[ISEA97] Artist Statement: Natalie Bookchin – Marking Time

Artist Statement

In a darkened room, a projected text appears to be typed onto a wall, one letter at a time. The text is a log kept by a death row prison guard of the activities of three prisoners for four day leading up to their triple execution in Arkansas in January 1997. The guard, who watches day and night, describes the prisoners’ most intimate activities, from what they are eating to when they go to the toilet, to whom they are speaking to and what they are saying. A viewer enters the room and sit at a table with a computer and monitor, facing the projection. A bare light bulb dangles down near the table, creating a harsh but dimly lit glow around the monitor. As if entering a visiting room in a prison, the seated viewer is now face to face with one of the prisoners whose image stares out from the monitor. The user may select the face of each of the three prisoners and may then pan each of the faces, slowly scanning over nose, mouth, ears, etc. As the user scans, the computer responds with constant and pre¬cise feedback about the user’s movements and selections: where she has scanned, the amount of time she has been doing so, what her movements across the screen have been, which part of the face she is currently touching, who she is touching, etc… Meanwhile, the computer stores all of the user’s mouse movements and upon a mouse click replays them as a motion study in the form of an abstract animated line drawing. Thus the viewer takes on the position of the prison guard, maintaining visual control over the prisoners’ bodies and their movements. At the same time, she is placed in the position of the prisoner, as her own movements and actions on the computer are constantly monitored, displayed and recorded. Through her interaction, she becomes a player on both sides of the narrative that she has merely witnessed in the projection. The physical layout of the installation contrasts two forms of spectatorship: a public projection and a private encounter with a monitor; in the publicly viewed projection the viewer remains outside looking in on an acute example of regulated time and state control of life and death. In contrast, on the computer monitor, the user is face to face (interfacing) with a — now dead — individual, and is no longer a passive viewer, but now, in fact, a “user” implicated in the narrative. The work also reflects on the ability of the computer to survey and record all choices and movements of any user at any time and parallels this distinctive quality to the model of the prisoner/prison guard. bookchin.net/projects/marking-time

  • Natalie Bookchin (U.S.A.) is a cultural worker in the digital revolu­tion. She currently teaches in the Visual Arts Department at UC, San Diego. She will migrate north in the winter to Los Angeles, where she will teach at Cal Arts. Bookchin has exhibited her work widely in the US and Europe, recently exhibiting her CD-ROM Databank of the Everyday (1996) in NY at Postmasters, Cooper Union, School of Visual Arts Museum, and the NY International Video and New Media Festival, as well as in Washington State, San Francisco and in New Orleans at SIGGRAPH. Other recent work has been shown in the Brooklyn Bridge Anchorage, the Kunst Forum in Rottweil, Germany, the Gramercy International Art Fair and Spot gallery in NY, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia, and in Australia, Switzerland, Denmark, Austria and Finland. She has received grants from national and regional foundations including Maryland State Art Council, Art Matters Inc., and Artists Space. Her work has been written about in ArtForum, The New York Times, Arts Magazine, Fiberarts, Art Journal, Leonardo, and The New An Examiner. She studied at the Whitney Museum Independent Study and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.