cosmopolitan Screen. German Cinema and the Global Imaginary, 1945 to the Present, eds., Stephan K. Schindler and Lutz Koepnick (The University of Michigan Press, 2010), 265.
21 Ibid., 265.
22 Iles, “Between the Still and Moving-image”, 33.
23 Ibid., 27–33.
24 Wu Tsang, Film notes of We Hold Where Study, in the booklet accompanied with the exhibition, There Is No Violent Way to Look at Somebody, Gropius Bau, 2019–2020.
25 Heath, “Narrative Space,” 96.
26 Gilberto Perez, The Material Ghost: Films and Their Medium (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998), 159.
27 Farocki, “Cross Influence / Soft Montage,” 72.
28 Ibid., 70.
29 Theodor W. Adorno, “The Essay as Form,” In Notes to Literature, 29. (Columbia University Press, 2019), 71.
30 Alter, 265. Also see Adorno, “The Essay as Form,” 29.
31 There are lots of texts and interviews indicating Tsang’s preference of collaboration, for instance: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/290550