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John Oswald - The Arc of Apparition

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Artist: John Oswald

Album: The Arc of Apparition

Label: OHM Editions

Review date: Oct. 28, 2004


Canadian artist John Oswald will almost certainly be known to most Dusted readers for his musical works, in particular his infamous Plunderphonic release. That early masterpiece of sampling and audio deconstruction was too much for the labels, and supposed copyright violations led to Oswald being forced to destroy the vast majority of the pressing. He also used his talents to reconstruct performances by the Grateful Dead into new forms on Grayfolded.

The Arc of Apparition project sees Oswald working in the visual arts. The DVD is described as a ďmoving still production," referring to his method of taking a still photograph and imbuing it with a sense of motion. Rather than motion, however, his process seems more like a way of emphasizing the transitory nature of presence. With a glacial pace, a crowd of people individually come and go, all staring straight at the camera. The still images of each person remain motionless as they move from transparency to solidity and back, sometimes overlaying one another. The DVD box refers to "chronophotic imagation," presumably a combination of time and image, a time-phased transition from invisibility to visibility and the reverse.

Beginning from a blank white screen, the first figures appear ever so slowly, as if out of a fog bank. Each person stares out of the screen, and the lack of motion can seem a bit eerie. Depending on your viewpoint, it can be rather reminiscent of Village of the Damned. In a way, the stillness combined with the silent slowness of the proceedings is like a wax museum or, perhaps, like a collection of butterflies pinned to a board.

Iím not entirely convinced Arc of Apparition marries the different ways we approach paintings or photographs with the dynamics of cinema. While his process, by definition, introduces change into his world of still photos, change in itself doesn't imply motion. When compared with today's computer-enabled ability to take two stills and interpolate the movements required to move from one to the other, this DVD, rather than cinematizing the images, instead almost emphasizes their lack of motion. After the first five or 10 minutes, it takes a dedicated viewer to stay focused. The slightly mysterious menu, with its somewhat hidden bilingual interview and other features, provides further entertainment.

The accompanying soundtrack CD, presented separately, is a "multilingual soundtrack" entitled Whisperfield. As the title and description suggest, it is composed of whispers in various languages. Spaced across an hour and liberally sprinkled with silence, it's not far removed from a Francisco Lopez work. While somewhat eerie, particularly when accompanying the DVD, it's disconcerting to have the whispers disconnected in time from the DVD images.

The Arc of Apparition is an interesting work, but ultimately feels like an intriguing theory that doesn't quite translate into a compelling practice.

By Mason Jones

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