In my last post on “Under the Shadow of Marcus Mountain” I referred to the film as feeling “like the setup for a horror movie”. The artist, Robert Schaller wrote me an amazing response to my post, which in brief, pointed out that it is a comparison that often gets thrown around for works that subvert the norms of our everyday harmony. He referenced modernist music, but I think it applies to any number of avant-garde art techniques that abstract, disassemble and juxtapose unusual elements. It might just be that because something feels new or out of the norm, our first reaction is one of horror or disturbance. When something is different than we expect, we can’t just rely on cliches to help us through the experience, which forces us to find new ground to stand on.
I think this is where artwork becomes exciting for me. Because our cliched understanding is no longer applicable, we, as the audience then have to struggle to find a new way of comprehending and thinking about it. Here, Laura Marks (The Skin of the Film) once again becomes crucial to developing a theory around this way of viewing. Her development of the concept of “Haptic Vision” references a vision where we bounce back and forth between recognizing and not recognizing an image, and this dynamic then taps into the other senses of touch, taste, and smell. It is credited to Giles Deleuze, who talked about the memory image versus the real image. Any time we see something that we have seen before, we must compare it to our memory of other similar objects that we have seen in the past. This leads us to have a dynamic relationship with the object itself, and our memory of the object, which we have to reconcile. When the two images do not match, it becomes related to Freud’s theory of the Uncanny – where something is familiar, but not quite.
Since Freud, that feeling has become synonymous with horror. However, in Marks’ thinking about intercultural film, it is more about driving an emotional reaction to a work. This referencing of the image to our memories of it is where we are able to place ourselves into the artwork. Without being told what to think, we are forced to do some of the work and actively engage with the image. In theory, this creates a more active link which we will react to, either by thinking and appreciating the image, or rebelling against it (and hopefully still thinking about it). These types of images are the ones that stay with us long after we have left the theatre, gallery or auditorium and I think, is what most artists strive to accomplish.