We are now alone and arrive at a small concealed basin. A bright light is shining from beneath. We bend over the edge and look down. The surface of the water is undisturbed although there are ripples caused by rising air bubbles. We are looking not at our mirror image but at something else. Flowers emerge from out of the white light, flowers and leaves that float by and disappear from sight. They slide past each other in all their variety of color and form and finally fade in the white light once more. Now we hear something and we strain still further forwards. (There is only room here for one head and one pair of ears- a solitary experience.) Out of the depths or from far away comes the sound of a harmonica; no more than a few notes, the start of a tune. The flowers keep floating past. Soon their movements will change and they descend into the depths. Our view will disappear under the water's surface, our head will be descending along.
The installation Secret Dreams of Narcissus consists of a wooden chest, narrow but quite high and which tapers towards the base. Sunk into the square-shaped upper surface (slightly lower than shoulder height) is a shallow bowl of water. Mirrors under the edge enlarge the surface and a thin pipe blows bubbles of air. Leaning over the edge one sees a monitor screen facing upwards right under the transparent bowl, seemingly lying in the water. The screen shows the flowers floating by against a clear white background, forming a striking combination with the melancholy sounds of the harmonica.
In many respects Secret Dreams of Narcissus is a peep show: a closed space where the outer sides reveal nothing of the life within. There is only one place where one can look inside and then preferably not with someone else. By definition the interior of a peep show absorbs your full attention and denies the existence of a world outside. You can almost forget your own body - this should make one think of NARCISSUS (whose name the title bears), but not in his Freudian role - for this occasion at least. NARCISSUS, prototype of the dismal navel-gazer who loves only himself. Perhaps a more suitable aspect of the story of this languishing lad can be linked with the video installation. The story, told by OVID (and others), is complex enough; much had already happened at the point when NARCISSUS was transfixed by the beauty of his own reflection in a pool. He had already stifled the advances of countless girls and boys including the nymph ECHO. Her ardour was too great for such a disappointment. She withdrew to the mountains and pined away until the last remains of her body had completely faded. Only her voice remained, an acoustic phenomenon that now still can be heard in the mountains. The harmonica refers to this.
But that is not all. What was NARCISSUS dreaming about?
What is the distinguishing feature of a video installation? Perhaps the fact that in an installation the monitor has a back, sides, volume and mass. The monitor is an object with spatial properties, not simply a flat and immaterial screen on which a tape is shown. The installation maker can fight that by hiding the thing as much as possible (as in Secret Dreams of Narcissus) or alternatively can cleverly make use of it.
In Hybris, the weight of the monitors is substantial. A flimsy, asymmetrical construction of whitewood strips and beams serves as a base. The attenuated colossus sticks up at one side at an angle and is extended with two short pieces to the left and the right about halfway along its length. The high part which is lit by two spotlights rests on two spirals. Two monitors stand on the wings to each side of a third one in the middle, which has been turned 90 degrees. The fourth monitor has been placed on the low end of the wooden construction and like the other three is directed towards where the spectator should stand. All four are wrapped in thin, gleaming metal.
Two video cameras are hanging from the ceiling and are directed in close-up at the illuminated strips that point upwards. The image from one camera is shown on the three monitors in the middle, while what the other camera is recording appears on the fourth. The positioning of the cameras, the turning of one monitor and the electronic mirroring of the image on a second one constitute an attempt to integrate the TV image of the wooden strips in the most illusionistic way possible within the actual wooden structure. It is as if the wooden structure continues through the monitors.
All this is important in terms of the following: there are two loudspeakers on either side which transmit the sounds of an orchestra rehearsing (the conductor sings along, taps his baton and starts again). The sound has been transposed into movement by means of a microphone on the ground and an incomprehensible technical mechanism behind the monitors: during loud passages the wooden strips pointing upwards begin to swing back and forth, creaking along loudly with the music. This movement can be seen on the monitors. The same applies to one of the cameras: affected by sound waves, the camera also moves back and forth - although somewhat less energetically. The camera records movement while moving itself. As a result the whole installation begins to flap like a wooden bird or an archaic airship, getting ready for a lift off. The monitors' overwhelming weight is raised by their own momentum. This parallels the effort of the string orchestra that tries to levitate its sound through the mechanism of constant repetition and improvement of certain passages. As soon as the conductor taps his baton the movement stops as well.
Hybris means pride, vainglory, the feelings connected with the human desire to fly. The concept comes from ancient Greek ethics and was used to restrain the individual from attempting to realize certain transgressive ambitions; the distance between mortals and gods must not become too narrow. Hybris should be quenched more rigorously than a blazing fire, warned HERACLITUS. So whoever was proud could reckon on the gods' vengeance. However, this video installation is not pessimistic: one day, perhaps when the orchestra has finally gotten the gist, the attempt to fly will be realized.
Returning to the story of NARCISSUS, one has to ask the following: was he the victim of hybris? Was he punished for nurturing a blasphemous ambition? No, of course not- no more than he cherished the desire to fly. NARCISSUS' desire comes out of a paradoxical romance, he loved the one he could never have: his own mirror image. The fervent wish to embrace that reflection in fact comes down to the craving to undo the division between depiction and reality, between the flat image and three-dimensional matter.
We find traces of this craving in both Hybris and Secret Dreams of Narcissus. Video image and concrete materials are shoved together to create a deceptive synthesis. In Secret Dreams of Narcissus, that aim can be discerned in a rather inconspicuous way in the background. What seems crucial in that case is the alluring attraction to lean over the edge (the kind of force NARCISSUS must have felt) which is probably the reason for the installation's public popularity. Yet one can view the way in which the filmed flowers float in real water as a (simple) realization of NARCISSUS' craving. In comparison, Hybris is considerably more complex: the connecting of image to sound, of sound to movement, are new ingredients. Unfortunately the work is somewhat weighed down by all this complexity. The formal results have perhaps been dictated too much by the technique's potential and limitations which deprives this installation of the direct persuasiveness of Secret Dreams.
INGRID BEVERWIJK's third installation, An Extraordinary Glance; een extra ordinaire glans does what it should: it combines successfully the complexity of Hybris with the organic naturalness of Secret Dreams of Narcissus.
What we hear is a soft murmur, swelling and subsiding again, breathing like the sea.
Six identical elements of whitewashed wood (roughly triangular in shape) standing on the ground, forming a closed circle. Each element contains a shallow water basin and a built-in video monitor nearer on the outer edge. The monitors are placed on their backs at a slight angle, their screens facing upwards. Between the segments and in the middle of the circle, a hexagonal metal dish has been placed with six small halogen lamps shining horizontally outwards. As each water basin is provided with a small window, the centrifugal light enters the basin, shines across the bottom (which is covered with a layer of white sand) in the direction of the monitor.
The lamps are not fixed at a constant level. The light intensity varies slowly but regularly from maximum to minimum strength. At the weakest point, when the lamps are nearly extinguished, the space is frighteningly dark, because there is no other means of illumination. The monitors are black. The next moment the lamps are radiant again and rays of light crawl across the sand towards the monitors where, simultaneous through an act of perfect co-ordination, an image appears. When the light of the six video images is sufficient, one can recognize an (almost?) identical bed of sand under a layer of water. The recording has been made from a point just above the water with the camera directed downwards. The light crossing the filmed sand bed comes from the direction of the real halogen lamps. Combined with the precise paralleling of dimming and fading, this results in an illusionistic entwining of the electronic monitor screen with the surrounding world, transgressing spatial laws and boundaries.
The walls and ceiling of the space are brightly illuminated at the brief point when both lamps and screens reach their maximum strengths. The most important reason for this is that the light makes the white sand reflect a diffuse glow that actually penetrates beyond the light itself. Hence the sand competes with the video image in terms of aura.
The installation then fades away into darkness and the cycle starts all over again. Seeing the video image emerge for the second or third time one notices that something has changed. It looks as if the sand bed is gradually being worn away: erosion. The obvious question is what forces are responsible for this erosion, considering that the water is not in motion. The water may not be in motion but time certainly is. Is this perhaps the speeded-up rendering of a process that actually took a far longer time and whose causes are so minute that they escape the camera's eye, although the consequences do not?
The rather awkward title An Extraordinary Glance; een extra ordinaire glans (a very ordinary glow), points in that direction. The intentional errors of translation are not only intended as one in the eye for the video art world where English titles and bilingual magazines seem to be a must. If erosion is to be understood as the linking of small (ordinary) causes to big (extraordinary) consequences, then the title loses some of its obscurity. In addition, glance (the camera's fleeting glance) and glans (glow - the shining sand) represent the two initial poles: image and reality.
As mentioned before, NARCISSUS' adventures can serve as a metaphor for a quest to entwine the video image with the non electronic reality outside. Although NARCISSUS failed and perished for his failure, this does not mean that someone else with a broader view would meet the same fate.
INGRID BEVERWIJK's current preference for water and the depth beneath its surface makes one suspect that she is more interested in the beauty of a pool than in the beauty of NARCISSUS. Perhaps she's right. After the demise of NARCISSUS, whose body was ultimately changed into a flower, the pool was questioned. And the pool answered, But I loved NARCISSUS because, as he lay on my banks and looked down at me, in the mirror of his eyes I saw ever my own beauty mirrored.1)
1) Oscar Wilde The Disciple 1893
If you'd like to quote something: Van Winkel, C.H. "Verstrengeling / Entwining." Mediamatic Magazine vol. 3 # 1 (1988).
Translation: Annie Wright