by Sean Michael Nelson
The 1976 film The Little Girl Who Lives Down the Lane features a prime example of how to induce terror. The titular girl, played by Jodie Foster, lives in a house, seemingly by herself, and is one day intruded upon by the building’s landlord. Having already been refused access to it the day earlier, the landlord insists on retrieving her jelly glasses from the cellar, and proceeds to enter against the girl’s protests, screaming at what she sees down there and meeting her end in an accident trying to exit. The film never reveals just what it was that was seen in the cellar: by allowing the audience to imagine what was in there, they become complicit in and authors of the scene’s horror.
Though he dislikes the imposing nature of video and film, Luis Camnitzer’s works function in a similar way to this scene. Take Camnitzer’s polystyrene sign which reads “THIS IS A MIRROR / YOU ARE A WRITTEN SENTENCE.” For the piece to produce any affect, the viewer will have to work with the piece.