Facsimile, Rubicon Gallery, Feb 2009.
For nearly a decade, Martin Healy has investigated the fragile relationship between belief and the observable phenomena that furnish the evidentiary basis for faith—or don’t. And for Healy, instances of belief encompass a broad range of suppositions, from hauntings and monsters to backward masking and UFOs. His photographic series have documented the neighborhood of 112 Ocean Avenue in Amityville, Long Island, site of the famous “horror” in the 1970s, and the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, legendary lair of the Jersey Devil. A video, Genesis 28:12, 2006, of a band performing “Stairway to Heaven,” ran forwards and then in reverse as it failed to quite reveal the Satanic messages purportedly embedded in the song’s lyrics. Another work, Skywatcher, 2007, focused on a man who describes his possible encounters with alien spacecraft in Warminster, England, some thirty years ago.
Healy’s new video, Facsimile, comprises a sequence of panning and tracking shots across lush tropical foliage. An ambient soundtrack with birdcalls creates the impression that the scenes represent a verdant rainforest, yet an unnatural stillness pervades, coupled with an absence of any sign of animal life. A voiceover in French, subtitled in English, speaks about an island paradise, and a week’s worth of thoughts and feelings, captured by some sort of machine, that repeat for eternity. The combination of word and image is terse, cryptic, and equivocal, elliptically suggesting, on the one hand, the promise of a return to Eden, a life continually renewed in an insular, South Seas heaven. Yet, at the same time, the reference to a machine and unending repetition intimates a kind of technological, existential hell.
In fact, Healy has excerpted the brief text from The Invention of Morel, a 1940 novella by the Argentine writer Adolfo Bioy Casares, in which a fugitive castaway discovers a group of revelers enacting a fête galante on an unidentified isle somewhere in the Pacific. They turn out to be projections, ghosts in a machine, doomed by its inventor to forever repeat the events and emotions of seven days worth of pleasures. Ultimately, the unnamed narrator decides to join them in their week of eternal, phantasmatic recurrence, thereby causing his own physical death. Healy’s cinematic evocation of Bioy’s fiction summons its narrator’s struggles with belief—in reality and its facsimile, in life and immortality, in the desirability of one over the other—with poetic condensation and an economy of means.
In the final scenes of Facsimile, shots looking up through the plants reveal a gridded structure overhead; the entire work was filmed in a hothouse in the National Botanic Gardens in Dublin. Rather than wild nature, Healy’s leafy images depict a controlled and cultivated environment, closed off from the outside world. In an age in which nature must be protected from man instead of the opposite, the jungle appears as a reproduction, a representation, a proleptically spectral trace of a vanishing reality, presaging the biospheres of science fiction, souvenirs of a life that is no more. And Facsimile itself is, quite literally, a projection, light cast on the gallery wall to replicate the image of the world captured by the camera. Healy’s enigmatic, looping video considers, among other things, the eternal return, always new, of our belief in art.