The actual and the virtual
On Bram Vreven’s ‘Spin’
paper for Almost Cinema (2010)
A movement never comes alone. The one movement already contains the other – the previous one, in the present one, in the next one. Simply looking at them already makes them one. Each movement influences the perception of what once was and what is yet to come.
Saying that Bram Vreven is fascinated by movement is a bit of an understatement. For his installation ‘Rays’, he was inspired by the movement of rays in water. ‘Vloei-flow’ was based on flowing water in bottles at the Spa factory. And back when he was still making sound installations, there was this fascination for the creation and recording of movement, the waves of sound.
He refers to the movements he constructs as choreographies; a mechanical ballet. The objects he designs for this purpose are his instruments, the equivalent of a dancer to a choreographer. The dance routines of his creations are the visual counterpart of music. Of course he prefers the audience to be unaware of this, just as he doesn’t want them to know about the computer that he uses and can never be seen. Still, his past experience as a musician, designer of sound installations and (re)creator of movement continues to influence his work.
The artist’s background gives an extra dimension to the work. You can view the work without possessing this piece of information, but once you know, it is hard to ignore. It is a virtual bonus to the actual creation. ‘Spin’, his latest work, is about the actual and the virtual, and how these two are completely intertwined. For the first time, these two elements are explicitly juxtaposed in Vreven’s work. It brings to mind a quote by Deleuze: “all that is actual surrounds itself in a thick mist of virtual images”. Nothing is purely actual. The actual and the virtual together are part of one reality. There is a continuous exchange between the actual and the virtual.
‘Spin’ starts from the distinction between the original and the reproduction. The first thing you see is a row of nine video screens, onto which a choreography of circles and dots is projected in a spinning, whirring movement. Psychedelics in reverse: a white black hole, an explosion instead of an implosion. In a second room, you see a glass case with nine objects: white bulbs the size of ping pong balls with circles and dots drawn on them, rotating around an x-axis and a y-axis. Each ball is filmed by a camera, which is connected to the screens in the first room. What you see in the second room gives an extra dimension to the video images in the first room. The mist of virtual images thickens.
Now think back to the nine screens. Which one is the original and which one is the reproduction? Which one is the actual and which one the virtual? The one cannot be disconnected from the other.
Bram Vreven has quite some experience when it comes to the distinction between the original and the reproduction. He grew up with it. The distinction is essential to his father, a painter. But Bram Vreven himself often had to reproduce his own work, which is of such a scale that it doesn’t fit into a portfolio or file. The correct term here would be documenting, as he films and photographs work for potential exhibitors. A derived – virtual – image for an absent – virtual – audience.
In Bram Vreven’s case, the reproduction starts even earlier. For ‘vloei-flow’, the artist was inspired by a visit to the Spa water bottling plant. The bottling process consists of specific movements and leaves distinct marks on the glass bottles. It is those movements and those coincidental patterns that Vreven wants to capture, reproduce and eventually control and manipulate. The movements from the Spa factory constitute the first virtual mist surrounding this work.
‘Spin’ was similarly developed. Here, the remnants of the first ring of mist come from a glass marble and the way it spins on a table. The second ring of mist was created at the University of Twente, where researchers investigated how they could control this movement. The images and the sensations of this research constitute a third ring of mist surrounding the images in ‘Spin’. Images that were filtered, realized and thickened into an ever-expanding mist surrounding the video screens and the nine revolving bulbs.
The mist continues to thicken. Beyond the artist’s own work, Spin refers to a tradition in silent film. The circles on the screens and the balls are reminiscent of ‘Anemic Cinema’, a film made by Marcel Duchamp in the 1920s, and the rotoreliefs which he used to make that film. Spin could be a 3D version of these. Duchamp painted centrifugal lines on flat cardboard. Bram Vreven plots circles and dots on balls. But the result is an inverse movement. While the Dadaist surrealist’s images create an imaginary vortex, the 3D images by the pragmatic media artist seem to get flatter and flatter.
We said it before. Each work by Bram Vreven is a choreography. The instruments which he designs for it are dancers. The same goes for ‘Spin’. In this new work, there is a new dimension which makes the mist even thicker: the scenography. By placing the two parts of the piece in two separate rooms, a certain tension, depth or point of view is created, which influences the perspective and the behaviour of the viewer considerably. Vreven has done this before. In ‘vloei-flow’, which consisted of three parts, it changed the audience’s perspective on the movements they saw in other phases of that series in a different way or shape. The water movements on the flat surface made similar, yet slightly different marks than those in a spinning or whirring tube.
‘Spin’ magnifies that feeling, because it shows the same movement twice, in a different way. The setup creates a space in which memories and reflections are part of evolving sequences. A swing passes from the work to the audience and back, there’s a continuous interaction that filters and infects. What is actual and what is virtual? The one cannot be disconnected from the other.
You could say that Vreven demystifies his own work. By showing us the two images right after one another, the mystery is neutralized. This effect adds to further virtualization, and is therefore an enriching effect. Because the second image – that of the actual objects – does not only take away the illusion of the first image – that of the video. It also adds a new dimension, which forever changes the view of the visitor.
With this work, Bram Vreven becomes the anti-Duchamp. It is a denial of and an addition to the work of the master of the readymade – an actualisation and a virtualization; an inversion. Duchamp’s readymades are surrounded by art’s virtual mist – a new dimension or value is added by the artistic context. It is a virtual bonus. Bram Vreven’s art is surrounded by the virtual mist of the readymade. Much like Duchamp, this artist is inspired by the context of everyday objects – water bottles, marbles, ping pong balls – and remodels them into a new art form.
The same can be said for “the static representation of movement”, which Duchamp strived to obtain. He wanted to attain a recording, a dissection of movement at the beginning of cinema. The result was a self-reflexive movement: a serpent biting its own tail, like the title of his work – ‘Anemic Cinema’: two words that mirror each other, like the sentences and drawings on the sheets – spirals that endlessly move outward or inward. Bram Vreven filters further and accelerates movement at the end of cinema. The serpent biting its own tail is CCTV – the image of the balls on the screens which refer to the balls in the glass case, which come back on the screens, which refer to the balls. Ping pong, but so fast that it seems to have come to a standstill.
It’s not a coincidence that this work will premiere at Almost Cinema. It is cinema, but then again, it isn’t. The festival specializes in work that precedes the cinema experience: work from which the moving image is created. Or work which succeeds it – the expanded cinema experience. Bram Vreven combines both phases. The before image and the after image. But it is not quite clear what came first. The chicken or the egg? The actual image or the virtual one? The video or the ball? Distinctions fade. And that is what makes this work his most cinematic one. A static representation of movement.
 “Tout actuel s’entoure d’un brouillard d’images virtuelles.” Gilles Deleuze: ‘L’actuel et le virtuel’. In: Gilles Deleuze & Claire Parnet: Dialogues. Champs/Flammarion, 1996. pp. 179-185