Palinopsia / After Image – Peer Reviews

Review One - Kurt Campbell

There is a sparse aspect to the visual treatment of this online expression related to the finitude that stalks us all. The images of pale faces are removed and cold (despite the maker’s claim of knowing those who are presented) as is the case with a death mask cast. The time-based nature of the work allows us to see an isolated face for a time, and then returns us to the blank screen after a minute or so as the face becomes increasingly transparent and eventually invisible. This is a direct and obvious link to the fleeting nature of human life. The space bar on the keyboard is the primary means of navigation used to pull more portraits into view. The space bar is conventionally used to create a break in the sentence of a text document. This interactive aspect of the work is easily translated into an object lesson: we are summoned to life at the hands of others, and then set upon a continually receding course. Despite this innovation, the grand themes of thanatology are not easily seen in this piece, but this frustration may be exactly what is intended. The refusal to fully extend thinking on death to the specificity of the individuals used in the piece is more akin to the funeral pamphlet one is given at a burial: completely incapable of capturing the nuanced language of a life, yet possessing the authority of an unequivocal ‘full stop.’ The work saddens, and leaves me wondering about ways to find other coordinates we may use to plot representations of death that has always been very much a part of the classical and religious imagination. The artist is well aware of this ancient species of writing (as per the intriguing quotations seen in the introduction to the piece) and I get the sense more will come from this initial expression of the potential of the digital humanities.

Review Two (anonymous)

Engaging with Palinopsia/After Image in the online version was at once underwhelming and mesmerizing. Having seen the ‘off-line’ version, it became somewhat challenging to engage with the work on such a small scale. The website version is inherently not as theatrical and in some ways loses the cinematic quality because of the reduced size. Engaging with the piece on one’s own also makes it an experience that is somewhat isolated. The isolated quality, while perhaps more personal, makes the loss or fade of the image less questionable. It also means that sustained viewing (the images take a long time to fully change) harder to complete.

However, after my initial somewhat impatient viewing, the work became quite mesmerizing. The slow changes to the images, when not focussed on, transfixes the viewer and instead of trying to interact with the piece, pressing space bar to generate another image can be done at a luxurious pace. Almost on a whim. This phased interaction, which is almost not an interaction, gives the piece time to breathe and become meditative. Whether or not the ideas of ‘passing time and the inevitability of death’ are conveyed is unclear. But the piece becomes quite stirring if engaged with in a slightly more passive and less expectant manner.

The link to the maker and the chosen portraits is not clearly communicated, but it does not need to be. Instead the faces become characters we can imagine stories for, or substitutes for people we know, or indeed just something visually stimulating. The mind is allowed to wander and generate ideas and stories.

What is perhaps most disturbing or intriguing about the piece is when pressing spacebar removes an image. There is a brief moment of nothing before it is replaced with another portrait. It is these moments that the reader becomes acutely aware of memory and of holding people in the photographs. Through your interaction you remove the image and it is lost. If we maintain that these images, photographs of sorts, are a memory of someone else, then the moment of removing them is quite harrowing.

Please note that my experience of the piece had no sound.