Steina «The West» 1983-98.
Steina made her two channel videowork The West at the VLA in l983. In addition to the 27 radio instruments at Socorro, she interweaves images of Native American pueblos and the Anasazi ruins at Chaco Canyon. The Anasazi people circa 1100 A.D. are known to have been fascinated with the astronomical events of their time, making visual records of lunar and solar positions and of other celestial events, including the appearance of the Crab Supernova. The West is a meditation on mankind's abiding interest in the sky, both ancient and modern.
Visible light is only a small part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Since the 1950s radio telescopes have joined optical telescopes in exploring the sky, with major instruments at Jodrell Bank in England and Arecibo in Puerto Rico. Perhaps the most impressive radio telescope is the multiple antenna Very Large Array (VLA) in Socorro, New Mexico - it has been a featured location for both Peter Hyams' 2010 and Contact, the film made from Carl Sagan's novel about the reception of messages from an advanced civilization in deep space.
The video installation consists of two different tapes, each 30 minutes long, which can be played on two or more monitors. Steina prefers an array of 22 alternating monitors, which can be organized in a circle, or as an arc, or as two parallel lines. More interesting than this architectural arrangement is the way the tapes were made. All of the footage was made with motorized cameras revolving 360 degrees around fixed positions. «I was very intimidated about using any kind of manual movement,» Steina said, «because it seemed to trivialize the material.» Much of the footage was recorded with her 'Allvision' camera system that has a spherical mirror mounted in front of her video camera lens. The mirror occupies a bit more than half of the picture frame, so that we can see both behind the mirror-camera assembly, and ahead of the camera (all around the edge of the mirror). We see forwards and backwards as well as looking at astronomical materials made 900 years ago, and in our own era. We look forward and backward in space, and in time.
«I was trying in this work to depict nature—to sing the glory of nature.... There is no way that you could take this overwhelming beauty and [put] it into a little box successfully....» Woody Vasulka made a four channel soundtrack for The West but it did not shape the visuals of the work. «Usually, visual material wants to go forward. In film and video-making you don't want to see the same image twice—you don't want repetition.... but in music, everything is always repeated. If you think of any large form or small form, even a song, it is repeated in different texts. It is very common in music to take several themes and weave them together. I didn't have that in mind, but it works out in retrospect.» ~ Steina