Secret Life (English)

By Paz Aburto Guevara.


What are the images I see when I close my eyes?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   – What I see is something like a film. That is film.

 Stan Brakhage

In Reynolds’ latest artwork, Secret Life (2008), a woman is trapped in an apartment that becomes alive. Secret Life is a two-screen installation about an apartment experiencing a collapse of time. Without the certainty of time, the occupant of this apartment is unable to keep her location. The space is now alive, no longer passive, but animated and fertile.

The woman’s perception of time is linear but time contracts and elongates; becomes circular and repetitive; sometimes every second is a unique step in space, free from the previous, other times time flows smoothly by; it changes from steady to discrete. Philosophically the concept of time is meaningless without change, change is understood to be time and the agent of life. Without transformation life is still and therefore impossible.

Secret Life, floor plan, 2008.

Secret Life, floor plan, 2008.

Her thoughts escape from her and come to life, growing like plants out into the space around her, living, searching, overtaking her apartment, wild threatening her; then dieing and decaying like animals. The apartment becomes an activity of life and destruction and the familiar becomes uncanny and frightening. Reynolds suggests that all living things are conscious, meaning all living things have awareness, including self-awareness.

Beyond the physical, Reynolds explores the psychic screen between humans and their environments. In this conception, change enables all understanding: being conscious. Without the context of space and time the woman’s mind collapses and neglects the organization of her experience, leaving her only with sensations. The viewer may ask -is it her mind or time itself that creates the uncontrolled environment? Is the environment controlling her, creating her conscious, or making her unconscious? Secret Life collapses the opposition between the sensible and the psychological, the appearance and the substance, exaggerating the cinematic language: « Thoughts and things, exterior and interior, are captured in the same texture, in which the sensible and the intelligible remain undistinguished », as Jacques Rancière referred to the art of moving image.

Secret Life, Helga, making of, 2008.

Secret Life, Helga, making of, 2008.

While the space increases its activity, the woman becomes a passive element in her world. She goes through the rooms only observing the direction of her life, thoughts and environment. Is she sleeping? Is she sleepwalking? The viewer is unsure if the figure of the film is a human being or an automaton. She moves in a mechanical speed and her mind is like a clock that holds her to the relentless passing of time, reflecting the mechanical eye of the camera.

In Reynolds’ experimental films the depiction of humans make us aware of the small frame we use to understand reality and the wider horizon of the uncanny and uncertain existing beyond. In his works, Reynolds alters the regular conditions of life, transferring the experimental methods of science -acquired in his early studies in Physics-, to filmmaking. He frames reality in a laboratory, changing one variable to reveal the other conditions and to discover something new. The artwork is the documentation of the activities performed during the test. In Secret Life, the life of plants, the hidden human unconscious, and the mechanical rhetoric of the body emerge visually with the alteration of time.

In Reynolds’ artworks the characters hold themselves strongly in their routine. The framework of comfort and security sets the state of denial and pretence that humans constantly play. For Reynolds’ figures, the prison is their own mind: they are trapped in a tiny world, feeling there is no escape from their imagined walls. In Secret Life the woman lives without drama. She is not aware, but the viewer sees: the dramatic explosion of life to come.

Secret Life, USA/DE, 2008 5 min. two-channel, installation / 10 min. single channel projection HD video transferred from 16mm & digital stills

Secret Life, USA/DE, 2008 5 min. two-channel, installation / 10 min. single channel projection, HD video transferred from 16mm & digital stills

Reynolds experiments with the proper instability of the moving image and our perception. He invades the sequence of twenty-four photos per second of the film with different forms of time-space. He condenses time, bringing long durations into the normal rhythm of human reality. In Secret Life situations open in every direction and different instants run in the screens. For him, cinema is not the art of telling stories, but visual impressions: « One thing I enjoy about dreams is the way the narrative collapses, emotion and context replace the question of plot, and the subconscious meaning of things becomes prevalent. I think the subconscious is driven by aesthetics, more than by logic. « 

The dark room of Reynolds’ installation refers to the conditions of dreaming proper to the movie theater. In Reynolds experimental works, film is closer to memory and the unconscious, than to everyday life. The viewer is expected to enter the room, sit in trance and look at the illuminated surfaces like dream visions on the screen. The spectator as a dreamer, as René Clair described the hallucinatory early cinema projections. Coincidentally, Freud’s psychoanalysis had started in 1895 with the cinema’s birth.

Secret Life, making of, Reynold & Helga, 2008.

Secret Life, making of, Reynold & Helga, 2008.

Finally, Reynolds’ art of motion pictures is about the writing of movement with light, completely through the different rhythms, the mechanical eye and life forms. Ultimately, abolishing the difference between natural and artificial: « Who is to say that anything in her world exists as other than the record of light creating an apartment for us to see? Without light nothing could be seen and nothing would live. It is the light that gives life to the plants in the apartment: that makes her aware of her own condition; and it is light that lets us record (on film) her existence and preserve it. While plants convert light into life, her thoughts are like the shadows on the wall of her own cave. »


For sixteen years Reynold Reynolds has been working primarily with 16mm and Super 8mm film as an art media. He had created installations, documentaries, found footage works, narrative and experimental films, developing a common film grammar based on transformation, consumption and decay. Reynolds depictions are often about disturbed psychological and physical themes, increasingly provoking the viewer’s participation and dismay.

His works have been shown in many international film festivals and have won numerous awards including the Black Maria Film Festival, SXSW Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival. He has participated in numerous art exhibitions, including the 4th Berlin Biennale for Contemporary Art, Into Me/ Out Me at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center and Kunst-Werke Berlin Institute for Contemporary Art, Focus Istanbul at Martin Gropius Bau and Destroy, She Said at Julia Stoschek Collection.

In 2003 Reynold Reynolds was awarded the John Simone Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship and in 2004 he was invited to The American Academy in Berlin with a studio at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien that enabled him to start working in Berlin.

 Reynold Reynolds lives in New York City and in Berlin, Germany

© Paz Aburto Guevara, 2008 – Turbulences Vidéo #85

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