Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

To feel time passing: DeLillo and Video Art

by Erica Molesworth

14 Feb 2011

Don DeLillo's most recent novel Point Omega (2010) is framed by a meditation on an artwork that highlights some key issues concerning time and the conscious act of looking in contemporary video art. It also serves to make connections between video art, film and fiction.

Point Omega opens and closes with two parts of an episode in which an unnamed character views Douglas Gordon's video work24 Hour Psycho (1993). The two parts - 'Anonymity' and 'Anonymity 2' - form an internal monologue that takes place over hours and days of viewing Gordon's work, which consists of Alfred Hitchcock's film Psycho slowed down such that its duration is extended to 24 hours. We know that DeLillo viewed Gordon's work at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 2006, which became the inspiration for this novel. A classic film, shot at 24 frames per second, is transformed into a silent video piece of 24 hours duration, which is then fictionalised into a piece of writing that lasts the length of a novel.

This idea that consciousness of time completely alters our experience of events is central to both Gordon's artwork and DeLillo's novel. 24 Hour Psycho takes the familiar experience of watching Psycho, and completely alters that experience through the simple mechanism of changing the timeframe. The 24 hour duration references the traditional cinematic frame-rate, and hence Jean-Luc Godard's quip that "cinema is truth 24 times a second." Further, the symbolic, full-day length of the video shifts its relationship to the viewer's reality. At 24 hours, the video work becomes more integrated with the timeframe of the viewer and so begins to enter the viewer's reality. As DeLillo puts it: "[24 Hour Psycho] had the same relationship to the original movie that the original movie had to lived experience. This was the departure from the departure. The original movie was fiction, this was real."

In addition to commenting directly on Gordon's work, 'Anonymity 1 and 2' also provide insights into the function of time that might be applied more broadly to contemporary video art. In the history of cinema (in which Psycho features large), our sense of time is usually subsumed to a narrative structure. In Gordon's work, this narrative structure is subsumed instead by a forced attention on the tiniest details, on the act of looking itself, and on time passing. However, DeLillo's words might also apply to a number of other contemporary video artists (Shaun Gladwell comes to mind), in whose work an underlying theme is "to look and to know you're looking, to feel time passing, to be alive to what is happening in the smallest registers of motion."

DeLillo's 'Anonymity 1 and 2' take Gordon's theme of the transformation of media and push it one step further into the realm of fiction. In this way, a popular film becomes an art installation, which becomes a novel. This process invokes both the vastly different relationship to time that typically comes with each medium, and the anonymous viewer's insight that "real time is meaningless."