Exit Christopher Musgrave [video] with Xopher Davidson [audio] 2007

Peripheral reflections from ephemeral light phenomena are captured in their innate states and then subtly processed to reveal more central attention. Xopher Davidson generated a sonic scape complimenting the energy inherent in the interplay of light and shadows.

Christopher Musgrave’s EXIT exudes a visual reverence and calm presence that too often eludes digital-media artists in their frantic rush to exploit the onslaught of fleeting technologies. Using the digital process as a filmmaker would an optical printer, Musgrave’s remarkably organic approach retains the integrity of the image in spite of EXIT’s visibly fractured and elusive space, and plumbs its depths where most can only isolate the surface.

Reminiscent of the “pure realms of phenomena” present in American experimental filmmaker Nathaniel Dorsky’s films, EXIT’s images pulse kaleidoscopic in lyrical abstraction amidst a shadowy gauze, as decadent golds, vivid fuschias, and brilliant blues mutate into luscious purples, florid greens, and shimmering coral. By engaging with these “ephemeral peripheries” that flicker in the ebb and flow of sculpted light, Musgrave captures a prismatic view of a world implied, and much like Plato’s “allegory of the cave” to which the piece’s title alludes, he then sends us into the light. Xopher Davidson’s mystical electronic drone serves to set the pace with its sonic stained-glass filter, reaching an aural epiphany amidst an explosion of color. Like a flash in the night…

- Christine Metropoulos


The question of the visual entails the question of the (re-)construction of the image, referencing to that which can be made visible and that which cannot. The belief in an objective visual reality has become the subject of many artists' works, stemming from a century-old history of philosophical observations. Allegories like Plato's reflection on the shadows in the cave tackle primordial questions about making images visible and discernible. How can we believe in the actuality of the image as a representation of reality, which can only be composed in the mind of the observer. Christopher Musgrave's video Exit takes up these questions with the use of contemporary image technology. The key elements of the video, a succession of altered, layered, and blended motion pictures, center around the modalities of changing the perception of peripheral states of visuality and their content reality.

Exit offers a multitude of changing visual silhouettes whose gestalt makes them disappear in and reappear out of the dark. These peripheral emanations of light make individual sequences appear like single frames or photographic images which are entangled in a kaleidoscopic game. Linking the video to Plato's cave allegory creates a thematic reference to Susan Sontag's inquiries into the ontological parameters of photography. Entitling the very first chapter of her seminal publication On Photography "In Plato's Cave", Sontag states: "Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept it as the camera records it. But this is the opposite of understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks." The latter can also be seen as the starting point for Musgrave's video, confronting us with non-discernible images which call for an understanding of the world on the basis of a non-objective visual matrix. Viewers are captured like the people in Plato's cave, who can only look at the shadows of the light in front of them but not turn back to see the light itself as a source of life and entrance to the cave. What do we make out of the individual bits of information the video offers and how do they help us to decipher their meaning? Like a code or a non-deciphered language, the elements appear on the screen or projection wall and call for a close reading of their content matter. Their encrypted messages pose questions about the t he language of light and the mediation of its radiation from the sun, which provides the vantage point for Musgrave's technological approach.  

In the video, the hallucinatory effects of light and its photo-realistic simulations are intertwined in a shifting of colors and musical drones. The unaccountability of information also provokes questions about the psyche and the therapeutic aspects of visual and musical gestures. Viewers are kept in a trance-like situation similar to that in the cave and have to make out their version of the reality offered through Musgrave's images. Like in Plato's allegory, the location of the Exit remains a mystery and thus offers a realm of psychological dimensions ranging from drug-induced or mental disorders to possible ways of visualizing how our unconscious works. Here, the importance of the technical apparatus again comes into play as a device which records images, movements and a reality subjected to the human gaze. "Although there is a sense in which the camera does indeed capture reality, not just interpret it, photographs [as well as all still and motion pictures] are as much an interpretation of the world as paintings and drawings are." This quote from Sontag underlines the distorting dimensions of images, which account for a variety of interpretative moments depending on the psycho-pathological level of their viewers. At the same time, questions about scientific codes, whose readability is restricted to only a few people, emanates in the course of watching the video. This brings us back to Plato's allegory of the cave, which is re-enacted through the projection of the video and automatically evokes a cave or tunnel-like situation. Sound and images create a contemporary version of the Platonian situation which encourages viewers to always look front and get enmeshed in the psychedelic constellation of light and shadows. Thus, Musgrave's video draws the line between the incalculable effects of light and the scientific or technological level lying behind its creation. Exit oscillates between the technical possibilities of recording the world and its psychic constellations and the space that lies in the realm of unknown ontological matters.

- Walter Seidl   

Susan Sontag. On Photography . New York: Penguin, 1979, p.23.
Sontag, p.6.

Medienturm, Graz, 2007