Mediamatic Off-Line Vol. 11#2 Dirk Van Weelden

Tunnel Vision

About Jasper van den Brink's Outdoor Projection.

There are few things that limit vision as much as driving does. Propagating oneself as a horseback rider, wanderer or even a cyclist can easily be combined with an appreciation of visual surroundings. Body, eyes and brain have sufficient time to indulge. In a car however, this is different. The speed of the vehicle and the crammed roads force you into a simplified and disciplined viewing mode. Learning to drive is therefore also mostly reprogramming one's looking behaviour.

In the mirror, now, don't only use your eyes, but your head too! And look over your shoulder! Look straight into the distance! Anticipate what is happening three hundred yards ahead! Pay attention to signs and lanes! Keep a two second distance! Estimate the velocity of incoming traffic! Adjust your outer mirrors! Beware of your blind spots! Objects in mirror may be closer then they appear!

To reach the visually impaired brain of the automobilist, extreme measures are necessary. Ridiculously huge billboards and neon signs are placed next to highways, along with gigantic advertisements, flashing lights and simplified graphical images. Drivers can only be contacted with the volume on ten. Otherwise you'll lose their attention or they'll be endangering themselves. As soon as something more interesting or more transparent happens on the road, such as an accident, or cattle, a fire in a factory or farm or conspiracies in empty fields, chain crashes and traffic jams follow.

In visual terms, the highway is already a tunnel. A car tunnel is therefore not a special surrounding, but a logical progression from the norm. Leaving the tunnel can induce feelings of relief: for one is no longer trapped under tons of soil and water. But for the free watching part of our brain, the whole driving experience is still a form of imprisonment.

Jasper van den Brink's video, projected in life size just before the IJ-tunnel on the Mediamatic Supermarket, disturbed the contained visual experience of drivers. A camera was mounted on the turning drum of a cement mixer. The mixer drove with the camera pointed forward and with the camera pointed backwards through the same IJ-tunnel. Drivers stuck in traffic before the tunnel could experience the tunnel in a completely different way. In anticipation of the completely brainless and routine minute in the tunnel, the same experience was projected in a baroque style.

In the seventeenth century palaces, ceilings were often painted to represent the infinite depth of the heavens. Often the ceilings are dome shaped. They are not called dizzy ceilings for nothing, and force the viewer to walk about and turn to be able to see all the figures and scenes. The space that is homogenous on the ground, is transformed into spirals, ellipses, pirouettes and perspective jumps by one glance upwards.

But still, and that is the true miracle, everything fits, without the eye having to pair them. Van den Brink's video turns the boring ride in the tunnel into an overwhelming visual experience, that is related to the child's fantasy of driving on the ceiling and walls. Perhaps the viewer suddenly sees the tunnel as a washing machine, that dizzies him and freshens him up. Thanks to the video, the eye of the driver, which would normally only see the tunnel as flat and mute planes shooting by, can now dance on the ceiling and the walls, and have his imagination dig into the tunnel.

But the piece is not only a kind of playfulness that results from the loss of balance one generally experiences in tunnels. Under the influence of the hypnotising slow rotation, the tunnel also appears as an infinite prison, a ball you can never escape, however fast you drive, however long you wait. A screen that bends and moves with our motion. Speed flattens the world. Especially the little bit of freedom and attention van den Brink gives the eye only painfully draws attention to the uniform, simplistic and unconscious view that accompanies our gaze through traffic and the city.

If you'd like to quote something: Van Weelden, Dirk. "Tunnel Vision." Mediamatic Off-Line vol. 11 # 2 (2006).

Translation: Nadya Peek