Friday, May 1, 2009

Critique of Pablo Useros: I am the only one Video

Check out this video by clicking on the title below.

Pablo Useros’,
I am (the only one) is part of an online exhibit at exhibit. Useros created Workroomfilms in 2005, an independent production company. I am (the only one) is a part of his latest body of work called “The Workroom sessions”, a recompilation of videos exploring themes such as the effects and the increases of loneliness in big cities.” ( The synopsis for I am (the only one) quotes “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Thoreau (Walden). The artist’s goal is to depict what happens if men never have a playful moment and share their playfulness with others.

This piece is a single video that uses minimal visuals and audio. The visuals consist of a stream of people walking past a stationary camera. The frame never changes, it remains a wide shot in a confined area. There are no visible cuts for the six and a half minutes except for the jarring jumpcuts. Movement has been slowed down to match the ghostly rhythm of the music.

The audio is also sparse. There is one simple upbeat tempo sing song while the title is up and the sound for the body of the piece is slow, discordant and eerie, not happy. There is no ambient sound.
The video begins with a title page, Intro Title: Workrooms Sessions,
I (am the only one), which consist of red background with black lettering. The simplicity of the title suggests a child’s world. The use of the primary colour red supports this and indicates vibrancy as well.

The audio continues the child-like mood. There is a man and children singing a guileless playful song accompanied by acoustic guitar:
“Out on the ocean floor,
Out on the ocean floor,
Out on the ocean floor
What could be stranger than the unknown danger
Of lying on the ocean floor”

The next frame, which introduces the body of the video, comes up in silence; the camera is set at the top of a stairway. The walls look institutional. Gradually a lone man comes into the frame moving forward in slow motion. As he approaches the centre of the screen a discordant organ sound begins accompanied by a simple slow rhythmic drumming. His gait is as though he is walking to the rhythm of the drum.

As the second man emerges into the frame in the same slow motion, the lyrics “I am” is heard in the same male voice as the opening song. There is a jumpcut of the man jerking back a few frames as the phrase begins and his steps are repeated. As a third man emerges into the frame the male voice sings “the only one” again with another jumpcut back a few frames.

The happy song in the beginning signifies the freedom in childhood, possessing a fearlessness to face dangers on the bottom of the ocean floor. The children singing with the man represents community solidarity as children. There can be nothing “stranger than facing danger lying on the ocean floor”.

The ambience of the opening song is in high contrast to the stark lonely tenor of the audio in the piece’s body. The lack of ambient sound isolates the interiority of aloneness/loneliness from the exteriority of community. There is absence of personal and communal interactions. The organ and piano chords play like a repetitive song of someone who is tone deaf. The constant rhythm on a single snare drum is hard edge and monotonous. There is no playfulness instead there is tight control so as not to deviate from the internal order. The Repetition of the phrase “I am the only one” is a monotonous chant accentuating loneliness and lack of community.

The visuals also give a feeling of unnaturalness and impersonal. The setting, a stairwell in an institution is highly impersonal and empty giving a hard edge look to the video. The first three persons seen are male and come into frame one at a time. This really gives a sense of isolation. Even when more people occupy the frame the feeling of isolation remains. The continuous audio and lack of ambient sound and institutional setting works together to carry this loneliness forward. Matching the gait of the people to the slow monotonous rhythm of the drum adds to the eerie aura of the piece as well as to the people being portrayed.

The jumpcuts are jarring to the viewer and emphasize the meaning of the phrase ” I am the only one”. The people are stuck in their loneliness repeating it over and over, like spinning one’s wheel in isolation. In spite of being among other people there is no adventure or exploration as described in the opening singsong. As adults they have left their childish dreams behind and have become “the only one”, alone and lonely. The artist’s simple construction of the video emphasizes the starkness of interiority when isolated from any community.