writings on photography & other media
Don Snyder
Introduction
Everything is Going to be Alright

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Everything is Going to be Alright
Recent Work by Maider Fortuné

You enter the gallery through double French doors, angled off an irregular corridor on the third floor of a converted industrial building. Inside are two long walls, one to the immediate left and the other opposite the entrance. Offset to the right is a smaller bay-like area, with a lower partition defining the rear of the exhibition space. Three large wooden trusses support the ceiling beams, punctuating the sight lines of an otherwise open floor.

Some illumination spills in from the corridor and over the partition wall, but most of the gallery is quite dark. As the eyes adjust, awareness shifts to a sharp, repeated sound, first heard in the distance, now fully present. A carpenter’s light with a single bare bulb hangs on the left wall, its cord snaking along the floor to the nearest outlet. Written in pencil in the pool of light it creates – casually, like a quick note left on a kitchen table – is the installation’s title: “Everything Is Going To Be Alright.”

On the far wall, there is a projected video loop of a figure, jumping. The percussive sound, perhaps an impact, reoccurs each time the figure hits the bottom of the video frame and the next jump begins. On the back partition, four large-scale photographs show the same figure, its movement arrested in midair. Seen with peripheral vision, these prints appear as a frieze, the figure in curiously flattened relief. In the dim, almost penumbral viewing environment, the first impression is one of calm.

The jumping figure is a male who is wearing dark shorts, nothing else. He is videotaped in an anonymous and emotionally neutral way, his body active but his face hard to discern. The space in which he jumps appears white, featureless, evenly lit, cubic in form and enclosed on all sides. In the nearly five minutes of each video cycle, the figure jumps two hundred and thirty-three times. He hits the ceiling occasionally, and makes three dozen 180-degree turns in midair, turning upside down in each. Eleven times, he hits the back wall. At the conclusion of the cycle he is caught in mid-leap, as motionless as in the photographs. There is a brief moment of no movement and no sound, and then the cycle begins again. The camera never changes position, and the space in which all this takes place remains a constant.

As the gaze wanders from one wall to another, some tension arises. The fixity of the photographs begins to echo the claustrophobic space of the video projection, and the ceaseless jumping in the video (which forms its only subject) gradually suggests some unseen, unstated meaning. Despite all the bodily movement, the figure never actually goes anywhere in this blank, static surround, and it is impossible to construct any linear narrative from the quick, repeated jumps and the self-renewing video loop.

Details of the work, once noticed, accentuate this tension. The speed of the figure’s movement gradually slows, and toward the end of each cycle the figure appears lighter, almost weightless: the body twists and rolls more easily, and the environment itself feels less confining. Yet while the body, initially heavy, becomes lighter, the space, initially empty, becomes more palpable – as if now full of an invisible matter, through which the figure moves. This impression is emphasized by the increasing density of the impact sound, which eventually takes on a subterranean quality, or a certain hollowness, depending on one’s position in the gallery. As soon as they are formed, these perceptions are abruptly canceled when the cycle restarts. And as each new cycle progresses, it becomes more and more apparent that the video frames of actual contact and rebound have been clipped from the projection loop. Sound, not sight, gives the illusion of impact – a double illusion, for the percussive report that accompanies each leap is clearly derived from, but not actually descriptive of, the act of rebounding: the audio signal has been reprocessed in some way. The rebound itself is invisible: the body leaps, but only to and from the edges of the frame. The figure’s identity is never revealed, nor is the location of the white space.

These unresolved elements encourage closer scrutiny, and bring up questions about form. Even with the most concentrated viewing, it is hard to accurately assess the work’s temporal structure, fix the figure’s ending position, or determine whether there is simply repetition from cycle to cycle or some inner variation, possibly below the threshold of normal perception. In addition, the video seems to challenge the photographs, towards which the viewer’s gaze periodically shifts; and the title, still floating on the left wall in its own pool of light, remains ambiguous, somewhat teasing.

Fortuné’s writings about her work provide much in the way of context. Her artist statement, reproduced in this catalogue, explicitly describes the space of the video, and the conditions it represents. In related correspondence, she explores other aspects:

The installation confronts two media: video (movement) and photography (stillness). When one’s eye moves from the video to the photographs, something is lost between the two walls....

The gaze leaves the fire – the movement of the video, in which matter is consumed in space and time – to find itself in front of the photographs… these are the ashes of movement and time… as if from video to photograph time is disrobed. So the installation deals with this idea, of the suspension and disappearance of time.

In addition to outlining the implications of this duality, she also provides insight about her choice of words for the title:

“Everything is going to be alright” is a reassurance, the first promise made to a newborn, a soothing response to its first cries of fear.

Later on, shaken by each painful confrontation with reality, this promise cannot be resolved, nor can it simply be denied – it remains in a space of profound ambiguity, which characterizes promises partly kept, partly betrayed....

The lack of a physical surface from which the figure launches each jump, another apparently unresolved element, is explained indirectly:

There is a rebound without a ground… Think of Dylan’s words: “She never stumbles, she has no place to fall…”[1]

The double illusion in the video (of an invisible rebound) is underlined by the double irony of Dylan’s lyrics, where the apparent certitude of the words themselves camouflages the precariousness of the true situation: as so often with Dylan, we are dealing with one meaning spoken, and another suggested.

So the work stands as a conundrum, in which freedom and ecstasy co-exist with immobility and oppression, media elements and time sequence are both fixed and in flux, promises made can only be partly kept, and the difficulties of the human condition are related not just to hypothetical issues, but to actual events. What we see is a representation of these, playing out in a complex space which is both physical (the gallery, as configured by the work itself) and psychological (the ambiguities of form and title, the confrontation of media, the rebound from a nonexistent plane, and the invisible fourth wall, through which the visitor gazes).

Accordingly, the full significance of this installation derives not only from what can be directly perceived, but also from the undercurrents that course through, and animate, the visible, aural and temporal forms of Fortuné’s work. These lead from the confining space in which the figure jumps, to the walls of the gallery as another confining space; the latter space becomes a theatre, in which the figure becomes a protagonist. But of what sort? From where? And if the work implies freedom, the original question resurfaces: why does the figure endlessly jump but never get to any destination or achieve any goal?

A clue appears in an unexpected source. In Waiting for Godot, Samuel Beckett raises related questions of freedom and paralysis, intention and inaction. While the play makes it clear that these questions must be raised, any actual answers are kept out of reach, just as Lucky cannot conclude his only monologue, which starts as heroic declamation but crumples into uncertainty:

...in the plains in the mountains by the seas by the rivers running water running fire the air is the same and then the earth namely the air and then the earth in the great cold the great dark...I resume for reasons unknown...the facts are there but time will tell I resume alas alas on on... I resume but not so fast I resume the skull fading fading fading... the labors abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull...the stones...unfinished...[2]

The slowing rhythm of Beckett’s language precisely reflects the rhythm of Fortuné’s filmed jumps, just as Lucky’s vacillation mirrors the audience’s increasing wonderment. We find the coordinates of Fortuné’s protagonist–his movements, his dilemma, his condition–in the outlines of Beckett’s characters: Vladimir and Estragon, who aspire but cannot act; Lucky, who thinks but cannot articulate; or even Pozzo, who commands but cannot dominate.

From other sources in Beckett, we recognize related traits: Molloy’s circular logic (“Simple supposition, committing me to nothing”)[3] is as reflexive as the figure’s jumps; Malone’s passivity (“...to tell the truth he was in no hurry to leave, but nevertheless was leaving, he knew it”)[4] shows the weight of defeated ambition and enclosed space; the impatience voiced in The Unnamable (“...when you have nothing left to say you talk of time, seconds of time, there are some people who add them together to make a life, I can’t...”)[5] echoes the figure’s restlessness at the start of each cycle. Especially telling is the thudding finality of the recorded Voice in Rockaby, in a refrain which is repeated seven times, each with slight variation:

going to and fro
till in the end
close of a long day
to herself
whom else
time she stopped
going to and fro
time she stopped
time she stopped[6]

Finally, in the brief work Ping, Beckett visualizes a physical space with uncanny similarity to Fortuné’s, one which we can quickly identify:

All known all white bare white body fixed one yard legs joined like sewn. Light heat white floor one square yard never seen. White walls one yard by two white ceiling one square yard never seen... Traces blurs light gray almost white on white... Light heat white planes shining white bare white body fixed ping fixed elsewhere. Traces blurs signs no meaning light gray almost white...

All white all known white planes shining white ping murmur only just almost never one second light time that much memory almost never. Bare white body fixed one yard ping fixed elsewhere...[7]

Fixed elsewhere: with the recognition of parallels existing in Beckett’s universe, one meaning of this work becomes transparent, clearly focused. The figure jumps because life is defined by action or inaction, possibility or impossibility, and by time and motion; but he does not, and probably cannot, escape any of these. It may not even be a question of escape. Life is a set of circumstances in an endless arena; one action follows another. Beginning or conclusion is far less interesting than the procession of events through each moment, during which much can be described but to which little can attach. Beckett somehow knew this; so does Maider Fortuné.

On any given visit to the gallery, the same figure executes the same movements, on the same walls, in the same order. Each leap and rebound is separate. All of them together form the substance and duration of the work. There is nothing more and nothing less than the sequence, the projection, the soundtrack and the photographs. Variation is a residue, an amalgam of memory and composite impressions, unique to each viewer, ungraspable. After many questions, there is only one definite answer: in the vast terrain of all possibilities, a lone figure continues to jump.

Spring/Summer, 2004

Notes

1. From correspondence, May-July 2004

2. Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot, New York (Grove Press) 1982, p. 29

3. Samuel Beckett, Molloy, from The Beckett Trilogy, London (Picador/Pan Books) 1979, p. 76

4. Samuel Beckett, Malone, op. cit., p. 226

5. Samuel Beckett, The Unnamable, op. cit., p. 364

6. Samuel Beckett, Rockaby and Other Short Pieces, New York (Grove Press) 1981, p. 11

7. Samuel Beckett, Ping, Paris (les Cahiers de l’Herne), text provided by Maider Fortuné

Essays

2012 The Present: We Will Worry About Tomorrow, Tomorrow
2011 Album, Archive and Audience
2011 Attention: Light!
2011 300 Days of Indulgence
2011 In the Playroom
2009 Together but Elsewhere: Considering the Photograph
2008 Storyteller: Waiting for Words
2006 Images of Global Culture: The Black Star Collection
2006 Imagining Places: The Destruction of Space
2006 Toronto/Montreal: The Proliferation of Screens
2005 Contemporary Ambrotypes
2004 Holocaust Dream
2004 Not at First Glance
2003 Everything is Going to be Alright
2003 Zsako vs Photography
2001 The Machine in the Gallery
1989 Nostalgia for an Unknown Land
1988 Beyond the Surface
1983 Solstice and Other Works
1976 Three Views of the North American Landscape