[Written as notes to accompany an installation in The Box, a video exhibition space at the Wexner Center for the Arts in September 2010. A pdf version of these notes is available here.]

the inversion, transcription, evening track and attractor (Stephanie Barber, 2008)

Pssst! Hey, you! Yeah, you. These words were written for you. Yes, you. And they were meant to be found by you at this very moment.

While the words on this page existed before you read them and will continue to exist after you have read them, they need you, the reader, to read them in order to give them meaning and life. The reading always takes place in the present tense.

There is a difference between the same texts when they are spoken versus when they are read. The spoken is ephemeral. You need to be there when they are uttered. The words belong to time, rising and falling out of existence. But as long as the physical object survives, the written word does not belong to time. It is always there. It is static. There is no rise and fall. The entirety of it exists at any and every moment. After it has been read, it lies in wait for another present moment.

If you are reading these words during the month of September 2010, there is a darkened room within the Wexner Center for the Arts where a voice is waiting to speak to you. Perhaps this voice is right around the corner from you. Perhaps you may have to travel to find it. This voice would like to read 25 (or so) statements to you. This voice has been repeating these same statements since the start of the month. But it has been waiting for you to hear them.

Many of these statements have to do with photography. Some of them have to do with things that cannot be photographed.

While the statement is being read, images are being projected onto one of the walls of the room. Well, it might be more accurate to say that light is being projected. A monochromatic white light illuminates the room. At first it may seem like a tabula rasa that is provided for you to sketch out your thoughts and reactions to the dense and poetic statements that you are hearing. But once your eyes adjust to the light, you will find meaningful gradiations of white before you.

The slightest suggestions of shadows reveal shapes. These shapes are paper-on-paper white, in all its pallid radiance. These shapes are reproductions of reproductions. These shapes are the “skeletons” of photographs by well-known artists such as Uta Barth, Candida Hofer, and Deborah Willis. These skeleton collages are faintly superimposed with the original photographs before moving on to the next hint of an image.

This is a video about photography. Perhaps we can think of video relating to photography as the spoken word relates to the written word. The written word is stopped time. Distilled present. Like the photograph. But the present of a video also contains a past and a future.

The words spoken within the video also exist as written words. They were written by Stephanie Barber and can be found in her recent book these here separated to see how they stand alone or the soundtrack to six films by stephanie barber (Publishing Genius Press, 2008; second printing, 2010). The written version of the text for the inversion, transcription, evening track and attractor was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Also within this book is a DVD with the videos from which the written texts are taken.

When you read the texts, you are free to imagine any voice accompanying the words. Most likely it is some variation of your own voice. But when you see the video (perhaps within The Box during the month of September 2010), you are not free to imagine any voice. It is a specific voice. It is a voice saying statements full of idiosyncratic wit, obfuscation, clarity, and poetry. The disclosures and pronouncements are meant just for you. They are clearly coming from a human personality and want to convey something about the speaker and about you. But the words are spoken with the inflection and personality of a computerized speak-and-spell machine. The result is powerful and unsettling. The form and the content are both emotional and distant, aloof and sociable.

While it is true that these words were written for you, they were also written for someone else. Someone in the future. I can’t say who, but you can do your part in making sure it gets into the right hands. Keep this text for as long as you like. (Take two if you find yourself near an ample supply of them.) Then place it somewhere in public for someone else to find. Perhaps as a bookmark in a frequently checked out library book (or one that you feel has a kinship with this video or text). Perhaps in between boxes of cereal at the grocery store.

If you are someone who came upon this text in that manner, I am very pleased to have found you. Maybe you will seek out this video someday (maybe it is still September—if so, hurry, you don’t have much time). Or maybe you will procure a copy of the book and text mentioned above. If you do encounter this work somehow, I hope that you will find that it shares something with you, as you have shared of yourself. As the closing lines of the inversion, transcription, evening track and attractor say, “you have memories and features and organs i have only your attention.”


Stephanie Barber
the inversion, transcription, evening track and attractor, 2008
(13 mins., video)

© The Ohio State University/Wexner Center for the Arts. Reproduced by permission.

 the inversion, transcription...   (Stephanie Barber, 2008)