In what has become common practice—arguably reaching something of a zenith with Christian Marclay’s 2010 video The Clock—Pascual Sisto built part of his recent site-specific video installation, Monument Valley (2014), around the seamless editing of preexisting footage. In a 26-minute loop, he portrayed the space of Monument Valley, one of the most iconic and reproduced landscapes of the American West, from its depiction in video games, commercials and films both popular (Easy Rider, Forrest Gump) and esoteric (Koyaanisqatsi).
The video was projected over the entire 33-foot-long wall of 5 Car Garage (which, as its name suggests, happens to be a renovated carport at a private home off an alley in Santa Monica) as a centerpiece for the rest of the installation. The video moves briskly through appropriated shots of rugged sienna spires and majestic emptiness in a feat of filmic spatial condensation, collapsing not only the immensity of Monument Valley’s landscape with montage that quickly traverses numerous perspectives, but also the long history of the site’s cinematic representation. However, while an actor may appear in the frame or the original source of a scene may be recognizable, for the most part, only traces of the initial narratives remain.
As with Marclay’s Clock, the approach brings the submerged, often half-consciously noted details of a film or other moving image to the fore—in Sisto’s case, it’s a literal transfer of background to foreground. Marclay’s video becomes a mechanism from which its viewer can tell real time, but the objective of Sisto’s work seems more diffuse.
Three smaller videos, which played simultaneously on flat-screen monitors placed against the same wall as the larger projection, provided some clue. One of them, a kind of extended car “commercial,” was generated digitally by Sisto from a 3-D model of a Nissan SUV. The SUV’s surface and interior have a mirrored finish that reflects the environment through which it moves—a desert, itself borrowed from the background of a PlayStation game that uses images of Monument Valley. This contrasted well with an accompanying video of oblique close-ups of horses’ forlorn-looking faces and quivering limbs shot against a green screen. The awkward angles and animate force of the horses’ bodies countered the slick, untethered mobility of the SUV, while the green screen signaled the ability to repurpose the images of the animals elsewhere. Both videos imply varying states of simulation as well as calling attention to two great emblems of the West: the steed and the automobile.
The third video, which was positioned apart from the other two, presents static, surveillance-style shots of tourists encountering Monument Valley from National Park viewing stations. Sisto surreptitiously captures people meeting the sublime scenery. Sometimes an individual just takes a glance before walking away; in other shots, families touchingly gaze together for a long time. In this context, though, the viewer wonders what exactly these people are seeing. Does a site like Monument Valley resist the residue of the many images of itself that are revealed in the larger projection? Or does the actual place become a type of composite between its mediated representation and its firsthand reality?
These sorts of questions about place are classic tropes in Southern California, especially. But Sisto, who is Spanish and based in Los Angeles, knows how to shape an environment that is seductive and immersive enough so that such inquiries again feel relevant.