Face Scripting: What Did the Building See? is a film installation by sibling-duo Jane and Louise Wilson, conceptualized in partnership with London-based writer Shumon Basar and Israeli architect Eyla Weizman (who also narrates). The exhibition opened at the Sharjah Biennial in 2011 and consisted of a single HD projection of the Wilsons’ 11-minute film with a mirror on each side, and a closed-circuit television (CCTV) monitor playing a 27-minute found-footage video. Similar to other film experiments interested in the notion of expanded cinema, Face Scripting urges the spectator to become actively involved with the film/exhibition-space. This multidimensionality makes it difficult to discuss Face Scripting as such, mostly due to the fact that the corporeal element is largely missing when the Wilsons’ film is viewed from a seated position on a flat screen. The missing third dimension also hints at the larger problem when discussing video installations: what exactly is the film? The entire exhibition? The experience? Or just the film produced by the artist?
To accurately catalog Face Scripting, the Wilsons’ short film and the CCTV video must be addressed. Both films take as their subject a real-life event: the assassination of Hamas official Mahmoud al-Mahbough at the Al Bustan Rotana Hotel in Dubai on January 19th, 2010. The films are bound by this event. However, there is hardly a shred of likeness between the two in form, aesthetics, or even content. The Wilsons’ smooth, almost dreamlike camera movements capture undisturbed objects, architectural shapes, and the small movements of hotel staff, which, combined with the narrator’s voice, bring the spectator to an understanding of the Hotel-as-archive. Meanwhile, the CCTV video is stark, grainy, and raw, with a narrative built from text descriptions and the Ken Burns effect (indicative of its original function on YouTube as a crowdsourcing device to help solve the murder.) These differences, however, should not overshadow the symbiotic relationship between the two: the Wilsons’ film takes the form of the CCTV footage as its subject. For the Wilsons, the architecture of surveillance and the space surveilled become more important than the actors who committed a crime. The film does not necessarily investigate a murder per se, but investigates the role of the building in the murder; most notably, its actual ability to record and catalog events through its system of CCTV cameras and facial recognition algorithms. The product of this surveillance, the CCTV footage, is then brought into a new light when set against the Wilsons’ film, where the odd interaction between place and event – which renders one inextricable from the other – is explored.
Jane and Louise Wilson are twins from the U.K. who have been working in photography and film since the late eighties (a short biography and list of works can be viewed here.) Their early work was performance-based and focused on mapping the experience of altered states; one featured the twins under hypnosis and in another they tripped on LSD for the first time. With their film Stasi City in 1997, the Wilsons shifted their focus to architectural sites of power. This new direction is still highly invested in the idea of mapping experience, however, in a much more complicated way: the new films map the historical and social importance of the architecture through an immersive, yet hyperreal style. The Wilsons achieve this by using a varying number camera angles, screens, and arrangements that allow the images to converge and diverge in order to replicate the incongruence of experience and geometry (click here to see a walkthrough of Star City and Proton, Unity, Energy, Blizzard ).
In Face Scripting, the Wilsons continue to explore this theme, but with a few important differences. Starting with Dream Time (2000), the sisters have become more interested in events that have recently taken place, and even though Face Scripting does not document actual events as they unfold (Dream Time was filmed during a Russian rocket launch), it is undoubtedly invested in recent events. In a way, Face Scripting might be the pinnacle of the Wilsons’ architectural mapping, because it literalizes the if-these-walls-could-talk undertone of the bulk of their work. Unlike the recent films of Gilles Meillassoux, where the voices of the past seem to be forever trapped and echoing through architecture, Face Scripting investigates how architecture can become a surveillance system that actually logs such events. This territory is then re-presented to the spectator via a juxtaposition of two forms: the product of surveillance system (CCTV video) and the interrogation of the mechanisms of surveillance (the Wilsons’ film). A preemptive sigh for the roaring FUCK YOU from the likes of Chelsea (Bradley) Manning and Edward Snowden.
Most of the Wilsons’ work, but Face Scripting in particular, fits in a fairly recent artistic category referred to as the New Aesthetic. According to James Bridle, a major curator and thinker of the movement, the New Aesthetic “is deeply engaged with the politics and politicization of networked technology, and seeks to explore, catalogue, categorize, connect and interrogate these things” (“The New Aesthetic and Politics”). One of the problems of the contemporary moment – post-postmodernism, metamodernism, or what-have-you – is the crisis of navigating the overabundance of nuance amassed on the internet and through other computing technologies. Artists are dealing with this problem in many exciting ways: filmmakers like Jordan Wolfson have used text pulled directly from the internet to script their films; Tyler Coburn uses data centers as a performance space for his new project I am that angel; while people like Lance Wakeling painstakingly document certain physical manifestations of the internet. In Face Scripting, the Wilsons are able to address the crisis of navigation by deftly weaving a new map of how surveillance systems work together with architecture, governing bodies, and the internet to create unprecedented sociopolitical interactions.
– Paul Gonter
Watch ‘Face Scripting: What Did the Building See’ on 303Gallery.com
“Film Space – Invisible Sculpture: Jane and Louise Wilson’s Haptic Visuality” by Marie Walsh
“Jane and Louise Wilson” by Brian Dillon
“Double Dealing: Jane and Louise Wilson” by Clare Bishop
Guardian UK interview with Jane and Louise Wilson