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Kristin Lucas, "Scratch It," video piece on Vinyl Video (click on animated .gif to the right to see a stream of the full, 94-second piece, with sound). Vinyl Video is a proprietary technology of Gebhard Sengmüller, which encodes a video signal on a vinyl record that can be played at different speeds, mixed, and in most ways treated like an LP or 12". A show devoted to Sengmüller's invention took place at Postmasters in 2000, which I missed; Sengmüller continues to invite artists to make works for his medium. Unlike the short-lived CED player, which translated information on the disc via a special head that reads stored "capacitance," Vinyl Video is played with a standard audio tone arm needle and runs on a TV, with Sengmüller's playback device as an intermediate link. The secret is the compression technology that encodes and reads the extremely lo-fi signal on the record.

Lucas makes savvy, witty use of the medium with her disc, exploring a nebulous realm between the camera and the playback turntables, sound and physical space, performance and documentation. The camera is mounted on a DJ's turntable, spinning and rewinding as the artist looks down on it. Her head bobs into the frame from different compass points as if she were moving back and forth from a mixing board or record crates. The spatial orientation isn't entirely certain to the viewer, though; the rotating image makes you think at times that you're being tricked, and that the "ceiling" is actually a wall, with the sight line of the camera aimed towards it from a normal, standing position. Either way, the occasional synchronous rewinding of image and sound (and a kind of intermediate zigzag pattern that is a cartoon of rapid forward and backward movement) suggests that the artist is scratching the video as it is being filmed.

As it turns out, Lucas's visualization of "video on vinyl" exceeds the capabilities of Sengmüller's actual technology. In a live VJ-ing performance on the Vinyl Video website, you can see the VJs adjusting the speeds of various records, fading 2 discs, and moving the needle around to different points on the record but never backwards-scratching the image. In a sense, Lucas has created the ideal dj tool for this technology: VJs could put her disc on the platter and "air scratch" so people think they're manipulating the time-sequence of the piece. Which is kind of a shame, because it would be interesting to see what a VJ would do backward-scratching in real time Lucas's own, prerecorded facsimile: the image would run forward, of course, but the overall potential for spatiotemporal confusion would edge towards the head-exploding. Even without that capability, the smeared content can be sped up, slowed down, and skipped around in, with the space of the piece relative to the viewer becoming even more uncertain.

With the deadpan Lucas as your towheaded starship trooper guide, "Scratch It" simulates a trip down the Ketamine hole in a clubland-style funhouse. Walls spin, time and space refracts, the techno score plinks and howls. DJ Spooky has spoken of "dub architecture," but what he's shown by way of example--writhing 3-D computer graffiti tags floating over shots of building interiors--falls short of the cross-disciplinary cutting and splicing that phrase conjures. Lucas scratches space the way Lee Perry deforms recorded musical performance: instead of echoes and filters, she uses perceptual and conceptual slippages among camera, performer, and background.

Another Lucas project taking place in an ambiguous narrative space is here.

- tom moody 12-20-2003 1:47 am [link]