… Haunted by levels of fiction without a clearly marked escape, the work presents this experience as ambivalently pleasurable and nightmarish at one and the same time.
This is from the essay ‘Siting Cinema’ by Andrew V. Uroskie, found in Art and the Moving Image: A Critical Reader edited by Tanya Leighton (2008):
… Climbing the steps, we find headphones on the seats awaiting us. Placing them over our ears, the exterior sounds of the gallery are quickly muffled, and our immediate aural environment is swallowed up in the projected static of white noise. The doors to the outside close, and darkness follows. Simultaneously relaxed by the seating and made anxious by the claustrophobic enclosure (how can we leave if we need to get out?), we wait for something to begin.
[line break added] But just as the noise of our fellow audience members falls away, sounds and conversations begin anew. Over to the left and just behind us on the right, people are talking again. Cardiff and Miller recorded the audio component of the piece using binaural technology, which gives a powerful illusion of spatial presence to the sound we hear. Thus, while aurally isolated from the real people around us, we continue to overhear the conversations of people who seem to surround us.
[line break added] There is a sense of uncanny doubling as real and recorded sounds overlap and coalesce. We hear people rustling in their seats, taking off items of clothing and whispering to one another — all preparing for the main attraction. A mobile phone goes off and a woman quickly tells her caller that she has to go — ‘she’s in a movie.’ Occurring in eerily precise stereo-sound and seemingly at discrete spatial locations, this all seems quite realistic. Yet this is not to say that it is taken for reality.
[line break added] Even the binaural recordings cannot perfectly evoke the manifold sensory experience of a real phenomenal environment, and spectators quickly recognize that they are listening to an illusion. Yet far from ruining the work, the spectator’s double-consciousness — his or her simultaneous experience of real and recorded sounds and continued ability to distinguish between them — will prove fundamental to the experience the work seeks to generate.
[ … ]
… Within The Paradise Institute, we struggle not to separate fact from fiction so much as to establish a firm locus for that fiction to take place. We never confuse fact and fiction, because we always understand that we are being presented with a fiction. But it is not a consistent fiction. It is fractured, multiple, existing in too many places at once.
[line break added] As we lose track of the boundary or frame where the diegetic world starts and stops, our phenomenological sense of wholeness and interiority gives way to a kind of paranoia. It seems no accident that the work begins with the admonition that spectators will not be able to leave the theater once the performance has begun. Unlike traditional theaters, The Paradise Institute contains no brightly glowing exit sign reassuring us that (in a physical or psychological emergency) the space of the fiction can be quickly and definitively left behind.
[line break added] The word ‘paradise’ stems from the Ancient Persian for ‘walled-off space,’ and The Paradise Institute stages what is ultimately a crisis of boundaries for its spectator. We are allowed to exist neither inside nor outside of the spectacle. This liminal staging of subjectivity is one that is familiar in psychoanalytic theory, wherein the inner space of the psyche and the outer space of the world can no longer be definitively separated as in classical philosophy, but come to form an overlapping or chiasmatic structure.
[line break added] The Paradise Institute — which in its very name conflates fantasy with containment, ancient myth with modern medicalisation — confronts the cultural locus of the spectacular with a markedly different economy of spectatorship. Haunted by levels of fiction without a clearly marked escape, the work presents this experience as ambivalently pleasurable and nightmarish at one and the same time.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.