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quasi monte carlo paul simon richards at spike island 29/4/19


One thing I’ve always been interested in is the attention span of the viewer, how long people tend to spend looking at art, what they themselves consider a reasonable amount of time to look and then move on to the next room. In my own practice I would be more interested in how long people would spend looking at my work rather than if they liked it or not. But perhaps their attention would reflect their level of interest, or lack thereof, in the work also. I read a couple of articles about studies to do with this topic and I think this is really interesting to consider in terms of viewing film and video art in galleries in particular. Apparently, according to this study, viewers spend an average of 27 seconds looking at art, I’m unsure if this time includes reading accompanying labels or text, but it still appears a very short amount of time. 


 I also wonder if this varies depending on the medium of the artwork, is the time shorter if it’s a painting or sculpture, is it longer if it is a film or installation piece? Do people stay longer because they have an idea of what is considered a suitable amount of time to look at something? Also is this time considered enough to demonstrate if you understand or ‘get’ the artwork? Maybe this experience also differs when your time to view the work is actually limited. Visiting Yayoi Kusama’s exhibtions in the past, you only had a 30 second period to experience the work due to high visitor numbers and to prevent long waiting times. It felt like a race to look at everything as much as possible and of course take a selfie or two before an invigilator would tell you to leave, and the experience became more about the time limit and commercial commodity of her work as opposed to the experience of walking through Kusama’s constructed reality. Perhaps 27 seconds is long enough to get a feel for an artwork.


 Paul Simon Richards ‘Quasi Monte Carlo’ is a 58 minute long epic cinematic venture currently at Spike Island in Bristol (on until 16th June), and I’ll say now I didn’t watch the whole thing. I wonder if people do or if I’m part of a minority that just wouldn’t stay that long (I had a bus to catch). I wouldn’t walk out of a cinema 20 minutes into a film, but I think there is a slight difference. You go to cinemas expecting to be there for an extended period, I don’t often go to galleries expecting to stay in one room for an hour or more. Whilst the film did have a narrative, I think the aesthetic and cinematic experience doesn’t necessarily require full engagement from start to finish in order to enjoy or adequately experience the work, as you would be incredibly lucky to walk into the gallery just as the piece was starting from the very beginning. This then makes me think, do artists perhaps design and direct their filmic works to take into account that people might not view the entire thing? Or do they not really care? An article that references the study I mentioned earlier includes an interesting comparison to this idea; “When you go to the library…you don’t walk along the shelves looking at the spines of the books and on your way out tweet to your friends, I read 100 books today!” Whilst this analogy is a good way to look at viewing art, i don’t think it should be dictated how long someone should look at art. I consider it miles more interesting to explore people’s time spent looking at artworks and examining this as a reflection of the artwork just as much. If people spend 5 minutes intently perusing a painting, do they have a deeper understanding than someone who simply glanced in its direction? I don’t think so, it just suggests to me a range of reasons for the person’s visit to the gallery and their interest in what they are seeing. 


As I first walked into the space I heard an overlaying narrative voice over various images of I imagine the city of Monte Carlo, which then led onto an extended shot of a woman described as the hypnotist. Her voice was engaging and created a sense of non-reality, she asks the viewer to imagine 9 different things in their mind, and conjure up an image thinking of these things simultaneously. Now and again she appears throughout the film, wearing different clothes and make-up, and sometimes with unusual visual effects overlaying her. One thing she would repeat ‘ray, stop, cache’, which I didn’t really understand if I’m being honest. (something to do with digital rendering i dunno) There were then motifs of rays throughout the film from this point, sea rays as puppets on what appeared as a kids tv show, simulating the protagonists plans to renovate their bathroom. It was all very visually random and strange but in an intriguing way.


 I did some research after seeing this show and discovered that the term quasi monte carlo also denotes a mathematical method for numerical integration, and searching for images of this then did I find similarities between this and some of the overlaying visual effects and imagery in the film. (the dotty bits) Whilst this knowledge wasn’t available to me at the time of viewing to the film, I simply construed that these motifs explored the line between reality and simulation, how this holiday the protagonists longed to go on existed as a hypnotic simulation, and their reality included a home renovation. The hypnotist acted as a line between these two different constructed realities.  She appears in non-spaces simply speaking to the viewer and then appears in the places she is talking about, breaking those boundaries between the imagined image and the space she exists within. Each scene of the film was so transient and almost like a dream in the sense that nothing really made sense, in the way that in dreams you simply accept the unusual things going on around you (how many times have you woken up from a dream and realised how weird it was, and how weird that you were ok with all that stuff happening?) Text from the Spike Island site fluently articulates this idea; “a link between the creation of an image in our minds – which involves the rapid processing of random information – and the creation of digital images, relating human error to questions of probability and random access” It seems Richards uses this algorithm and embeds it in the narrative of a character wishing to take a trip to this destination and the problems that arise around her whilst trying to achieve this venture. 


I spent about 20-25 minutes viewing the film in total, which is the longest i have spent viewing just one piece of work in a gallery. I also watched people come in, sit down, spend a few minutes watching and then leaving. I think either response is just as interesting and examines the viewer’s relationship between the screen. More often then not when there is a film piece in a gallery, there is always seating; it suggests a level of comfort, a sense of reclining in this space and spending time within it, and whether people choose to do that or not is not necessarily reflective of the quality of the work but i think more interestingly, a reflection of their social behaviour (like keeping your coat on for about 45 minutes in a strangers house cause you feel too awkward to take it off). 


In terms of Quasi Monte Carlo, the imagery and the story felt very reminiscent of a digitally constructed domestic space. As much as i was invested in the film, i also enjoyed seeing and the relationship between the viewer and this work, the viewer and the screen, the digital image that simulates reality, kind of reminded me of Steyerl. 




I liked it, basically.




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