Burt Barr Records an Ice Cube as it Melts, for a Movie With the Ultimate in Predictable Endings

THE DAILY PIC: At Sikkema Jenkins, Barr's video helps us focus on change.

THE DAILY PIC (#1720): Burt Barr’s 1998 video called The Long Dissolve, now in a little memorial to Barr at Sikkema Jenkins & Co. in New York, is nothing more (but also not a smidgen less) than an unmoving eight-minute shot of an ice cube dissolving. When I first came across it, my thoughts of course turned to Andy Warhol’s Empire, from 1964, which is eight hours worth of footage of the Empire State Building doing … absolutely nothing.

In fact, the two pieces present a classic case of pseudomorphism, as the art historian Yve-Alain Bois would say—a case of two artworks that look the same on the surface but are in fact quite different underneath. When you sit down to watch all of Empire, as I and a few other hardy fools have done, you are in a constant state of anticipation: At every moment, you are imagining, hoping—praying—that something might start to happen, even if you figure that it’s just as likely that nothing will. There is no plot, so it feels as though any kind of action might be waiting in the wings, and you have to be constantly ready for it.

Barr’s piece, on the other hand, is the ultimate in plottedness—almost the archetype of the plotted movie. Take an ice cube out of the freezer, and there’s only one way the story can progress and then end. The Long Dissolve is an aqueous snuff film, fully scripted by Mother Nature.

Yet the actual act of melting happens just too slowly for us to see and recognize the change taking place in the cube, from instant to instant, even though that change is absolutely clear from minute to minute, say, and of course as ice becomes water over the length of the piece.

Empire is about the possibility of sudden action—blink and you may miss it.

The Long Dissolve is about the certainty of change—stare, and you just may witness it.

For a full survey of past Daily Pics visit blakegopnik.com/archive.

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