Andrew Norman Wilson b. 1983
The Unthinkable Bygone (2016)
2016. HD Video. 2 min 18 sec loop
Baby Sinclair flickers into being, as if the video itself would open its eyes in sync with its protagonist. At first it is easy to empathize with the computer model. The baby is startled when it takes a first glimpse at its body's other half, which contains a cut up Hollow Earth model based on surface layers of Venus, Mars, and Mercury. Moving across registers this image anticipates the multilayered structure of the video and introduces an incommensurable and unreliable sense of scale. The setup poses the baby in an associative universe that could contain the big bang, evolution, and extinction. A semantic space is unveiled in which means of scientific knowledge production, such as 3D computer simulation, parallel narrative cinema and television. Trying to locate a twittering bird sound, the baby is not impressed. Incredulously it shakes its head whilst listening to its own giggle echoed by the bleak mirror walls, as if to reassure itself that it is there, only to doze off.
Despite the meticulous animation, the baby remains strangely artificial from the start. As soon as its eyes are closed, it is hard to decide whether we want it to be meditating, asleep, dead, or switched off. In this in-between state of being, it seems to turn into a puppet, but not one that would be anxious to appear human-like. Rather, its life-likeness turns against itself, becomes uncanny — the absurdity of the image keeping us at a distance. Yet the situation is tense when the camera starts to orbit around the computer model to reveal its infinite reflections before penetrating its head. Once the flawlessly animated skin fills the screen, the video cuts to another clip which pulls us violently into a completely different reality. Filmed by a phone camera in an actual free falling plane, the image is suddenly shaky as a voice nervously counts down from five until it crashes into the ground and blacks out.
However disrupting this sequence may seem in contrast to the slick HD surfaces of the mirror room, it is not all that different from the rest of the video. Wilson explores cinematic means that typically ease us into another point of view and pushes them towards their limits. Both the detailed computer simulation and the ego perspective aim at verisimilitude to bridge the gap between the character and ourselves. However, this effect is turned on its head when the ego perspective, which is by definition meant to refer to a human being, becomes the view of the simulated camera itself. The penetration of baby Sinclair's mind becomes visually manifest in the crash, counteracting the smooth movement of the simulated crane shot that had us expecting to enter the baby's thoughts. Instead, we are abruptly thrown into a mode of showing, which in itself becomes the shown object, thus rendering our immersion into the baby dinosaur's consciousness impossible.
The collapse of perspectives is continued when the baby awakes again and we see the beginning of the video from within its head. The view is framed by the dark shape of its eyes; a reminder that the change of perspective remains deficient. With baby Sinclair as focalizer, the field recordings of canaries' songs heard on the outside turn into a sample of humans whistling bird sounds from Snow White and Bernard Herrmann's heavily recycled Twisted Nerve theme. Baby Sinclair begins to doze off again and the camera reverses the path it took into its head as the whistle reaches its most threatening pitch. As the camera settles in its original position, the image starts to flicker and the loop starts over.
By juxtaposing its elements: the baby, the lab, the sound, and the crash, The Unthinkable Bygone plays with the seductive potential of immersive techniques from television and film that simulate access into another being's consciousness. A promise that becomes as hollow as the animation itself. The video recites in the tangled hierarchies of those images within images which paradoxically fold back into each other. Clinging to our viewing habits, they seem to lock themselves up in the last second and retrieve into their own materiality. The question of what the baby dinosaur perceives is ultimately turned into the question of what it is, or in which world it exists. A question that spreads out to the other elements. On an ever larger scale of implications, it spins into our perspective and extends to our very own way of relating to them.
Text by Johanna Markert
Video by Andrew Norman Wilson
Modeling and animation by Vlad Maftei
Sound by Andrew Norman Wilson and Andrew Lockmiller
Produced by Akademie Schloss Solitude