Eve Sussman Rufus Corporation Video Time Utopia

A series of photographs, and video installations. The three screen work, ‘Wintergarden’, is your entrée to all this. Each screen has a tight focus on a concrete balcony, slowly changing details, but the overall form remains the same. These are the pre-fabricated ‘Khrushchyovka’, Soviet mass construction, concrete apartment blocks built in the 1960s onwards, the differently refurbished balconies slowly morphing into each other. The original open balconies were inappropriate for hostile climates, residents blocked them in, using a variety of styles and materials.
‘Each resident, creating a vernacular architecture marked with personal expression from a pre-fabrication. The perfection of the master plan is thus destroyed in a patchwork of humanity.’
Not dissimilar to the 1970’s passion for stone cladding on identical terraces in the UK. A passion now replaced by a vast range of different types of plastic surround double glazing and the ubiquitous satellite dish, accessorized with the biggest 4 x 4 you can’t quite afford afford. ‘Wintergarden’ is fascinating and surprisingly beautiful, not just for lovers of concrete panel construction, they have a slight look of Gaudi about them by the way. The morphing is so slow and careful that it takes a long time to work out what is going on and prompts thoughts about uniform individualism, about how we decorate our nests, about the inevitable fate of grand utopian housing projects. The ‘Khrushchyovka’ were only designed to last for 25 years, but still seem to be functioning; just. Like the British high rise, or deck access flats, what was once so revolutionary, and successful is let down by subsequent bureaucracy. By the way, the mass produced bathroom for these apartments, with a 120 centimetre sitting bath to save space sound fascinating (didn’t Buckminster Fuller’s Dymaxion bathroom in the late 30’s do something similar?). I suppose a series of morphing bathrooms would not have the same minimalist intent as flat panel, moulded concrete parallel to the picture plane.
But, the important work is the ongoing film project: ‘whiteonwhite:algorithmicnoir’. Which is, at first sight, a straightforward narrative about a geophysicist called Holz (similarity to Kurtz?) in a dystopian, post Soviet, City A, trying to work out what is going on around him. City A seems to be a composite of various places, Baku and Almaty, cities in Turkmenistan and Kazakhstan and Latvia, all those places on the edge of vast empty desserts of snow or sand. Many short sections of film shot on an “expedition to unravel utopian promise”. The beauty of edge lands and the different sorts of space they conjure up, from failing city, to sixties hotel rooms or offices to views from train of lands that don’t change from one days journey to the next. The styling keeps returning to Sputnik era Soviet, a photographic recreation of Gagarin’s office is shown elsewhere and seems to pop up here as well.
And that’s the point, the narrative sequence depends, not on the usual Hollywood ‘journey’ but on a ‘serendipity engine’, the screen showing the code is on the left of the installation. This code just endlessly edits the 2,637 clips loaded into it, apparently it never repeats and has no middle or end, no fine resolution and redemption at the end; there is no end. Although the couple of hours that I saw, seemed to move in a fairly believable arc.
Can I claim formal similarities here to Christian Marclay’s ‘The Clock’? That 24 hour film, in which short fragments of traditional film showing clocks/ watches etc are synched to real time. You could for example point out that both films depend on digital technology to sequence tiny sections so precisely. But there must be more going on to link these two contemporaneous works. It might be more useful to think of another element, both films deal in fractured narrative. Usually in narrative film your main task as a viewer is to get busy with the emoting, rather than consider the fundamental processes involved. Like any worthwhile art, in both ‘Clock’ and ‘whiteonwhite’ the possible range of references to other art demands the viewer gets heavily involved in the viewing and (re)making process. Should those, maybe subliminal references to Modernism make one trudge slightly wearily to Greenberg’s famous dictum:
“The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself – not in order to subvert it, but to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.”
Could we say that, as we see it, as painting has flatness, the key area of competence for film is time? Could that then lead us to say that, the use these videos make of time links them formally, rather than chronologically, via the way the viewer tries to construct narrative? And, if we really want to get stuck into all this revisionist stuff, will all this Modernist talk about time take us (holding our nose perhaps), inevitably to T S Eliot and Burnt Norton,
‘Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable’
So, the present and the past are already part of the future but the future is determined by the past. Time is not linear, either in the elite world of the (non PC) Twentieth Century intellectual or in the digitally organised present. Burnt Norton from which this poem takes its name; is a ruin. Ruins as a symbol of the futility of human aspirations. Let us ignore the overt Christian element in late Eliot: the natural order that can only be put right by God, not us: ‘time is unredeemable’ etc. Notice instead the connection to the ruins in progress in ‘whiteonwhite’, and refer to the collapse of the Utopian order that feature in this post Soviet state: City A. Look to the apparent linear narrative that is in fact, as the monitor on the walls tells us, arbitrary. No God controls this, the Utopian God; the future, has died. All we see are fragments, a heap of broken images, remade by the viewer steeped in late capitalist redemption tales; from Georges Melies ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune’ to Star Wars.