Emptiness of Attention


"Today it is impossible to talk about the development of the audiovisual without also talking about the development of virtual imagery and its influence on human behaviour, or without pointing to the new industrialisation of vision, to the growth of a veritable market in synthetic perception and all the ethical questions this entails. […] primarily in relation to the philosophical question of the splitting of viewpoint, the sharing of perception of the environment between the animate (the living subject) and the inanimate (the object, the vision machine)." Paul Virilio, Die Sehmaschine, Merve, Berlin, 1989, p. 136

This thought formulated by philosopher, media critic and theoretician of speed Paul Virilio in "The Vision Machine" (title of the original edition: La machine de vision, 1988) more than 20 years ago could also have been the starting point for Bernd Oppl in his studies of awareness and artistic investigation into the conditions of perception. This idea is continued in his multimedia installations, where the objects - models of architecture and stage sets that seem to have been generated from our collective memory of film architecture - become subjects and turn into actors. The artist plays with his viewers' conditioned perception, which has been schooled on the spatial strategies and possibilities of popular cinema. Doors, windows or stairs, for example, were often employed by Alfred Hitchcock as so-called "McGuffins", objects that trigger tension and advance the action without being of any interest or significance in themselves. Bernd Oppl makes McGuffin into the leading actor.

Knowledge of the history of film and technology influences the settings, either directly or at times indi- rectly. The first film studio of Thomas Alva Edison, the "Black Maria", was a simple black box, its roof opening in order to let in as much sunlight as possible, for the film material was not very light-sensitive. The whole building was set on a turning platform so that it could be directed towards the sun. The heavy kinetograph only permitted frontal shooting on the proscenium-type stage. About 35 years later, in Buster Keaton's short film "One Week", it was already possible to make a house of prefabricated components rotate. This house was the original for the architectural model in the installation emptiness of attention, 2012. Bernd Oppl used the cinematic montage as the pattern for a spatial model, which now rotates - embedded in a black cube -, alternately showing an interior and a facade element on its upper side. A camera has been placed inside the cube, i.e. hidden away; it records the side of the model that is not currently visible on the outside. This recording is enlarged and projected onto the gallery wall. The aban- doned house where something must have happened, as a table and chairs have fallen over, is in a state of perpetual rotation. There is no escape.

Ingeborg Erhart