Gyres 1-3 is a single channel video installation by American artist Ellie Ga. The title refers to a concept from oceanography: gyres are vortexes created by the interplay of winds and currents that carry debris across the oceans. Sometimes debris escapes these vortexes and washes up on shores. This flotsam and jetsam becomes the jumping off point for Ellie ga’s wide-ranging ruminations on displacement and migration, on death and mourning, on chance encounters and recurring rituals. The above excerpt gives an idea of the work’s tone and approach: personal yet expansive, serendipitous yet focussed.
Why does it qualify as a video essay? First of all because of its form: this is a desktop video essay of sorts. The desktop, in this case, is a light table onto which Ellie Ga slides, arranges and rearranges transparent photographs. The images come and go in waves, washing up on the light box like flotsam on a beach. Much like in a traditional desktop video, the artist’s reasoning is both triggered by and understandable through the succession of images. In another parallel to the desktop video, the images here are also presented in an almost haphazard order, like someone surfing the web and stumbling onto things. But unlike the more traditional virtual desktop, Ellie Ga’s physical handling of the transparent slides (we can see her hands) adds a more tactile, more personal touch (literally) to the process.
Secondly, this triptych of short videos often uses archetypal images as reference points for its argumentation and loose narrative structure. Many of the photographs are personal snapshots made by Ellie Ga, but she also anchors her thoughts to cultural imagery that has a long history, such as ancient Greek drawings, frivolous porcelain figurines, and more contemporary news images of refugees. The thinking here is not merely illustrated by these pictures, but shaped and given direction by them. Ga finds visual echos between ancient depictions and newspaper photographs that make her – and the viewer – ponder the cyclical nature of human history: this gyre we’re all caught up in.
Finally, the free-flowing nature of Ga’s voice over narration is quintessentially essayistic. She makes the most of visual similitudes, chance encounters and the colliding of her professional and personal endeavours, giving herself over to wherever those random twists and turns lead. The resulting video is structured more by casually recurring visual motifs than by a strict reasoning. What could be more appropriate for a video that takes its name from forces so intricate and so powerful that understanding them is beyond our grasp?