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[text] Dan Graham


Dan Graham : »Time Delay Room I«, 1974

by Gregor Stemmrich

Description: two rooms of equal size, connected by an opening at one side, under surveillance by two video cameras positioned at the connecting point between the two rooms. The front inside wall of each features two video screens - within the scope of the surveillance cameras. The monitor which the visitor coming out of the other room spies first shows the live behavior of the people in the respective other room. In both rooms, the second screen shows an image of the behavior of the viewers in the respectively other room - but with an eight second delay.

On entering, you can cast a swift glance at the viewers and the screens in the other room, but you are invited to focus initially on the room where you are. On the screens there you see twice [live, and with a delay] the other viewers. However, on both screens you also see [if smaller, as an image within the image] the two monitors in the other room. On studying them for a while you will notice that on the one there is a live transmission of what is going on in the room where you are, for you can relate this footage directly to the behavior of people in the room where you are. And you can spot on the other monitor in the other room, symmetrically, the same shot as on one of the screens in the room where you are. This still offers no hint as to how the two screen images showing the behavior of the viewers in the respectively other room relate to each other. Both images are contemporaneous and show the other set of viewers from the same angle, but the behavior is inconsistent. This questions the first assumption, namely that both are live transmissions. If a person moves from the other room into the room where you stand then this act takes place on both screens, but with a great difference. The screen showing the live transmission shows the person leaving the room until s/he is no longer covered by the camera and then, for a few seconds, you see the behavior of the people in the other room minus this person, and finally this person has manifestly become part of the group of people in your room. However, the moment the person becomes part of the set of viewers in the room where you are standing you see them on the screen in the other room leaving that room, i.e., their intention to change viewer group. Since the viewers watching the screens have their backs turned to you, there can be no unprejudiced comparison of the different impressions, and the relationship between the two screen images remains ambiguous.

Now if you decide to view the other room, you will initially see a screen on which you spy the set of viewers that you have just left behind you; and the closer you get to the screen, the more you are covered by the surveillance camera, the more you see yourself [as an image in the image], appearing live on the screen in the other room and being noticed by the viewers there; and a little later you see yourself on the other image in the image, entering the room and approaching the screen. Now, if you turn toward the second screen in this room you will ascertain that the people on it are mainly people in this room. Since the composition of the two sets of viewers constantly changes, you will not be able immediately to place the image in terms of room or time. Such a clear definition would presuppose that as a viewer you reference the reflexive linkage of the entire flow of information in both rooms. You will finally note on this screen a small image of the screen, that is running not with an 8-second but with a 16-second delay, and parallel to it a second small image within the image that has traveled over from the other screen in this room [needing eight seconds to make the trip].

The rooms are so structured in terms of media that the spatial and temporal distances correspond: the screens closest to the cameras show the live transmissions, while those located further away show the image with the 8-second delay. At the same time, the temporal distance of eight seconds defines the spatial distance between the two sets of viewers: a person going over to the other room will see him/herself in one of the images [or images within an image] about to leave the room. The direct correspondence between spatial and temporal distances thus generates a countervailing effect: in the video transmission, spatial and temporal distances are elided and past motivations are kept present.

The time-lag of eight seconds is the outer limit of the neurophysiological short-term memory that forms an immediate part of our present perception and affects this "from within". If you see your behavior eight seconds ago presented on a video monitor "from outside" you will probably therefore not recognize the distance in time but tend to identify your current perception and current behavior with the state eight seconds earlier. Since this leads to inconsistent impressions which you then respond to, you get caught up in a feedback loop. You feel trapped in a state of observation, in which your self-observation is subject to some outside visible control. In this manner, you as the viewer experience yourself as part of a social group of observed observers [instead of, as in the traditional view of art, standing arrested in individual contemplation before an auratic object].

The way we customarily experience video surveillance [in department stores, on railway platforms, in underground carports, public buildings, hospitals, etc.], we inevitably associate it with the notion of an external observer. Against this background, Graham initially leaves viewers of his installation thinking that they themselves are in the position of external observer watching a different viewing public. This notion is then subjected to criticism owing to the fact that the screen unites the properties of a mirror and a window while subverting both: it is indissolubly linked with the idea of the flow of time and cannot be influenced by the viewer changing the angle of vision. Since when structuring the rooms by means of screen images Graham precludes any symmetrical stalemate of internal observation and a categorically asymmetrical situation of outside observation, in order to evoke both notions at once, a flowing balance emerges of surveyed observance and observed surveillance. Here, the viewer learns to identify the media of surveillance with the psychological effects that it exerts on him/her and other viewers owing to the structural conditions of its usage. Exploring this situation amounts to a process of social learning in which communication between different levels of observation and behavior generates a form of intersubjective intimacy.

[Translated from German by Jeremy Gaines]



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