The Eye of God by Angela Kingston
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The Eye of God by Angela Kingston
Wasp, Zatorski & Zatorski, image courtesy of the artists

The Last 3600 Seconds of Wasp, Zatorski & Zatorski, image courtesy of the artists

Angela Kingston considers God and the importance of seeing small things.

I’m now an atheist, but I’m nostalgic about one thing in particular from my Sunday School. On the wall, mounted in a frame, were the words: God sees the sparrow fall. Meaning that, no matter how insignificant something might seem to be, there’s an all-seeing, all-caring witness of it. (The phrase is from Matthew in the Bible; the idea of omniscience also features large in other religions.)

When I went to the preview of the Whitechapel Gallery Open in 2001, there were hordes of people watching a video called The Last 3600 Seconds of Wasp, by Zatorski and Zatorski.  It was of a wasp, in close-up, in its dying throes – and it was 60 minutes long. But people could not tear themselves away. Everyone was transfixed as the wasp twitched its legs in the air and then became quite motionless, over and over again, until finally it moved no more.

My point is that in our hard-bitten secular society we at some level still crave a sense of the existence of a witness to the smallest of events; we also want to think that everything matters. And I’m proposing that there’s a ‘witness’ type of filmmaking that can serve, in part at least, as a substitute for the idea of God. In the case of The Last 3600 Seconds of Wasp, while we’re watching the ‘witnessing of the camera’, we’re temporarily relieved of the limitations of what we as humans will ordinarily notice and care about.

Think of all the single-screen artists’ films that are comprised of one, or just a very few shots, in which very little happens, except that something that’s at first glance insignificant becomes meaningful – eventually. For example, there’s Cobra Mist (2008) by Emily Richardson, involving long, slow footage of a decaying ex-military base that: ‘records the physical traces of its often secretive past using the photographic nature of 16mm film and time lapse to construct an impossible experience of the landscape and expose its history to the camera’. Or Mark Wallinger’s Threshold to the Kingdom (2000), in which a static camera is trained on a steady flow of people coming through the arrivals door of an airport. Or Rosalind Nashashibi’s Hreash House (2004), a film of the domestic interior of a Palestinian home, during the preparation and eating of a meal.

In such films, time is captured and stored, and sometimes slowed down or speeded up: thanks to the supra-human capabilities of the camera, the unexpected happens. The otherwise meaningless death of a wasp is invested with the purpose of making us care (Zatorski and Zatorski); some tumble-down buildings cause us to reflect with concern about chilling aspects of human behaviour (Richardson); we find ourselves ruminating on hope and innocence, and on our fears, compassionate and guilty by turns (Wallinger); we have a privileged view of distant strangers, and we learn something essential about them by watching every detail of their lives (Nashashibi). The camera’s singular eye invests us with a conscience, and the world with meaning.

  1. Nick says:

    Beautifully put. You might just make an art lover of me yet!

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