In a memorable scene from Woody Allen’s Deconstructing Harry, an actor goes through his domestic morning routine before arriving on set. As he readies himself, the actor’s family are perplexed to discover his physical appearance to be not quite recordable—he is all too literally ‘out of focus’. Characters such as this are a recurring motif in the video works of Knut Åsdam, who often presents figures contradicting the fictional nature of their fate. In the artist’s recent video installations ‘Tripoli’ and ‘Abyss’, he ingeniously deconstructs, not only the films’ characters, plots and places (London and Tripoli), but also cinematic language at large, while continuing to make use of that very language.
Åsdam’s deconstructions enable him to experiment with the relations between space and subjectivity. In his architectural installation Psychasthenia at Bergen Kunsthall, the gallery space encircles the viewer within a huge mesh of fences that also interrupt the view of a cinema screen on the far wall, on which ‘Abyss’ is projected. The observer is also invited to view ‘Abyss’ as a ‘regular’ cinema projection, viewable on the rear side of the screen in another room located behind the first. Similarly sized to the first, the second space is filled with rows of benches from which to comfortably view the film. Green plants cover the back wall, and this alternate space masquerades as a garden of sorts.
Spectators are free to walk back and forth between these two spaces, but access is impeded by Åsdam’s barricades. As a whole, the installation proposes a ‘walking space’ inside the world of cinema. Somewhere in-between a gallery, movie theatre and construction site, Psychasthenia is an ambiguous mise-en-scène of the exclusionary, vision-based phenomenology of the white cube, as well as an attempt to break with this pattern. It reinserts the spectator as a body in an unexpected field of action. For what purpose?
Åsdam’s cinematic hall appears as an imploded space subject to deterritorial-
isation. The spectator can do nothing in such a cage apart from confirm the rules of the game: it diminishes agency. The question then remains whether ‘going to the movies’ can ever offer a liberating distance to one’s own imprisonment in the human and / or metropolitan condition. In the logic of Åsdam’s urban spaces, the receptacle of the body seems doomed to circulate just as vulnerably as it constructs itself into
a placeless commodity.
The scenes in ‘Abyss’ are also, in myriad ways, slightly out of sync. The film consists of a sequence of events that are always suggested (but never clarified) as parts of a coherent, narrative development. The protagonist’s relationships with other people are hinted at, but never really defined. The initial notion of a narrator-subject is shaken off through a dialectic of technical allusion and dissolution, as Åsdam lets a voyeuristic point of view dissolve into a multi-perspectival, de-personalised aesthethic, or else through a suddenly accelerated editing rhythm.
Realising the manipulative dynamic of the installation, one gets the unpleasant sense that not only camera but all human actions and interests are dictated by
their environment, whether on-screen or in real space. In both films, characters lack a real location, and a presentness to perceive and act within; instead, they appear as prisms for an objective, spatial, capitalist logic. Åsdam’s cinema is fenced into a physical and metaphorical construction site: it is a language for building ideas about meaning, space and subjectivity (which evaporate back into technique), and it also documents physical configurations, transactions and recirculation. In the central scene of ‘Abyss’, the protagonist visits a construction site for recreational purposes, with a male companion. ‘It’s like death and resurrection all at once, except you don’t know what is dying and what is being reborn’, she wonders, trying to place the young man into a good photographic pose in front of the giant cement mixing trucks. ‘Good shot! Get some money!’ he replies. ‘What about that cement mixing? Pretty intense stuff! Look at the speed… the beauty… all the money’.
Maybe because the woman photographs the mechanics of the site, she is able to reflect on how her body is spatially constituted—an experience shared by the fenced-in audience. Soon after, walking through a park, her body appears to sink, seemingly letting go of spatial logic. ‘Something’s changed in me. I guess I have to move through the city. Find a spot to focus, a way to jack in,’ she muses. ‘The edges are all blurry without anything meaningful to relate to, I’m finding myself in the space I thought belonged to me before.’
Paal Andreas Bøe is a writer based in Bergen and Istanbul