From painting to moving image, from sound to painting, from cinema to sound, and from past to present—these are the traditions on which Stephen Herbert’s definition of “time- based visual media” is based. We find these transitions in precinematic media such as the phenakistoscope or the zoetrope: early examples of animated images, often mixed with sound, creating a loop and formal structure. These time- based visual media also belong to the tradition of avant-garde artists such as Walter Ruttmann or Hans Richter, exemplified in their sound moving paintings that form a loop and an ongoing formal arrangement. The avant-garde tradition then continues with the emergence of structural filmmakers such as Michael Snow, Hollis Frampton, and Tony Conrad, who utilize a fixed camera and the aforementioned repeated loop structure. Dodda Maggý re-exemplifies this tradition, using it as a key for understanding the role of image and sound in today’s contemporary art.
Dodda Maggý is an Icelandic artist and composer who employs the methodologies of musical composition and filmmaking within her unique work that is strongly influenced by a cross-disciplinary approach. It is difficult to affix her work within one field or artistic genre. It can best be described as lingering on the verge of cinema, sound art, video art, and music composition, belonging in between them all.
In addition to her visual arts background, she has studied music and cinema. She carries a strong passion for narrative cinema and experimental documentary filmmaking into her artworks that bear strong references to both disciplines. Dodda Maggý’s work emerges from the observation of the relationship between an internal and an external image. The artist analyzes the development of internal images that are born from personal dreams and imagination, putting those experiences forth as the fundamental basis of the work. Dreams, fantasies, and memories become the core subject matter of an audiovisual composition that gives the audience the possibility of becoming part of new perceptual experiences.
Exploiting the potential of digital technology, Dodda Maggý divides the image into different elements, each encompassing a specific structure. As within a soundscape, the motion of each element creates a self-organized organism. This is a structure we would find in a cultural context, such as music, as well as in nature, such as the growth of a human being’s mental images or the developmental processes of plants. It is therefore safe to state that the connection between cultural and natural processes is important in Dodda Maggý’s work. The artist’s work develops a new way of understanding mental and physical evolutionary phenomena through a visual music narration.
The notion of narrative is important for understanding Dodda Maggý’s work. If we look at the videos in this exhibition we don’t see a conventional cinema-like example of narration or a linear story, but an unorthodox unveiling of an evolving process, a playful constellation of creative elements. The formalistic narrative work that bears striking methodological evidence of musical and cinematic influences is evident in Étude Op. 88, No. 1, one of the three main pieces in the exhibition. The work is composed of 88 opal stones, each stone representing a note of a piano, creating a direct correlation between the image and the sound of the stones. The work encompasses seven prints materializing possible harmonic combinations. The structure of Étude is based on a concept of “visual music” that harks back to the 1910s and ‘20s, inspired by the John Whitney method of composing, creating musical compositions with visual imagery.
Dodda Maggý’s formalistic approach to image and sound is evident in her work entitled C Series, this time using video as a tool to compose music. The series relates to Étude in that it examines a single instrument, in this instance the flute, choosing fifteen notes from the instruments range that correspond to fifteen circular images that are animated into fifteen video loops, where each form represents a note and the forms create a complex visual layout. The sound is made to stand independently, with the video removed. This is the foundation for further musical composition within the piece, starting through the process of structured visuals, sourced from the carefully chosen initial fifteen notes. When the musical composition was complete she created a new video animation, titled Coil (C series). It is made from the same source material as the 15 animated forms, but presented in a new structure that is intended as a visual focus point accompanying the sound. It was later also detached from the audio as the working process progressed. The videos are therefore evidence of an artistic process—not a direct visualization of the sound heard in real time, but simply a material suggestion of what sounds might look like. Each note is presented in a wide range of tuning, interacting with one another in endless ways, each revealing the many temporal layers of the artwork’s creation. Dodda Maggý focuses on the relationship between mental and actual phenomena. Transforming mental images into audiovisual ones, the work of the artist produces the perceptual experience of the audience. In that way, the exhibition space becomes an organism in which the audience faces new cognitive realities.
Such is the case in DeCore, a series started in 2008 that reflects on mental phenomena such as hallucination and synaesthesia, as well as concrete objects. The artist creates new organic forms by recording flowering plants, applying recording and the methods of sound design to video. The flowers are detached from the background and resampled. The concrete objects in this case are the flowering plants: phenomena in motion. The work is an ongoing organism composed of many different little elements (or frames). Every single frame is in constant motion creating a fractal structure.
The exhibition is therefore composed of three main pieces, not conceived separately and, just as in Dodda Maggý’s artworks, the exhibition combines different self-contained elements. All together these elements create a complex organism that can be perceived from different points of view. The three pieces are designed to allow the audience to move freely in the exhibition space, to navigate within a myriad of cognitive possibilities, without any obligation to follow a fixed trajectory.
Text by Dr. Valentino Catricalà