By Odile Ouizeman.
A woman trapped in her apartment, an area overrun by plants that proliferate and come to life. This same woman is subjected to time imbalance and enigmatic experiments of a determined scientist who is working in a mysterious laboratory. She becomes a movie actress moving between the Cabaret and the academic pictorial model, then goes back to the laboratory and is swallowed by the camera.
Born in 1966 in Alaska, Reynold Reynolds studied science and earned a Bachelor’s degree in physics with Carl Wieman (Nobel Prize in Physics in 2001). He changes course and spends two years studying experimental cinema with Stan Brakhage, then moves to New York to finish his degree at the School of Visual Art.
Like Life is a dream, the play by Pedro Calderón de la Barca of the Spanish baroque theater (1635) which is divided into three days, Reynolds has made a trilogy.
Trilogy: Three times to make a secret dream
However, while the first motive of Life is a dream is that of the dream and the unreality of reality, Reynolds leads and misleads us in a complex entanglement, that of his intimate laboratory in which he works on the dream of uniting Art and Science. What mental machinery does Reynold Reynolds bring into play in this trilogy? Is it really a question of dreams when the artist “puts on his show?” How is cinema, as the 7th art, the meeting place between questions about plastic arts and science?
The secret trilogy is built first of all as a questioning of time and movement.
Secret Life, the first part, begins with the chimes of a clock and the movement of the camera that scans the area to reveal the movements of the plants. Can the disturbance of the movement resonate with the decomposition of time as well as the decomposition of the image? Reynolds will revisit this question throughout the trilogy.
Secret Machine begins with the Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci, and leads explicitly to the relationship between science and art. The Vitruvian Man is the famous drawing that Leonardo made in 1490 (sketch of a man with four arms and four legs in a circle and a square) representing the proportions of the human body according to the writings of the Roman architect Vitruvius (2nd century A.D.). This drawing falls into the context of traditional studies on human proportions but is also used as a mathematical drawing. Art and science express thought through technology, an attempt to understand the world. But how can the movement of a camera make sense? Reynolds’ camera shows a mechanical body through the slowing down of time. He quotes Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) whose work on breaking down movement with photography places him as a precursor in cinema during a time when photography as a sure and objective testament to science was discussed in intellectual circles. He also references Marcel Duchamp and his Nude descending a staircase, the work that gives a dissected view of human movement that can be confused with that of a simple machine. The human forms seem to be made up of juxtaposed prisms, dissecting a downward movement on a staircase that begins in the upper-left and finishes in the lower right corner of the painting. According to Reynolds, this work is exceptional because it goes beyond cubism by including the dimension of time. Is capturing time in an image getting closer to the ontological principle defining movement as a principle of life?
Undoubtedly time passes and materializes. A vital movement, the beating of a heart, resonates. A metronome of this trilogy, which vibrates and transforms into a pendulum, becomes once again the essential chronometer that marks time. Secret Life reveals a female body, thrown on black soil, which moves in a choreographed spasm like a struggle to avoid giving up her last breath. The images stream by with an esthetic search that is identical to that of a painter who works on his composition with time at a standstill. Is it a question of vanity? Is it an invitation to meditate on the fleeting and vain nature of human life, of the uselessness of pleasures of the world when faced with death lying in wait and time passing by?
Here nature is not dead, on the contrary, it breathes life into the human. In Secret Life, the woman devours a watermelon that is more than red and juicy. This voracity appears as a transfiguration of man to animal. Indeed, in biology, transfiguration is the ability of a living being to completely change its appearance. Some animals undergo a complete transfiguration, such as ants who progressively evolve from an egg to a nymph to ant; or caterpillars who become chrysalides then butterflies. The transformation takes place and it’s in Secret Machine, with the help of the gloved scientist, that the transplant is performed and takes root. While the “scientist” palpates the sex organs of the “human guinea-pig”, the framing of the film simultaneously shows a second image in which the scientist pulls a flower out of the mouth of this same person. The birth is brutal but it’s through the throat, place of expression, that the flower is removed. The appearance of an image that is divided and manifold, a recurrent process in Reynolds’ work, is similar to cell division which is the mode of multiplying each cell and a fundamental process in the living world, since it is necessary for the reproduction of all organisms. Here again the artist plays with references that blend, science contributing its part of reality.
Just like in the structure of a dream, the world depicted in The Secrets Trilogy reveals the “incoherence of fantasy”. David Lynch, who is a rebel to any form of category, isn’t far off. He develops as much in his series as in his films, a very personal surrealist world and many of his films play with all cinematographic narration from sentimental to nerve-wracking to comedy (Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks, Blue Velvet…) Reynolds explores the interpenetration of worlds.
For Six Easy Pieces, the scientist trades her lab coat for a symbolic cabaret dress. At the beginning, the cabaret, born during the Belle Epoque, broke down social barriers. Prices were very low and therefore you could meet the rich as well as workers there. Reynolds’ images contain artistic references, placed like clues: the appearance of a sketch of Botticelli’s Venus, the acting of these women in Six Easy Pieces that renews the painter’s theme and his model through Olympia, Maja, and other Odalisques… The recurring presence of books shows a foothold in reality and underlines the link with knowledge and science. The Evangelists and their book, Rembrandt’s mother reading, the Virgin reading the Bible… Art history makes repeated representations of books in iconography and the artist enjoys showing them to us.
The rotation of the camera traces the rhythm of the second hand on a clock and accentuates the hypnotic phenomenon of the image. The atmosphere is strange, similar to a nightmare. The way the characters look at us emphasizes the effect. Like in Eisenstein’s film, Alexander Nevsky, The Uncanny is increased by where they look when the soldiers arrive in Pskov. The Uncanny (Das Unheimliche), a Freudian concept, analyzes the discomfort that comes from a break in the reassuring rationality of everyday life. In the “reality” of the dream, when our brain becomes active and remains asleep, it invents stories. The only movement that can be observed is that of the eyes which seem to follow the interior images created by the dreams. Reynolds and his camera reproduce this effect.
Reynolds’ “dream game” presents the human being and his temporal condition. He plays again with the time of the dream where the hierarchy between the images, the movements, and the words no longer exists. The clock as a dramatic element certainly evokes Fritz Lang and we remember the mother of the first victim (Elsie Beckman) waiting in M. Cinema is for Reynolds the synthesis of the arts and Fritz Lang must have influenced his world. The Woman in the Moon (Frau im Mond, 1929) shows bodies in the closed space of the rocket that make spasmodic movements under the influence of the scientific phenomenon of atmospheric pressure. Those of the woman, as well as the shots of the clock and the manometer, surely resonate with those in the Reynolds’ trilogy. Before that there was A Trip to the Moon by Méliès…
Science and fiction, science and art… Reynolds says: “I want to make the difference clear between images and sensations. In my work, they are linked, but the inspiration comes from my imagination, and when images are produced, it sometimes leads to different feelings than those that I had predicted…”
Randomness, time that holds back, in the trilogy of secrets, Reynold Reynolds obviously has composed a science of dreams.
© Odile Ouizeman, 2012 – Turbulences Vidéo #85