The Island of Pelicans

by Sharon Grace

Rain memory—exile—solitude—phenomenal beauty—and the spirit of durée, the time of the lived body, haunt the spaces of Pelican Island, the site of a former state penitentiary in the Bay of San Francisco.

In their installation The Island of Pelicans, Bull.Miletic have created a sound and video composition, that echoes between two different eras, the durée of an extended exile in the past and the contemporary body in today’s time-famine. Using two monitors aligned to suggest a minimalist landscape, the screen space of the viewer becomes the space of the exile. Memory of outside becomes a form of interiority. An excess of interiority creates a wilderness in the mind caught between the tumult of memories and the compression of the space.

Art that captures the Esprit du Temps—the Zeitgeist—has powers to resonate in the imagination in ways that artwork unaware of its historical time cannot. Video as a time-based, purely electronic form—analogous to the human nervous system—arguably has the potential to evoke a powerful vibratory response in its audience. However, in video art, with its juxtapositions, montage, and variable durations, historical time is often in question. There remains a residual, subliminal question of the historical time of video art.

In this liminal era of shifting forms, in which the eternal verities recede from view to reappear as phantoms, reflections of what has been lost, Bull.Miletic have mapped the Esprit du Temps with a time structure that reinstates, restores, revives the durée of the lived body. A question hangs over this conception—why is it that time spent in a penal colony in which work reflective of the experience of being incarcerated there, speaks so eloquently to this historical moment?

Through the intricate interplay of differences on the video screens, between planes of golden light and shadows in repetitions of sequences, the movement of time becomes spatialized in the minimalist palette of light phenomena, of the sun's photons as a metaphor of the universe. Sunlight is transformed from photons to video electrons, which become a sensual physical presence in the space. Light then, as both space and atomic time, inflected by shadows and sound. Memory of the outside becomes a form of interiority. An excess of interiority can produce immensity's of mind, leaps of the imagination. The outside resides in memory.

In this time of instantaneity the time of the machines—the endless simulcast, with the collapse of duration, perspective has been lost. Life is lived in the endless present of the endless simulcast. Renaissance perspective with its vanishing point off in the distance seems sentimental, a lost relic in the time of simultaneity, where the starting point joins the finish. The question remains: Can duration be reinvented, perspective returned? By shifting the emphasis from the logical progression of images to the physical experience of the image itself—a pure optical and sound situation, Bull.Miletic reinvent the space of time. Their work outlines a conception of the world in which continuity prevails over fracture. This continuity is conceived in dynamic terms, as a passage, a transit from one determination of being to another. Renaissance perspective returns as excitations of the minds eye, photons and electrons fading to black in the eye, are lighting the imagination.

Published in "The Island of Pelicans," Circa Gallery, Montreal, 2003. All rights reserved.