Packaging

by craigepplin

The other day, someone very dear to me sent me a little music video to cheer me up. It did the job, but I didn’t initially get much out of it.

 

That is, I didn’t really get it until I watched another video by the same filmmaker. (I believe his name is Roy Alte):

 

The point of the second video is pretty clear: we are “packaged” by all sorts of extra-corporeal appendices: clothing, electronic technologies of the self, even our skin. Worth noting, on the last of these, is Alte’s idea that our skin might even suffocate us. This latter phenomenon is only possible, though, if we have something inside of us, a core self that isn’t made of packaging. The video is clearly ironic on this point, and it ends with the narrative voice saying that he’s afraid to look inside himself because he might find there’s nothing there.

In light of this video, the first one’s representation of naked, dancing human bodies, wearing papier-maché masks and slightly animated by computer graphics, becomes a sort of puppet show. There are even strings that both seem to control and be controlled by the dancers.

The idea isn’t his alone, though I’ve never seen it rendered in a beautiful stop-motion, partially animated film. It reminds me of Peter Sloterdijk’s reading of the biblical creation story in Bubbles. In that reading, Adam is a state-of-the-art technology: a clay vessel, literally. He becomes animated when god breathes life into him. He’s made of the earth and becomes human when he’s filled with divine breath. He’s a bubble, in other words, and the inside of a bubble is precisely what we can’t see: pure, transparent air. Alte gets at a similar point when he’s afraid to look inside his skin. I think he’s afraid he might see the hollowness that Sloterdijk describes.

And it isn’t just Sloterdijk. Marcel Duchamp’s work Paris Air (or however it’s usually translated into English) performs a similar operation, capturing the air of the French capital in a little bubble. The work is pure packaging, its ruse the idea that the air of Paris might be significantly different from the air of anywhere else–Philadelphia (where the work is currently housed), for example. Even more abstractly, Jorge Luis Borges’s map that is coextensive with the territory it represents, as well as his projection of a self in flight (“Así mi vida es una fuga y todo lo pierdo y todo es del olvido, o del otro.”) from representation, both express similar ideas. In this case too, the packaging (the exterior representation of something) looms large, obliterating–possibly–the stability of what’s supposed to be represented.

In short, I think it’s a powerful idea, and I really like the way Alte puts it in audiovisual terms.

(If you’re reading this in the United States, have a happy Thanksgiving tomorrow. Enjoy the bird or soy-bird or whatever you feast on.)

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