Viewers of Optics

(1987, 11:30', SD, stereo)

 

In Viewers of Optics one peers through the binoculars of a statue upon the terrain of memory. A first glance reveals an area of disaster... However, pulling to a closer focus, the catastrophe seems to concern not the world at large but rather that of a relationship between a man and a woman. This view, too, is a distortion of distance. Approaching the event, it gradually becomes apparent that there is only one individual involved; that the male and female are aspects of a single psyche. (James Minnis)

 

How to describe a catastrophe? Not one of these hyped-up, dramatic events, but a global catastrophe that would effect humanity as a whole? For Viewers of Optics, it is all a question of distance and viewpoint. The images of rather dilapidated, contemporary urban landscapes (New York suburbs) are modified by computer; they take on a gritty, tactile substance and a very strange gray-brown color. Their dreamlike effect is bolstered by the perpetual presence of an off-screen woman's voice reading out a text that is like a gloomy premonition: is the present nothing but the ruins of the past? The recurrent image of a man's bust scrutinizing the horizon through binoculars (a sort of paramilitary statue) unravels the basic metaphor of the entire film: seeing with an optical instrument is generally managing to keep a protective distance from events; but video, because it offers possibilities for manipulating the very substance of the image, is not an optical instrument like others: it has a tendency to drown the spectator into merging with the events, without keeping a distance. Typical of the great tradition of video films of the Eighties, Viewers of Optics offers, in both an original and hitherto unseen form, reflection on the mediatization of reality, the specific nature of video as a medium, and the dissolution of rational identity. An award-winner at several festivals (Geneva International Video Week), this film remains the zenith of concision and visual power in Alexander Hahn's work; the topics tackled are both aesthetic (question of point of view, specific distance from the world introduced by video) and political (the end of the world is only a question of point of view), and the relative hermeticism of the text is an astonishing echo of the images. Like a number of artists, Alexander Hahn sought with video to produce new images that are neither derived from the cinema, photography or even less from television, but which find their own logic of form in the "electronic substance"; he is surely one of the only artists to have been able to create such a personal, sensual style.

 

(Lysianne Léchaut-Hirt, in New Media Encyclopedia)