Pantalla Vigilancia © CCCB / Benet Román – La Chula Productions
I arrived at the exhibition to hear Susan Boyle in the entrance gallery, belting out her famous rendition from Les Mis that she performed on Britain’s Got Talent. This choice firmly establishes from the get-go the curators’ intent to explore the wide-ranging topic of spectator-versus-performer confusion that so defines our current era. The theme continues with an attention-grabbing geodesic dome of mirrors and projected images that introduces the concept of ‘The Star’, whether it’s Bette Davis or it’s you.
From there, rounding the corner into the darkened galleries, the visitor learns that this is not to be a passive experience. The ‘counter-point’ aspect of the exhibition allows the visitor to become the curator by selecting among a variety of videos submitted by the public in a number of categories. One click on the interactive screen and—PRESTO!—your choice is projected on the wall opposite the sports or the history or the advertising video chosen by the exhibition’s organisers. The two-minute Vimeo submissions are an ongoing aspect of the participatory aspect of this innovative exhibition.
The cinema is relegated to the role of wise old grandfather, while more contemporary aspects of the screen experience are explored in-depth. It is hard to wrap one’s mind around a topic so vast. How to choose among the infinite number of moving digital images that float through our world in the 21st century? That was the challenge of the curators, and they have met it with intelligence and grace.
I sat in a plastic folding chair enraptured by the endless loop of the sports videos. Although I am no sports fan, I was taken in by the lyrical, almost poetic, presentation of a century’s worth of moving images of athletes caught in moments that make you feel the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. The editors did a magnificent job of illustrating this theme and supplementing it with a soundtrack that sounds like a heavenly choir.
A narrow, claustrophobic gallery near the end pushes video screen images from surveillance cameras into your face, reminding us that we are also the unwitting stars of other people’s videos as soon as we step out of our homes. In between, we explore the worlds of History, Politics, Advertising, Excess and Play. ‘Excess’ includes violence and porn. (There are helpful warning labels.)
It is hard to believe that this experience of visual bombardment is so relatively new. I remember as a kid seeing one of the world’s first multi-screen film projections at the New York World’s Fair of 1964-65 and wondering, “How do they do that?”. (That fair also introduced the concept of a telephone that let you see the person you were talking to. Imagine that! In the mid-Sixties, it was only a fantasy of The Jetsons’ generation.) The first commercial film to feature split-screen, moving images was the 1966 race-car flick, Grand Prix, by John Frankenheimer. It seems like only yesterday. But it wasn’t.
So quickly has the technology evolved in the past half-century that it has swallowed up almost every aspect of our lives, as the exhibition reminds us. The power of the virtual image is intensified by its being globalised and instant.
Almost every aspect of the exhibition, from the virtual catalogue to the magical 3-D ‘markers’ of the white room at the end of the show, is available on the web version of the CCCB’s internet site. You can also download the exhibition on your iPhone and take it with you. So why go in person? Because there is still nothing like the mesmerising power of the large silver screen.
Pantalla Global, CCCB, until May 28th, 2012