Catalogue essay written for exhibition of Diane Morin’s video works at Mercer Union, January 12 – February 17, 2007.
Diane Morin’s Effondrements
I would like to tell you what this thing looks like, and what it is, but I fear giving it away too soon, annihilating it already in the flash of the picture my words will paint. And it is so small, so fragile, that to light it will blow it apart. So I try to light it dimly. I can do this by avoiding the problem, the task at hand… and I can do that by (as usual) talking about television.Every episode of Mission: Impossible began with a recorded message which ended “This message will self-destruct”. That show’s animated descendant Inspector Gadget featured the same motif, except that the message invariably exploded not only itself but also the messenger. In retrospect, I wonder whether Chief Quimby’s miraculously healthy return at the end of every episode gave us relief because he was all better, or because we knew he’d be around to get blown up again next Saturday.
In the movies, it’s not quite so important who gets blown up; the explosion is the thing. We’ll shoot it from multiple angles, prolong it via editing, slow it down, throw it into reverse; anything to see as much of that process as closely as possible. What is this fascination with the explosive moment? What do we hope to see? Some momentary sight, maybe, of the invisible seams and faultlines that trace every object’s skeleton, some understanding, maybe, about how every piece of the object fits to every one of its neighbours – knowledge, that is, of what that object really is.
So return to the gallery, and here we are with these things, one at a time, in the darkness. A fuse is lit and its sputterings trace the thing’s outline, foreshadowing its full incarnation a few seconds later – the explosion comes from inside out (as explosions do) and at the explosive moment the thing is illuminated from within.
It then is as though we look away just before the object loses integrity, flies apart in all directions; our gaze (the video’s gaze) turns to black, as if we must not let ourselves see the seams show. Between moments, when the moment before becomes the moment of — it’s this interval that contains the revelation. The moment of immolation is never seen. The between is when its identity becomes known, and this knowledge cannot be borne, cannot bear itself. The message destroys itself by the act of its own delivery. It lasts only an instant, and then is gone.
But not gone, in two ways. First: we are outside it. We remain, and so does the afterimage, on our retinas and in our minds. Second: the videos are shown repeatedly, projected one after another in a short cycled series. Each of these objects’ images will come back, reincarnate, and die again. This is a world of many lives and many deaths, but there are no corpses here.
For contrast’s sake, wonder for a moment how things would be different if the videos were shown once only each hour, on the hour. You would see each only once, making that unique moment of clarity as special and momentous for you as it was for the object. But this is not the case. You will have no such limitations. You will have the chance to get a closer look, as many as you want, to better reacquaint yourself with the picture, lifting the curtain of nightfall, denying the darkness’s staying power.
Will you stay for the cycle again once it’s come back to the beginning? Or will you leave as soon as it comes round again, hasten out to avoid the repeat, as though to stay would immobilize you with… with what? Instantaneous boredom, nauseating clarity, uncanny déjà vu? Stay or go; you can come to know the object in intimate detail, or you can come to know the finality of its ending, but not both. The two knowledges are not compatible.
I have discovered (after having written the above) that the videos are made not by exploding the objects themselves but by setting off small, “harmless” explosions of powder inside them. The only thing that gets annihilated is the powder itself. The darkness after the flash is not an editorial averting of the video’s gaze but simply the darkness after the flash. Logically, I should rewrite this essay, based as it is on a misapprehension, but I choose to let it stand. The afterimage is still with me and I would like to keep the picture. Its outlines trace the shape of something mistaken, something that’s been blown apart by a flash of knowledge but which nevertheless seems real to me.
Having read this, you also have seen it and it’s no longer retractable. This message will not self-destruct until you do.