Narrative reflexes that have enabled us from the beginning of time to connect dots, fill in blanks, are now turned against us: we cannot stop noticing: no sequence too absurd, trivial, meaningless, insulting

CC (for Closed Captioning) is a piece that explores “looking at looking,” as well as this human propensity to find patterns, and also begins to work at dismantling the text-image relationship as an unproblematic binary through mediated observation.

The piece consists of a 27″ CRT television with a translucent overlay to soften and distort the screen except for eight small windows cut in an uneven row across the bottom of the mask. A tiny camera on a tripod observes just the part of the screen exposed through each of the eight windows and sends the image, unaltered, through exposed cables to one of eight 3.5″ LCD monitors mounted on the wall to the right of the TV. The TV is tuned to a talk-heavy broadcast channel and the closed captioning is turned on. This arrangement results in three possible conditions for each of the small LCD monitors: 1) the monitor will display a single character of the white-on-black closed caption text stream, 2) the monitor will display black, because the window is currently positioned above a space between words or at the beginning or end of a sentence, or 3) the monitor will display a small fragment of an image. The horizontal arrangement and tight spacing of the eight LCD monitors invites a left-to-right sequential reading of the characters that appear in them, as in conventional signage. By chance, intelligible “messages” periodically appear as words or short phrases to those experiencing the piece in this way. 

The philosopher Lucretius is said to have remarked that if all of the letters of the Homeric epics were cut loose from the page (Lucretius lived in a time when the epics were being written down), jumbled together in a sack and then poured out again that they would recreate the universe. Chance again; like Babel, and also the suspicion that the alphabet has the capacity to describe everything. Even when the characters fail to form recognizable words, there is still an insistent textual momentum. The degree to which each viewer believes meaning in CC to be intended will certainly color his or her perception of the piece.

The alternation between text and image on the small monitors accentuates a text-image opposition, but the occasional absence of either (in the case of the black field) tends to destabilize a rigid dichotomy. Closer examination complicates this relationship and further undermines the transparency of the text by revealing that the text is, fundamentally, an image: jumping and flickering with the brightness level of the image, its pixelated edges fraying in the high magnification caused by the differential in size between the portion of the TV screen viewed and the LCD monitor. Conversely, the images, stripped of context and similarly optically enlarged, become obvious slaves to the grid of the shadow mask (rows of sequential dots) not unlike the characters that make up a body of text.

NTSC cameras

© 2018 chad eby