Video (color, stereo sound)
Original format: U-matic SP
Running time: 4:00 min.

Appearing as a hazy horizon laden with strange objects, the scene comprises bones, skulls of small mammals, butterflies, nuts, and other botanical “finds” spread out on a round table. These are objects of the kind that one might collect on a nature trail in a forest—but also shells and crumpled notes. They are relics that suggest the cycle of life in a way familiar to us from vanitas still life painting and natural history collections. The camera moves around the table, picking out objects which, because of the shallow depth of focus, stand out one after another from the panorama of the jumbled collection. A bird’s skull, a piece of bark, or a crystal appear needle-sharp in the picture, whereupon the focus changes and the contours of a shell emerge from the nebulous background. In this way the camera discloses the transient beauty of the items one after the other, capturing the beauty of each for a fraction of a second before focusing on the next object. This precise focusing/unfocusing continues for the duration of the work, while a narrator explores his momentary state of consciousness and relationship with the world, verbalizing his own thoughts as transient objects in an ontologically focused vanitas of mind. The rhythmic vocalized syllabics synchronize with the focusing and blurring of the image. And the final tableau places the viewer inside the mouth of the speaker looking out. Just as the narrator opens his mouth and speaks, light enters the speaking cavity, the tongue moves, and the teeth masticate the last words of the work: “imagining the brain closer than the eyes.”

“A prologue to Which Tree, an unrealized interactive videodisc that later morphed into Withershins. Using a track and dolly system, the camera was set at table top level from where thirteen circular tracking shots were made, each at a set focal point across the table. Additionally, the camera was ‘locked down’ at sixty-four points equal distance around the track from where the camera was rack focused through an extreme shallow depth of field. The thirteen rings and sixty-four points create the possibility of eight hundred thirty-two ‘match points’ toward seamlessly editing the rings and intersections together, as if one camera in continuous motion. The initial idea was to have the viewer/participant navigate a circular two-dimensional map representing the description given above—thirteen concentric circles with sixty-four intersecting diameters. As one walked the pathways, a spoken text would be heard spatially in relation to one’s location and change as one continued through the path. The prologue/text was produced as a representation of a single walk suggesting a myriad of other ‘walks’ and other ‘texts.’” - Gary Hill

An Art of Limina: Gary Hill’s Works and Writings, by George Quasha and Charles Stein (Barcelona: Ediciones Polígrafa, 2009)

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