- Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art
"To see differently, albeit for a moment, allows us to see anew," writes Parveen Adams in "Bruce Nauman and the Object of Anxiety," an article published in the winter 1998 issue of the journal October. The line serves as an epigraph introducing the second chapter of Kate Mondloch's salient analysis of screen-based art titled Screens: Viewing Media Installation Art and suggests the author's sanguine perspective regarding the potential of artworks that incorporate screen-based imaging to disrupt conventions of viewing and, in so doing, stage alternate—and specifically active—engagements with the screens around us. However, though the line from Adams sparkles with the glint of productive potential in the promise of "seeing anew," Mondloch dismisses the easy alignment of the active viewing situations staged by media installations with de facto libratory effects; she says instead that she is far more interested in considering the [End Page 152] phenomenological and ideological implications of emerging modes of spectatorship and subjectivity as contemporary viewers encounter increasingly pervasive media technologies. Furthermore, Mondloch stages her analysis from within the field of art history, pointing out both the inadequacy of robust analysis of media installation art within screen studies and the paucity of attention to this rich area of production within art history. This critical neglect demands a response, and Mondloch's book provides it.
Mondloch begins by situating her particular analysis in even greater detail, moving from the triangulation of three fields of discourse, namely screen studies, new media art, and art history, to the object of analysis. Rather than focus on the medium specificity of media installations, which is where much existing critical activity has been centered, Mondloch instead turns her attention to the viewer-screen interface, or what she dubs "the conceptual and material point at which the observing subject meets the technological object" (xvii). This nexus of subject and object is entirely material; it is always embedded within a space, and whereas the space itself is rife with ideological, political, and other less tangible ramifications, Mondloch is committed to ascertaining the significance of the interface created by artists and the ways in which it results in specific negotiations of bodies and screens. How do we see what we see in these "activated spaces"? Indeed, Mondloch emphasizes the importance of her concentration on the material intersection near the end of her introduction, writing, "There is a crucial imperative to recognize the ways in which screens and conditions of screen-based viewing 'matter' in both contemporary art and our digital everyday" (xxi). Mondloch's insistence on this material foundation gains added significance within a culture in which everyday screen-based computing is moving off desktops to becoming mobile and pervasive. Paying heed to an increasingly evanescent scene of interaction, then, paves the way for continued attention.
Mondloch's subsequent chapters continue to limn the power of the interstitial zone between screen subject and the situated media experience in a series of comparative analyses linked thematically. Chapter 1 examines Paul Sharits's Soundstrip/Filmstrip (1971-72) alongside Michael Snow's Two Sides to Every Story (1974). Sharits's project includes four projectors placed on pedestals, each projecting separate but connected films; the project also includes a sound track, with a male voice reciting fragments of the word miscellaneous, which can only be deciphered through careful listening as the gallery visitor moves through the space. Similarly, Snow's Two Sides to Every Story necessitates an active movement through the gallery space as visitors encounter two projectors projecting a similar film onto opposite sides of a thin, aluminum screen. As Mondloch explains, the projected films re-create the profilmic event, showing how the cameras were situated in the production process. In a sense, then, viewers encounter the sites of production and exhibition simultaneously; furthermore, the film's semblance of a narrative plays with the material elements of cinema, with the performers themselves interacting with a screen. As with Sharits's location-based project, Two Sides to Every Story necessitates that viewers move around the space of the gallery, gleaning the...