Repeating Reflecting the Moment of Being: on Su Hui-Yu's “Stilnox Home Video”

By Chang Ching-Wen for Su Hui-Yu (蘇匯宇)

Repeating Reflecting the Moment of Being:

on Su Hui-Yu's “Stilnox Home Video”

by Chang Ching-Wen

Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours | 21mins | 2010 (still of the video)

1. Suspension/Slowness/Violence

The pace of Su Hui-Yu's latest video Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours is extremely slow – so slow that there is more than enough time for us to gaze at every single frame of the video in length before we finally fix our gaze on whatever captures our concentration.  It's almost as if the image would be penetrated if the gaze lingered for another minute.

With silent moving images running at a frame rate that is made deliberately slow, this video thoroughly tests the viewer's patience.  In a world that seems to border between the real and the illusional, we are presented with some sort of a reality television program based on the artist's own life experience.

As we focus on the nervous, insomniac person tossing and turning through a sleepless night, we gradually lose our patience. What is strangely intriguing is that such growing sense of impatience seems to mirror the protagonist's mood.  In extreme slow motion, the video is, in effect, violating our senses and pushing us into a welter of infinity.  With no sound whatsoever to draw away our attention, we have no option but to be fully absorbed into the visual language of the video.  As the camera slowly moves, we are only reminded by the movement of the chest and the hand during breathing as well as the diffusion of smoke that it is, after all, a temporal process, not a freeze-frame.

It is now finally confirmed that we are going through a lengthy process of waiting.

When the body is fully relaxed or drugged and the physical senses give up any possibility of resistance, an image saturated with dramatic tensions can really summon our senses to the unrelated fragments of a dramatic non-narrative, even though the setting is only an ordinary, familiar environment.

In the artist's statement, Su Hui-Yu notes,

According to a survey conducted by the Department of Health Bureau of Pharmaceutical Affairs, as of 2009, Taiwan has over 3,000,000 sleeping pill users.”

Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours | 21mins | 2010 (still of the video)

In other words, drugs have violently intervened in our everyday life.  In two of Su's pieces, Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours and A Horror Day, the artist resorts to drug effects in his exploration of the experience before and after sleep.  Although the two videos are considerably different in pace, with Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours being deliberately slow and A Horror Day looking like some kind of a suspension thriller, they both manipulate and control our senses by delaying or repressing the much-awaited reaction.  In the case of the Stilnox Home Video series, it does so by fostering a sense of slowness among the viewers.

Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours conveys the sense of slowness in two ways.  On the first level, the slow pace of the video evokes a sedated state of semi-consciousness as well as disorientation of the senses.  As the video unfolds, it reveals the grey zone between sleep and awake, dreams and daydreams.  Within this short window of time, which seems to occupy a different state of consciousness, every nuance of feeling is no less real than material realities, even though it seems to defy common sense.  When dampened by medication, the mind is no longer in its normal state, yet it is not quite the same thing as the senses dulled by drugs.  It is worth mentioning here that every single camera shot in Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours lasts no longer than 90 seconds, yet as far as the viewer is concerned, it feels as if the video has been running for hours and hours.  In a slow and silent manner, the video follows a medication-affected state of mind that is helplessly tired yet completely relaxed.  The random flow of events featured in the video resembles the activities of the mind just moments before sleep.

On the second level, the sense of slowness also derives from the accumulation of every seemingly light and insignificant detail featured in the video – the lights, the simple furniture, the naked body, or smoke.  It should be noted that in fact, these elements do not lighten up the video; quite the contrary, they gradually add weight to the piece as the video slowly pans from one side to another.  Suddenly, the light and sweet atmosphere in the staged, dreamland-like scene becomes heavy, allowing no space for any sense of joy or excitement at all.

The special effects used in Su Hui-Yu's earlier works have often involved the manipulation of speed.  For example, The Fabled Shoots (2007) and Bloody Beauty(2009) both entail that the artist capture the moments of explosion of fake blood capsules using a high-speed video camera and then unfold these moments in extreme slow motion, so that it looks as if the blood was exploding like fireworks.  One of the most effective ways to get close to the reality of this moment is to show it in a slow motion.  The irony of it is, however, that the change of speed has effectively removed the actual reality of the moment from the image.  In other words, we have inadvertently tampered with fact itself in our relentless pursuit of the fact.  This is a trick often used by the mainstream media and uncritically accepted by the audience.  Su Hui-Yu exposes this trick by deconstructing and invalidating its inner logic in a way which appears exciting, yet is devoid of any real passion or emotion.  In the case of Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours and A Horror Day, the former is extremely slow in its pace and the kind of emotional state that it evokes, whereas the latter has a narrative constantly interrupted by a stream of close-up shots.  These deliberately engineered effects disturb our senses not in the sense that they affect the pace of the video, but that they keep postponing the much-awaited moment.

2. Reality/Performance/Mise en abyme

Reality television is a genre of television programming that presents purportedly unscripted dramatic or humorous situations, documents actual events, and usually features ordinary people instead of professional actors.[1] The two pieces in Stilnox Home Video series cannot be perceived as reality television in a strict sense of the term.  Nevertheless, they still reflect part of the author's daily life.  The old apartment that is being used as the setting of the video is in fact where Su Hui-Yu lives.  Very little rearrangement has been made in the apartment to suit the purpose of filming, and Su's personal appearance in the video further evokes the voyeurism and schadenfreude of contemporary reality television.  Although the viewers may not be aware of their own voyeuristic act, they are, nonetheless, peeking into the (staged) everyday life of the artist, thanks to the artist's selfless sharing.

A Horrol Day | HD Video | 6mins | 2010

On the other hand, A Horror Day has all the basic ingredients of a suspension thriller: a fairly ordinary scene of everyday life involving little drama or emotion, a couple of tantalizing clues, exaggerated sound effects, fast-paced editing, an endless sequence of close-up shots as well as a seemingly never-ending story.  It is worth noting here that this piece was inspired by the artist's personal experience of the side effects after taking the medication Stilnox.  Under deep trance, the imagery from the horror movie that he had seen the night before seems to persist in his mind, making him suspicious over every little thing that surrounds him.  Having said that, we can also entertain the idea of seeing A Horror Day as an exaggerated version of everyday stories, or even a variation of fantasia.  Excluding the jumpy close-up shots and the background music, the content of the video is extremely banal and uninspired; it is those eye-catching special effects that distract us from the banality of everyday realities.  As a horror video film, A Horror Dayreflects the consciousness and imagination of the narrator who happens to be the actor and artist himself trapped in the limbo between sleep and awake.  However, it appears at first sight that the artist is scoffing at the film industry.  Although the video attempts to deliver some horror scenes, the well-trained viewers are not easily fooled.

Like Su Hui-Yu's one-man show A Horror DayStilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours again features the artist himself.  This format is in line with the intrusive nature of reality television into one's private sphere and deeper state of consciousness; it also opens the possibility of directing one's gaze at oneself.  It echoes the off-world world of reality television, and at the same time explores the multi-layered consciousness under the effect of medication.

Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours also makes reference to Su Hui-Yu's earlier works.  These references not only provide the artist himself with a channel for articulating self-consciousness, but also give the viewers a comprehensive understanding of Su Hui-Yu's works.  While watching the video, we see not only the insomniac artist himself, but also the details of his repetitive and banal everyday routines as well as the interplay of all kinds of performances and creative actions.  It is worth noting here that whereas the photo excerpts from Bloody Beauty are part of the original décor of Su's apartment, The Fabled Shoots and A Warning (2007) which are being played on the video screen are props used for the filming purpose.  Also seen in the smoke-filled room is the author doing a striking impression of Michael Jackson, making a reference to his earlier piece Bad (2005), in which Su Hui-Yu imitated Michael Jackson's famous dance moves, as well as the theater play of the same year Michael Jackson, which featured Su Hui-Yu, Wang Chia-Ming and Huang Yi-Ju.  Just like how those background images from Su's earlier works complement and enhance each other to map out the complete thoughts of the author, in Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours, the interplay of two separate consciousnesses of the drug-induced artist highlights the multi-subjectivity of the author and illustrates the state of consciousness typically experienced while under the influence of drugs. As a TV-addict and artist who tries to deconstruct the inner logic of television by way of creating a mock television show, Su Hui-Yu employs the strategy of Mise en abyme in both Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours and A Horror Day,inserting images from earlier works into the videosto highlight the multi-level dynamics of intertextuality. As a result, the video not only comes to embody the artist's alternative identity, but also serves as a reminder of the rich tapestry of the artist's work.  As the viewers peek into the private space of the artist, their minds are saturated with a mixture of imagery of bomb explosions, gunfights, advertising images, stills from horror movies, excerpts from music videos, and so forth, just like the narrator's mind is saturated with fragments of images from the television programs he had watched the night before.

Collected from a whole series of Su Hui-Yu's works, these moments of trance, which are hard to articulate, converge at Stilnox Home Video, turning the piece into an assembly point for all the ambiguities that characterize Su's works.  As a result, the artist's insomnia inadvertently helps him express his true state of being: that he is in fact trapped in the hazy limbo between the self and consciousness.  In Stilnox Home Video: The Midnight Hours, we see once again the unsolvable paradox of moving images: the things that appear closest to the fact tend to be those that betray the fact.  It can be argued that Stilnox Home Video:The Midnight Hours and A Horror Day disclose those unseen, or even invisible moments of being in our repetitive daily routines.  The flashing bursts of imagery from Su's earlier works as well as the repetitively occurring images of the “I” and other characters are intertwined together to create a world deformed by the side effects of Stilnox.  At the same time, the viewers get to peek directly into the life and consciousness of the author.

So as we watch the “I” entering through the gap of time, time gradually disappears in the slow process of its own accumulation as well as its indefinite postponement.

[1] See Wikipedia, “reality television”

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