Body as Vector Space
Catalogue essay for "Shadow Work" exhibition Gallery 210
University of Missouri - Saint Louis 2007
Cynthia Pachikara’s works are experiments in the parallel mechanics of perception and subjectivity. This is to say that her works essentially involve the manipulation of points, parallel planes and fields. Most of her projects involve the construction of illusory depth or perspective from visual data-rich planes and the construction of imaginary worlds or lives from psychological data-rich episodes. They operate as sensuous puzzles that the viewer solves by representing them visually and cognitively. The viewer is multiply implicated as body in the installations - literally decompressing a plane of images in order to perceive the work, and psychically relating the released contents to herself as lived body. The work is often completed by the viewer’s first-person representation and recognition of another subject’s world.
Pachikara structures her installations as various combinations of layered video and still images projected from different angles onto a flat plane. The videos are typically short, one-minute loops involving a repeated action such as swinging (Untitled, 1997), the motion of a pendulum (X,Y,Z, 2000), the back and forth movement of a tug-of-war (Give and Take, 2001). Pachikara employs a basic theater lighting technique whereby one image covers another. When a viewer enters the projection space, her body functions as a plane that disrupts the compressed image, blocking parts of some projections while revealing a second and often a third layered image or text. Each movement is a break, or caesura, while also being a “filling in.” Each caesura is felt to be temporary as the compressed image always threatens to return, a wholeness spread over the surface of the plane, a wholeness that denies the lived reality of the viewer and is itself recoverable only in the imaginary of the viewer. Take Pachikara’s early work, Untitled (1997), produced by two static images and one video projection. The first image the viewer encounters is a typewritten, autobiographical text on the theme of separation and traveling, home and anticipated return. As the viewer moves through the projection space, her body blocks areas of this projected image, now “filled” with her own mobile shadow as negative projection. Within the shape of this shadow, another image can be discerned—a video of a dimly silhouetted figure riding back and forth on a swing. Behind the video, a third projection is visible—an old photograph of a large immigrant family. Here, the essential elements of Pachikara’s works are already fully present. Through the body as plane/screen, the compressed images are disrupted and individuated; through the body as plane/shadow, the underlying images are displayed. Moving about in the installation, the viewer’s body physically separates the compressed projections, causing new images and text to appear in the flattened shape of her shadow. The work changes form as the viewer moves through, and around, the installation. In this way the viewer literally spatializes the compressed plane where the multiple projections reside.
In Pachikara’s work, the viewer’s body functions as the center point of a Cartesian coordinate system introduced onto a plane. It is the viewer’s body that creates the interruptions or shifts, so this breaking is marked as kinaesthetic. To further extend the idiom of analytic or Cartesian geometry, the viewer’s body is the orienting point within a field of vectors – the variable imagistic and narrative flows. On this reading, the compressed plane of the multiple projections is thus revealed as a Euclidean plane: a set of points satisfying certain relationships, expressible in terms of distance (place/time) and angle (point of view). The plane as surface is a compressed surface; the viewer as surface is an opening up, an unlocking of that surface. In Euclidean geometry, there are two fundamental operations on a plane. One is translation, whereby every point on the plane is shifted in the same direction by the same distance. The other is rotation about a fixed point, in which every point in the plane turns about that fixed point at the same angle. By having visual data change with each shift in the viewer’s position, Pachikara gives the viewer a systematic way of relating and translating visual shapes in a phenomenological field and extracting psychological information from that representation.
The viewer, in coordinating all visual data within the frame of her own visual field, also uses her own lived experience to “perform” another interiority - the subjectivity of the work. Pachikara’s work is activated by the viewer’s presence. A lived place, the work’s body or subject is “opened up” within the shadow figure of the interrupting, intervening viewer. It is the moment of a caesura when the intervention of breaking in makes possible a new departure into another’s psychic plane. Acting as a mobile point of rupture and splintering, the viewer’s body is simultaneously a site of unification and integration. On this reading, the viewer’s body is also a vector space because the viewer is a subject of awareness, a reference point of lived experience psychically expanding the compressed projected images. This introduces a new “plane” - the representation by the viewer of the interior subjectivity of the Other.
One of the basic tenets of Euclidean geometry is that two figures of the plane should be considered congruent if one can be transformed into the other by some sequence of translations and rotations. In Pachikara’s Untitled, the viewer’s body as projected shadow is mapped onto the memories, experiences and introspections of the displaced subject of the work. There is an immersion of the viewer into the work. This immersion has the effect of compacting subjectivity by being screen and shadow, figure and revealer of another interior or first person perspective. Interpreting this complex visual data, the viewer’s body as psychic space is a vector space that literally relates and constructs the unlocked first person perspective of the Other.
Pachikara’s latest work Vertical Horizon(tal) 2007 is an unfolding of several nearly abstract features. A white field turns into a rain-spattered windshield, the drops wiped away at regular intervals. Inside the body space is a celestial map with clouds slowly sweeping across it. Joining these two images is a third video layer - a distant, aerial shot of barely visible cars moving across a multi-laned freeway at night. Headlights shimmering on pavement move from top to bottom as if flowing down the screen. Pachikara’s “horizon,” like all horizons, can never be reached. It is a space of experience, of an actual world opening to a whole manifold of possible worlds for an experiencing spectator in the flowing movement of body, time and image.
In Pachikara’s work, presence is a disruption of a complex whole: it is an act of displacement that is reinforced by each movement of the viewer. Wherever the spectator moves, there is a disruption and then a “leaking” out of another story, another image. Here movement cannot maintain the stability of the original unity. Disconnected layers, one sitting on the next, are not visible until a blocking agent/spectator enters the site. As much as one may move to see or complete the whole, that is, to “get the whole story,” recover a past place idealized through memory and desire, the viewer is confronted with the irrecoverable nature of the storied past she seeks to reconstruct. In his poem “Keeping things Whole,” Mark Strand writes: “In a field, I am the absence of field. This is always the case. Wherever I am, I am what is missing… I move to keep things whole.” In this way, Pachikara engineers the viewers’ construction of experiential wholes that are as fictive as the illusory depths of the pictorial planes they seem to see.