In artist Sean Synder’s Analepsis (2003-04), a sequence of video snippets present alternating sweeping and zooming shots of various landscapes and settings. The work is made up of establishing shots taken from satellite news broadcasts (each lasting 1-4 seconds), yet devoid of sound, text, explanation. Rather, the spaces are de-territorialized and impenetrable. Shipping containers, compounds, apartment blocks, scrub and brush, cranes, an airport runway, guard towers, oil fields, mountain ranges, office grids; these views are offered impartially, as if in a film which seems to lead nowhere in particular (the widescreen format references both cinema and
the obscuring of the rolling news feeds). This could be anywhere, or everywhere. As in his other works, which have utilized images acquired from news agencies such as Associated Press and Reuters, Snyder takes on the position of the critical observer, cataloguing and representing extant imagery and information as his own. However, this gesture, while clearly in the tradition of the Duchampian readymade and the appropriation art of Sherrie Levine or Louise Lawler, differs in the absence of acknowledgment. The work is neither antagonist nor ironic; Snyder’s practice claims this material as his own, and, in doing so, not only questions notions of authorship but of factual truth itself. As Daniel Birnbaum has written:
“Entering what might seem to be a hermeneutical labyrinth as puzzling as the hieroglyphs were before the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone, we question whether we should take what the artist has excavated as factual or ask further questions. Or should we question the source from which the references are extracted? Do we even want to look for the source of the reference, or could we even find it?”
The artist, whether appropriating tele-visual or online media (a distinction gradually disappearing in the expansion of interactive technology and niche programming), acts as a cypher, a selector of anonymous and interchangeable items. There is no attempt at authenticating the material or its source. The quantity of information available is significant here; for every point, there is a counterpoint; for every apparent statement of fact, there are a number of variations, contradictions, possibilities, refutations. The news report, once assumed to be singular and incontrovertible, gives way to particular positions, to different takes. The factual has been made aesthetic. Snyder’s digital prints of photographs taken by soldiers in Iraq — of shots from behind rifle turrets, of Saddam Hussein’s hideout, of improvised explosives — refine this approach. The implications of the death of the author, and of authority, transcend the theoretical, textual play of art criticism. They end up ‘embedded’ in moral ambiguity and indecisiveness, in the snapshot which aspires to neither pacifism nor propaganda. Rather, these images retain a critical distance and detachment, through layers of camera lenses and mediated representations. And yet, the passivity of the relative position, the refusal to take sides, betrays a very specific strategy of power and hierarchy.
- Chris Clarke (Canada/UK)
Full text (PDF) p. 111-112
Supported by Arts Council England