Mediamatic Magazine vol 6#1 Steven Bode 1 Jan 1991

Mosaics of Light

The Videotapes of Breda Beban and Hrvoje Horvatic

There is a time, towards the end of a day, that film-makers and photographers often refer to as the 'magical hour', in which the light, before it fades from the scene, takes on a haunting, otherwordly quality and invests the objects it touches with a kind of heightened presence. It may not happen for long,and sometimes it may not happen al all, but when it does, the results are worth waiting for.


Mosaics of Light -

Breda Beban and Hrvoje Horvatic would understand. In the five or so years that they have been working together as a duo, this pair of Yugoslav artists effected a similar kind of alchemy in a succession of video pieces: works which, in their employment of personal and poetic symbols and in evocation of a particular spirit-of-place, infuse a mood of introspection and contemplation with the glimmer of something timeless and universal.

In many different aspects of Beban & Horvatic’s work, the observable boundaries of one world become illumined with the light of an 'other': whether these ‘worlds' be described in terms of the old and the new, the ephemeral and the enduring, the spiritual and the mortal, or even, in terms of European geography and culture, the Eastern and the Western. Even more striking, perhaps, is the way in which their work combines an extraordinary intimacy with an absolute and fastidious regard for the image. Their slow, limpid style may, on the surface, seem simple, but it assuredly isn’t.

Beban began as a painter, who favoured the use of (large-scale) symbols drawn from Byzantine art, which she later developed as pivotal motifs in a succession of graceful performance pieces. Working with the film-school trained Horvatic, the duo have evolved an almost telepathic understanding, as seen in a finely-tuned filmic style that is remarkable not for its shows of technique but more for its subtlety and restraint. That said, Beban & Horvatic's images possess a cinematic weight and texture that is all-too-rare among video artists. And, although their work is distinguished by its slow, stately sensibility, it is one that subtly yet significantly differs from the sort of minimalist, 'durationalist' concerns of traditional art-video and is perhaps rather closer in spirit to the cinema of Tarkovsky.

Early tapes like Meta, She and Four Things unfold in a slow, measured tempo and with all the delicate precision of ritual. When Beban speaks her occasional lines, she does so with all the ceremony of time-honoured litanies. Indeed a kind of'mythic', devotional quality is a recurring feature of their work. Bless My Hands, for instance, revolves around the simple 'symbolic' action of Beban kneeling in a plain white dress, burning a huge white sheet of paper in a golden circle in an empty room, and then running her hands through the cooling ashes. All Our Secrets Are Contained In An Image also draws us back into the numinous quiet of contemplation. Like Bless My Hands, it sketches out a simple visual schema of black, white and gold, as Horvatic, using nothing more than the most basic of lighting effects, weaves a tapestry of light-and-shade through which Beban makes her almost spectral appearances: full-face with a tear streaming down her cheek or centre-stage raising the butterfly wings of her robe, brocaded with crosses, in an unknowable gesture of power or supplication.

Maybe the highlight of their work at this time is the video Taking On A Name. Opening starkly with a simple, haunting prelude of slow-motion waves unfurling out in deep water, the image dissolves to an ancient iconic mosaic seen glimpsed beneath the surface of a rock-pool. Then, as a repeating, reverberant pattern of bass notes echoes on the soundtrack, we see Beban facing towards us. standing by the shore of a seemingly endless lake. As the music proceeds through its sinuous processional spiral, Beban takes on a number of incarnations: first, as a surreal apparitional figure bearing flames in her hands; then, again, assuming the mantle of cloaked high-priestess and, finally, ending as a vision of Venus bathing in the waters of the lake.

Taking On A Name is a remarkable piece of video art that works its spell from nothing more than one masterful performance and an exemplary use of location. It also provides a demonstration of the intensity of purpose Beban & Horvatic bring to the making of a piece. Taking On A Name consists of little more than three long ‘takes’ — in each of which, the subtly shifting play of light, which so perfectly frames and sustains each iconic image, was the result of waiting and waiting, by the lakeside, for exactly the moment when conditions and creative mood were one. They always work in this intimate yet deliberate way — usually with the same small crew and often returning to familiar or significant landmarks.

Their two most recent tapes, Geography and For You In Me and Me In Them To Be One, further reconcile the demands of this outer and inner landscape: as evinced in a series of dream—like tableaux — a wooded valley, a shuttered room, light falling on the dome of a monastery, rain hitting the street like a flurry of exclamation marks — that time imprints on the mind or that memory, when jolted, floods back to. Although much of their work was, in fact, commissioned by Yugoslav tv, it is in the carefully-crafted and hermetic spaces of their installations that these waking dreamscapes fully reverberate — the meditative mood of All Our Secrets Are Contained In An Image is all the more powerful presented almost as an altar-piece in its simple sanctum-like space. Geography 2 (recently shown at Liverpool's Video Positive festival) also benefits from a broader setting. At the heart of the installation, video monitors are arranged in a circle, draped with the ensigns of various flags. Each of the flags has its centre ripped out, through which the images of Geography (the video) are viewed. On the floor of the space, formed from a covering of soil, is the more ancient symbol of a pentagram. From a country whose physical geography is being pulled apart under the pressures of history, it is an image with a stark and melancholy beauty.

With the possible exception of Bill Viola, whose videos, too, radiate an uncanny sense of being-in-the-world, Beban & Horvatic are remarkable among video artists for the way in which you watch, and yet, in watching, become immersed. At a time when so much electronic art is caught up, in theory or practice, in the depthless mirror-play of the simulacrum, they have sought out, and found, a kind of still-point, a focus. In the delicate mosaics of their videos or the numinous sanctums of their installation works, Beban & Horvatic place a candle in the window of the Image in an attempt to make it yield up its secret, and, occasionally, when the time and the mood are right, make it shine with a glimmer of a resurgent light.