Posted by Scott McEachern
What struck me most about this four-channel installation piece was the simplicity of the images on screen. Yet this very simplicity belied a deeply moving piece of film that engaged issues of life, death, fertility, pain, spirituality, transcendence. Really what I would like to offer here is a few observations, loosely tied together.
The screen with the woman hitting herself with the skull is memorable because it suggests the body is a medium by which, through the right amount of pain, we are able to transcend the physical and enter into a kind of spiritual bliss. This kind of thing, the immolation of the physical self, has a long and documented history, and is often represented in pop culture: think the albino monk in Da Vinci Code. But what makes this installation about a billion times better is that simplicity I spoke of before. The intensity of the woman hitting herself in the belly, just below her breasts, is astounding and leaves the viewer stunned.
And this idea of the body as medium is carried out in the rest of the installation. The body is a transit stop between life (earth) and death (heaven). Life is represented in the screen depicting a field of men dry-humping the ground; death is the sky, the rain, the elements—those elements of nature frightening to humankind.
Yet there is redemption in the sky as well; the single woman stands on a hill, holds her breasts to the sky, her face upturned, swaying slightly. She is elevated, enthroned on the earth and looking toward a source of transformation. She is a kind of embodiment of spirituality and faith and fertility and the primacy of woman all rolled into one.
One word about the four channels. I have seen many multi-channel installations and I never cease to be blown away every time I see one. I think that I am affected so thoroughly because of the total immersion one feels when in the middle of the four screens. The viewer is in the heart of the film, and the position implies that you are your own interpreter, so to speak, both in the physical act of viewing as well as in the act of making sense of the images. You are free to view the four screens in any many that you wish; in the exact middle, off to one side, standing in front of each screen in turn. And the implication is that the viewer thus becomes a part of the film, of the experience. The four screens is such a preferable alternative to the single, two-dimensional screen; a four screen situation is almost like seeing three-dimensions, or even four. Nevertheless, the four channels are great, and especially made sense with the Abramovic piece, as I felt involved, incorporated into the ritual of the piece.