The video shorts in 'Tracking' employ the 'tracking' or 'dolly' shot most memorably used by Orson Welles in the opening scene of his 1963 noir classic Touch of Evil. Nowadays it's a technique most commonly used in horror and action films to exercise greater psychological impact on a jaded audience that has grown progressively immune to flashy special effects. Curator Ralph Rugoff compiled a group of video artists whose creative pursuits differ from commercial approaches to various degrees. Whereas the cinematographer uses the moving camera to engage the viewer more deeply within the film's storyline, the artist's investigations, which tend to be isolated from a linear narrative, strive to manipulate the viewer's perception of temporal and visual fluidity.
Claude Closky's En Avant (Forward, 1995), is a whirlwind montage of excerpts from Hollywood advertising trailers. It references the commercial employment of the tracking shot, while signalling a point of departure for the creative digressions of the other artists in the show. We see shot after shot of the camera racing towards its subject, then zooming in for perilously close encounters with beasts, scoundrels and villains. In every instance the shot sweeps us out of our immediate surroundings, immersing us within the action on screen.
Darren Almond and Thomas Demand employ a more straightforward approach. For Geisterbahn (Haunted House, 1999) Almond attached a camera to the front side of a box cart, which then perambulated through a Viennese funhouse. Filmed in 8 mm black and white with a strobe, the footage is slowed down, altering the viewer's experience of time and space by conjuring a dreamlike suspension. The ride is made all the more giddy by the accompaniment of a frenzied electronic soundtrack that moves along to a repetitive and steady beat. The entire effect is one of being steered through a prolonged joyride with no end in sight.
Demand's ride isn't quite as much fun as Almond's. Tunnel (1998-9) recreates the site of Princess Diana's car crash. A 15-second video clip follows the passage through the tunnel from beginning to end, then seemingly repeats itself ad infinitum. Since each run through is filmed at a slightly different angle, the viewer is lodged in a permanent state of déjà vu, destined to watch the same event unfolding again and again with only imperceptible variations.
Zhu Jia and Jessica Bronson stray further in their investigations of the tracking technique, breaking down a linear traversal of space and time into near complete abstraction. Jia filmed Forever (1994) by placing a camera on the front wheel of a tricycle that spun around in lopsided circles as she steered it through the streets of Beijing. The forward progression of the tricycle combined with the spinning motion of the wheel creates a blurred and disoriented vision of the urban landscape.
Bronson's A Small Infinite (2000) is an abstracted kaleidoscope of helicopter footage surveying the landscape of the Los Angeles reservoir. Identical footage is digitally flipped, inverted and spliced into quarters to form 16 possible configurations projected onto four separate monitors. It becomes impossible to follow the individual movements of the camera without being hypnotized by the constantly shifting patterns that form a kaleidoscopic grid over the expanse of the installation as a whole.
In comparison Bojan Sarcevic and Sergio Prego's contributions proved less imaginative. For Irrigation-Fertilization (1999) Sarcevic aimed a camera at the legs of a uniformed man occupying a boiler room. The man moves around, turning levers and operating machinery while a steady stream of mystery liquid leaks onto the floor from his heavy boots. Although the camera's exploration follows a suspenseful path (the man moves painfully slowly) the low camera angle (which never reveals his face), the props and special effects (the streaming fluid hinting at the loss of bladder control) come across as gimmicky attempts at humour that overshadow the more interesting concepts at play within Irrigation-Fertilization.
Although Prego's Tetsuo, Bound to Fail (1998) is a jaw-dropping montage of dramatic moments frozen in time and surveyed from 360 degree pans of the room, it employs a cinematic effect - placing several cameras around the subject to capture the same split second from varying viewpoints - that has been milked to death in films such as Buffalo '66 (1998) or The Matrix (1999). The pitfalls of employing common filmic processes, however seductive, without significant reinterpretation is demonstrated clearly in Prego's video installation. As a result, we are left questioning whether the creative aspirations of these video artists are any more or less original than those of a celebrity cinematographer shooting his next blockbuster, or better yet, his next multi-million dollar Coke commercial.