Text from the accompanying catalogue of the solo exhibition: ‘Shared Moments’, ‘Woodstreet Galleries’, Pittsburgh USA, Oktober 2002.
By means of new media, Dutch artist Peter Bogers’ video sculptures and installations have examined since the early 90’s the physical and psychic composition of the body. In order to unsheathe images, sounds and actions of the body, which we would not be able to perceive without technological aids, Bogers dissects the cinematic structure accurately to the 24 th part of a second. He disassembles and reassembles his “raw material,” which consists of both his own recording and "found footage" in innumerable editing sequences. He then adds an unusual slowness to the matter that he observes, which contrasts the aesthetics of video clips.
In works such as the first version of Without the Words I from 1991, Force, Retorica, or Play-Rev-Play, Bogers separates the body into individual fragments such as a mouth, ear, eye, and eyeball. In Play-Rev-Play it is the head, one foot, and one hand, which all seem to float detached from each other in a vacuum under water. As in many of Bogers’ works, the body parts, which are isolated and apparently acting autonomously, are subject to a choreography that does not obey the motion sequences of one “complete” body, but those of an extraneously controlled system from another “story.”
The deconstruction of sound, especially of voice and everyday-life sounds, is as important as deconstructing the moving picture, as Bogers’ artistic development is based on performance art and music. The video installation, Retorica, for example, peels away the eyes and mouths of infants and of one adult of its respective organic connections, and lets them enter a pre-linguistic and technologically manipulated dialogue: the father tries to imitate the early childhood sounds of his son, made possible only through the means of audio-visual post editing.
Bogers’ video works always consider spatial and formal appearance. As evident in his early video sculptures like Portret, Fingers or Sacrifice, he is not satisfied with commercial monitors that are placed on stands. Instead, he designs his own casings and fittings. For these works, he made glass enclosures in which he hung little black and white monitors tucked in unembellished cases. In Fingers, two monitors are mounted at the end of a u-shaped case which contains a “magnet.” The video images show circularly arranged fingertips which move synchronously in symmetric formations in front of a black background. Sometimes they look at you like eyes as they twist the position of the observer. In Portret and Sacrifice, additional magnifying glasses were mounted to enable us to see the video images. Bogers is playing here with presence and absence, the offering and taking away of the picture. While the little monitors constrict the visibility of the video image, this “impairment” is only seemingly offset by the fortified lenses, for the observer's view is broken repeatedly by the different glass surfaces: lens, showcase, and monitor. Depending upon the observer’s position, the video image repeatedly appears to dissolve. In both pieces, the observer has to move very closely to the enclosures in order to see the images. Bogers forces the observer to take the posture of a cameraman or artist who wants to focus his subject through the viewfinder. Portret, however, shows Peter Bogers’ own face; thus he could not be standing behind the camera. Here the positions of artist, model and observer are moved.
Portret shows the horizontal profile of the artist. A tube leads from his mouth directly to his right eye into which saliva is continuously seeping. This image suggests the absurd presumption of an organic closed circuit. With the saliva seeping from the mouth through the eye directly to the mouth again, it suggests the head is an empty “Black Box.” In a transmission performance between human being and machine, Bogers seems to mock the naïve notion that technological equipment can reproduce reality one-to-one. He does so by prodding the observer directly to the distorting filter. Despite the transparency of Portret, what happens behind the cap of the technological device remains hidden. Would not a look into the intestines of a machine be as unsatisfactory as a look into the inside of a body where no one has ever found a “soul”? Thus Peter Bogers is more concerned with optical filters, those filters close to the surfaces of the visible that place themselves like a veil in front of the eyes, just as if saliva were continuously seeping inside.
The monitor in the installation, Sacrifice, is situated in a low enclosure on the floor. Once again, one can view the tiny video image only through the mounted lens in the enclosure. The video image shows an open mouth surrounded with water, which eventually rises to fill and cover the mouth. The water level then drops until only the water-filled mouth is visible. Little by little the water seeps away into the throat, while the water level rises, and the “ebb and flow” game repeats. Similar to Portret, the human body is understood as a hollow chamber through which the water circulates, similar to a slightly clogged drain. Concurrently, Bogers is interested, as in many of his other works, in the formal reduction of the body into an abstract entity, as is reflected in a sketch on which the sculpture is based. What happens here is a purely formal game of relationships like outside/inside, foreground/background, area/circle, hole/container, emptiness/fullness, and positive/negative. A large computer printout hangs behind the enclosure revealing the recording set of Sacrifice, which is unusual for Peter Bogers. The artist is laying in an old rusty bathtub, his wide-open mouth and nose barely protruding over the water surface. The microphone is hanging over his mouth, over which hangs a bulky arrangement of camera, control monitor, cables and such. The scenario reminds us of the technologically elaborate arrangement with which the two protagonists film their own dying and decay in Peter Greenaway’s movie A Zed & Two Noughts (1985). Rather than a documentation of a suicide, it is a scientific experiment that explores the duration of time that a human being can sustain in or under water. The distance in form and content between the shooting set on the one hand and the resulting video image on the other could not be greater, despite that they are both based on the same act. Video media does not reproduce reality because reality itself only appears inherently "real."
Peter Bogers picks up the theme of the body disappearing in water again in two later video installations. In an almost intrauterine-like environment, a male body stretches over three screens in Nóóó, You Don’t Understand. The body’s slow and stiff movements are actuated by fragments of dialogues from several daily soap operas, which can be heard in the original language or read in captions. The language-like pieces attach themselves to the drifting body that is stuck in a state of extreme physical and psychic isolation: the body cannot see anything and does not have a voice; instead he is looked at and talked to. The body conforms to the spoken word.
The video installation Play-Rev-Play consists of three semi-transparent screens which structure the presentation room. The images projected upon them thus cannot be grasped at first sight, but only after walking through the whole room and taking in the clipping-like constellations. The images can be viewed from both sides of the screens, creating a multiplicity of perspectives, i.e. as many exclusions as connections, which are directly linked to the viewer’s position.
On the three screens of Play-Rev-Play we can see a foot, hand and head, each of monumental size, drifting almost weightlessly and independently from each other under water in front of a black background. The aquarium-like remoteness of their presence and their distance to the observer’s world is as equally radical and hermetic as in Nóóó, You Don’t Understand. As if powered by an invisible force, hand, foot, and head suddenly act simultaneously and slowly move to the surface of the water. But before they can break the surface and the head can gasp for air, an arm suddenly appears out of nowhere and pushes the head, hand and foot back into the water. The meditative calm of complete self-sufficiency changes unexpectedly into a violent action, which almost takes one’s breath away. As soon as the arm appears, the three pictures briefly freeze and then reverse in slow motion back to the original state. During this time the otherwise silent images are accompanied by the original sound of the recordings. It is again peaceful and quiet, as if nothing happened and nothing could shake the cosmos of these three solitary images. One would almost forget the incident if it were not continually repeating itself, and if tiny changes were not entering the images each time. In an impressive way, Play-Rev-Play shows us a central phantasm of Western culture: the desire for constancy, continuity, and eternity; the fear of change; the wish to hold on to things, moments and events, i.e. life itself; so that it remains unchanged for all times. We are living in a culture that represses and despises death, which paradoxically equals a longing for death. And it is the media of photography and film that reflects reality, in which the desire to hold on coincides with the desire to kill the moment. The perfect harmony, the ideal state of permanence and security, is only disturbed when the lifeless body parts, which are fixed in the image and preserved like compounds, begin to move; to break out of their calm remoteness and want to return to life. What first seems to be an act of external force, i.e. the arm that permanently pushes down the head gasping for air, does not fulfill anything else than our primary desire that nothing should change. The arm in Play-Rev-Play seems to set boundaries that hope to see death overcome in the picture.
Observations and moments play a central role in Peter Bogers’ following video installation. Shared Moments operates with the montage of profane images of everyday life. The installation is based on a multitude of snap-shots which study social behavior patterns through an intimate camera approach. We see people sitting in street cafés or looking outside a window. There are scenes that take place at a train station, scenes of paragliders, of a disabled young man getting washed and of a child sleeping. The individual motives were recorded over several days, weeks or months, either on the same or on different locations. The location and timeframe of each of these film protocols are quoted in the subtitle to the 24 th part exactly. The installation, Shared Moments, consists of three projections, where each projection is again divided into up to four scenes. We are thus all at once presented with three, six or twelve variations of these individual studies, which were originally separated by time and space. In the show, the coming and going of various images gives the impression of simultaneity of time, space and action. This is additionally reinforced by the movements, gestures and actions of the persons, which are almost perfectly synchronized through digital control. This means that we see here what we think we see. We cannot comprehend the gap between real and unreal. It is the same as us knowing that a film consists of 24 pictures per second - but we still are not able to distinguish them.
The individual scenes in Shared Moment come to a head in the same “moment.” It is the moment in which the observed people all look into the camera at the same time; the moment when they are returning the viewers’ look. The subjects form the gaps in Bogers’ rigid system. Bogers’ system fixes the intimate moments of “realities,” which are lived independently from each other into “tableaux vivants.” These moments are space less, timeless, and reduced to the smallest possible denominator. It is only then that “shared moments” really take place.
Peter Bogers’ latest video installation, Without Words II, uses the simultaneity of scenes in a similar manner. However, the scenes take place independently and are not self-produced but “found footage.” The work consists of six videos, which are seen on six TVs that differ totally in size and design. The monitors stand on a specially designed table, which separates the monitors from the viewers. We see six people, probably newscasters or television presenters, talking to us independently in different languages, as if offering a personal dialogue to each visitor. We cannot follow what they say because we either do not understand their language or what they say is drowned out by the other “talking heads.” Every now and then all six videos are suddenly synchronized in slow motion. In addition, the sound, i.e. the talking, is extremely slowed and barely audible. The persons appear to be speechless for a short time. Their frozen faces amplify this impression. Before, we could hardly understand anything in the Babel of the six people, and now the speakers seem strangely and eerily removed from their busy behavior. Their expressions appear to be deformed and at the same time liberated. Even now we do not get the sense of their messages, as we cannot even read their lips. They come across as strange, yet they still leave us with the impression that we are able to read between the lines and discover something hidden. Still, nothing is revealed. After a short time the staggering is over and the perpetual drone of TV culture is reestablished. It is a culture that does not have anything to say, either with or without words. Peter Bogers constantly leads our view behind the surface of the media. He shows us that behind the surface we do not find the reality but only one of its many media-formed variations. The “intestines” of the media simply do not have souls.