Space Place Experience…

Stephanie Kauffman

What is it to experience a place? If the fundamental qualities of experience are awareness, perception, and embodiment, can these qualitative aspects of “being there” be affected, stimulated, explored, or unveiled within an immersive video installation?

Perception is a constant folding and unfolding of information into the self, a process for developing awareness for the self in relation to all else. To perceive, is to have a history, a memory, an identity, a set of expectations, and it is at its base, rooted in a history of prior experiences. These prior experiences, over time collect and bundle together establishing perspective(s). Perspective is a point of access to a given idea, situation, etc. It is a view, and although it may appear complete, it is always limited to the perceptions of that individual. So to have a perception, a perspective, is also to have a sense of self. A personal identity or subjectivity, a certain awareness gleaned from past experiences, encounters, and observations. An awareness that suggests the ability to interpret and understand something, but only in relation to the milieu of a self.

Identity then must be constructed; it needs a foundation or belief system. “Perception places us immediately within memory, where the present is determined by the past. For memory has two aspects: inscription on one hand, and contraction on the other.” It requires a lens through which everything is captured, filtered, processed. Any authority of a given perspective in a situation in this way has become visible through the currents, tracings that are at the core of the subjective identity. Memories, dreams, recollections of moments are all processed through this same lens. The self establishes it’s identity as a palimpsest of experiences, all of which have encouraged or instilled a set of beliefs, morals, desires, interests, pursuits, but most important, a sense of presence in the world.

Perception then, may serve both as a frame from which we derive societal norms and conventions, but also as a means for unveiling, and tapping into something completely new within a broader context of the world or universe. The individual’s perception, then, is one frame or point of access within a larger, ongoing sequence of images (potential perceptions). Additionally, there is a durational gap between an encounter and an action, and it is within this gap that all potential effect is built. This interval or gap is what Bernard Cache called the “zone of indeterminitation.” A space where new potential ways of seeing, and discovering new ways of being, may be accessed. Our perception thus, is inherently bound to our own potential as the initial moment that will lead to either affirmation of a current sense of self, or in unlocking new potentials. This direction, however, is ultimately determined by our own openness and/or personal needs.

However, an individual exists as both mind and body. Perhaps it is this duality that lead Henri Bergson to believe that although access to reality exists through our perceptions (of images), we cannot let those perceptions deceive us into believing that we are the “provisional center” of all images. Even though our body is the central dominant image from which our world of consciousness is derived, alone it cannot constitute a center. This is because the universe is always both larger and smaller than any singular being.

Perception happens in cognition, a mind. In addition to perception, there is affect. Affect takes place in a body, as sensation. The body is an ever-advancing object through space and time, through past, present, and memory. Body combined with mind constitutes an ongoing, evolving process, or “becoming”.

To embody is to imply a space. Embodiment is the physical presence of an individual body in a space. To embody is to fill, and to be filled in such a way that an awareness of being occurs. An awareness that exists in time through movement and duration. The processes of perception and embodiment are naturally linked to time.

Time can be described as a succession from a past, through a present, to a future. In this way, to be in time is also to be in movement through it. Thus, being in time is to be in a present, but this present can only be observed through a past. Consequently, it is through this striation of time from which a past/present duality emerges to (in)from our habits, laws, conventions, or foundations. Memories of certain events, moments, help to instill our sense of self, but also work to maintain societal conventions. These “active memories” justify aspects of the self to the self. These memories may be imbedded in objects, photos, memorialbabilia; artifacts or souvenirs of a past. Such memories can be close to our rational conscious surface, thus suggesting certain reasoning for the way we are. Other, older, deeper memories, however, which must be triggered, linger within us as well. These kind of memories are what Bergson called “inactive memories” and what Proust called “involuntary memory”. This sort of memory, this deep-rooted memory, untarnished by selective forces of consciousness, have the ability to reveal our inner truths. But, access to this deep subconscious cannot be gained through a simple will to remember; rather it must be triggered by an event (or perception) that is uncanny and outside our own realm of habituated reactions. In other words, to generate a true understanding, potential, or possibility of/for oneself, we must be pushed beyond (aural) perception to (visceral) affection. We must be stimulated by something outside of (our conditioned) selves.

Deleuze believed that time itself is something that we feel, something that affects us. Suggesting that experience of time is a persistently hovering “virtual” potential, which
must be tapped. “The topology of the virtual is the self-varying deformation and continuous transformation of the implicit. Affect can grow to be autonomous to the degree that it escapes confinement; its potential openness lies in its sharing of the virtual.”

True experience of time then remains virtual until it can be actualized. To actualize can also be to create, and in this way, Time, then, can only be measured or quantified through something created within it. Time is then, the time it takes (to finish a painting, write a poem). To recognize time in this sense is to see through the past as a collection of (hi)stories, beyond the future as space only to be suggested and guessed at, and to rather seek the moment of experience of the here and now, but this must be instigated. Perhaps near to what Bergson called duree, “where the apparently opposing notions of duration and succession come together.”

“Perception is master of space in the exact measure in which action is master of time.”

What is reality if not a subjective experience?

Embodiment is the presence of an individual in a space, perception is cognitive recognition of certain visual and tactile qualities, and affection is sensations activated within the self. All of these aspects, continually work together, and inform the mind and body of the place and placement of an individual in a given time and space.

However, to be in a space and to experience the qualities of it may or may not happen in such a linear, striated way. Bergson suggested that in fact what is the true Real is abstract time and movement, and what is precisely not real is a concrete duration. “What is real is the continual change of form: form is only a snapshot view of transition… we see forms, but forms are outlines of movements.”

In this way perhaps our perceptions of “the real” are akin to the after-image in Cinema? As the after-image is the residue that a sequence of images creates in the mind of the viewer. An image that seems complete, but is in fact the viewer’s interpretation of a sequence. An interpretation that filters through our conscious, but also tugs at our unconscious tracings. The image that we are left with may stand on its’ own or venture into thought.

True awareness of self can never be consistent. There is awareness of being there, of being, and being anywhere. There are intention, intuition, goals, ideals, beliefs, which may all, act as either powerful hurdles or springboards for open access to oneself. Beyond awareness of a self, though, there is also actualization of a self. So that simply being aware doesn’t necessarily constitute an actualization. Within modern society, after all, there are infinite obstacles for such an understanding that go beyond personal limitations.

“In the end, access to my own private thoughts is every bit as mediated as access to the inner reality of a brick or leaf. Reality is partly objective and partly perspectival. It is partly real, partly of a narrative character, and partly the effect of political displacements.”

There is also the phenomenon of standardization of self-identification. Where, although possibilities for new kinds of exchanges may emerge or open up, there is also a devalue of their exchange. “… Historically speaking, we have no idea whether we’re coming or going, whether we’re at an end or a beginning. When we look out of one eye, we’re gob smacked as we watch cultural edifices collapse on a weekly basis; but when we look out of the other eye, we see endless expanses of continuity, inertia, habit, repetition – business as usual.”

Composing a path as a movement through space, can act as an affirmation of the self. “Pedestrian movements form “real systems whose existence in fact make up the [space].” … they spatialize.” They evoke an autonomous experience by carving a path. To compose a path is to create an active passage through a territory. One strolls, one explores. It can be a method, a means for discovery, an orientation through dis-orientation, an intuitive exploration or psycho-geography. It becomes an experience in motion, and progression. An activity that is also an emergence of the body through time.

“When perception becomes purely optical and aural… we get a circuit in which the two images are constantly chasing one another round a point where real and imaginary become indistinguishable. The actual image and its virtual crystallize, so to speak. It’s a crystal-image, always double or duplicated… in the crystal … you see Time, layers of time, a direct-image. Not that movement’s ceased, but the relation between movement and time’s been inverted. Time no longer derives from the combination of movement-images (from montage), it’s the other way around, movement now follows from time… image becomes thought.”

Immersive video installation may allow for the creation of new ways of seeing. They encourage discovery through offering up worlds that are new potential ways of being. Beyond aesthetics, I believe that these qualities affect the viewer (or at least has the possibility to) on a deeper level through exploring aspects of awareness, perception, and embodiment. In this way, experience of space, place, and self may be pushed beyond traditional expectations.

Bernard Cache, Earth Moves, pp. 144
Konrad Becker, Strategic Reality Dictionary, pp 15
Deleuze On Cinema, pp 14
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, pp 23
Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, pp 23
Graham Harman, “Bruno Latour, King of Networks”, Towards a Speculative Realism, pp 79
Konrad Becker, Critical Strategies in Art and Media, pp 22
Michel Decerteau, “Walking the City”, pp 97
“On The Movement-Image,” in Negotiations 1972-1990, trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1995. pp 52

2 Responses to “Space Place Experience…”

  1. immanentterrainsp11 Says:

    P.S. Through researching and writing about these concepts, I feel like I have been drawing lots of large circles around and around. And after drawing them so many times, I began to see that they were all overlapping. That everything is connected, in so many ways, and with such layers. It made me feel like I could either keep spinning around through the circles, or stake a claim in one part with the hope of having a better angle on the rest… I’ve discovered that this is exactly what has happened. That by focusing on one area, I was able to see quite further (or close depending on how you want to think about it). Through working out these broad definitions of what experience, perception, and place were, it clarified some of my earlier confusions… but lead to a much larger question; what is the difference between perception and place?

    • Leif HUron Says:

      Perception being one’s provisional framing of place as per the inheritance of past and the sensory of the present [i.e interpretation]?

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