József Mélyi

Experiential Space

Tamás Waliczky's Trilogy and Walter Benjamin's Berlin Childhood

In his study titled Doom and Myst Lev Manovich starts his analysis of the virtual spaces of the 90s and the forms of navigation and movement possible within them with popular computer games and finishes it with the space perception of Tamás Waliczky's work entitled The Forest (1993). In the strange "superhuman" camera movements of The Forest, Manovich points to the appearance of the flaneur-perspective as portrayed by Baudelaire and, later, by Walter Benjamin. The author completes a continuum between the film techniques of the flaneur and of the Man With a Movie Camera with the perspective of Waliczky's masterpiece, with the spectacle-defining gaze through which the perceived space, itself, becomes altered.

While, almost from the very beginning, Waliczky's work has been characterised by spaces of glass-like transparence, which encompass the dimension of time, this quality is most strongly recognisable in his Trilogy created in the 90s ( The Forest, The Garden, The Way). Approached from the three-dimensional systems of navigation, his spatial constructs are indeed traversable and inspire perusal. There exists, however, an alternative reading of the conceptualisation of space in film etudes made for computer, one that probably stands closest to a child's perspective and whose parallel can be found in another Benjamin book titled Berlin Childhood Around the Turn of the Century, a collection of essays that has been revised many times by the author. The surfacing of this gentler, nostalgic perspective - which comprises an organic part of both Benjamin's oeuvre and Waliczky's work - does not, of course, indicate a direct relationship, merely a similarity between individual standpoints, the recognition and utilisation of the super-transcribed layers of space perception in children and in adults.

A simultaneous loss of the familiarity and of the strange mysteriousness of the objects, spaces and cities around us is one of the fundamental experiences associated with becoming aware of the differences between the grownup and the childhood perspective. What is meant by difference here is not merely a change in size and proportions, an expansion or shrinking, but a radically different view of spaces. Benjamin's Berlin childhood is built on the loss of the formerly known vantage point, on the one hand, and the possibility of comparing the two temporally distant perspectives, on the other. It is from these layers - superposed and shifting in relation to one another - that the labyrinth of present remembering develops, whose central motif is space as it manifests in time, thus, in history, and which now exists only in memory and is therefore lost. The pieces of Waliczky's Trilogy are experiments in documenting the preservation and metamorphosis of experiences of space. The three short computer animations, which have been created with an unusual perspective and unique handling of the camera and which distort the traditional system of coordinates with their surprising rules, show three different space conceptions. Each of these three perspectives represent an experience of space as it unfolds within time. Each space is brought to life by the contradictions and tensions between the intimate, inner environment and the strangely mysterious external surroundings.

The Garden is a computer rendering of amnion-like space, an imitation of Waliczky's daughter's field of vision, in which every object and living being changes size according to a single vantage point. The child, irrespectively of all movement, stays in the centre of the image, her size remains constant. This spherical space, almost reachable at an arm's length and delineated in a familiar, homelike setting - named water drop space by Waliczky - is but the child's own universe: it encloses and reformulates surrounding objects in its own image. Child hiding is an emblematic segment of Benjamin's essay collection. The child in the familiar room - "locked in the world of matter" - searches for a place to hide, and in the process he himself turns into the sheltering object, while as a shaman he "casts a spell on all who enter unsuspectingly". Benjamin in a number of instances uses the analogy of the sphere to describe this child-ruler perspective: "He was the muteness, the calmness, the swirling of snow flakes which - like the blizzard inside the glass ball - kept spinning at the centre of things. Sometimes I myself swirled within it." The encompassing shape of the sphere, just as the notion of a world that's complete, intimately familiar and, ultimately, lost, are connected also to the memory of soap-bubbles: "In the soap-bubble, something similar happened. I floated across the room inside it and became one with the play of swirling colours on its surface, until the whole thing popped."

While the theme and the environment presented in The Way are clearly related to the adult world, the piece is based on a simultaneously shrinking and expanding perspective and the depiction of strangely growing and diminishing proportions. In its peculiar, inverted world, ordinary space is turned upside down. Waliczky, taking advantage of the possibilities afforded by computer programming language, places the vanishing point of the image at the closest position to the viewpoint. As a result, the greater the distance between the viewer and the object, the larger the object appears, and vice versa. The appearance of this altered perspective temporally condenses the distance between the viewer and the object and inverts the elements of the familiar environment out of the material reality of memory and experience. The thus constructed space presumes its viewer to be in a childlike, preexperiential state. In the case of the Berlin childhood, the reversal of the spatial perspective is closely linked with a rearranging of subjective time planes: "the inclination to see everything that is important to me approaching from far distances, just as the hours, too, inch closer to my deathbed." Some spaces create different time relations; for Benjamin with the inversion of space, time also turns back: "In such places, it seems as if everything that lay ahead of us is in effect already part of the past."

If The Way is ultimately a metaphor for losing assurance about the concept of time, then The Forest is a visual formulation of a sense of uncertainty about space. The space of the forest animation is the only one in the Trilogy without a human figure. From the two-dimensional image of a tree, Waliczky produces a three-dimensional virtual reality with its own laws. Like before, the manipulation of the system of coordinates serves as his starting point: instead of following straight lines, with the help of images mounted on transparent cylinders, the three axes of the system curve back into themselves. The rising-sinking effect and circling of the camera within this field evoke a sense of boundlessness and of being lost, thus the impression of a foggy forest is created. The distressing sense of "no way out" is made more uncomfortable by the squeaking of a train and the perpetually repeating motif of a German nursery rhyme. In the double-layered spatio-temporal structure of the Berlin childhood, the play of light and shadow allude to the intimate familiarity and the simultaneous, hidden foreignness of objects and events from the past. "It came to pass that some lighting error brought on a strange twilight, the kind which sucked all colour out of the landscape and stretched mutely out under an ashen sky..." The parallel between the uncanny lights of daybreak in the forest and the infinite cyclical movement is but Benjamin's labyrinth of superposed layers of images - its representation through the language of computers. If for Benjamin, words often provided the starting point for remembering, for Waliczky, this function is fulfilled by the possibilities offered by programming language.

There is a noticeable connection between the vantage point of the Berlin childhood and Benjamin's contemporaneously authored writings on media aesthetics with a primary focus on discussing ways of seeing in film and photography. According to Benjamin, reproducibility and the accompanying loss of aura, does not only alter the reception of works of art, but also changes the structure of perception: as a result, we will perceive our own lives through media. This media- technical approach, on the basis of the Berlin childhood conception, is made complete by a poetic view of sorts.

At first glance, Tamás Waliczky's Trilogy also has the concept of media, the inversion of technical apparatuses and the discovery of novel perspectives as its focus. Within the mathematically and logically constructed, computer-formulated software spaces of his three film etudes, experiments for clear perception and simplified spatial constructs become laden with the elements of personal memory. Waliczky translates his spatial conceptions to the language of the computer in a way that allows, all the while, for the preservation of their personal nature. His technical inventions only gain meaning through the translation of personal experience to the language of space. This act of translation is performed by a grownup flaneur wandering aimlessly and drawing inspiration from the surrounding environment, but it is through Benjamin's lyrical - childlike - labyrinth as a starting point, that the experiential material of the Trilogy reveals itself.

The author is an art historian and critic

English Translation: Zsófia Rudnay