Room to Breathe: Gariné Torossian's Come Around

She reaches in search of her room...

Gariné Torossian’s Come Around (2008) is a short video of great visual and aural power. Its iconic, archetypal images of love and longing, at once obscure and illuminating, linger long after the video has ended. The video, you might say, inhabits the viewer, circulating in her or his system, just as the images, the voice-over and poetry, and the music inhabit one another, or collaborate, in the work itself. In this way, Come Around partakes in what might be called a pneumatological imagination and process. Come Around, it seems to me, can be productively considered from this pneumatological perspective as thematizing the flow of spirit, that is, life, flowing between word and image, body and body, breath to breath. Come Around, among other things a work of art about conjuring, conjures such a reflection.

Pneumatology is the study of the Holy Spirit, the observation of the mediation between the material and the immaterial realms, the movement of the Soul, the flux of life. The term pneumatology comes from the combination of two Greek words: pneuma, meaning “breath” or, in a religious context, “spirit,” and logos, meaning “word.” Dante held that poetry emerges from the breath or spirit of the poet, via language, into the world, to connect with other people. Poetry, then, is the intersection between the two realms of spirit and word. A pneumatological consideration of poetry and the poetry of images would thus start from a consideration of the circulation of meaning in the oscillation of the immaterial and the material and back again, from one person inside and out to another, to be returned, to flow. Perhaps we can call this relationship between media, between people and their gestures, between spirit and the creation of the world, love.

Variations on the vicissitudes of love would seem to be the subject matter of the poem by Toronto-based poet, Louise Bak, in Come Around. The poem, delivered by a sensuous female voice, describes the temperamental relationship of a man and a woman, who are at once so close and so far from one another. The movements of surfaces – water, faces – abound in the imagery of the poem, evoking the dangerous and seductive mysteries that reside within the world of appearances. The poet describes hands clutching, fists clenching, and palms revealing – so many expressive gestures signifying everything and nothing. Water and fire, wind and dust also intermingle in the visual and aural imaginary of Come Around, circling around one another, etching and transgressing their respective boundaries. Meanwhile, Peter Scherer’s haunting score adds a cosmic dimension to the affair, hovering between melodramatic affect and the lyrical.

The elemental landscape in Come Around – where the unidentified, unnamed lovers grasp toward and crawl away from one another – is at once internal and external: the rocky, treacherous, swirling terrain of love. What appear to be still images, drawings appropriated or perhaps conjured by Torossian’s very hands, are invested with a certain dynamism, describing the desperate measures of the struggling, animated bodies. Early in Come Around, the image of fire curls back upon itself against the darkness, coalescing to form a kind of hand grasping the world of black. As the wind blows the world together and apart, Torossian provides the clear image of an animated woman blowing a powerful breath of light into the world: she is an elemental force.

Is the world of Come Around Heaven or Hell? Impossible to say, as the two seem to coexist here on the same plane, wrapped around one another like two lovers, their very polarity charging the terrain with energy and then flying apart. At one point, as the two lovers reach out for one another, she imagined with a strained grimace upon her face, he falls into a red vortex, spiraling away from the viewer into a distant, obscure shape. He lets go. She cries. Gone. For just a moment, the spiral forms into the shape of an eye – the abyss looks back. It breathes. The music rises to a pitch. The eye shuts.

At the end of the video, we are confronted with the image of two lovers embracing in a world that somewhat resembles our own. Here, the two stand as one in the center of the frame on a city street, flanked by cars, shops, and telephone lines. The voice-over offers: “When she finds him dozy with morphine / TV left on / says, ‘cheap grasp recovers fast.’” This line, in conjunction with the image of the modern lovers, offers a critique of romance in the modern world: namely, resolution to the struggle can only be found in the idealized, commodified image of love, in the arrest of the dangers that charge it with its (un)reality. It is in the still image of the lovers in a setting that uncannily resembles our own world, a world forged by the television, that the “cheap grasp [that] recovers fast,” the fake encounter, finds its hold. Recovery, from addiction or love or loss, Come Around suggests, only comes fast and easy to the cheap, degraded experience offered by the norms of Western culture. The barren landscape, the spectral lovers clutching one another, the world and the fire: this is where the truth of the spirit resides. The condition of possibility of love is the place where it may have room to breathe...or no room but to suffocate. She pulls away, what goes around; the man and woman kiss, comes around.

John Piekoszewski