Duration and Anri Sala’s Time After Time
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- Filmic Forms of Time: Montage, Metaphor and the Durational Image
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PhD Candidate, School of Film and TV, Monash University.
Duration and Anri Sala’s Time After Time
This paper draws from extensive interviews conducted with the Albanian video artist
Anri Sala. It locates his work as duration in relation to the philosophy of Bergson and
that of Deleuze following from this. This paper refers specifically to Sala’s work Time
After Time and communicates this work as duration in terms of its engagement of a
lived time and how this time resists generalisation and presences singularity.
Filmic Forms of Time: Montage, Metaphor and the Durational Image
This paper locates contemporary video artist Anri Sala’s work as duration in terms of
both its form and content. In order to clarify this location let us think about how
duration functions in conventional film. In conventional film, time works as a conduit
for action and works ultimately to form a story or carry a message. Here time is
subservient to that which moves through it and to what this movement signifies. In
conventional film, in a duration of two hours we may understand, through temporal
ellipsis and montage the elapse of 10 years. Thus the duration of 2 hours refers to a
temporal period of 10 years. When Sala terms his work durational work he is
separating it from what is referred to as the moving image.
He is situating his work
as duration as separate from referential time. Before delving further into the nature of
duration as concerns the work of Sala, let us first pause to consider referential time as
occurs in conventional cinema.
Film theorist Andre Bazin in his text What Is Cinema ? proposes that the montage of
conventional cinema produces a metaphorisation of the image. He considers the
reality of each image that is brought together into the filmic composition, results in
referring outside itself according to the consciousness of the director. In this way,
montage imposes an interpretation of the image upon the spectator and the time
within the image is employed to achieve this aim.
The process of metaphorisation
occurs whereby the image that frames one time and space is part of a signifying chain
that causes it to refer beyond itself to an organised system of reference. Metaphor,
belonging to language, is a transfer – a carrying from one place to another, from the
Greek meta – over, across and pheirein – to carry or bear – where one thing is
employed to signify something else.
We can also consider this process of
metaphorisation a kind of metamorphosis of time where the form of real time
shaped into story or signification. Metaphor allows us to make sense of reality,
however in real time where one moment passes into the next there is no place for
Anri Sala Interview One, with Simone Schmidt, Berlin, 14.09.06. (Hereafter referred to as
Interview One.) I will from here refer to his work as the durational image.
Andre Bazin, What Is Cinema? Volume One, University of California Press: Berkley, 1967,
Robert K, Barnhart, Dictionary of Etymology (Edinburgh: Chamber, 1988), 656.
Real time may be considered formless in the sense that it is a continuum – a never-ending
flow. However, I argue that in Sala’s durational images where time is captured by the framed
image and also in experience that we later return to as memory, there are particular forms of
time that are produced by the qualitative affects of certain rhythms.
metaphor without sacrificing this time to a mental abstraction. In distinction to
montage’s metaphorisation of the image into a coherent message, Bazin introduces the
depth of field shot of Italian neo-realism as undetermined by the director and
affording a disorganised and ambiguous experience. He considers this shot as a
united time-space that is released from the signatory interchange of montage and
allows time to flow without its necessary extension to action or meaning. He locates
this image as being close to the experience of reality in that it engages ‘a more active
mental attitude on the part of the spectator’ who must negotiate its lack of symbolic
Sala’s location of his work as duration relates not only to his working with the
material of time but also to how this material communicates when it is not
manipulated according to the end of signification. Thus we return to considering his
work as duration in terms of both form and content. Duration as both form and
content is significant to Sala’s practice in terms of his search for new aesthetic forms
and a resistance to common cultural references.
In this way, duration as that which
resists metaphor is key to his work. Sala comments on this resistance:
There is this idea with metaphor that everything has to become part of our world and our
logic, and that we have to explain it and make it fit … I always felt in the schools in the
West this idea of the metaphor that everything has to explain something else. A butterfly
cannot just be a butterfly for itself it already means something else … Not everything
follows our own logic. If we really believe that we become blind.
To return to Bazin’s discussion, the image that resists metaphorisation works with a
temporal realism, in a time that is not chopped up and sutured into the logical form of
Temporal realism is not something unfamiliar to video art. Video art and the
notion of the record of real time have been partnered since its conception. We see it in
the video art of the early performance artists and also in contemporary video art that
communicates as a surveillance or a documentary of public space.
communicated in Sala’s work relates to these records of time, and to Bazin’s united
time-space shot, where it is often composed through a single take with a static camera,
which records a continuum of the experience of time from one position in space.
However, there is something else occurring in Sala’s work, something which is tied
with positioning his work as durational images, something of a more vital nature. In
this paper I argue that this something both constitutes and communicates a lived time.
Duration as Lived Time
Time After Time is a 5 minute record of a horse standing on the edge of a road at night
time. The horse appears fragile and precariously balanced as if it would not take much
for it to fall into the path of the violence of speeding vehicles. Its form and that of the
buildings behind it waver in and out of figuration and abstraction. This movement is
produced by a rhythm of synchrony between the illuminating headlights of the
passing vehicles and the focus ring of the camera. The lack of light and ambiguous
Bazin, What is Cinema?, 35-36.
Anri Sala, Interview Three, with Simone Schmidt, Berlin, 18.09.06. (Hereafter referred to as
Bazin, What is Cinema?, 37.
For examples of this type of performance art see Bruce Nauman’s and Valie Export’s work
of the 70s. For examples of the contemporary records of public space see for example,
Francis Alys’ Zocalo (1999) and Jeroen de Rilke and Willem de Rooij’s Untitled (2001).
perceptual cues in this piece situate it as an enigma. Released from narrative and a
coherent context, this piece as duration communicates as a temporal unfolding of
confused sensorial engagement – as a lived time of disturbed and unstable perception.
Sala’s work has been described as engaging a ‘sentient animalism, the original speed
of the living.’
What might this speed be? Of Time After Time Sala has stated that he
did not so much consciously operate the camera, as find a rhythm between that of his
breath and the focus ring of the camera.
The movement of our breath is perhaps the
most basic and most intimate of rhythms we experience. Time After Time is also
composed of the rhythms of the external world, the passing cars, the movement of
light and sound, the horse’s movement, yet also of our internal rhythms. In fact we
access these external rhythms offered to us through the durational image, by way of
our internal rhythms – in this way what is external to us in lived time is also internal
to us. In locating Time After Time as duration – as lived time, I am locating it as the
experience of time as it is felt or embodied as distinct from time that is signified. Of
this distinction Sala comments:
Five minutes is five minutes. It cannot be less than five it cannot be more than five but … it can feel
longer than five or it can feel shorter than five … This is related to … pleasure, this is related to …
[boredom], this is related to whether there is pain … to whether you as a viewer feel comfortable
with what you are seeing, this is related to your position [as viewer] …
Sala has distinguished time as it is quantified from time as qualitative experience.
Quantifiable time is a type of referential time – whereby time is understood according
to a numerical symbol. Cinematic images communicate referential time. For example,
the image of a plane passing signifies the journey of a character from one country to
another. We are not given an experience of this time, that is the space inhabited by the
character on the plane, but rather a symbolic image of it. There are many other types
of this filmic referential time – the flying pages of a calendar, the falling leaves from a
tree, to more subtle mechanisms – that all communicate the passing of time, without
us having to live this time. Sala has stated that he is not interested in,
[m]aking people understand time through references but making them feel time as an
experience, which means as a duration … [where there is the possibility] of mix[ing] to the
point of forgetting or not knowing anymore the time of the film with the time of seeing
Suzanne Page, “Preface”, in Anri Sala: When Night Calls it a Day (Paris:Musee d’art
moderne de la Ville de Paris, 2004), 8.
Anri Sala in Stefano Boeri “Anri Sala: Long Sorrow and Other Stories,” in Flash Art 39, no.
247 (March April 2006), 89.
Sala, Interview One.
the film. The film becomes your time.
The distinction between time as a reference or as quantifiable and time as internal
experience is fundamental to Bergson’s conception of duration introduced in his first
text Time and Free Will. Here, Bergson describes duration as a multiplicity – as
qualitative experience where the continuum of moments produce layers of the past
interpenetrating the present. He argues that these moments cannot be broken up,
measured across space in the way the words I now write follow each other across the
page or like the beads strung along a chord that make a necklace. That is, duration is
not an assemblage of distinct instants that can be geometrically or mathematically
located. Bergsonian duration is the experience of successional moments as
multiplicities, through their interpenetration, and the whole – the overall composition
of the moments of experience. If this composition were to be broken into parts it
could not be felt and therefore cease to be duration for duration is this feeling.
When the regular oscillations of the pendulum make us sleepy, is it the last sound heard,
the last moment perceived, which produces the effect? No, undoubtedly not, for why then
should not the first have done the same? Is it the recollection of the preceding sound or
movements, set in juxtaposition to the last one? But this same recollection, if it is later set
in juxtaposition to a single sound or movement, will remain without effect. Hence we must
admit that the sounds combined with one another and acted not by their quantity as
quantity, but by the quality, which their quantity exhibited, that is by the rhythmic
understood in any other way?
Bergson continues his discussion of the unquantifiable nature of duration, stating that
experience that is intensive cannot be made extensive through language.
a relationship between what is intensive – durational experience and what is extensive
– language, symbols and our visual apprehension of space.
The tension between the
intensive and extensive is locatable in Time After Time. This work offers us intimate
experience – the rhythm of the artist’s breath in relation to the observed horse in the
darkness. The external world however, is disfigured through the interplay of the
camera with the darkness and the shifting lights. What is extensive is not clearly
communicable – the work offers no easily read signs. In my experience of the image,
the obscure view of the horse and its condition returns me to the intensive space of the
breath that although an intimate space in its closeness to what is closest in us, marks a
distance from the reality of the horse. The horse moves in and out of focus in
continual abstraction and realisation with the rhythm of breath and the vacillations of
the light and sound of the passing vehicles. Within the durational image object and
concept, that which are extensive, are substituted for sensation and its corollary,
affect, that which is intensive. As an image of experience – undetermined and
intensive, Time After Time offers us a problem of interpretation.
Of the work Sala states:
Sala, Interview One.
Henri Bergson, Time And Free Will: An Essay on the Immediate Data of Consciousness,
trans. F.L Pogson (1913; repr., Mineola: New York: Dover Publications, 2001), 105 – 106,
Henri Bergson ‘The Idea of Duration’ in Bergson: Key Writings, eds. Keith Ansell Pearson
and John Mullarkey (New York: Continuum, 2002), 61, 63, 65.
Generally, I explain my videos. But not this one. Because I find that people have
different readings according to their cultural contexts. For the Canadians, the
Australians, the Americans, whose society succeeds in controlling their environment, it
is a circus horse that has been trained to play this scene and raise its leg each time a car
passes. In the Balkans or in Senegal, where man is in bankruptcy compared with the
environment, where he fails to control what surrounds him, this presence is otherwise
perceived. To many it seems surreal.
Sala has highlighted that which cultural context we come from will determine how we
read the horse and its situation. Yet speaking of the work to friends and colleagues I
found that people also found resemblances to fairy stories or a childhood horse and
other aspects of their histories that are not so obviously translatable to a socio-
political domain. However, what is common to all perspectives of the work is that the
viewer will invest what is significant to them in the image of disorganised reality and
that their investment will be strikingly evident for there is nothing written in the
image that can either confirm or deny this investment.
This premise of our ordering of that which is disorded in reality through our personal
investment is a significant thesis in Bergson’s second text Matter and Memory.
Bergson communicates that what we perceive of reality is driven by our economies of
interest and that we are not perceiving reality in its entirety but reducing it to what is
significant to these economies.
Time After Time as a disorganised image of reality
highlights our economies of perception. A viewer of Time After Time may recall the
image of a fairytale, however they are not able to marry this image to durational
image – that is, render it as the reality of the image – it remains a recollection
contiguous to the durational image, which resists metaphorisation. Bergson
formulates the processes of perception as grounded in his theory of duration, whereby
perception as duration is the memory of the past awoken in the present. He writes:
With the immediate and present data of our senses, we mingle a thousand details of our
past experience. In most cases these memories supplant our actual perceptions, of which
we then retain only a few hints, thus using them merely as ‘signs’ that recall to us former
images. The convenience and the rapidity of perception are bought at this price; but hence
also springs every kind of illusion …
Bergson introduces two process of perception that are developed by Deleuze in his
text Cinema Two: The Time Image.
The first is a habitual perception whereby we
perceive that which is of immediate use to us and from this we proceed to act in a
certain way. The object of perception is recognised as general and familiar through
Sala in Stephanie Baumann, “Occurrence,” Synethesie, 28 06 2004,
, accessed 20.07.06
Bergson Matter and Memory in Key Writings, 99, 101.
Bergson, Key Writings, 96, emphasis added.
The discussion that follows is greatly influenced by Gilles Deleuze’s reading of Bergson’s
theory of the two processes of perception. See, Gilles Deleuze, Cinema Two: The Time
Image, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta (1989; repr., New York: Continuum, 2005),
42, 43. In this discussion I have employed the terms used by Deleuze – habitual and attentive
recognition. However, Bergson separates the two forms of memory as motor-mechanisms
and independent recollections. See, Henri Bergson, Matter and Memory, trans. Nancy
Margaret Paul and W. Scott Palmer (1912; repr., New York: Dover, 2004), 87.
images of the memory that are similar to it. This recognition is realised through what
Bergson term’s the sensori-motor of the body, which acts upon the object according to
Habitual recognition allows us to drink without thinking from a water
bottle – to perceive the object without contemplation and immediately act upon it. The
second type of perception takes the form of an attentive recognition where in the
experience of our realities our sensori-motor, that is – our perception that extends into
action – is either relaxed or disturbed. This is where we can no longer make
immediate use of our environment, our habit-motor
has given way and we
contemplate the water bottle, no longer seeing it as that which contains water, but
rather as a form that evokes another kind of perceptual engagement in terms of its
singularity. In attentive recognition there is no longer an immediate recognition,
rather, there is a more curious mode of viewing that requires us to draw deeper from
our perceptual revenues in order to make sense of the object. Deleuze frames attentive
recognition as follows:
My movements – which are more subtle and of another kind – return to the object, so
as to emphasize certain contours and take ‘a few characteristic features’ from it. And
we begin all over again when we want to identify different features and contours, but
each time we have to start from scratch … we see the object remaining the same, but
passing through different planes … we constitute a pure optical (and sound) image of
the thing, we make a description … The optical (and sound) image in attentive
recognition does not extend into movement but enters into a relation with a
‘recollection image’ that it calls up.
object cannot be concretely realised, but rather wavers in relation to a play of
recollections. The surreality that some viewers experience of this image can be related
to the effect of attentive recognition which Bergson locates as close to a dreamlike
order to act, attentive recognition brings us back to ‘dwell upon’ it.
recognition may occur when our familiar economies of reference have been disabled
due to the emotional experience of rupture, the experience of which, as Sala has
commented, although painful, allows one’s perception to reawaken, from its slumber
of habit, and to see things with a greater curiousity, to participate in the slower
process of inquiry rather than an immediacy of judgement.
Sala has stated that he was interested in the figure of the horse because it is a figure so
familiar to humanity, a symbol so inscribed within our histories and our mythologies.
He desired to locate the familiar figure of the horse in terms of an unfamiliarity.
opening the ‘recognisable’ sign of the horse to a lived time – the time of duration –
recognition is disturbed and we ask ourselves what it is in fact that we see.
The body is a sensori-motor system where it feels affections (sensori) and performs actions
(motor) – this is the reflexive/active domain of perception. See Bergson, Key Writings, 114.
The term habit-motor is a development of sensori-motor and signifies the body’s perception
extending into habitual action. See Key Writings, 137 for the use of this term in relation to
Deleuze, Cinema Two, 44-46.
Bergson, Key Writings, 94.
Sala, Interview Three.
Anri Sala in Interview with Hans Urlich Olbrist, Point of View: An Anthology of the Moving
Image. Anri Sala (New York: Bick Productions, New Museum of Contemporary Art, 2004).
Time After Time is an image open to time. It is what Deleuze terms a time image.
Deleuze distinguishes this image from his concept of the movement-image. He
develops this taxonomy of images, after Bergson, from the concepts of habitual and
attentive recognition. The movement image is of conventional cinema where time
carries action that discloses the meaning of situations.
The time-image is where
‘time ceases to be derived from movement’ and ‘appears in itself’.
the time-image are opened to time and signs become what Deleuze terms op and son
signs, presenced as singularities – no longer part of a generalised order – that is part
of a knowledge system where things are recognised according to our interests.
we perceive only what we are interested in perceiving, or rather what it is in our interests
to perceive, by virtue of our economic interests, our ideological beliefs and psychological
demands. We therefore only perceive clichés. But if our sensory-motor schemata jam or
break, then a different type of image can appear: a pure optical-sound image without
metaphor brings out the thing in itself … its radical or unjustifiable character, because it no
longer has to be justified.
disclosed through action or utility but undetermined and allow the poles of the
imaginary and the real to touch.
Our subjective overlays hover before these
ambiguous signs, highlighting whatever it may be that we can invest – highlighting
perception as a creative act. However, this investment is only fleeting – it cannot mark
the radical nature of the optical-sound image.
Op and son signs tell us little of what we are to do with them but more about what we
can feel of them. They are significant in that they are presences, in that they demand
attention. Sala has stated that he wishes to give presence to things normally forgotten
in the hierarchy of things.
Giving presence to things however does not mean locating
them according to a particular knowledge system. The horse on the side of the road
could be a setting for human action or a human reference point and yet it is neither of
these things. It works to touch on the presence of the horse, its surroundings, the
vehicles – the situation as a whole rather than communicate as a representation, a
metaphor or cliché.
durational image affords a process of curious inquiry and allows the horse and its
world to exist beyond any framework we might impose upon it. Sala’s project is not
as simple and clear a trajectory as offering us the singularity of material presences
rather than, offering an opening to how these presences are in tension or constant
interplay with our subjective apprehension of them. The op son sign of attentive
This distinction echoes Sala’s distinction of his work as duration from the moving image and
also the separation of Bazin’s temporal realism of the united-time space from the ‘tricks of
Ibid.,19 – 20.
Deleuze, Cinema Two, 9, 44.
recognition compels us to add our spirit to matter.
Yet they are also that which
disturb this process of recognition and are engaged through a continual creation and
This process is figured in the rhythm of abstraction and realisation of form
in Time After Time. It also occurs in our efforts to sense and make sense of it. This
process of continual creative change is essential to duration – whereby experience is
undetermined and simultaneously calls for but resists our organisation of it. In this
way, Time After Time communicates and constitutes lived time – duration.
Deleuze, Cinema Two, 46.
alterity. However, I cannot continue on this trajectory due to the limit of space.
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