Watching Martin Kohout, a work by Martin Kohout recently exhibited on jstchillin.org’s year-long “Serial Chillers in Paradise” online exhibition space, is a YouTube channel consisting of (as of the current date) four hundred and thirty uploaded videos.
Kohout began uploading videos to this channel in April 2010 and is still actively doing so.
The content of each of the videos on the channel consists of (in all but a few cases) a webcam capture of Kohout as he himself views another video on YouTube (some of which are his own earlier videos from this very series).
Each video acts as a sort of loop from YouTube to Kohout back into YouTube (and sometimes looping back out to Kohout again if, as just mentioned, he chooses to watch one of the videos of himself watching another video).
In a gallery setting, the playlist would presumably be run through on an infinite loop (although not necessarily); however, for the viewer of the work on a personal computer, there are any number of ways to engage with it.
I, personally, began by viewing the most recent video–Watching Liam Crockard – Hugh Scott-Douglas – ABSOLUTELY @ CLINT ROENISCH.
In this particular video, one views Kohout–whose distinctive physiognomy is anchored by a pair of glasses with large, rounded frames–looking down towards both the webcam as well as the computer screen which displays the video he’s watching.
Because he’s looking down to the webcam, a source of tension in each of these videos is the way in which Kohout’s gaze almost meets the viewer’s own.
It’s sort of like being on the side of a one-way mirror which allows one person the ability to look directly at the other without the other’s ability to look directly back.
As the video goes on, Kohout’s eyes scan over different parts of the screen with a dead-pan expression; at one point, he fidgets and, then, smirks; a bit later, something catches his eye out the window; and near the end, he gives a little smile before again returning to his default dead-pan.
Generally, though, there is only very little variation in Kohout’s performance (he’s just watching the videos) and this minimal, vaguely uncanny fascination persists through the playlist (or at least through the eight videos I personally viewed in full and the four videos I viewed in part).
The viewer on YouTube perhaps sees herself–entranced, staring at the screen–and may reflect on her own body in front of the computer.
As one views through multiple videos, the lack of variation in action nudges one towards elements outside of the central action documented in the videos including a heightened awareness of the shifting architectural scenarios, slight changes in Kohout’s hair style and clothing, and, finally, reflective thought regarding the conceptual apparatus of the work.
His seemingly unaffected performance brings up a source of tension in the work regarding the degree to which what one views here is, in fact, an unfiltered view on Kohout as he naturally watches the video or else if it’s a performance of someone as if he was naturally watching the videos.
Kohout knows that his watching is being recorded and is destined to be uploaded to YouTube as part of an art project—does this fact preclude one from saying for sure that he’s naturally watching the videos, and, furthermore, is there a normalizing process in which Kohout’s awareness of the recording process diminishes as the actual naturalness of the performance increases?
Additionally, as one views Kohout responding to the videos, to what degree does the viewer participate in the viewing of the videos he watches (particularly if the viewer is familiar with the content of the video)?
Is one just watching Kohout or is one to some extent watching a version of the video viewed, as well?
To the work’s credit, there aren’t any concrete answers to any of these questions.
As one continues to view through the playlist, one is kept in a vague state of suspension regarding one’s relationship to these tensions.
What one views here, then, is perhaps a self-portrait demonstrating the ways in which the lines between being and being watched are increasingly blurred.