Roll Plays, Video
By James Hugunin
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
The Grunewald Center for the Graphic Arts
University of California, Los Angeles
Lucinda H. Gedeon, Editor
Timothy Keating makes himself the subject of his imagery. In Roll Plays, he poses for his video camera. The tape is prefaced with the following remarks: "Role-playing with a friend, writing answers to common questions, role-playing in front of a mirror," and is structured as a compilation of short autobiographical vignettes. Keating’s seventeen-minute tape is about personal life, about leading that life on the edge. In one episode he remarks:
Ya know when you're sitting on a chair and you lean back on the two legs and you think you're going to fall over, and at the last minute before you do, you throw your weight forward?..... Well I feel like that all the time.
In another vignette Keating relates how was approached by a student loan officer and told how much in arrears his loan payments had gotten. On screen, in the most unusual segment, we see the artist holding a little toy man whose head is just a large eyeball! As the narrative grinds on, the toy grinds out weird mechanical noises as the eyeball- head revolves. In one of the more confessional vignettes the artist breaks down a minute of his life into psychologically antithetical five-second intervals:
Out of 60 seconds I spend about five seconds feeling like I really want to be very close to you and to everyone, and I usually spend five seconds wondering whether I shouldn't hide or not…..
As Keating continues to lift such an opposing psychological states, hinting at a psyche torn by conflicting emotions, on screen only a shadow of his profile is seen.
The feeling we get from Keating's tapes is that of self en-capsulation, the body or psyche as its own surround. The tape seems to be saying: "I am surrounded by me." Keating's body is wedged between two machines, the camera, and finally, the monitor, which re-projects the artist’s body with the immediacy of a mirror. As Rosalind Krauss has put it "The body is therefore as it were centered between two machines that are the opening and closing of a parenthesis.” 29 Interestingly, Keating's string of abrupt segments are separated by several seconds of dark screen, visual “parenthesis.” Meanwhile, the camera frames only fragments of Keating's body, putting his body parts in “brackets”. The overall effect is to further underscore the physical fragmentation given vent in the tape’s monologue. The tape records the artist coming to see that his "self” is a projected object. His frustration, evident in the tape, is due to his own capture by the object with which he can never really coincide. This is analogous to psychoanalytic treatment, where the patient comes to see the distinction between his lived subjectivity in the fantasy projections of himself as an object. Jacques Lacan has put it better:
…..analysis consist precisely in distinguishing the person lying on the analyst’s couch from the person who is speaking. 30
Herein lies the essence of Keating's particular confessions.
Walker Evans during an interview once expressed his views concerning the interrelationship between machine and man in the act of photographing:
I don’t think the essence of photography has the hand in it so much. The essence is done very quietly with a flash of the mind, and with the machine. 31
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Grunwald Center Studies VI
Celebrating Two Decades of Photography
University of California at Los Angeles
Dr. Edith A. Tonelli
Director Frederick S. Wright Art Gallery
Lucinda H Gedeon, Curator
Forward Robert Heineken, Professor of Art, UCLA
29 Rosalind Krauss,”Video: The Aesthetics of Narcissism,” New Artists Video, Gregory Battock,ed.( New York: Dutton, 1978),p.45.
30 Jacque Lacan, The Language of the Self (New York: Delta, 1968) page 11.
31 Leslie Katz,” An interview with Walker Evans,” Photography in Print: 1816 to the Present: Vicky Goldberg, ed. (New York, Simon and Schuster Publishers, 1981), page 363.