Mediamatic Magazine vol 3#3 Maurice Nio 1 Jan 1989

Video Brutality

Breaking, tearing apart, smashing, wringing, burning down, smoking out, knocking over - this is the vocabulary of violence that can be used to describe the video work of paul garrin. Brutal words that best reflect the unchristian idea that violence begets violence. It is pointless to turn the other cheek. You must go on the offensive, stone the image, attack violence itself.


Video Brutality -

The visual violence in PAUL garrin’s work is never contrived or mannered. That would be the case if violence was his only concern. But he is not interested in that. Violence for the sake of creating an impression is something he leaves to the authorities. His videographic acts of violence are not blank cartridges, they respond precisely and effectively to both the contemporary and structural forms of violence that he encounters in New York and which he deals with thematically in his work: the aggressive, machinery of violence from both police and evangelists in Free Society, the destructive effect of a run-down part of town in a A Human Tube, the shadowy, sublime and disastrous heroine rush in A Place to Hide.

This is a videographic violence that is not so much the observation or expression of physical or repressed violence but its direct transformation into video. It’s a question of a theme’s literal transposition into video, of a siphoning of the intensity of a violent event into the aesthetics of the videographic process. The video is no longer an intermediary between the idea and the viewer: it materializes the idea, it becomes violence. It’s no longer a matter of simple illustration or of a naive critique on society’s wrongs (which GARRIN could be accused of). His video work is non-narrative, it doesn’t recount how a situation has come about, why the police in Free Society began beating the crowd. Free Society itself is the blow of a police baton, a rain of blows, exactly in the way that A Human Tube itself is the process of disintegration and A Place to Hide itself is a hallucinatory experience. But his less brutal works also completely incorporate the video image into the theme as if it has the autonomous power to identify with that theme (it’s the image that daydreams in The Dreaming-, in A Rain Song the image changes into a small pond, sprinkled with coloured drops of rain).

This is one of the reasons why garrin’s work (and not only his) can be labelled as being ’too literal’. Video is a literal medium, and that’s its strength. Its language excludes the metaphor, it lacks the depths of the metaphor. Video images are stern, they are impervious to simile, they do not represent anything else, they represent themselves. For instance, the soldiers in Free Society are soldiers, no more, no less. That’s why there’s no point in concentrating on the relation between the image and its significance or on the relation between the various significances (and that’s why semiotics will never really be able to cope with video in the way they can with film). You must concentrate on the image, on the treatment of the image, on the way in which the image’s destructive energy is released.

For instance, take the moment in A Human Tube when ryuichi Sakamoto runs through the desolate wastes of the Lower East Side and his shoes catch fire creating a dense, pitch-black trail of smoke. A digital trail of smoke. A videographic flame that seems to ignite the image from within. Of course, garrin could have as easily let the shoes explode or melt but when you see the burntout blocks of Lower East Side or the burning buildings of Beruit at the beginning of A Human Tube then you know that the shoes are doomed to go up in flames. That’s what video does: it releases the image’s internal energy, it spotlights its intricate and obscure purpose. And all the transformations that Sakamoto’s head undergoes towards the end of this short tape (I’ve never seen anyone so literally out of their skull) function as a way of releasing the virtual powers of that image, as if the image is a valuable deposit of ore or an oil field that must be tapped in precisely the right way. The video techniques that make this possible shouldn’t be regarded as mere tricks, as gimmicks to produce a particular effect to make the image more interesting (the additional transformation) but as structural devices used in order to release all the recordings’ possibilities and to draw on the image’s powers of metamorphosis (the fundamental transformation).

The image recorded by the camera is simply one of the many manifestations of that image. It distinguishes itself from other images only because it is essential and simple and some affinity appears to exist between it and its referent. But the fundamental transformation must render it obvious that there is absolutely no connection between the image and its referent. That there are still people trying to demonstrate this link says more than enough about that tedious and obsessive belief in the veracity of images that has always dominated the viewing of photography, film and television. When filmed Sakamoto’s face has as much in common with his actual face as the contorted and blown-up face in A Human Tube. In other words: nothing whatsoever. Undoubtedly a video work that creates the illusion of having something to do with reality is always more fascinating than a completely detached and self-referential work; justas Free Society, A Human Tube and A Place to Hide (which include recognizable images) are more exciting than the formal and abstract The Dreaming or A Rain Song. But this is not connected with the penchant for representation and everything to do with the need for illusion. What is stimulating is the possibility of deception, of the devilish game that the image plays with the recognizable.

Images refuse to be recognized, rather they must be transformed. And everyone who works with video has to submit to this pressure, so strong is the fascination for transformation (and, for that matter, that’s the reason why transformers are so popular with children: they don’t just want to play, they want to transform, they respond to the things’ desire for transformation). In transformation lies the essence of videography, just as photography’s essence lies in the instantaneous fixing and cinematography’s lies in the narrative. If the narrative completely depends on the possibilities of editing, then transformation depends on a kind of internal editing, on multi-layer in-depth editing. And PAUL garrin is a master of this process.

Let’s use the first few seconds of Free Society as an example. Immediately after the opening images (that in fact are not so much images as flashes of recordings) after the shots of an evangelist, his pianist and the ecstatic followers, follow images of troops pushing forward, crack regiments, pall-bearers and infantrymen in parade uniforms who push forward one by one into the foreground. It is as if the one creates the other in an unbroken movement and each new image is stuck on top of the other as in a collage. This whole military procession, this whole military parade, this videographic in-depth editing is in itself visually dizzying and is emphasized still more by a constant electronically-generated zoom-in and ELLIOTT sharp’s forceful music.

editing, with the depth of field which, as ANDRÉ bazin tells us, maintains the event’s organic unity. It’s not about the continuity of a dramatic space, rather it’s about a literal depth, about a literal accumulation of images. Once the images no longer serve the drama and the significance, and become pure material, you have to find a different form in which they can acquire an exciting relation, just as you must find a form in which rampant violence can in some way be directed. This is what is so special about Free Society: this work does not so much respond to violence with violence, it spotlights it, it indicates its contours, it gives form to something that is completely formless, senseless and undirected (for instance: the police baton blows). In contrast to excessive police brutality it poses a well-defined video brutality.

translation Annie Wright