Once Upon a Time is Now

"as seen by a particular man at a particular time"

Paul Grobstein

22 October 2004

As soon as I saw Elizabeth's exhibit I knew that I wanted to try and make a web version of it. My first thoughts were to see if I could make a "virtual" representation of the exhibit, something that would give people the experience they would have themselves have had visiting the "actual" exhibit. What emerged over several weeks of photographing and playing with photographs is very much not that. It is, for better or for worse, a reflection of Elizabeth's exhibit "as seen by a particular man at a particular time".

It might have come out otherwise. The technology exists to create something that would have been closer to a virtual representation of the exhibit in the sense just defined. One can, using special cameras and software, create representations of spaces that allow viewers to themselves choose and continually vary the viewing perspective (see, for example a virtual tour of St Michael's Abbey). It's not a technology that I'm familiar with, and that's certainly part of the reason that I didn't use it. But even at its best that technology didn't and doesn't feel right to me. Yes, it gives the viewer control over the viewing location and perspective (to varying degrees) but it doesn't (to me at least) feel "real". When I use it, I find myself thinking about the technology and its limits rather than experiencing the space represented.

And THAT was what I wanted to do, to create something that would give others an experience of the space Elizabeth created, where the space was not just space but a particular space structured by the existence of an outside and by the particular things and distributions of those things inside the space. And so I fell back on an older technology of creating space by using single photographs, views from particular perspectives, and linking them together to create a sense of space (cf Serendip's House and Transformation).

What this means, of course, is that the web version is not a virtual representation of Elizabeth's exhibit. It is a version in which a viewer is invited to see things using the particular perspectives from which I saw them, and is further constrained by what I found my attention drawn to and hence photographed. At the same time, it was, among other things, the "spaceness" of Elizabeth's installation that attracted me and that I wanted to convey. Where "spaceness" means, to me, the freedom to move this way and that, to change perspectives, as one's attention is drawn to one interesting thing or another. I hope the linking of photographs gives visitors to this representation of Elizabeth's installation THAT sense of space.

There are, I think, all sorts of interesting issues raised by the relation between this web exhibit and Elizabeth's original installation. Some of them are more specific and more technical: what does and doesn't effectively represent space in a two dimensional environment like the web? And some are more general. Ought a representation be "faithful" to the original? And what exactly would that mean? If the representation isn't supposed to be faithful, in what ways is it derivative and in what ways new and what are the justifications or rationales for either? By what right (or for what purpose) does one person take the creation of another and revise it?

As I was working on this exhibit, I became increasingly aware of how much it was in fact MY view of Elizabeth's exhibit because I started thinking about an enormous variety of other ways the exhibit could be represented. And I'd like to expand this exhibit by adding some of those, and perhaps even by setting things up in a way that visitors could use the raw materials (the photographs) to create some of those other representations as well.

For the moment, I'm very pleased and grateful that Elizabeth allowed me to work with her materials to create a version of Once Upon a Time is Now "as seen by a particular man at a particular time". It's my way of trying to convey to others the richness I saw in Elizabeth's exhibit and, in trying to do so, to convey as well some of the new things I learned in the process both about the exhibit and about myself and how I see/represent the world. My thanks also to Ann Dixon, for taking my working sketch of this exhibit and transforming it into something that ... comes closer to being art.

Your reactions/thoughts/comments are welcome in the "Once Upon a Time is Now" on-line forum.