23 October 2013

Imagine becoming a spectator to your own life. Imagine seeing all your insecurities, vanities and flaws put on a plate right in front of you. Imagine getting out of your head, without even leaving the spot you stand in. Well, Echo by Mark Boulos, currently showing in Gallery 1 at FACT might make you feel just like that.

It’s immersive and it’s uncomfortable. The viewer is asked to stand in a spotlight where an image of themselves is reflected back; an image that sounds the same, looks the same, moves the same but is part of an ‘other’ world - an unfamiliar urban landscape. Over the course of the installation, the image becomes distorted, the landscape closes in and moves away, adrenaline begins to pump as the lights flicker on and off, the sound blurs suddenly, you forget that you’re watching an image and you actually become part of it, engrossed in the visuals.

The air of an ‘outer body experience’ is prevalent and profound and you begin to feel alienated from yourself – Mark Boulos has made a ghost of you, and it’s really quite chilling.

But Echo isn’t all supernatural fantasy. The piece is steeped in science, Boulos found himself inspired by the work of Porfessor Olaf Blanke, a world expert in neuroscience, focussing on our relationship with the Other World. Professor Blanke has pushed boundaries in his field, making the supernatural, natural. His recent work discusses the neurological reaction of robotic characters in a virtual reality, entering Mark Boulos’ virtual world allows you to suddenly see the similarities.

But how did Boulos achieve this sensation? For starters, Boulos has used a contra-zoom or ‘Dolly Zoom’ a technique favoured by Hitchcock in his Vertigo days. This effect gives the sensation of falling and that the atmosphere is moving unnaturally around you. In Echo you suddenly start to feel lost, and anxious, an island in a rapidly changing landscape. 

This is confounded by the physical set-up of the piece, Echo uses the technique known as ‘Pepper’s Ghost’, a trick that was first popularised in the 1500s. The illusion uses a sheet of plexiglass and special lighting manipulations that can give the effect of transparency or even make you disappear altogether – something that only adds to the ghostly nature of Echo.

Our obsession with outer body experience and the ‘other world’ is well documented – you only need to look at the film and DVD top ten chart to verify that. For years we have been beguiled with what’s out there, and what’s beyond there. A term that came to precedence in 1943, Outer Body Experiences can be described as the projection of consciousness and are induced in some by a wide range of things from hallucinogenic drugs to sensory deprivation. Science defines it as a psychological event, whereas art defines it as an ethereal, illusive state of being. Boulos has created a piece of work that lies between the two, toying with your psyche, whilst tempting your eyes from reality with the visuals put before you.

As a documentary film maker, Echo is certainly a new departure for Boulos, stretching his own capabilities of film making, creating a unique and memorable piece that reverberates in your mind for days afterwards. How long will the Echo resonate in your mind?

For more information on Mark Boulos, Echo and the exhibition, please visit the project page.