When I first started the project Hill in 2004, I did not film the lonesome hill based on any artistic concept. My inspiration merely came from some vague and inexplicable emotional impact. However, during the filming process, or even later when I looked at the recorded clips, I was surprised and amazed by the variation of mechanical language which I had always ignored. I further realized that my perception was activated by the framed image. The perception included the recorded images, the transformation of the real scenes, and the physical and corporeal image mixed with “memory cone” and “matter plane” as how Henri Bergson describes it. The experience also made me aware of the undisguised truth of the fluidity and the mutual infiltration among the three perceptive experiences. As the perception is activated, our “thinking” starts to function as well. However, there is one thing different from the general conceptual activities – it is an open attitude toward “thinking” to throw oneself into the image and go with it.
The work also represents the scene which is “only visible to the camera but not us,” or, we can say that camera allows us see the part which used to be inviable to our naked eyes. Hill features a unique cinematic language to observe the world. Filmed at the magic hour when dusk has turned into night, its rapidly transformative sky, composition of the subjects (a tomb-hill and a big tree occupying the hill), and the effect of the background sound (the hill located on the side of the coastal highway in Tainan so we could hardly avoid the sound of cars racing by even though we did not film the highway – the wind from the cars and the tires pressing the ground thus became the background sound) all together render a scene of loneliness and abandonment.
In the twenty-minute video, the first focus in the beginning is the hill and the tree on it. As the daylight fades, the details of the hill gradually becomes blurred until there is nothing left but the silhouette of the color patches. When it is completely dark, the focus switches to the foreground where the silvergrass reflects a touch of red from the street light. However, most of the viewers are not aware of the change of focus since it is our visual habit to put the focus on the target which can be easily identified. Therefore, the focus of our gaze usually unconsciously follows the visible things shown in the image. Meanwhile, the restriction of camera further reveals the traces of the mechanical language as the decreasing light intensity causes larger film grains. The original focus – hill – is replaced by the thick and large grains in the middle of the film, but viewers still acknowledge its existence. It is the result of “retention” and “protention” – how experience helps us to acknowledge and to perceive reality. Viewers internalize the visible film grains into the hill in their memories and foresee its sustaining existence in the future.
According to Robert Sokolowski’s explanation of “contemporary whole,” it includes three abstract elements: “primal impression,” “retention,” and “protention.” As the word suggests, retention “retains the living present that has just elapsed,” providing us a foundation to grasp hold of the past. On the contrary, “protention” allows us to foresee the “future” when we are reminded of the previous experiences. Both “retention” and “protention” constitute our “primal impression” of the “contemporary whole.” Based on such an understanding, we realize that the reality filmed by camera is not exactly the same with the images observed by our naked eyes. What we see in fact blends with the memories of the previous experiences and prediction of the future. For artists, however, there is one thing common between the two images – they both possess the space where the image is rendered and validated – the artist’s body. Therefore, I assume that video artist’s repetitive observation through camera can be understood as a continuous round trip between the two parties to search for the validating “core.” Nevertheless, the “core” is not referred to the key stimulus in the real scene, but the essential expression of the complex emotions and perceptions which allow us to approach the original reality from a world represented through media.
Meanwhile, the process of the repeated search should be felt and perceived through one’s own body which is physically involved in the inside of the materials. The purpose of the second involvement is to focus, to explore, to develop, and to reveal the multiple chances and the various possibilities hidden within the “memory cone,” so that the restriction of media will no longer limit the potential expression. Take my making of Hill for example. The tome-hill caught my attention in the beginning with its loneliness. At this point, the visibility of the “hill” on the visual device was necessary. Therefore, the work should end in the increasing darkness when camera did not have enough light intensity to film the hill. However, when I had only filmed the half of it (about ten minutes), the light was already too weak. I concentrated on the subtle variation of the images on the camera screen, realizing that the visibility of the hill was not the main punctum of the work. The most impressive was the essence of its existence which did not need to be witnessed or validated. The change of thought allowed me to see the “noise” – which I used to describe as “the restriction of media” – and revealed its visual charm. The continuous and sustaining gaze has thus become a means for me to direct my own body to the image.