Nadar1 Over Las Vegas: Bull.Miletic’s Spatial-Mechano Gymnopédies2

by Erika Suderburg
“While Marx observed that relations between people appeared to them in the fantastic guise of relations between things, and Debord noted that the relations now appeared in the form of relations between images, Le Grice notes a further change: that relations that in an older order appeared as temporal now appear to us as spatial. From the apparently unassailable logic of global capitalism to the evacuation of history from popular culture, the post-modern is spatialized. By emphasizing the event as the intersection of humans and their machines in unique and unrepeatable conjunctures, Le Grice opens us up once more to time, to history and to the utopian moment of hope for a different future, one in which neither chronology nor geography rule, but in which space/time becomes the live air in which we take our being.”
Sean Cubitt3

The work of the collaborative duo Bull.Miletic inhabits this “live air.” Their installations explore the vague interstitial synapses of visual aftereffects, our perspectival relationship to space, speed, and movement, and how visuality exists in surprising poetic interventions; memory and peripheral events captured fleetingly in binary pixels projected within architectural space.

Video (analog or digital) installation occupies a well-worn track of institutional acceptance and acquisition. Place anything into a dark room and you have instant theatricality, spectacle, narrative promise, and inescapable seduction.4 It is difficult to reinvent projected light, digital sampling from reality, and discrete sound as altered musique concrète anew as viable tropes derived from 100+ years of experimental cinema, but Bull.Miletic deftly overwrite this potentially exhausted genre with ease, wit, sympathy, and curiosity. They propose a belief in the possibility of the visual to intervene decisively in everyday patterns of perception and recall.5 Most importantly, Bull.Miletic’s work offers a temporal matrix and a spatial flux within which a viewer accessions a re-configured way of seeing, moving through pixel space awash in a myriad of possibilities.

Bull.Miletic’s production is heir to and resonant with an eclectic array of space/time manipulators, which is to say artists who have been intrigued by a long list of possibilities including: total environments, audience interactivity, early cinema’s recording primacy, abstract film, narrative as secondary to “pure” retinal pleasure, and a theoretical re-education aligning optical imaging with scientific, sociological and philosophical investigations. This is an eccentric and still mutating continuum whose earlier time-line could encompass Ernie Gehr’s Supreme Velocity (1970), Bruce Nauman’s Corridor Installation (Nick Wilder Installation) (1970), Joan Jonas’s Vertical Roll (1972), Yoko Ono’s Painting to Let The Evening Light Come Through (1961/66), Robert Irwin’s disc paintings (1966-69), Thierry Kuntzel’s Nostos I (1979) and Nostos II (1984), and (the automated cinema machine that helped capture) Michael Snow’s La Région Centrale (1971). It also includes otherworldly alchemical touchstones like Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s Light Space Modulator (1921-30), Marcel Duchamp’s turntable-launched Rotoreliefs (1935), and contemporary trip-hop raves. As Moholy-Nagy said of Light Space Modulator, “when the light prop was set in motion for the first time in 1930, I felt like the ‘sorcerer’s apprentice.’ The mobile was so startling in its coordinated motion and space articulation of light and shadow sequences that I almost believed in magic.”6

Retinal brain candy, perceptual exercises, or pleasurable puzzles—all these works contribute to the fabric that informs Bull.Miletic’s practice. They are located tangentially (as one can only be a tangent in a nest of diversionary tendrils) in the “expanded cinema” continuum, a moment in art-historical time that privileged the exhaustive possibilities of aural and visual manipulation. This continuum includes video and film projection via adaptive human behavioral theory, and the reinterpretation of phenomenological investigation.7 This is now a comfortably historicized period that defines what installation has become institutionally and conceptually. It is also an art-historical discourse that only erratically penetrates the digital or “new media” arts. These are genres or categories that oftentimes appear to labor at a frenzied ahistorical reinvention of the wheel with theoretical underpinnings uninformed by the history of experimental cinema, video art, art history, or visual cultural studies. SIGGRAPH, gaming as language structure, digital delivery of “content,” and ungendered avatars might be put forth as new inventions of the digital age but their historical origins are neither difficult to unearth nor particularly obscured in the mists of time.8 Bull.Miletic’s origin story sprouts from a “hummus” made up of part electronic cinema, structural film, materialist film, American landscape video installation, and the Mars rover.9

They careen between genres firmly rooted in the present but gregariously respectful and emboldened by some of the more esoteric permutations of film and video deployment. In Digital Cinema and Experimental Film, Malcolm Le Grice, restless with this sloppy cooption of experimental cinema into the digital age, dissects what constitutes a “digital” cinema and how this interfaces with “expanded cinema” as a term and as a text. In the words of Le Grice, “the European interpretation (which is being used here) was largely characterized by a concern to bring the cinematic experience consciously into the space of the spectator through performed action and installation.”10 Le Grice sees conflicting definitions of “expanded cinema,” both the term and Gene Youngblood’s 1971 book of the same title that engendered the term—as an intriguing frisson between cinemas experimental tropes, computer as technological and conceptual tool, and the broader field of knowledge from which these methodologies derive and to which they may contribute.

Drift

Operating as artists in a semblance of a continuum is increasingly more difficult in the absence of memory, historically and fetishistically mistaken constructs of the new (read “digital”) and general cultural amnesia. As witnessed by the recent beatification, upon his recent demise, of the criminal, former US President Ronald Reagan, it takes but a second to erase and re-program even recent history. Bull.Miletic, though certainly not explicitly political in intent, do operate in a kind of “agitated drift,” as a two-headed flâneuse/flâneur, propelled through cityscape and landscape fueled by collisions between images, mediated space, and the way in which we are channeled to perceive the world around us.11 Their “digital drift” reminds us of ignored histories, what we assume to be timeless, and how we organize our vision via urban construction. In “drift” perhaps we are less likely to accept images at face value or a bold-faced mediated re-writing of the recent past. Bull.Miletic dialogue as a collaborative team with one another, but they also have a dialogue with what it means to collect and disseminate slices of things we pass over, refuse to spend time with, or never allow into the edges of our compromised perception. This is a space of ennui infected with a celebratory and exploratory tinge. We use just a fraction of our brain, and Stan Brakhage always contended we had given over cinematic vision to the aping of theatrical narrative. He preached that filmmakers should take film back as an optical tool answerable to the use of the photographic for something other than mimicry and verisimilitude. The flâneuse/flâneur constructs a city to her/his own mapped specification, inflected with supersaturated shifting modes of sensual interface.

An optometrist recently recounted that she has been diagnosing a decline of far vision in young children. She explained that so much time is spent in front of flat, luminous screens that the optical nerve is literally deadapting: slowly becoming unable to perceive things that exist in the distance. According to the optometrist, our distance vision is dangerously compromised. Flat screen perceptual ability is consuming our ability to see an actual highway sign, mountain, or receding highway. Bull.Miletic are certainly of this digitized flat space operating in a reduction of the “real” (however one defines this term). Their flat projections are surrounding and encircling, skewing spatial orientation in consort with material archived from the “real world,” reduced to flat screenillusionary recall. This movement between 2-D and 3-D space, aural resonances, color, and speed is cognizant with, and fine-tuned to augment and illuminate the way a body moves between flat space and whole space and necessarily conflates the two; therefore, constructing a new inhabitable spatial hybrid. This deflection bounce enriches our peripheral vision while refocusing our drift beyond a movement in illusionist space, cinematic narrative, or the facile replication of “everyday life.” Bull.Miletic’s installations contribute alternative responses to accelerated mediated space and the overwhelming sensory input that a pair of human eyes can process. There is a Slow Food movement and perhaps Bull.Miletic are inventing a Slow Seeing movement that is committed to a perceptual challenge: a visual paradigm shift working against the warp-speed consumption of images sans digestion and reflection.12 Slow Seeing would neither necessarily mean a deceleration of delivered images nor slower moving images, but it might infer a re-education in optical processing, and/or a tweaking out the nuance and returning for (re)viewing as a matter of everyday practice.

Bull.Miletic operate in a continuation of the past avant-gardes. They are informed by nostalgia for the reinvention of opticality, third dimensions and perpetual invention. This is a positivist realignment: a longing for the ability to believe one can understand through seeing and a poetics of tactile opticality. Encountering their work for the first time, it is apparent that a viewer can construct a multiplicity of shifting interpretations—an aggregate of meaning partially constructed and partially evocative of questions that will never be answered. When you are “in” a Bull.Miletic space, you are “within” perceptual possibilities that will inflect all subsequent sensual experience.

Revolving

“‘Viewed’ through the lens of travel, the relationship between film and the architectural ensemble unfolds as a practice of mobilizing viewing space that invites inhabitation. Through shifts in viewing positions and the traversal of diverse spatio-temporal dimensions we have outlined, the activity of the spatial consumer has come to the foreground of our picture. The spatial culture that film has developed, offering its own vedute, is a mobile architectonics of traveled space. Films’ spectatorship is thus a practice of space that is dwelt in, as in the built environment.”
Giuliana Bruno13

Previously, we gathered in semi-darkened spaces to view panoramas, precursors to the contemporary installation art certainly, but also indicative of a desire to codify and facilitate seeing as a consumable spectacle. Why travel to Cairo when you could pay five cents to view a wraparound painting of it?14 Artists at the turn of the century engaged passionately with what Giuliana Bruno calls the “ciné city.”15 Bull.Miletic resides in Bruno’s traveled projection space. This space is geologic, architectonic, and vibrating with indeterminacy. The “found” architecture that often situates installation art itself dovetails with Bruno’s mobile shifts in viewing positions and photographic assimilations. It is inculcated with Bull.Miletic’s plotting of interior and exterior space: the rift in the cities’ fabric and the strength of the urban skin that is tapped into by camcorder. Bull.Miletic’s camcorder becomes a visitor unsatisfied with still frame capture. Bruno speaks of the birth of cinema as “a product of spatial culture, film is a haptic space that is simulated travel. It has housed our cartographic anxiety and its release. Its archaeology is a touching geography—a map of our passages through a brief moment in space, reinvented as we reach the end of our map zone.”16

One of Bull.Miletic’s queries is how does this “ciné,” now “digi” movement-space, inform a 21st century mediated space. What are the traces, and what do we see in relation to cinematic history and its digital reinscription in the contemporary urban topos? The panorama haunts their installation Heaven Can Wait, which consists of edits of 360° pans, shot from revolving restaurant windows from Vienna to Vancouver. The multi-channel video installation is designed to unspool sequentially over monitors arranged in a 360° circle floated at eye-level. The spectator might pivot to follow the arc, experiencing the pan as it passes from day to night, night to day, city to city, or fixate on the cities’ passage through the arbitrary central monitor of choice, which is also concurrently in a state of constant flux, as images moving through it along a left to right pan axis are taken up on adjacent monitors. The other monitors are seen in peripheral vision or not at all, aftereffects or remnants of an overflight. This prepared space of being engulfed pulls against the seemingly effortless, dreamlike movements of the restaurant’s slowly unfolding sectional framing of urban vistas. The trance-like revolution of the passenger in the revolving restaurant surveying the space has a different positionality than the viewer standing in the center of the installation space. The visitor may sample a linear progression where edited time operates in a loop, while the installation participant samples souvenirs with a potentially mobile body.

As a single-channel tape, Heaven Can Wait elicits a kind of transfixed approximation of the optically funneled ride available to a restaurant rider. The installation complicates this relationship of passenger to framing. A 360° physical encircling of monitors, as well as a constant screen and monitor flow of left to right movement, construct the mobile but also proscribed viewpoint of the spectator. This mobility of the spectator is in contradistinction to the stationary restaurant patron who singles out the revolving restaurant precisely because it can provide an automated change of vista. The spectator can passively see/move while sitting still. This fixed position in a moving location (the revolving restaurant platform) is distinct from the spectator who may choose to move around the installation testing the 360° viewing cycle that has been set up for her/him. Held aloft in the revolving restaurant, this sweeping survey is located as close to omniscience as an earth-bond being may get. The revolving restaurant is a 20th century modernist reinvention of the 19th century’s panorama space—both are indicative of a promise of inclusive and total regard and the illusion of gathering all views of the place you live in or visit, simultaneously, with minimum effort.

Clearly, the appropriate way to continue writing about Heaven Can Wait would be to situate it in LA’s closest revolving restaurant. So that is what I did, removing myself with laptop, Bull.Miletic’s DVD, and a debit card to the top of the Bonaventure Hotel, which drifts majestically over downtown Los Angeles at a speed that would nary jiggle a salad leaf. Writing while revolving diverts synapse paths and requires the consumption of questionable food. Even though I was unable to hold out for the dusk (dinner service) that acts as surprise stutter jump cut in both versions of Heaven Can Wait, I do think my in situ experiment successfully funneled my brain-hand-eye-screen coordination in a different and skewed tangent.

It could be that the process of semi-simultaneous eating, looking, spinning, and writing is much closer to an ersatz synesthesia: a projection into space of the possibility of multiple cross pollinations suggestive of an entirely new sensual interface. Synesthesia may be part of installation’s grounding and potential beyond architectonic manipulations and optical fields.17 Synesthesia implies a multi-modal and cross-platform communication; for example, hearing colors or tasting shapes. A fanciful projection, but one that through my playful use and experience of the work Heaven Can Wait suggests that the revolving ascertainment of the city is but an illusion of inclusion. This is an assimilation of an environ that one may be literally grounded in but can only “know” from on high. The passage from day to night in steady revolution is a comfortingly totalizing experience.

Immensity

Heaven Can Wait samples a bone-white Las Vegas day morphing instantaneously into night as a small-lit passenger balloon appears on the horizon and travels parallel to the restaurant, drifting out of frame as we incrementally and effortlessly traverse 360°. This speck of a balloon catapulted me instantaneously back to Nadar and the wonder of the first aerial images of Paris, followed closely by his artificially lit sewer photographs. This aerial to subterranean move is in sync with Bull.Miletic’s shift from desert floor, to escalator to elevator plunge in Whir, or in their attention to the macrocosmic surface detail of Alcatraz steel shifting into surrounding ocean surf in The Island of Pelicans. This strategy speaks to their dependence upon and fascination with mechanisms that aid or facilitate sensory experience; for example, adapted radio controlled cars in You Are Here, a methodical surveillance bunker pan in Sighting Unseen, the convention of early cinema’s title-card framing in Gymnopedies and the exquisite revolving restaurant assist in Heaven Can Wait.

“One might say that immensity is a philosophical category of daydream. Daydream undoubtedly feeds on all kinds of sights, but through a sort of natural inclination, it contemplates grandeur. And this contemplation produces an attitude that is so special, an inner state that is so unlike any other, that the daydream transports the dreamer outside the immediate world to a world that bears the mark of infinity.”
Gaston Bachelard18

In Bull.Miletic’s You Are Here, immensity and impossibility are captured through a radio controlled mobile mounted camcorder skittering across the floor of Death Valley, California. This is a bargain basement Mars rover, eagerly investigating mysterious rocks and other terra expanses. The footage of this exploratory journey takes place at ankle level, moving back and forth looking for a smooth path, rocketing towards huge isolated boulders, and stopping for contemplation. This landscape, Death Valley’s “Racetrack” lake bed (probably one of the most recognizable landscapes in the Western US), is then brought back into the gallery space, projected life-size on a wall before which sits a centered, waist-high LCD screen ticking out measured texts rendered in Bull.Miletic-created, chunky green Pac-Man SynneScript™ typeface.19

“Racetrack” is accessed by a sputtering but dependable mobile camcorder. “Racetrack’s” representation fills up one wall; an infinite Southwestern desertscape that screams car commercials, earthworks, land speed tests, and geologic mysteries. This is an immensity that seems hardwired into visual consciousness. I have written obsessively on the southwestern US desert in relation to image making but it seems again striking that Death Valley is used in so many mediated forms to represent the infinite, the impossible, or the desolate that can be conquered only by the Hummer or the endangered desert tortoise.20 Our vehicles conquer the sublime here on “Racetrack,” smothering awe in order to sell another earth-ripping conveyance. However, Bull.Miletic’s benign, miniature explorer module, dutifully bouncing over furrows of hardened lakebed, actually reinvigorates the site by recounting its “original” mystery. You Are Here speaks to the unsolved wonder of this particular landscape with its mysterious isolated rocks adrift hard sandy waves. They engage in a kind of techno anthropomorphism. Their little rover stands in for us with its cheap eye and jerky transit in the midst of the unfathomable (returned to sight) despite a decade of conquering-car commercials. This is a re-imaging that dislocates our exhausted image bank. It is this re-programming that Bull.Miletic provide: a counterpoint to our willingness to assimilate what is placed before us unexamined.

We still stand in our darkened installation projection room in thrall displaced into an experience of vastness through a robotic intermediary whose jerky movement and erratic pauses remind us of context, the failures of mediated vision, and the amount of visual tinkering we assimilate as “truth.” It is akin to pulling back and seeing the city surrounding the pyramids at Giza. You Are Here reminds us of our ability to re-capture incredulity in the face of saturation. No matter how many times a Hummer tears through this lake bed, You Are Here holds out the possibility of eradicating the aftertaste of overuse by trying to see anew, but on a primary level. Bull.Miletic hold on to the wonderment, the magic of rocks that leave mysterious trails, and the overwhelming process of moving through this space, capturing this site/sight. Bull.Miletic’s lo-tech rover layers this fascination with wit and awe, a coexistence that at first seems simplistic and/or impossible but which ultimately forges the nouveau sublime, a cliché, and a trope we cannot stay away from and which holds enormous pleasure. The desert floor is a place to be traversed and often bought back as sample. The stanchion in front of the wall-sized projection locates us as museumgoer, and it focuses our attention with instruction and information. The LCD captioning device planted firmly in front of our 2-D desert floor taps out SynneScript™ text as inconclusive mystery:

“Clearly these rocks must gouge furrows as they slide across the playa surface, yet no living person has ever witnessed these amazing rocks move!”

We could take up residence indefinitely in You Are Here and wait for Bull.Miletic’s rover mechano-eye to capture an elusive ambulatory boulder. We are the witnessing body with the techno-assist prosthesis. It is refreshing to see the blocky SynneScript™ exclamation point, and comforting to think we can still be enthralled.

Enclosures

The Island of Pelicans uses two monitors side by side on the hardwood floor of a high-ceilinged, decommissioned military barracks, which is now the Headlands Center for the Arts up the coast from San Francisco. Two monitors are abutted, two “cells” that form another kind of interior island transmitting an edited loop of images from Alcatraz reflected twice, once off the monitor screen and secondarily off of the scratched, well-buffed surface of the floor. The monitors flicker and blur, morphing images of bars bisected by streams of light, metal floors pockmarked with pits and gouges, rusted rivets, a single loose white feather clinging to a metal grate, and grey churning surf. The images are not identical but leak into one another, a wave may start to crash on one monitor and finish in another. Luminous light leaking through a window and thrown out of focus may wash into the next monitor frame and trigger a second radiant blip that passes offscreen. The soundtrack is manipulated sustained passages with sounds recorded on Alcatraz: metal expanding, ocean roaring, and echoing dampened by cement and steel.

Mythic aural and visual material of a decommissioned Alcatraz is cycled onto the cell-like screens. The glow of the two monitors flashes on the patina wood floor and is mirrored by two tall windows on both sides, which frame the preserved Headlands landscape. Much of the remaining wilderness and undeveloped land in California, aside from State and Federal parkland, is preserved precisely because of its use for military bases established from statehood in 1850 to the present day. A subtle knitting of images elicit a meditation on the societal-sanctioned incarceration and conscription of selected bodies to spaces that will never be seen by the “outside” world. The space in which “to see” is offered as a byproduct of the removal of freedom—ironically, an incarceration that engenders an entirely different way of occupying space.

Sighting Unseen develops similar preoccupations with surveillance, control, landscape, and adaptive architectures, though utilizing a different kind of multi-sense apparatus. Consisting of 12 LCD screens hung from the ceiling (situated in another room in the adapted Headlands barracks), show left to right pans taken from inside twelve separate base-end stations, unveil the slit-narrowed, inadvertently Cinemascope landscapes framed via Northern California’s early 1900s coastal bunker system. Concealed speakers emit single tone reverbs that suggest synthesized foghorns emanating from multiple distances along the surveyed coast. Bunkers that look out to sea are human-made framers. Positioned inside them, the view out is channeled into a kind of boundary survey. As one base-end station’s peripheral boundary is reached, another can pick up and scan for invasion. The monitors connect through the lateral movement of the pan as bunker links to bunker. These form an unhinged panorama, a framed localizing of sight, a search for invasion that never transpired, and a cement artifact of the orientation of human sight. Like the cross-talking abutted island monitors of The Island of Pelicans, these bunkers form a definition of the limits and expansions we attach to sight; its deployment as protector and privileged sense. Sight is a sense defined as truth being explicated. In both these works, sight uncovers abandoned sites waiting for actions that will not materialize—whether they be a submarine surfacing or a successful swim by a prisoner to freedom.

The Island of Pelicans and Sighting Unseen are dual incarcerations, one in a bunker and one in a prison, both remnants of historical testing points that have been erased of human occupation, but also tricked out and brought back as historical reminders of the efficacy of sight and how we take it for granted in much the same way we take history’s veracity for granted—unquestioned and at face value (if at all). Bull.Miletic reassess how we designate containment and the spatial perimeters of a denial of movement in our truncated bunker surveillance slit and/or in our cell of confinement. Sight outside of these controlled perimeters is truncated, if not completely eradicated altogether. The absence of present-day human occupants in these environments posits the camcorder as corporal substitute, which in turn implies the body’s erasure and absence. People did take these positions, did spend months watching, and did spend a century looking out from a series of island cages where sensory input was collapsed and surreptitiously precious.

Observation Deck

Bull.Miletic’s works are derived from human-made apparatus unleashed on both cityscape and landscape. The urban site of the single-channel Whir often seems like a ride towards the promise of the modern city, the elation, speed and hidden asides that the flâneuse/flâneur can encounter. Heaven Can Wait takes us to skyscraper restaurants with a rotating view, fabricating our omnipotence. Whir continues an ongoing affair with San Francisco using it as a city of clues to mapping, topography, immersion, and escape. It becomes a stand-in for all cities. The whir of the title is literally the speed of accession and ascendancy, the rubberized vibrancy of escalator handrails, an unanswered ringing phone pulsating with blue neon strobe, a corridor with receding figure, and train tracks plunging into an obliterating tunnel. The portentous music of the noir horror flick anticipates a plethora of murderous outcomes and mysterious images; a subway car interior fades in and out of vision interlaced with over-head fluorescents rocketing past us. These image-units mesh together to form a tensile urban fabric transmitting signals that are picked up under the skin and on the subterranean tingles of an optical nerve. Whir is a trip that ends in noir subterfuge and promise, an unanswerable series of image-variables that are recombined in memory to elicit a re-spatialization of the city experience.

“To be lifted to the summit of the World Trade Center is to be lifted out of the city’s grasp. One’s body is no longer clasped by the streets that turn and return it according to an anonymous law; nor is it possessed whether as player or played, by the rumble of so many differences and by the nervousness of New York traffic. When one goes up there, he leaves behind the mass that carries off and mixes up in itself any identity of authors and spectators. An Icarus flying above these waters, he can ignore the devices of Daedalus in mobile and endless labyrinths far below. His elevation transfigures him into a voyeur. It puts him at a distance. It transforms the bewitching world by which one was ‘possessed’ into a text that lies before one’s eyes. It allows one to read it, to be the solar Eye, looking down like a god. The exaltation of a scopic and gnostic drive: the fiction of knowledge is related to this lust to be a viewpoint and nothing more. Must one finally fall back into the dark space where crowds move back and forth, crowds that, though visible from on high, are themselves unable to see down below? An Icarian fall. On the 110th floor, a poster, sphinx-like, addresses an enigmatic message to the pedestrian who is for an instant transformed into a visionary: It’s hard to be down when you’re up.”
Michel de Certeau21

De Certeau is speaking from the observation floor of the then World Trade Towers, a site now obliterated and seared into consciousness as a murderous gravesite and symbolic and literal collapse of twin capitalist monoliths, an attack on what was once the tallest buildings in the world, the assurance of capital’s achievement and dominance. The eradication of these towers immediately evinced an avalanche of US media scrambling to record US citizenry asking a question millions of other humans could easily answer: Why do they hate us? International coverage expressed horror at the act but offered a primer on the US Empire. The eradication of the Towers and the lives they sheltered obliterated a Modernist urban utopia, the perpetual promise of the cities’ renewal, growth, and invention. The Modernist frontier belief is predicated on the possibility of surveying an infinite path forward, forever elevating the worm’s eye view and forever assimilating “the undiscovered.” Bull.Miletic play with this promise and its bankruptcy. Their city is promissory palimpsest, a vision without termination now “temporarily” derailed. They infuse this frontier vision with corners of doubt and poignant regard, moving amongst de Certeau’s observation platform, now so fraught and final.

New York is not San Francisco but I was struck by Bull.Miletic’s relationship to SF in multiple works as an engagement with the American urban cipher. As we take the elevator ride up in Whir, rising over a central SF square, Northern California’s architectural resonances reverberate. The abandoned Alcatraz cellblock, the coasts’ useless demi-panopticons, and Whir’s acceleration to sky reminds us, through modest spatial gaming, how sight bends and warps and (re)sights us. Being “in” their work informs my facility to process cityscape, landscape, or bunker peephole. Along with de Certeau, the elevation of sight, the positionality of an all-seeing promise is within this space—a space now realigned. When I land on these Bull.Miletic observation platforms, or inhabit their environmental site(-ing) devices, I am able to ask different questions about how I see and assimilate the environment that enfolds me. I ask if the 110th floor was even open in the World Trade Center on 9/11. Were there people on that floor not engaged in brokering, cleaning, phoning, or drinking coffee? Were there people solely there to look out, or down, or across, or beyond? Were they motivated by the thrill of regard?

Bull.Miletic state that Whir “proposes a counter-scape of San Francisco in which dissimilar elements of the city are poignantly singled out, sharp tempos and striking images rally around an extraordinary space bustling with mystery. The city is no longer a clearly localizable spatial unit, but has transformed itself into an ‘urban field,’ a collection of activities instead of a material structure.”22 It is a way of describing a process of making images that applies to the rest of their work as well. Space here contains anxiety, relief, wonder, corporal presence, resonance, reverberation, and an imaginary anchored with carefully selected clues and diversions. This urban field is the field of sensory perception often woefully underutilized but primary to experiencing what we ignore and what we glimpse in a split second—never to be repeated. Bull.Miletic’s work is made for flâneuses/flâneurs who fly and tumble down again. De Certeau writes of a lofty space before the unimaginable, Bull.Miletic imagine space before, during, and after the unimaginable with an image battery of vibrations, traces, and CAT scans. Their work speaks to the curious way in which we collect, channel, and organize visual remnants. The perverse optimism of de Certeau’s found sign, “It’s Hard to be Down When You’re Up” slams against a metal grating on Alcatraz, or it is deflected by a pan over gray Vienna and gets resurrected in the transfixing acceleration of overhead tunnel lights. This tension in the tenuous sutures between optimism, optical magic, skepticism, anxiety, and x-rays propels Bull.Miletic’s installations. They posit a reinvigorated way of seeing that asks intriguing questions about the place of images in our optical topography. It is an investigation well worth embarking on with the able assist of their “sightings.”

  1. Nadar, aka Gaspard-Félix Tournachon (1820-1910) was a graphic journalist, portraitist, photographer, and inventor. He made the first aerial photographs in 1859 from a balloon. In addition, he was the first to photograph underground via artificial light.
  2. Gymnopédies refers to the title of Bull.Miletics’s installation Gymnopedies, which couples slow-motion cowboy bronco busting with Erik Satie’s Trois GymnopédiesLent et douloureux, Lent et triste, Lent et grave – compositions for solo piano, 1887. Gymnopedies were dances performed ritually in Classical Greece by young, naked ephebi; those young boys who had reached puberty and were then liable to enter military training according to their class responsibilities.
  3. Sean Cubitt’s Preface to Malcolm Le Grice, Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age, London: BFI Publishing, 2001, xi.
  4. See introduction to Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art, Suderburg ed., Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp. 1-22
  5. Musique concrète is being used here to reference a specific compositional strategy in European avant-garde music experimentation in the early 1950s derived from the manipulation and recontextualization of found sounds. Pierre Schaeffer originated the term musique concrète to differentiate it from other electronically manipulated music, musique abstraite. Musique concrète was recorded directly to tape with collected, found “natural” sounds (rather than electronically synthesized sound). These found sounds were then manipulated on audiotape via splicing, recombination, and re-recording. This genre is a precursor to contemporary digital sampling computer interfaces (hardware and software). It methodologically informs the use of non-diegetic sound reapportioned to alter the “screen space” of the installation site. Found sound channeled into installation spaces derived from source material tapped from or suggestive of the original video image/referent itself is adaptive musique concrète. Bull.Miletic’s use of fabricated fog horn approximations in Sighting Unseen, the underlining urban buzz, whir, and hum in Whir, or the mechanical clicks and accretions of the diegetic machines in You Are Here or The Island of Pelicans are akin conceptually to the methodology of musique concrète.
  6. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, Abstract of an Artist, quoted in Louis Kaplan, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy: Biographical Writings, London and Durham: Duke University Press, 1995, p. 159
  7. See Chrissie Isles’s ‘Video and Film Space’ in Suderburg ed., Space, Site, Intervention: Situating Installation Art, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000. “Expanded cinema” refers here to Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema, New York: Dutton, 1970.
  8. SIGGRAPH stands for Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics.
  9. It is worth noting that their current work has some striking affinities to a specific exhibition of video installation entitled American Landscape Video: The Electronic Grove, curator William D. Judson, The Carnegie Museum of Art, 1988. The linkages here to early American landscape painting, frontier, and the colonialization of landscape and culture as well as an assimilationist relationship to “acquisition” of the US western territories lays an interesting foundation for some of Bull.Miletic’s concerns.
  10. Malcolm Le Grice, Experimental Cinema in the Digital Age, London: BFI Publishing, 2001, p. 319
  11. A flâneuse/flâneur is defined loosely as an urban stroller, an idler, a drifter taking in the pleasures of ambling through the city streets with no particular destination in mind. Anthony Vidler’s Warped Space: Art, Architecture, and Anxiety in Modern Culture, Cambridge: MIT, 2002, and Walter Benjamin’s author/collector/flâneur adrift in The Arcades Project, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University, 1999, are both sources that Bull.Miletic cite as major influences on their work. Benjamin’s lifelong Arcades project, as a complex compendium of notes and essays, conceptually informs Bull.Miletic’s city fascination, their meandering camcorder eye and the basic formal framework of their practice as moving image makers respondent to architectural anchoring and spatial orientation.
  12. A definition of the Slow Food movement can be found at: slowfood.com. It includes The Ark of Taste Project whose aim “is to identify and catalogue (alas increasingly often) products, dishes, and animals that are in danger of disappearing. The operational offshoots of the project are the so-called Slow Food Presidia, through which the association provides economic support and a media back-up to groups and individuals pledged to saving an Ark product. If we wish to enjoy the pleasure, which this world can give us, we have to give of our all to strike the right balance of respect and exchange with nature and the environment. This is why we like to define ourselves as ‘eco-gastronomes.’ The fact is that our pleasure cannot be disconnected from the pleasure of others, but it is likewise connected to the equilibrium we manage to preserve (and in many cases revive) with the environment we live in.”
  13. Giuliana Bruno, Atlas of Emotion: Journey’s in Art, Architecture, and Film, London: Verso, 2002, p. 62. This is a luminous and provocative model for writing hybrid theory, history, and autobiography dedicated to the mapping of visuality.
  14. There are multiple sources, which examine the panorama as multi-media spectacle and urban trope. These include: Walter Bejamin, The Arcades Project, Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1999. And, woven throughout Giuliana Bruno’s extraordinary Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film. New York: Verso, 2002; Stephan Letterman’s The Panorama: History of a Mass Medium, New York: Zone Books, 1997. For the flâneuse and her specific 21st century quandaries see Anne Friedberg, Window Shopping, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1993.
  15. Bruno, Ibid, p. 23
  16. Bruno, Ibid, p. 107
  17. This year’s SIGGRAPH International conference and exhibition has as its theme synesthesia, which engendered a lively discussion on the experimental film list serve Frameworks about the history of synesthesiac research, visual, and aural artworks and their application in experimental film and video. Frameworks member François Breux supplied this list of references for further investigation into The Art History of Synesthetics: Bulat Galeyev’s Articles prometheus.kai.ru, Crétien van Campen’s Synesthesia and Artistic Experimentation psyche.cs.monash.edu.au/v3/psyche-3-06-vancampen.html, and Artistic and Psychological Experiments with Synesthesia home-1.tiscali.nl/~cretien/pub/syneng.htm, Richard Cytowic’s books The Man Who Tasted Shapes and Synesthesia: A Union of the Senses and K. Peackocks’ Instruments to Perform Color-Music: Two Centuries of Technological Instrumentation, published in the journal Leonardo No. 21, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1995.”
  18. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space, Boston: Beacon Press, 1969/1994, p. 183
  19. Bull.Miletic’s specially designed typeface.
  20. Erika Suderburg, ‘Written on the West: How The Land Gained Site,’ in Suderburg ed., Space Site Intervention: Situating Installation Art, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000, pp. 130-142
  21. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1984, p. 92
  22. Project description for Whir.

From "Bull.Miletic: Slow Seeing," Künstlerhaus Bethanien Berlin, 2004. All rights reserved.