For this installation at Young Projects in Los Angeles, Michael Haussman shot five different subjects on a trampoline and gave each a specific prop and background. As the artist says, “to the normal viewer, a person jumping on a trampoline is just a figure moving up and down and their expression is a blur of motion. To capture this action and emotion, all the subjects were shot at 2,000 frames per second, while engaged with one simple prop. Afterward, the body is completely steadied in a postproduction process known as ‘tracking’ (or motion stabilization software). This process takes the subject and steadies them in the frame so that they are no longer moving up and down. All that moves is their skin, cellulite, muscles, and weight of their respective bodies. The overall effect is somewhat disturbing: we see a singular subject who does not move, and yet the way in which his or her skin moves seems to suggest a kind of time-lapse aging, where they suddenly go from 18 years-old to 55 in a matter of seconds.”
Indeed, to some viewers the implied aging that occurs on screen might appear like a special effect or CGI—where soft legs suddenly become riddled with cellulite, or a face suddenly gains wrinkles and bags under the eyes. And yet no effects were applied to the figure at all. Everything that is seen on screen is entirely due to the effects of gravity on the body. Nothing more, nothing less. As the figure hits the bottom of the jump, wrinkles and abnormal shapes appear. But as they rise to the top of the jump, they seem to become younger, fresher and more buoyant.
For Haussman, “this emotional shift from optimistic youth to depressed older age provokes a very strong, emotional effect in the viewer and leads to a new reading of the human form. Each person interacts with a simple, yet symbolic prop in order to gain more depth into this radical emotional shift, and this prop seems to suggest a narrative. We see, for instance, a voluptuous woman, with pristine white skin and red hair floating upward against a cold, dark, chunky wall. Once gravity calls her back to earth, the red ink swirls now fall like blood onto her shoulders and neck.”
Not much further away is the image of a large naked man pointing a pistol at the screen. Explains Haussman: “The pistol is an iconic image we have seen before — from movies, magazines, to the Wild West — but never in this context. To suddenly take the clothes off this man and expose his emotions, as he goes from dark, brooding, old man, darting his eyes, paranoid, searching for someone to shoot; to his highest apex where he is a happy, confident younger man, with a child-like expression, creates a psychotic shift in emotion.”
Similarly, a young blonde woman clutches her red bra and panties. For Haussman, the use of the color red as underwear “seems to be judgmental of her character, along with her smeared lipstick and mascara. She is obviously not coming from a good place, and when she’s at the bottom of the jump, she suddenly ages forty years, making her a Sunset Boulevard tragedy. However when she soars up, her body is flawless and attractive and she exudes a confident beauty, making her red underwear sexually promiscuous and enticing.”
“Lastly and maybe most shocking is the only close-up of the show. An older woman’s face is filmed in close-up as rain provides the most magical result of the effect in the entire ensemble. This woman seems optimistic and fine with age and the rain. She almost seems to be living out a great memory. Her face seems to laugh with joy. She has a child-like expression. Then as she gets to the bottom on the jump the rain seems to hit harder on her body and one can see heavy streams of water rolling down her face as her skin and expression seem to drop in extreme proportions. The rain runs with the contours of her wrinkles, cascading down her sagging jaw, down the loose-skinned neck, drooping eyes, in such a dramatic fashion, one is immediately reminded of typical effects found in horror films.”
From a formal point of view, Gravity borrows equally from classical painting traditions as some of the great typological works by Eadweard Muybridge, Bernd & Hilla Becher and others. Indeed, each of the works uses a strong heavenly top light—typically used by Renaissance masters—which dramatically exposes the flesh as if it were moving brush strokes and reemphasizes the relation with the heavens, gravity and sheer weight of the world. What’s more, the uniformity of the figures, where each is recorded in the same position, and under the same extreme scrutiny, is a kind of typology that contrasts the more emotional effects of the musical score and/or subject matter. All five screens are presented floating in between the ceiling and floor in a vertical format, and paired with an identically-sized mirror, which frames the viewer in the exact same way, and with the same lighting.
Shown at Young Projects in Los Angeles January through March 2013