You Are Prouvost
Laure Prouvost, ‘You Are the Only One’, film still, 2008 Courtesy of the artist and LUX

Gerard Byrne, Why it’s time for imperial, again, 1998-2000

Sarah Forrest, Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence, 2012

Laure Prouvost, Owt and You Are The Only One, 2008

Peter Rose, Secondary Currents, 1982-90

Readings by:

Laura Edbrook & Sarah Forrest and Suzanne van der Lingen

8.30pm Wednesday 25 February | CCA Cinema

With thanks to the Glasgow Film Festival for its generous support

Suzanne van der Lingen presents a programme of artist film and video exploring the relationship between text and moving image. Through playful processes of translation, (mis)communication, and editing, these works investigate formal overlaps between the structures of language and film.

‘Language is not a neutral medium that passes freely and easily into the private property of the speaker’s intentions; it is populated—overpopulated—with the intentions of others.’
Mikhael Bakhtin [1]

Reading in the Dark presents artist film, video and writing with the aim of further investigating a recurring theme within my own art practice—namely, the relationship between the moving image and language, and intermedial acts of (mis)translation, (mis)appropriation and (mis)interpretation. The moving image as textual object has been a prominent motif in artist film and video, with an emphasis on the limits and merits of medium-specific materiality and intertextual potentials.

In The Dialogic Imagination, Mikhael Bakhtin wrote, ‘as a living, socio-ideological concrete thing, as heteroglot opinion, language, for the individual consciousness, lies on the borderline between oneself and the other.’ [2] Bakhtin’s concept of the utterance is the act of adapting a word or text to one’s ‘own semantic and expressive intention.’ [3] The utterance is not a singular, definitive appropriation, as it invites further readings to continue to shape and respond to the potentials in its form. It is this participatory act of semantic appropriation that fascinates me, not only in written or spoken language but in the moving image as text.

In the first instalment, I looked at the act of translation, specifically in the form of subtitles, as the fundamental relationship between the self and the other. This second instalment, a screening presented as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2015, examines the dynamics between (source) text, moving image and the screen, with emphasis on a layering and refraction of visual language through a shift in, or apposition of, material forms of text.

Peter Rose’s Secondary Currents, 1982-1990, an excerpt of which was included in the first instalment of this project, is shown here in full. His aural and visual compositions loosen the relationship between language and its representation/ articulation, engaging with language as a fluid, rhythmic, and erratic layering of expressions. There is an overwhelming sense of futility and satirical exasperation in Rose’s depiction of the disconnect between representation and meaning.

As Scott MacDonald describes, ‘Rose’s burlesque recalls viewers’ early experiences hearing particular, melodramatic versions of unfamiliar tongues and confronting the fact that translations of what was heard were inevitably inadequate.’ [4]

Likewise, Sarah Forrest’s Absence of Evidence is not Evidence of Absence, 2012, employs quite a literal visual layering of image, screen and reflection. The physical attributes of the depicted screen as well as the videos shown within the work parallel the narration that accompanies the imagery. This dynamic confluence and divergence of the voiceover and visuals simultaneously obscures and opens up a multitude of readings, the work offering a self-reflexive meditation on the multiplicity of interpretation.

In Why it’s time for Imperial, again, 1998-2002, Gerard Byrne adapts a 1980s car advertisement into a theatrical dialogue. This appropriation of a magazine text into a script for a video work recontextualises the original text and shifts its materiality to actualise something it never was in the first place. In his essay ‘History Pictures’, Mark Godfrey writes, ‘Byrne’s camera work, editing and sound editing further de-naturalize the scripts by drawing attention to themselves rather than to the spoken words’. [5] Thus, Byrne’s transposition of the advertorial text into a script for actors opens the text to a new material interpretation, a process to be repeated again and again through further readings and iterations.

A similar dynamic can be found in You are the Only One, 2007, in which Laure Prouvost addresses the audience as if each member is singularly and intimately engaged by the work. It mimics the language used in advertisements and spam messages, questioning how singular and ‘authentic’ the message really is. In Hito Steyerl’s essay ‘A Thing Like You and Me’, she asks, ‘what if the truth is in [an image’s] material configuration? What if the medium is really a message? Or actually—in its corporate media version—a barrage of commodified intensities?’ [6] In this work, Prouvost appropriates a ‘corporate media’ approach and plays with the intensities of such a model to interrogate the relationship of intentions between the message, the artist and the viewer.

In Owt, 2008, Prouvost intercuts a monologue with her own visual and vocal interjections. The main protagonist in the video states, ‘maybe there is no difference between artist film and video and cinema, but if there is I reckon it has something to do with language. Filmmakers seem quite comfortable with the idea that there is a language of cinema, whereas artists seem to rebel against the idea of any language at all.’ [7] Perhaps it isn’t so much a rebellion against the idea of language as such, but the idea of language as a system with rigid values. Instead, the focus appears to be on the potentials of the medium as a semantic catalyst, with the viewer as participant.

The works included here share a common interest in a layering of language (whether oral, written or visual), an obfuscation of explicit meaning, and intertextual readings. Each work displays an often humorous self-awareness of its material form and the ramifications its physical qualities have in terms of expression and interpretation. There is an openness for the viewer to engage with the (image) text as utterance. The screening is an invitation to you to explore your own intentions in your reading of the work.

Suzanne van der Lingen is an artist, writer and curator based in Edinburgh.

1. Bakhtin, Michael, (1981). The dialogic imagination . Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 294.
2. Ibid.
3. Ibid.
4. MacDonald, Scott, (ed.), (1995). Screen Writings: Texts and Scripts From Independent Films . London: University of California Press. p. 1 57.
5. Godfrey, Mark, (2008). ‘History Pictures’ in Gerard Byrne: The Present Tense Through The Ages . London: Walther König/Lisson Gallery. p. 18.
6. Steyerl, Hito, (2010). ‘A Thing Like You and Me’ in E-Flux, journal #15, 04/2010. Available at:
7. Owt . dir. Laure Prouvost. UK, 2007. DVD.