Black Box Apparatus

“Leopards break into the temple and drink to the dregs what is in the sacrificial pitchers; this is repeated over and over again; finally it can be calculated in advance, and it becomes a part of the ceremony.”  “Leopards in the Temple”, Parables and Paradoxes, Franz Kafka.

Portland’s Vladmir has taken Kafka’s classic hermeneutic parable and turned it into a hyper-real series of images, seen in faux 3-D through a View-Master (discussed in The Believer’s March/April film issue).  The View-Master creates a strange world, somewhere between still images, motion pictures, and reality.  In this world, mastery is created by a manual click that simulates the creative process of photography, as though the viewer is creating, and ultimately mastering, the image.  The choice of recreating Kafka’s “Leopards in the Temple” as a View-Master reel is striking because the parable illustrates the delicacy of mastery in terms of interpretation: in many ways, the viewer holds the power of finding the ritual and extra-ordinary elements of works of art, and yet, over-mastery can distort the viewer’s perspective, ultimately making it meaningless.

Vladmir, Franz Kafka Parables, from

Mimicking the the photographic process, the View-Master presents an apparatus with two viewfinders and a series of existing images that, when combined, create a new reality for a spectator to experience.  A similar process occurred within the Henry Art Gallery‘s Grand Openings installation at Bumbershoot this past weekend.

Despite the conference room references the Rainier Room was said to have inspired, Grand Openings was still reminiscent of a reconfigured cinematic cave, marked at its entrance by a double-sided screen and a turntable sound structure.  The double-sided screen behaved like a portal to the cave, showing videos of international performances on the external screen, while different live interactions occurred in the space surrounding the imagery of the internal screen.  The live happenings included body tracings, mask creations, readings, a parade, but most frequently, the participants were manipulating projections on the screens with clear, plastic umbrellas.

Grand Openings recording from the Henry Art Gallery’s YouTube Channel (video shown by Sublime Frequencies)

The absence of chairs avoided a direct relationship with the darkened theater, but the persisting sound compilation played throughout the room suggested an overarching soundtrack for the seemingly random events.  Like the View-Master, the room became an apparatus through which spectators could experience  a bizarre deconstruction of the cinematic process through a series of actions, sound, narration, and lighting effects.

“The cinematic apparatus is unique in that it offers the subject perceptions ‘of a reality’ whose status seems similar to that of representations experienced as a perception.” (Jean-Louis Baudry, “The Apparatus: Metapsychological Approaches to the Impression of Reality in Cinema”, Film: Psychology, Society, Ideology 704)

Grand Openings and the View-Master are similar in the relationships between perception and representation that define each. Like the two stereo images paired on the View-Master film disc, perception and representation are inverted between the two, simultaneously suggesting and negating the parallels between the “real” world of Grand Openings and the “perceived” world within the viewfinder.