Seeking the image limits of identity

Well, that’s quite a ponderous title for my first entry on fotoblog. But I might as well set a lofty goal and work toward it. Maybe by the end of February we will all have learned something.

Shilpa Gupta, 24:00:01
30-minute loop on motion flapboard
70 x 10 x 11 in | 177 x 25 x 28 cm

I was browsing a museum site for information about an exhibition, and found this work by an artist I’d not heard of before. Shilpa Gupta’s 2012 work 24:00:01 utilizes a signage system familiar to anyone who has waited in a terminal or station for transportation. (Or seen an ad for Kayak that utilizes the trope.) I did not know that the device, usually with several tiers of these horizontal arrays, was called a flapboard, but that is exactly what it does, flap quickly through letter and number sequences to spell out data defining destinations and journeys. Wonderfully inefficient, the flapboard scans its sequential, linear memory in search of the right letter or number. The wheel only goes one direction. Even if the desired letter is one degree back, the wheel spins 359 degrees around to get to it, making a Rolodex seem like a Microsoft Access database in comparison. I suspect that both devices are on the verge of complete extinction.

The point is, I like this machine’s awkward industry. It gets the job done. You might fill in missing information before it does, a la Wheel of Fortune (“I’d like to buy a vowel, please.”), but the letters will soon catch up and confirm your interpolation. In 24:00:01, completing the message appearing on Gupta’s flapboard connects to experience and intuition; you must be careful, as not all of her messages are predictable. Some are very specific to her experiences in the world. (The complete text cycle can be read at her website, or here.)

Most of all, I like how it makes me work. I like how its fleeting messages redound to the complexity of identity. As soon as you receive one message, another begins to appear. My own experience of identity seems related to this, a flexible self-conception that ebbs and flows with different types of input. I suffer from permeable boundaries; others may have more rigid exclusion zones than I do. But moment to moment, my image of identity varies from yours. This give and take seems like something worth exploring in future posts. And the flow of one message after another, leading us with varying degrees of acuity, finds a highly useful corollary in the form of books. One perspective after another, complementing, contradicting, and redefining each other, page by page and artist by artist.

Sounds like a good topic to me.


Postscript: I probably owe it to myself to go see 24:00:01, which is on display until May 17 in the exhibition States of Uncertainty, curated by Emilia Layden for the Haggerty Museum of Art at Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Somewhere between one of my homes and the other.