The Platform a Performer: A Textual Collage Reflecting on Gariné Torossian's Platform
This text is compiled of fragmented reflections on Gariné Torossian’s 1998 film Platform. The fragments are at once related and fractured; you will find no continuity editing here. Like the film itself, this writing bares its cuts and splices to the reader in an act of textual collage.
Where is the Platform? There is the Platform!
The performance on the platform is trapped, tangled, and at times lost within the platform.
Images of a dancer’s performance in a lighting studio are captured on film and video; and captured they are, like prisoners in a jail cell confined behind bars of scratched emulsion and electromagnetic force fields of video refresh rates. The dancer’s body is enmeshed in the cords and cables of the apparatus, tangled in the mechanical web of representation, and woven among mediated layers of visual pleasure.
The medium of film and television is, in itself, a platform for expression and dissemination, while the lighting studio or sound stage is a physical platform for performances within this medium. Even the thick soles of her shoes are platforms separating her body from the sound stage.
Normally a platform is unnoticed; its only purpose to elevate and highlight the performer and the performance. Yet in this case, the platform competes with the performer for the public, as it draws attention to itself, through the physical obstacles that it creates for this performer in space past, and the material distortions it places on the performer in time present.
The Apparatus’s New Clothes: Set or Anti-Set?
We do not see the camera, and yet we see evidence of its presence through the recorded images it presents. Despite the seemingly absent camera, other normally invisible traces of the apparatus abound in this film.
The apparatus is naked and bare before the invisible camera: lights, stands, and cables unmasked. With no constructed set, props, or decoration, it stands undressed before us. And yet, is this an anti-set or a set? Have the lights and cables been purposefully arranged in an artificial construction of non-artifice?
In contrast, the dancer’s body is fully made up and costumed with exaggerated make up and platform shoes; ready to provide visual pleasure to the untouchable viewer. But is this costume or anti-costume? Does the exaggerated make-up draw attention to itself only to subvert itself?
A Body That Cannot Be Touched
This performer is separated from the viewer by more than just the camera and the luminescent window-mirror of the screen. Her image is buried beneath layers of emulsion, it is attacked by chemicals, and it resides in positive and negative inversions of colour. Her face is at times caged behind prison bars of harsh scratches over her soft emulsified image. Her image, at other times, is tucked safely away behind video roll bars and refresh rates, rolling first forward, then back, pausing from time to time as they point to the multiple layers of processing that her image has endured: transfers of transfers of transfers of a recording. How many times removed is this representation of the original recording of the once the lived event?
In the first half of the film, we watch her image carefully maneuvering, balancing, and exploring the space with her platform clad feet; charting the space and the air around her with her feet, and yet never traveling. Her torso, while fluid, never leaves the space that it occupies as her arms and legs emanate cautiously from her centre of gravity to trace her kinesphere – that space which is reachable without displacement. Her image never leaves the frame or travels in space; it performs a cautious exploration of her current stationary place within the space of the moving picture frame.
Tools of Inversion and Reversion
The material handling of these images packs and unpacks them into little packets of meaning and emotion. As the film fluctuates between positive and negative, her body merges with the set in positive and emerges from it in negative. Her positively black costume blends into the dark shadows leaving only her bare skin protruding from the walls. Yet, somehow the negative reveals her outlines of black on black in hues of orange and blue and green.
In the spirit of collage, these film strips are sliced and spliced, not only along the invisible frame line of an editor’s cut, but irreverently vertical, down the middle, down the third, along axes not meant to be shorn. Vertically split in two and then in three, her full body on the right with upside down legs on the left. From time to time we see the same image with the same movement on both sides; one positive, one negative; one upright, one upside down. These elaborate collages, cutouts, and quilts of moving image reduce her three-dimensional image into two, as they draw our attention to the unseen material on which her image resides.
Jump cuts, looping movements, and repetition of motifs, create a sense of tension and apprehension as we watch her checking over and over and over again to see if the space is still there and the same. From the knees down, her feet continue to explore the space in and around the cables and the lights.
One recurring image is an extreme close up of her heavily made up eyes, at once expressive and non-expressive as she blinks in the blue light; her eyelids closing like blinds over frosted glass. She looks up, then over, then down, in a repeating circular motion, at once contrived, rehearsed, and relaxed; this gesture at once significant and insignificant in its repetition and release.
Cognitive Sound Unrecognized
Throughout the film our eyes are buoyed by warbled music hovering beneath recognition. A song, an anthem, instruments distorted like the whirr and flutter of magnetic tape loose and worn. Just as the source sounds lie slyly beyond recognition’s grasp, so mysteriously is the name of the sound editor scratched out in the credits; unrecognized, unknown, unexplained.
She Opens Her Mouth and Wears a Dress
Toward the end of the film there is a shift in her movement choices. A classical sculptural bust: shoulders, neck and head; in profile, and full frontal, she opens her mouth wide. Is she singing or screaming? Is this pleasure or pain?
Her costume or anti-costume has changed; capri pants swapped for a long black dress that seems cumbersome and weighty. As her body is clothed in more formal costuming, so does it become more enmeshed in the cables and light stands around it. Where once the light stands stood only behind her in backdrop, now they stand in front, beside, and behind her. She recedes into the jungle of cables, lights, and apparatus.
Her once tentative exploratory movements shift toward the melodramatic, as she steps one arm forward; intentional, confident, and strong, as her arm lowers emphatically and she backs away into the jungle of the set or anti-set.
Stepping backward, forward, backward, looping or rather, rocking and rolling this forward-backward movement into a static space of hesitation between advance and retreat, she blends song and scream, pleasure and pain, into a collage that is at once highly composed and uncomposed; dressed and undressed; naked and clothed.