by Ann Meisinger
Sending and Seeing
The description for shutter shudder ep.1 begins by telling the reader that Chicago artist Troy Briggs has placed a light bulb somewhere in Berlin, and that the bulb is listening. Wherever the bulb is installed (its location is never disclosed) it is connected to a website where anyone, anywhere in the world, can send it a message. The blub blinks these messages in Morse code, at which point the message disappears forever.
shutter shudder ep.1 is the product of a recently completed residency at Or Gallery in Berlin and is a part of a tri-city project entitled Slow Frequency. Slow Frequency is a series of exhibitions, screenings, and other programs initiated by Shannon Stratton of Threewalls and co-curated by Dan Devening (devening projects + editions, Chicago), Jonathan Middleton (Or Gallery, Vancouver/Berlin).
Though the object of the bulb, shutter shudder ep.1 is conceived of as one work – though at the level of the viewer, it finds itself in two different dimensions. On the one hand, the viewer who enters the message will likely never see the bulb; the idea that this dispatch will be communicated to the blub is an act of participation based on faith alone. On the other, the viewer of the object itself will likely never understand that they are seeing a sentence, or a phrase, written by the pulsing light, as their eye is caught by an insistently flickering blub while walking past. In puzzling out these bifurcated perspectives, the shear impossibility of it all is striking, but is also followed by the absurd thought that there is potential in this seemingly infinite, yet limited interconnectedness.
It is a potential that can only exist because of an invisible language that exists all around us: code. Code – in one way or another – is the language of the culture we live in, our texts are short hand for full sentences, and our virtual lives are a never-ending series of ones and zeros that rarely reveal themselves as such. Miscommunication abounds in our everyday, heightening the impossibility of shutter shudder ep.1.
Yet code is also what carries the possibility for communication; it presents what could be called an unacknowledged cooperation between the two different kinds of viewers. The participant sending the message knows in advance that the message will disappear as soon as it is transmitted by the bulb, which at first glance seems sweet in its ephemerality but when more fully considered is reminiscent of every time I’ve ever sent an email or text message full of hope for a job or love or admiration and not gotten a reply. It can take more than just hitting the enter button to send such messages out into the ether. The viewer of the bulb on the other hand has to just simply look around, which like the message, seems easy at first. But then you play through every day that you walk to work, to the train, to the grocery store and don’t notice the world changing around you. The intersection of sending and seeing the message seem as impossible as any other sort of communication, but the potential for that moment shines through.
Briggs has remarked that his works often appear tender, or sweet at first – getting increasingly darker the longer they are viewed. However, I would assert that the unassuming gesture of sending and receiving in shutter shudder ep.1 takes on an increasingly hopeful tone, though this is not to say that the work never feels hopeless. Instead, it slowly reveals a shifting balance in the world’s (mis)communications, tipping constantly from doubt to certainty.
As the title indicates, shutter shudder ep.1 is the first in a series that Briggs hopes to continue this year. Though he has completed his residency, the bulb will remain active and installed in Berlin for the next six to eight months. Posters advertising its existence, but never its location, will be placed around the city in both English and in German. The bulb’s lengthy listening engagement will give it many opportunities to attempt to bridge the gap between sending and seeing – with a flicker of light and dark.
Slow Frequency addresses currents in artwork that engage a process of slow looking, magnification or tuning-in to locate the place where a thing becomes visually or sonically clearest.
Ann Meisinger is a writer, curator and researcher based in Chicago, Illinois with a Dual Masters degree in Arts Administration and Art History, Theory and Criticism from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She is currently a curatorial assistant at SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries working on the September 2014 exhibition, A Proximity of Consciousness, and is a co-founder of the curatorial collective, Third Object.