The Canadian Art Database

Ron Shuebrook

Michael Fernandes
at Eye Level Gallery, Halifax, October 24 - November 14

Vanguard, Vol. 9 #2, March 1980.
[ 683 words ]

Michael Fernandes's installation questioned the nature of time and memory through the careful organization of utilitarian objects in the two rooms of the Eye Level Gallery. Centred in the first room was a steel cylinder, approximately seven feet high; a microphone cord extended from the cylinder to the ceiling, across the ceiling and down the wall to a cassette recorder. The tape recorder recorded the sounds of the immediate environment, but the same tape was continually recycled and the recorded sounds were never played back.

In the second room, a line of black tape along the edge of the ceiling emphasized the literal shape of the room. The tape was minimally noticeable because the space was illuminated only by a diagonal row of flashlights tied at hand level to cords from the ceiling. To the same cords, microphones were attached at mouth level and were hooked up to a reel-to-reel tape recorder. The tape was used and reused, but its recorded sounds were never heard. During the first night, the batteries in the flashlights began to weaken. As the light faded, the viewer became aware of the passage of time and the changing perception of the shape of the room. By the next day, the batteries had completely run down and had left the room in darkness except for the available light from around the blackened windows as well as from the other room.

Rather than use technological tools according to their design, Fernandes reacted against our expectations and relied on the implications of their presence in a non-functional context. As George Kubler points out in his The Shape of Time, tools overwhelm our attention with their function and are expendable. On the other hand, art objects have no preponderant instrumental use and are unique. Fernandes developed the tension between the two while having little interest in the survival of precious artifacts or in the satisfying of the viewer's expectations for the fulfillment of the use of the employed tools. He was more concerned with an ephemeral expressive situation. His meaning can be construed by an analysis of the relationship between the things in the exhibition as established by their placement and by their temporal and cultural contexts.

Such an analysis should begin with the exhibition poster. The image consists of a photograph of two black panels resting on a shelf. On the left panel, a handwritten text states that 'everything you heard is lost' (sic). On the right panel, there are smears of erased chalk marks. Along the lower left edge of the poster, a printed text asserts, 'the eternal recorder goes on . . .' It inexorably points to a concept of time unbroken by events. Because the tape recorders in the installation functioned, but the evidence of their operation was not manifest (i.e. the tapes were not played back) the technological recreation of past events was frustrated. The continuous use of recording tape in both rooms was a metaphor for the ability of consciousness to register an endless stream of experiences without immediate recall. Moreover, the gradual but inevitable demise of light from the flashlights evoked not only the fleeting quality of time but also alluded to the limitations of memory. The overall effect of this piece was to point out that the mind's ability to recollect the details of experience is largely dependant on a focused attention to the moment.

Fernandes documented his work in a manner that was integrated with its formal intention. Though a professional photographer photographed the installation, the film was not developed. In turn, the roll of film was photographed and a print of it was made. The surviving photograph continues as a signal for the work so long as the artist maintains its value. Like all art of temporal expression, the risk of eventual disappearance is inherent.

Vanguard, Vol. 9 #2, March 1980.

Text: © Ron Shuebrook. All rights reserved.

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