This is a single screen version of a 3 screen installation, filmed in rural Lithuania in 2014. As installed, Pondskater comprises an unpainted steel structure in a configuration of three wide-screen 1:3 ratio rear-projection screens, set at 120 degree angles to each other. Pondskater is the common name of an insect of the family Gerridae, which skates over ponds and other bodies of relatively still water. You repeatedly see these creatures in the video films, but the name also refers to the improvised filming device used to generate the simultaneous videos. This device, itself a pond skater, is a kind of adjusted readymade. Other than the waterproof Sony ‘sport’ cameras, it uses found materials: aluminium tubing, plastic water bottles, an old rusty bicycle wheel, an old sheet, found string and a pack of assorted cable ties. The bicycle wheel enables the device to float with the three camera lenses at approximately water level.
The three HD cameras, mounted at the ends of the aluminium tubes, are fixed at 120 degree angles to each other, facing outwards and thus providing a full 360 degree panorama. However, the distance between the cameras opens up gaps between the images: a matter of millimetres determining whether the centreline of the lens is slightly above or below the water level, while the divergent angles of the horizon lines become part of the work’s idiosyncratic and imperfect nature.
The device is entirely dependent upon its own propulsion, provided by the impromptu sail. It is launched like a child’s toy sailing boat, with a push, then left to the whims of the wind, slowly drifting across the pond until it finally gets entangled within the reeds that line the perimeter of the pond. This process is repeated at three different times of the day - dawn, midday and dusk. Each section has its own distinct colour and sound palette. The length of each take (played back in realtime) is dependent upon the time it takes the device to float across the pond, to become marooned in the reeds, and subsequently retrieved. This process is revealed in sound and image in the films. There is an incredible stillness to these long takes, rudely interrupted by moments of unexpected violence as the device drags on the reeds. The mechanism itself is never seen, but is intimated, intermittently, by the drumming sound of string on the ‘mast’ when the wind blows, and the dragging of the floats as the structure enters the shallow water of the pond edges.
The disembodied viewing position of the video’s content, an undisturbed fish-eyed view of the world we can never experience in reality, is replicated by the frustrations the structure imposes within the real time and space of the gallery. But the video films also engage the bodily. In the original installation, not only do the rear projections allow the beholder to experience the texture of the video from close-up, but there is a distinctive hapticity (redolent of early processes of projection) in the way out of focus foreground objects (leaves, bubbles and so forth) push up against the partially submerged camera lens. At certain points in the films, foreground and background merge into an undifferentiated viewing experience, only for the device to break free from its constraints and return us to a more distanced viewing. This is all entirely determined by the natural forces at play on the device - an indexical marking of space and time, where the structuring mechanism (technological and psychological) is openly revealed throughout.
Based at Chelsea College of Arts, Dr Ken Wilder is the University of the Arts London Reader in Spatial Design