The filmmakers, men and women, are mostly naked and are tied to each other, in what seems to be very painful positions. They are suspended from a structure which resembles a giant industrial chandelier or a torture device, festooned with lights. The participants are strapped to each other with studded leather, rope, and lace. They are effectively immobilized. A plastic bag of goldfish is also attached to the structure. The entire structure is slowly, repeatedly raised near the roof of this shadowy industrial space, and then lowered again. Voices, electronically altered to make them more machine-like, intone the bare facts of the situation (“rope” “flesh”) and repeatedly ask “are you relaxed?” over a sparse electronic score which evokes the sounds of ropes and winches lifting the heavy weight. The piece, shot in grainy black and white, is edited in an unpredictable rhythm which veers from lightning fast to slow. Almost all of the images are in extreme closeup, which recreates the disorienting yet highly physical experience of such extreme physical states. The film is set on a loop, so you can watch it for as long as you like.
A sense of physical weight and mass are very much the point of “Installation.” The feeling of weight conveyed by the immense, unweildy structure, supported and lifted by one rope, is overwhelming, and creates the same tension as certain Mark Di Suvero sculptures which balance a huge mass over a tiny point. (The film is kin to many recent video gallery pieces which function both as sculpture and as film. Indeed, it is meant to be exhibited on a monitor embedded in a structure similar to the one in the film, but works equally well as a single channel video.) One feels in the repeated question “are you relaxed” the dilemma of the participants: if they fully relax, and give their weight to the structure, the leather and rope bonds will dig all the deeper into their flesh and hurt even more. On the other hand, if they remain tense, and try to keep their weight out of the ropes, their own muscles will become so tense they may go into spasm. Is it better to avoid feeling pain, and thereby create more pain, or to give in to the flow, enter fully inside the pain, and thus transcend it? The weight of the suspended people creates a feeling of total vulnerable interdependence, where any movement, however slight, will be felt be all.
“Installation” is a very kinky film, and not just because of the leather and lace s&m trappings. The camera dwells on the beautifully transclucent bodies of the suspended goldfish, and then shows the plastic bag breaking under the strain and releasing its contents. The thrills being sought here are beyond the sexual, beyond acting out scenes of humiliation. The film portrays a group of transcendence seekers, willing to undergo a painful ordeal in order to find that transcendence.
With “Installation,” the 14A Consortium succeeds in dragging the viewer, willing or not, into an alternative world with its own logic of punishment and reward. The results are certainly rewarding for the viewer, as they enlarge our experience of weight, space, and human interdependence.