Tamiko Thiel:

The Totem Project

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o "Fire and Dance"
- C.Wawra

o Feuer und Tanz
- C.Wawra

Fire and Dance:
Sensuality in the video art of Tamiko Thiel

A body, very close. So close that you only recognize it on the second glance.

The Golden Seed. A dark, pod-shaped form looms in space, its hairy filaments resembling the cilia of a cell. The camera lingers, celebrating the sight, to the music of a joyful liturgy. Gently a motion separates itself from the background; a cylindrical form wanders radially through the image, shifting the relationships of light and shadow. Darkness lies in front, nearest the viewer. There in close proximity, where you look for clarity, Tamiko Thiel creates shadow. In the second part of the video, the darkness spreads as the foreground form moves over the screen, until finally something new emerges in to the light.

Now the anatomical relationships of the previous images reveal themselves. A female body lies extended before you. From out of a seed a landscape has grown: the hills the hip bones, near them bunches of pubic hair grass. The slopes buckle and sink in prehistoric tectonic movements, as the earth's surface did to attain its current form.

Evolution occurs in cycles, and so after the opening comes a closing. At the end is again the seed - ready for a new beginning.

Totem of Heavenly Wisdom. Five monitors form a column. Out of a golden-yellow haze, to the accompaniment of music reminiscent of an Indian sitar, emerge vague outlines, initially on the lowest screen only. A dark, tightly closed form hovers in the void; out of it blossom hands like the calyx of a flower. Their gestures begin to wave and dance through the space. One after another the upper screens follow suit; each image seeming to grow up out of the lower one like climbing plants. Their motion forms a rhythmical pulse; it seems to dance. They could be tentacles, or the slow flapping of a huge bird's wings. Sometimes they form a crown or branch down from above; then again they shoot up from the roots. Or they form an archaic landscape, like the canyons and arches of the American Southwest. Always they loom dark against the golden yellow background. One could think of them as muscle contractions. It is as if the flow of the breath expels the images from inside the body.

Together with the music they form a unit, spreading across the space as their rhythm quickens - until finally a cycle is completed and the forms rest within themselves once again.

The five monitors show the images not synchronously but offset in time. Thus the motion spreads out from a single image over the length of the whole column. A dancing totem. A totem for the dance of the body.

These recordings of the female body were digitally processed, mirrored symmetrically and rotated. The distortion gives the images a ritual power that elevates them beyond any decorative stylization.

Tamiko Thiel caresses with the camera. Her caress transforms into gold. This is not however a cold petrifaction, as her gaze is not analytical. Rather it is the glowing gold of a warm sensuality. She transports her viewer into a state of fascination of one human body for another, a fascination that is experienced from within the body.

The videos are erotic. Their eroticism, however, is not one that focuses on sexual characteristics and is thus satisfied. Rather it grows out of a close immediacy, of a magic of the senses and of a feeling for beauty beyond common ideals. Wit and humor are integral elements: she plays - especially in The Golden Seed - with the moment of recognition when the image on the screen snaps from the abstract into the specific.

Perhaps this type of eroticism determines the female gaze. The videos are more about eroticism as corporal experience than about defining gender viewpoints, however. Tamiko Thiel does not mysticize, not even her own sex. To the contrary; she enchants.

Moving images are an appropriate medium for this enchantment. They weave their magic through time and can lead the viewer by the hand through an experience. They can play with images of known reality while blending in and demonstrating a parallel reality. In a cultic context rituals have the role of linking the tangible world with the spiritual world, in that an action points beyond itself into the symbolic. Music becomes an integral component; the rhythm flows through the images as it flows through the music itself. In The Totem of Heavenly Wisdom the music was developed in concert with the imagery and is therefore more than mere accompaniment.

Thus the video itself becomes a ritual, not merely a recording of a past event but the actual performance as the artwork unfolds in time. In this process Tamiko Thiel is the magician who weaves the spells that construct our experience.

Perhaps technologies like video or virtual reality (which the artist is also exploring in other works) allow such transformations for the first time. Or perhaps they make them possible once again after our culture has discarded them along the way. What seems to be a play with visual forms thereby suddenly becomes something quite different, a place where darkness lives, that which is alien and nameless.

© Christine Wawra, San Francisco, July 1997.
(Christine Wawra is a photographer and art critic living in Tuebingen, Germany. This is a translation of the German original text.)