Splitting Image


Splitting Image is said to be the originary version of the saying Spitting Image, meaning an exact likeness. According to social historian Dorothy Hartley, the evenness and symmetry which the term conveys would have been obtained by pairing two split halves of the same tree. There are competing positions on this view but as it is the case with the genealogy of many sayings, the history of a term becomes enmeshed with its fictionalized account in the popular imaginary. In that sense, Splitting Image continues to convey the sense of an exact likeness, while retaining the notion of a splitting into two of the same subject. This is the point in the story that is pertinent for the current project, which takes as its point of departure a commuting experience: a one-way trip on the New York East River Ferry starting at Pier 11 on Wall Street and ending at the India Street terminal in Greenpoint.

This short journey connects the Financial district to what used to be a working-class neighborhood. Greenpoint’s demographics have been changing since the mid 80s. In some ways, it mirrored the residential conversions of industrial buildings that had already taken place in Williamsburg. The rezoning of 175 of its blocks in 2005 increased the pace of this change; it brought about a boom in the construction sector. Since then this process was halted by the 2008 financial downturn, leaving a variety of unresolved environmental and infrastructural issues on the table. A polarizing issue, which the current project seizes up as its backdrop, is the effort to reclaim the waterfront for recreational use and the inclusion of a promenade into the Newtown Creek area.

The main character in this video was modeled on the image of the daily commuter. In other words, someone who wants to go from point A to point B, even while needing to endure some stops in between. Like the commuter, the goal of this character is simply to make it home. For that purpose he takes the boat just like the commuter, he also chooses to go in the same direction. In this sense he is a lot like the commuter. One could venture to say that he is the spitting image of the commuter. But that would only be so if wasn’t for the fact that the choices he makes, every step of the way, are nothing like the ones the commuter makes. While the commuter walks through the proper passageway that leads into the boat, he finds his way to the boat via the supporting alleys, if not directly through the water. While the commuter finds a comfortable seat inside the boat, he ties himself up to the outer side of the boat. Unlike the commuter who wears regular clothes, he wears a full wetsuit since he expects to do what it takes to reach his destination and that could well mean getting in the water. While the commuter looks through the window toward the new offices and residential buildings, he focuses instead on industrial buildings and the docking apparatus on the piers. He can’t help but explore the different angles and possibilities the journey offers. In that sense he is nothing like the commuter who seems to have gotten accustomed with the trip to the point of going through it via the path of least resistance, which is of course the path of full compliance with the norms of conduct put in place to normalize behavior. That’s a path the main character will decidedly not take since he is anything if not combative. He will be glad to face every obstacle as if they were in fact placed on his way just to cause him to overcome them. In a way he is like a splitting image of the commuter, someone who might even wish the same but who wishes it differently.

The emphasis on treading a path that is slightly peripheric in relation to an established one is a recurring trope in my work. Most recently, in On the Egde, a video realized during a residency in Stockholm, the main character is shown walking through a series of narrow paths, typically adjacent to the proper spaces meant for passersby. In ‘Splitting Image,’ this device is also at play, but this time the situation is enhanced by the shooting of the scenes from two slightly different angles, one focused on the commuter’s path, the other on the main character. Except for a few reversals in the left–right screen placement of the image, the characters from each side don’t meet in the same filmic plane; they occupy a parallel space, but not a coextensive one.

Splitting Image, 4 min 40 sec video, 2 channels, silent, color, 2011.

The video was first shown at Bring to Light/Nuit Blanche as a double projection onto the rolling doors of the building on East Noble South (N2) in Greenpoint. The decayed industrial cityscape of the area, coupled with the waving pattern on these two doors provide an ideal background for the contents of the projected image.

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