Dear Olivia, is a video art piece created using scanned magazines and multimedia software. The piece explores, in the form of a letter to a past lover, the surreptitious communication of “visual masking.” This process, originating from the field of cognitive psychology, refers to the reduction in the visibility of one stimulus by a second, contiguous, stimulus. Studies have found that even though the viewer does not consciously perceive the masked stimulus, it can still have an effect on cognitive processes. In other words, a person can experience something that they are unaware that they see.
This technique of cognitive manipulation drives the conceptual imagery of Dear Olivia,. The video attempts to convey untold sentiments and emotions without the recipient being consciously aware. It exploits the aesthetic of a ransom letter, with words appearing on the screen one at a time, emphasizing the hesitation and frustration that one feels while communicating ideas made unclear and tenuous by difficult emotions.
In addition, the issue of the “observer effect” comes into play. This concept, deriving from physics, posits that in the act of observation, changes occur on the very phenomenon that is being observed. The creator of the video message experiences this on a personal level, fully aware that there is no way of expressing a sentiment to someone without them knowing that you are expressing it and in turn changing the nature of the relationship.
Acts of intimacy and anonymity fuel the anxiety that grows from the unspoken emotions of the messenger, and the viewer is lead through a desperate act of self-expression. Ultimately, what is revealed is so much more than the creator of the message ever intended.
Statement of Purpose: Dear Olivia,
According to the idea of the “observer effect,” in the act of observation, changes occur on the very phenomenon that is being observed. It is a term originating in the physical sciences but one that could apply to the process of interpersonal communication as well. There is no way of expressing a sentiment to someone without them knowing that you are expressing it and in turn changing the nature of the relationship. This reads as a truism, however we forget how often this effect limits how one expresses one’s self to others.
Though subliminal messages may only be found in science fiction and the fantasies of advertisers, there are limits to what the human eye and brain can process. It is possible for a viewer to receive stimuli without realizing it. This process, B.G. Breitmeyer explains, is known as “visual masking” and it refers to reducing the visibility of one stimulus ((Breitmeyer, B. G. (1984). Visual masking: An integrative approach. Oxford [Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press)) by a second, contiguous, stimulus . Breitmeyer goes on to quote U. Ebbecke from an article entitled On Momentary Seeing:
Typically our seeing process is one characterized by a roving view. As soon as one is prevented, through some unnatural way, from running one’s eye over the objects in the visual field and, so to speak, probing them, all sorts of disturbances intrude into their visual sensation…when the eye catches only a brief glimpse of a visual object, the visual impression is rendered inaccurate or altered. ((Ebbecke, U. (1920). Über das Augenblicksehen. Pfl. arch. gesamte physiol. 185, 185-95.))
In perhaps a similar way, when one’s mind experiences the same turmoil and discomfort in a psychic form, impressions are rendered inaccurate … memories are altered. And when the “observer effect’” prevents one from expressing overwhelming emotions, an anxious disturbance is felt.
In Dear Olivia, there is a tension humming in the process of self-expression. There is the intimacy of ideas and emotions expressed by a real human filtered through video. Concurrently, there is the anonymous object of the art itself: words and images flashing on a screen. The extremes pull at each other and you experience knowing the artist without knowing the artist.
The piece explores, in the form of a letter to a past lover, the surreptitious communication of “visual masking.” This temporal communiqué attempts to convey untold sentiments and emotions without the recipient being consciously aware — you see the words that could never be spoken aloud. The phrases are strung out over hesitations and pauses, caught in dissonance and distortions. The words are formed from a pile of magazines, each letter meticulously cut out and placed on the screen in the jumbled aesthetic of a ransom letter. Everything about this communication is miscommunication.
And in the act of hidden expressions, a new message emerges. One that is unclear to the message maker, but disturbingly apparent to the viewers, to the receivers of the message. The new message, boiling up in the froth of static and noise, is one of despondency and confusion, a message of frustration over the futility of words. It is the need to intimately connect with an intimacy that has been lost. And in the desperation of a broken heart, the attempt to camouflage one’s true feelings through the artifice of abstraction leaves the maker raw, left completely exposed.