Homay King is professor of history of art at the Bryn Mawr college, Pennsylvania, and she specialised in film theory, psychoanalytic theory, and feminist film theory and criticism. I am a fan of her book Virtual Memory: Time-based Art and the Dream of Digitality (2015). By interviewing King I wanted to discuss and sum up few concepts included in the book, as well as discussing my own opinions and references in relation to those. At the beginning of the book, King talks about the notion of durational-virtual time as intended by Bergson, for then tracing a modern video-art theory of works whose time is somehow related to such notion. With the book she demonstrates how digital works can also be not virtual, as well as presenting analog works that are virtual. Most of the artworks analysed in the book are of a hybrid form, oscillating between the digital and the analogical. The digital, for instance, is not only conceived as the evil non-human machine we usually think of it, but as a valid frame to analog works. It can also be conceived as an analog way of thinking in itself, far away from the virtuality it is normally associated with. The same is for the analog, able to reach a virtual perspective. The two modalities are not presented by King in a binary dichotomy but they interrelate and inform one another.

 

Goldoni:

As a kind of introduction, I would like to ask you an opinion on the possibility of locating a durational form of time within the fast paced modern society we are part of. The way everything in it is organised in a calendar form, counting months, days and minutes; clocks constantly reminding us the urge for more time to be found for the future. How can we perceive time in a durational form or even discuss it as a concept when we are used to structure past as something that exists outside our minds?

 

King:
This is one of the aims of my book Virtual Memory: Time-based Art and the Dream of Digitality. All of the artworks, films, and political movements I analyze in chapters 2-6, in my view, suggest ways to occupy a durational, Bergsonian form of time—in spite of the fact that they are all disseminated via forms of digital media, which is associated with fast-paced, instantaneous time as driven by capitalist and technologically deterministic logics. I believe that certain forms of art and political movements can provide an antidote to these logics, or at the very least suggest pathways out of them.

 

 

Goldoni:

As in Bergson’s opinion, cinema is a static medium because the entirety of any film is already printed onto the celluloid and played again and again in the same fashion. As you claim in your book, only if an error or a glitch is introduced this can be subverted providing the film with an individual dynamism. In the light of such theory how would you define the piece by Nam June Paik called Zen For Film (1964) and how would you think it differ if the error within it was a mere reproduction of itself?

King:

I think Nam Jun Paik is a pioneer in the type of art that I look at in the book: a precursor to artists like Christian Marclay, Victor Burgin, and Matmos (most directly so for Marclay, whose work is in dialogue with ). Even if the “errors” are internally generated they are the result of contingency (as in the music of John Cage). So they introduce the possibility of the genuinely new arising over time, something whose precise form could not be anticipated. In this way, the work is Bergsonian, in spite of its self-reflexivity and being self-contained. 

 

In Virtual Memory, I limited my study to 21-century works of art. If one were to write a similar study centred on the 1960s or 1970s, Paik’s work could certainly be a part of it. 

 

Goldoni:

When writing about Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010) you note the work can not only be seen under a temporal perspective but also as a virtual clash of different spaces, as to create a constructive comment on spatial conventions employed by cinema. Within Los Angeles Plays Itself (2003) Thom Andersen carries on with a similar critique of how Hollywood negatively exploited his city by regularly revamping and recycling its parts for various purposes; I would claim this same happened to my country’s capital city - Rome. Would you argue this behaviour has something to do with capitalism and to the suppression of the identity of the city, and more generally of places?

King: 

Thom Andersen is a filmmaker I like very much. I recently saw his new film The Thoughts that Once We Had, which is an homage to Gilles Deleuze’s cinema books. In some ways, is a fellow traveler with The Clock. As I argue in my book, The Clock is ostensibly about time, but it is secretly also about space: it achieves an illusion of smoothness by obeying the rules for portraying space defined by the classical Hollywood cinema (continuity editing, the 180 degree rule, etc.). Los Angeles Plays Itself is the inverse. It is ostensibly a film about space (the city of Los Angeles), but in a way, it is really a portrait of time: how the city changes, fashions come and go, the film stocks and colours change over time.

 

The narrator of the film is very grumpy about the way his city has been represented by Hollywood. He claims the commercial film industry has betrayed and falsified the city. I am of two minds about this: in one sense, he is correct; in another, it is important to understand that film has always been a medium of virtualities, creating images that are not absolutely faithful documents but that are infused with the imagination. Reality and fantasy are mixed together; the Los Angeles we see on film is never the real or true Los Angeles. Unfortunately this is unavoidable. All we can do is analyze the fantasy images knowing that they are fictional, perhaps even seeing the “Los Angeles” or the “Rome” that we see on film as imaginary places. And of course, this is partly a result of capitalism; it is a market-driven fantasy that is being sold. 

 

Some of this revamping for profit has happened to the actual city of Los Angeles as well, its architecture and urban planning. Mike Davis’ book City of Quartz is instructive in this regard as well as Norman Klein’s The History of Forgetting: Los Angeles and the Erasure of Memory.

 

Goldoni:

In Timecode (2000) by Mike Figgis the audience is allowed four different video channels to look at and more than one sound track to listen to all at once. The movie follows various diegetic narratives that intertwine with one another and yet it is possible to discern most of what is happening. However, something more might potentially be there after the second, third or fourth time one watches it. Would you reckon the overwhelming effect of employing different video channels at the same time can bring to a Deleuzian idea of lectosign, or to a more virtual conception of time?

King: 

I have not seen this film in a very long time (I saw it in the cinema when it was first released), so please take my answer with a grain of salt. I do think the four-channel format (like the video loop) could potentially operate in a Deleuzian way, as a lectosign. Certainly if new things emerge on a second, third, fourth viewing. But it depends on how it is put into practice. Surveillance cameras also often employ a multiple-channel format but they are not meant to create new meanings; they are meant to provide singular, indisputable truths and evidence.

 

Goldoni:

In your book you present the process of creation as something that does not pretend to be originated out of nothing, something new but possibly already existing; creativity partly arises from external inputs and influences and, as for Roland Barthes for whom memory plays a relevant role in the search of his punctum, creation necessitates a certain level of forgetfulness of these inputs. Given the references to Bergson’s free will and Giorgio Agamben’s potentiality, how would you define an artist? Does being an artist mean have one’s mind set within the virtual, the present; how important is it for him or her to forget about past things for them to create something original in the future?

 

King: 

The artists I like best do not forget the past, but nor are they paralysed by its legacy, as in the “anxiety of influence.” They take something from the past and forge something new with it that speaks to the present moment of their own time. Victor Burgin’s work is exemplary in this regard: most of his recent videos are about places with rich histories, often the place where they are first exhibited (Istanbul, in the case of A Place to Read; his newest work, Prarie, is about Chicago and a series of buildings and events that occurred in the past on the site of Mies van der Rohe’s building for the Illinois Institute of Technology). However, his use of computer-generated imagery means that much of what we see is completely “original” in this one way, because it is created out of an electronic void. Eric Baudelaire’s The Makes is similar: it says, “what if Antonioni had made films in Japan?” The result is completely fictional and original, but the reason it works is because it is based in an understanding of Antonioni’s aesthetic, his way of working, his politics, etc.