Ben Moren’s Walking Cycle (2013) immerses the viewer in a pentagonal arrangement of projection screens. The artist, the sole protagonist in the videos, navigates through different landscapes. The walking figure appears on only one screen at a time, creating the illusion of movement from screen to screen. Of course, viewers well versed in the visual grammar of Hollywood habitually suspend disbelief to enjoy cinematic adventures; editors routinely condense or slow down time, as storylines demand. Synchresis, the unity forged of image and sound, means to guarantee a seamless, perfectly calibrated experience. Moren breaks with the customary poetics of cinematic manipulation. Instead, he relies on long shots in real time. At first, it seems like nothing much happens. Then, a certain oddity of movement and a discrepancy of sound and image become hard to ignore. Something is definitely off.
As Moren leans toward a steep hillside on screen, steadies himself, and brushes past branches and undergrowth, the halting, hesitant quality of his movements is mesmerizing. Walking Cycle’s secret, once revealed, is simple: Moren trained himself to walk backwards through uneven terrain but reverses the recording. In order to avoid collisions and injuries, he had to learn how to use his peripheral vision and to maneuver—awkwardly, slowly, counter-intuitively— backward. “The body ‘knows’ what its muscular and skeletal actions and posture are in any movement or action, quite independent of any knowledge of physiology or how the body functions. I am able to pick up a pebble and throw it without reflecting on how I am to do it,” writes Elizabeth Grosz.3 Walking Cycle replaces such instinctive somatic knowledge with carefully complicated action dependent on a heightened degree of physical awareness.
“By considering the body in movement, we can see better how it inhabits space (and possibly time) because movement is not limited to submitting passively to space and time, it actively assumes them, it takes them up in their basic significance which is obscured in the commonplace of established situations,” suggests Merleau-Ponty.4 Indeed, the conditions of human mobility, enabled “by our two-leggedness and the position of the head at the top of the body, with two eyes pointed forward,” have encouraged “the production of widespread analogies between a future ‘in front of us’ and the past ‘behind us’.” 5 Rather than fade into the invisibility of the familiar, walking, in Moren’s reversal, draws attention to human embodiment, our relations to space, and perceptions of time, while actively challenging our trust in what we think we see.
– Christina Schmid, excerpt from catalog essay for the exhibition Human Pyramid
3 Elizabeth Grosz, Volatile Bodies. Bloomington: University of Indiana Press, 1994. 91.
4 Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. Colin Smith. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. 1962. 102.
5 William E. Connolly, “Materialities of Experience.” New Materialisms. Ontology, Agency, and Politics. Eds. Diana Coole and Samantha Frost. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. 181.
performance for video, projection, custom screens, custom software
16’ x 16’ x 8’, infinite loop