"Preception Through Process" by Tim Dallett (April 19, 1994)
Barbara Sternberg's films, particularly Through and Through (1991) and At Present (1990) are major artworks which reflect on the nature of perception and its relationship to film as a medium intrinsically in motion. The filmmaker has said she is concerned with how we situate ourselves in perception: her films aim to be 'true' to the human process of seeing—and they are.
The very real achievement of Through and Through is its construction of a completely original equivalence of image. In Sternberg's films, sequences of images are given life and reality through specific strategies of motion, layering, montage, and repetition. Images never crystallize into static, precious compositions, but rather change and overlap in response to an intensely physical sense of rhythm. This strategy puts an image's 'informational' content to one side, rendering it in visual terms. This 'rendering visual' defers, rather than denies, an image's availability for metaphoric or symbolic interpretation by the viewer. Such 'evenness' and 'visual equivalence' is all the more surprising and refreshing since it is achieved entirely outside the bombastic nihilism of 1980's discourse on the profusion of equivalent (and equivalently meaningless) images in contemporary culture.
Sternberg's work is typically 'Canadian'—diffident, hesitant, restrained. It reworks familiar themes of Canadian culture—landscape, visual perception (particularly in relation to the film apparatus), memory, and identity with a restrained and diligent ethical intelligence that gathers authority as the film builds. The work emerges from a rigorous understanding of the potential and authenticity of film as a medium, but its ultimate significance seems to me to lie in its proposition of visual 'truth' as something indirect, provisional, and subject to revision—yet also urgent, necessary, and valid.