Our current information-heavy environment changes our perception of time and influences the way we navigate spaces, both physical and virtual. Noise prevents us from remaining focused for too long and affects our ability to see. Consequently, as Robert Irwin has pointed out, we miss out ‘on this visual Disneyland happening all around’ us. But what happens when we slow down and really take a look? And The Whole World Stops is a series of video landscapes and a visual exploration of our daily environment. It provides the viewer with an opportunity to slow down and indulge in a brief moment of contemplation and reflection.
FOG is the first video landscape from the series. For the site of her visual exploration Wioleta Kaminska chose Crissy Field in San Francisco. For months she would walk there every morning, afternoon and evening to observe the life contained in that recreational space. Sometimes she would start walking at a fast pace, gradually slowing down and then stopping to observe the people around. She soon realized that her own perception of the environment was influenced by the times of the day, the changing weather conditions or simply by her own mood. She then narrowed down her area of study to the Crissy Field Center and the San Francisco Yacht Harbor, which she began to photograph and film.
On the second morning of her work on-site, she noticed two Great Blue Herons standing on a small hill, with five vertical-axis wind turbines in the background. The birds were interacting with each other, maintaining their graceful posture and stillness in a busy environment. Yet walkers and joggers seemed oblivious or maybe indifferent to what was taking place in front of their eyes. Eventually, the Great Blue Heron became a metaphor in Kaminska’s work for mindful stillness and a symbol for survival and adaptation in an environment that is undergoing constant change.
While filming on-site, the artist was often approached by curious walkers expressing surprise or even disbelief that the herons standing still like that were real. Ever since, she has been pondering the notion of reality and how our minds make meaning and sense of the world. Her background in linguistics explains her tendency to turn to language, in particular semiotics, in search of that meaning.
As Ferdinand De Saussure, a Swiss linguist, once pointed out, ‘nearly all institutions, it might be said, are based on signs, but these signs do not evoke things directly’ (1959). Saussure saw language as system of signs and strongly believed that understanding how the system worked would allow us to grasp how meaning was formed. In linguistic terms, meaning is always based on relations between the signifier and the signified: the two fundamental elements that make up a sign. The signs themselves constitute one of the three main areas in semiotics. The other two are the way the signs are organized into systems and the context in which they appear. Charles Sanders Peirce, an American philosopher, scientist and logician, pushed the concept of language and signs even further. However, unlike Saussure, Peirce showed a particular interest in the part that the reader plays in the process of forming meaning. He claimed that signs are filtered through each individual’s perceptive capacity. Indeed, the meaning of the sign is never fixed: it can vary depending on the reader of the sign and their cultural experience of it.
INTO THE EVENING is the third video landscape from the And the Whole World Stops series.
De Saussure, F. (1959) Course in General Linguistics. New York: Philosophical Library.
Wioleta Kaminska is a San Francisco-based designer and media artist. In her process-based approach to image making, she focuses on the visual exploration of our perception of time and space, the conflicting forces that shape land and humans, and on how we find ourselves caught between nature and technology, contemplation and complexity. Her video installations have been shown at the California Academy of Sciences, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Fort Mason Center and International Contest of Contemporary Art in Lugano, Switzerland. Recently her video landscape FOG has been screened at the Wro Media Art Biennale 2015 in Wroclaw, Poland. It has also been included in Editors’ Choice for Celeste Prize 2015. In September Kaminska will join the artist-in-residence program 2015 at the Headlands Center for the Arts (film/video/new media).