People move around buildings, to state the obvious; but buildings also move around people – sometimes very noticeably, as the organizers of Milch were recently reminded. Vibrations from a nearby railway station kept disrupting the careful calibration of Jonas Dahlberg’s video installation Untitled (Vertical Sliding/Horizontal Sliding), 2001, shaking equipment and causing slivers of projected light to trespass into places they shouldn’t have – a curator’s nightmare, but fortuitously underlining the themes of revelation and concealment set up in this painstakingly prepared and thoughtful piece. Built space fascinates Dahlberg, a former architecture student. His moving camera assumes an investigative stance, yet the footage it produces consistently fixes the viewer’s attention on blind spots, unknowable spaces where the camera can’t probe nor light reach.
Two freestanding projection screens, parallel to one another, show monochrome video sequences. One screen eclipses the other, forcing viewers to circle around in vain search for a vantage point permitting a simultaneous view of both. On one screen, a camera (apparently) tracking horizontally seems to travel through solid walls, revealing a sequence of empty rooms, each giving onto yet more distant spaces. With their high ceilings, paneled dadoes and polished floors, the rooms were graceful, but also tatty and melancholic – in need of renovation, as a realtor might say. Projection number two has the camera descending, elevator-style, past floor after floor, visiting a seemingly endless succession of passageways, each different yet all decorated with the same faintly patterned floral wallpaper. Light – maybe daylight, maybe artificial, it s impossible to tell – seeps from under closed doors, but there’s no reason to think anyone’s home – or rather, in their rooms, since these liminal spaces most closely resemble hotel corridors.
Appearances, of course, prove deceptive. Dahlberg’s sets are architectural models, built to a circular plan, and filmed with a centrally positioned rotating camera, hence the seamless continuity of the installation’s footage. What seem to be tracking shots are really ten-minute, 360-degree pans, describing loci that inevitably read as nodes in a labyrinth – a subtly scary one, too, since its vertical and horizontal extension implies the impossibility of finding an external vantage point. Taking the panopticon as its starring point, Dahlberg’s investigation suggests a psychoanalytic appropriation of the panoptic model, revealing the surveying self as itself both self-surveilling and vulnerable to surveillance. Might there be hiders in the house, unseen presences behind those half-closed doors and darkened entrances? The camera’s full-circle pan becomes readable as a paranoid attempt to watch one’s own back. This is territory Dahlberg has charted before, in Safe Zones I: to fetch a sweater, 1996, Spying out the apartments overlooking his, the artist found that a gun collector occupied one. Dahlberg calculated the “safe zones” in his own home, paths from room to room that were outside his neighbor’s potential line of fire. Following these, he shot photographic evidence of his neighbor’s hobby, but also videoed his own convoluted progress through the zones, a fugitive in his own house.
With the reflexive moment of philosophical thought, Cornelius Castoriadis writes, “Things are no longer simply juxtaposed: the nearest is the furthest, and the forks in the road…have become simultaneous, mutually intersecting. The entrance to the labyrinth is at one of its centers – or rather, we no longer know whether there is a center, what a center is.” And Umberto Eco observes that multicursal labyrinths (like Dahlberg’s) need no Minotaur, because in them one can make mistakes – the visitor’s own errors play the monster’s devouring role. Dahlberg’s labyrinthine experiment, manipulating categories of interior and exterior, serves as an ambiguous model of the philosophizing psyche, its mood delicately poised between lyrical reverie and creeping paranoia.
Jonas Dahlberg: Vertical Sliding/Horizontal Sliding was on show at Milch, London, UK between January 19 and April 8 2001
Text © Rachel Withers & Artforum International Magazine, Inc. 2001
Images © the artist