Thursday, November 15, 2007

New Installation: The Forest

Ori Gersht’s thirteen minute The Forest (2005), screening daily at the Yale Center for British Art in one hour increments (now through December 28th), depicts a series of trees falling unobserved – save for the camera and audio recording equipment – in an undisclosed forested location or set of locations. Gersht modifies the camera location, angle of view, mobility of the apparatus, speed of the celluloid and the accompanying audio throughout, thus confirming the variability of spectatorial experience secured by a single event. That is, we see and hear differently depending on our relationship to the phenomenon: in one spot we might see a particular patterning of shadow, in another a gray light filters the dust produced by the tree’s collapse; from a position low to the ground we see the tentacle-like branches waving in the breeze, whereas a position higher up shows us a second tree being impacted by the falling object. In real time our attention may be more calibrated toward the lighting effects procured, while the use of slow motion cues us into the descending leaves.

Significantly, Gersht controls the relationship between sound and image in a manner incommensurate with visual experience: namely, the camera never searches for the source of an audio cue. We are limited to the static rectangle of the camera frame or to its fluid circular movement through space. There is always a selected sound and image, which are never modified for the presence of one or the other. Consequently, Gersht underscores the precariousness of perceptual experience: if we are not at the right place and the right moment we will necessarily miss components of the experience. The Forest represents the inherent limitations of point-of-view, even as it suggests a multiplicity of perspectives. Gersht’s cubism is revealed to be estranged from nature.

Gersht’s audio recordings, like the visual perspectives selected, also vary from instance to instance: whereas we might be given the thundering fall magnified in one moment, in the next we see the tree falling without a sound, save for the ambient canopy of hissing insects that remains nearly ubiquitous throughout the work. That Gersht reduces and even removes the audio track highlights the necessity of the apparatus in the act of hearing: if our angle of vision allows us to see, then our auditory presence makes it possible to hear.

Hence The Forest seems to confirm one of science’s more famous (perhaps initially counterintuitive) claims: that the tree which falls in the forest with no one to hear in fact does not make a sound. Therefore, Gersht’s work replicates Jean Epstein and his fellow classical film theorist’s claims for the medium’s epistemological possibility: that it can help us to conceptualize realities which our perception would seem to belie. That is, if slow motion and reverse motion aids our understanding of a universe where time is relative, The Forest’s audio manipulations assist us in conceiving of an object falling without sound. If there is no subject present to hear the collapse – be it a human being or a tape recording – then there is no sound.