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Video Installations : In the Offing (2013)
commissioned by Oakville Galleries

In the Offing draws from a database of about 1,000,000 images of the horizon seen from the Oakville Galleries building in Gairloch Gardens, gathered over the past 3 years. (The word 'offing' originally referred to the part of the sea near the horizon, where sailors searched for land, other ships, etc and where those at home sought the return of their loved ones.) The work presents a endless and never repeating voyage through this archive, viewed as though through a moving window into the larger image. the work zooms into the 'offing', pans along the horizon in closeup then zooms out to gives us the full context again in am endless loop. As we pass from the high-definition overview into the very low resolution digital zoom, we move from verisimilitude to grainy impression to abstraction and imagination, from one kind of 'vision' to another. At the same time, we are offered a privileged view into the infinite changeability of the lake and sky, and the impossibility of knowing just what is 'in the offing'.

Twelve years ago, (2001) Oakville Galleries commissioned a work from me. That work, ultimately entitled 'Machine for Taking Time', involved the capture of more than half a million images of the gardens surrounding Oakville Galleries’ Gairloch Gardens location over 3 and 1/2 years. When 'Machine for Taking Time' was finished, I was invited to extend the project into some sort of phase 2 exploration.

In looking at the material gathered by Machine for Taking Time, I was particularly fascinated by the tantalizing glimpses of the lake. I was struck by the fact that the lake’s colour, texture, and motion were extraordinarily richly varied. I immediately decided to focus on the lake, and indeed, more specifically, on the horizon for this second exploration.

The second thing that had struck me about the images in 'Machine for Taking Time' was that the sky was almost completely absent. There were images that included sky, but the video camera I was using was unable to capture an image of the bright sky and the darker grounds at the same time and so the sky was almost always just a wash of over-exposure.

Since 2001, when the capturing for 'Machine for Taking Time' began, camera technology has changed a lot. Resolution has increases, but also there have been many improvements in the ways in which exposure is handled. In 2010, as I prepared to initiate the second round of capture, I found cameras that would enable me to capture a much broader range of light, allowing me, with a little bit of custom software, to hold on to the details of the bright sky while not losing the lake and land to darkness.

Starting in November of 2010 and ending in late 2013, this camera and computer system has been recording 1000 images a day from sunrise to sunset, resulting in a new archive of approximately 1,000,000 images. As in the original 'Machine for Taking Time, the work is constructed in the moment as the computer browses this archive.

The camera taking the images did not move. But in the work we are looking into a smaller 'window' that travels across the large high resolution image. Sometimes, we see almost the full image of sky, land and lake. At other times, the window is very small, showing us just the immediate horizon. This feels like a zoom, but it is a digital zoom, so as it zooms in, it finds no more detail and so the result flattens toward an abstract image: almost undifferentiated bands of lake and sky, sometimes separated by a strip of land. When we see the full image, we are seeing the full glory of early twenty-first century high definition images. As the computer zooms in we pass backwards through what feels like the history of image-taking through standard video, super-8 film, to early cinema... from high verisimilitude to grainy home-movie to dream-scape and finally to what feels like pure abstraction.

The 'offing' is the part of the sea closest to the horizon. We rarely use the term now, except when we say something is 'in the offing', meaning not quite imminent but impending. Originally, the offing was where sailors searched for land, other ships, etc and where those at home sought the return of their loved ones. So one strained to see into the offing, to determine from the slightest visual information whether danger or salvation approached. It is also then inevitably a place of mirage and hallucination, of the projection of hopes and dreams and fears onto insufficient and ambiguous detail.


Water Works, Art Gallery of Hamilton, Canada

A Noble Line, Oakville Galleries, Oakville, Canada

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Copyright 2014 David Rokeby / Very Nervous Systems / All rights reserved. 11/19/14