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Active Image

Active Image – An Introduction

Over the last decade and a half, there has been a fundamental change in our entire way of thinking about the image, primarily because of the influence of digital image processing. Also contributing to this was a series of discoveries which, by dint of a paradigm change in vision research, have shown us how people process information in this particular form – and shown us even more clearly what we do not know, what still awaits explanation. Hence even in the humanities an active and many-faceted debate has arisen about the role of the image and imagistic qualities, and on its changes and functions and its role in human history and cognition. Art, which for so long held virtually unique sway in the domain of image production, has itself also contributed to the escalation in the revolution of the image through its creation of new categories of image, and their new interrelationships.

The present C3 exhibition summarizes this transformation in a special way, within the framework of artistic creation. Every one of the works on display, produced in Hungary in the last few years and collected in one place under the Active Image rubric, can be interpreted in its own way within this context.

János Sugár’s digital video The Typewriter of the Illiterate is formally a traditional photo-animation in which a world-renowned Soviet Russian product – the Kalashnikov machine gun – takes on an almost iconic role. The work’s innovation, and the source of its power (beyond the title itself) lies in the metamorphosis the artist works on the enormous store of images, whose central element is the aforementioned weapon. This is the visual constant, while its players move through space and time.

Balázs Beöthy’s installation Sevenfold Touch was originally designed for one solitary touchscreen, but in the present, expanded version, the viewer sees sequences selected on the touchscreen now projected: the image is doubled, and selection and presentation require looking in different directions. The generation of random image sequences can produce an infinite number of non-linear film versions of equal merit. While Sugár’s film uses a traditional, linear structure to reshape the “movie of memory” into something unique, in Beöthy’s case the variableness of the thematically-grouped images gives the feel of producing “new” films over and over every time, even if, in fact, the same sequences go by before us.

Szilvia Tóth and Gáspár Benedek have produced an interactive, three-dimensional comic strip entitled Virtual Tour of Budapest, presenting the viewer with a clear but nonetheless (like the previous work) non-linear complex of images. By moving over a map, the viewer comes upon places and events the artists consider worthy of mention: the layering of these in time is obviously different from the path constructed by the viewer. This treatment of time provides the framework for the dialogue between the viewer and the artists.

Andrea Schneemeier’s interactive video installation You are my enemy I. uses a minimalist body-art event to stimulate thought in the exhibition visitor. The viewer, ever at the mercy of the image, undergoes a strange role reversal. That, together with the consciousness of the aggression depicted therein, determines our route to their interpretation. This work builds on the magical power of the image. There may be viewers who have no wish to view this installation a second time.

Szabolcs KissPál’s video installation Edging is actually a movie of linear structure like János Sugár’s, though this is not immediately apparent to the viewer, nor does its construction strive for a linear narrative. The familiar image of the sky, like a fuzzy allegory, unfolds before us, enigma-like, in a crucial location of the exhibition space. Birds flit across it now and then, but we soon notice something strange: the birds give the illusion of bouncing off the edges of the sky’s image, as if that border functioned as a magic cage; the breadth of the infinite sky, suggestive of freedom, bumps up against the infinite possibilities of digital manipulation. This is a deeply metaphysical piece, with its reference to the sacral practices of the augurs of yore, whose role today in our process of assigning significance to the visual world is almost impossible to discern.

Zoltán Szegedy-Maszák and Márton Fernezelyi have an interactive stereoscopic projection, Promenade 2.0, that has reached its present state after going through several stages. The first version was created for the thematic exhibition “Perspective” in Budapest, and its decisive innovation lay in that the viewer, using a device specially invented for this piece, moves through space and uses an ultrasound sensor to adjust his own constantly-changing perspective to the image projected before him. It is a surprising experience, since we are not accustomed to having images behave like this: generally, whether in still or moving images, the illusion of continuity is created by some kind of periodicity. Here, though, we are confronted with a dynamic image that only the “other” passive viewers can see from another perspective than the one the active viewer who determines the image distortions through his progress through the images of the successive “picture-rooms.” So the “moving picture” is actually created by the viewer’s movement. The stereoscopic version has taken on a new aspic that reinforces this effect: once we step into this work’s own space we cannot throw off the feeling that we are inside the image, and we experience the active viewer moving through with the interface in his hand as simultaneously a part of the image and its creator.

Júlia Vécsei’s Juliegraphwas originally an installation for exhibit; its web version was created later. The playful title is partly a reference to drawing – a personal drawing machine that creates images from the free recombination of preexisting elements according to decisions made by the user. Partly it also recalls the instruments of 19th-century science like the harmonograph and vibrograph, used by scientists trying to visualize natural processes and phenomena, and graphically represent them.

Attila Csörgő’s Occurrence Graphs is a kinetic work that resembles all the others in using electric power, but here there is no digital manipulation at all. Still, this work might help to precisely illuminate the innovation brought by the active image, as its overlapping discs, turning at a constant rate, produce a regular, static geometric form: this might be a simple model for attention, the consciousness that observes and strives to understand the world. Its constant and unceasing motion creates forms that have meaning – forms that disintegrate and become meaningless if the motion stops.

Finally, there is the Intermedia video anthology, whose short, self-sufficient pieces have at least one common thread: each was a product of the Department of Intermedia, Hungary’s only university degree program in media art. The collection of videos between 1990 and 2005 gives an overview of its projects, from analog film techniques to traditional video to works that demonstrate the new possibilities of digital image manipulation.

Miklós Peternák Budapest, May 8, 2005.

© 2005
C3 Center for Culture and Communication