exploring art and writing

Questioning My Practice.

In Fine Arts, Interview on March 8, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Following is a rather casual interview I had with my fellow student Matthew Last. It was spur of the moment as it occurred to us, whilst we were considering our work, that it might be beneficial to record our discussion. It’s heavily influenced by our watching a few David Lynch films this week, including the repeated watching of Blue Velvet (David Lynch blog to follow). In the interview we go over the Why’s of me choosing to film a soprano singer, the relationships that can be built through the camera (or rather because of the camera) and how these relate to more personal undertones that I very rarely discuss with anyone. It’s quite a rough discourse but it did make evident some things I hadn’t considered before, such as my video-making stemming from a desire to make a ‘moving’ experience more permanent. Hopefully myself and other fellow students  will be partaking in more interviews throughout the next few weeks.

ML- This is unusual for you isn’t it? You don’t usually get in front of the camera.

LW- No.

ML- How do you feel?

LW- Um. Uncomfortable. But it’s quite fun. But that’s because this is for what we’re going to be saying – I might not show it to people.

ML- It’s funny watching you.

LW- Why?

ML- Well it’s just because I can see that you’re very conscious of it. You keep on looking at the camera although there’s no one there. And you’re drinking a lot. It’s almost a subconscious overcompensation of normal actions.

LW- It’s ok though, because I can look at you, although you’re not behind the camera, so it’s odd. I feel like there are two people watching me.

ML- So. What do you want to talk about?

LW- What have we been talking about?

ML- Shall we start from the beginning? Because we don’t have any pre-planned questions. This is just off the back of a conversation we had earlier. You came in and we had been discussing the moment after watching Blue Velvet, so I think Blue Velvet should start off the discussion. Because that’s been the catalyst for all this.

LW- And the Roy Orbison Song.

ML- Yeah.

LW- And Hook.

ML- Well, let’s just start with Blue Velvet and Hook.

LW- And you think there was a reason why I wanted to watch both of them on the same night. Subconsciously.

ML- Maybe. I think it’s a possibility. Obviously it could just be a coincidence but watching them both on the same night I saw a lot of parallels.

LW- Well the whole time I was watching Hook – and I think you were doing the same – I just couldn’t stop thinking about things we’ve been reading recently. Obviously there are things to do with gender roles, but mainly to do with Jung and archetypes such as the father figure.

ML- And the subconscious. Dislocation. The Lost Boys I thought were very important because we’ve been looking at the unheimlich and ‘ungroundedness’-

LW- – and existential homelessness.

ML- And to have the Lost Boys and this subconscious, dreamlike world I think is relevant.

LW- And there’s Peter Pan as well. He isn’t a Lost Boy any more but he’s still in that existential homelessness ‘state’. He’s returned to it in a different way.

ML- Yeah. And other minor characters such as Toodles, that’s the same thing. His marbles are his happy thoughts and he’s not settled until he regains that lost part of himself. It’s a very literal losing of something. He’s lost this portion of himself. You can’t think of Toodles without thinking about marbles, that’s a part of him.

LW- I think Blue Velvet and Hook – and in fact you can bring in any Lynch film, and Labyrinth, which we watched recently – the films generally that are attracting me (and this is quite odd when you look at my work because it doesn’t really resemble this): they are all dreamlike. Blatantly. They’re all really dreamlike, and slightly absurd and all of them have something to do with the unconscious. But I don’t know why they’re attracting me. And this is me wanting to film a female soprano singer and me being adamant that it has to be that, but I don’t know why.

ML- You don’t know why it has to be a female singer?

LW- I know I feel more comfortable working with women but I don’t think it’s that simple.

ML- Why a singer?

LW- Because I’ve been looking into faces and, you know, everyone keeps suggesting people who play instruments to me and I’ve already done that, that’s great. But I think that even with Emily, the fact that she played the saxophone was important because the instrument is ‘attached’ to her mouth; you can see it in shots of her face. With singing it’s going one step further. The instrument is exactly what you’re looking at; it’s the human. When I started watching John Cassavetes Faces and everything started to become about these expressions, singing seemed to be….

ML- But why, because equally you could have replaced a singer with, you know, a poet?

LW- That was one of the ideas.

ML- But what made you go for a singer?

LW- Well we were talking earlier about how music is a very different form of art. I wrote quite an angry blog a while back on this idea that people want to be spoon-fed when they look at a piece of art and how certain people want to be given precise information on a piece of art. We’ve discussed how surely it’s more beneficial for a person to take exactly what they want from an artwork whether they have any context provided or not. And music is the ultimate art form that lets you do that, which is why people attach themselves to certain songs. You know, people have break up songs and wedding songs and happy songs-

ML- -I’ve never had a break up song. I find that really strange.

LW- My uncle had a Bob Dylan song that he played over and over again. I’ve had loads of songs and now when I hear them I associate them with ‘that part’ of my life, but the idea is that you prescribe a meaning to them depending on what you want. And that makes it so much more moving. You can find the crappest song so relevant to yourself, I suppose. Music, I find it so pure that people can make this thing, it’s something that I admire so much that people can create sounds and it can affect other people in this way, which is something I can’t do. But to record someone doing it is almost like the next best thing. And I like the idea that people can watch these videos and because it’s of musicians they can do what they do with music and take exactly what they want from it.

ML- Is an important part of it for you the way that music taps into an emotional, subconscious part of people?

LW- I think so. This is where Roy Orbinson’s In Dreams song comes in, because we’ve watched Blue Velvet a couple of times in the last few weeks and…I mean…I didn’t realize how much the song was on my mind. It’s been on my mind constantly! I was in university yesterday listening to it, looking up the lyrics, watching the scene from Blue Velvet when Frank turns the light on; and the other Frank, he’s singing and he’s crying, which is what he’s like in the Slow Bar when he’s watching the woman sing Blue Velvet. And I was on a walk today and I was thinking about this song and I was singing it in my head, and thinking about the lyrics and how unusual they are – but how beautiful they are as well. I started writing a blog on David Lynch yesterday, before I realized how much the song was on my mind; the blog is to do with the quality of Lynch films being so dreamlike and how they echo aspects associated with the subconscious, the unconscious, and I called the blog ‘In Dreams’. I had no idea that that was the name of the song, even though the phrase ‘in dreams’ is repeated throughout it. And then when you saw the blog and you told me that that was the title, that’s when I went into uni and I started listening to it and looking at the lyrics. But it’s all very new and I’m still trying to figure out what it all means. With Lynch you get the feeling that a lot of it is to do with the Uncanny. I read the story ‘The Sandman’ by ETA Hoffman when I was reading up on the uncanny, and this concept of the Sandman is very unsettling; the song is romantic but it’s also sad and there is this unheimlich feel to the lyrics – but what does that mean in relation to my work? I don’t think there’s anything particularly uncanny about my work.

ML- Well – I don’t know. There’s something a bit uncanny there in your work.

LW- If I perceived something uncanny from some aspect of it, I suppose it would be the way-

ML- -I think uncanny is the wrong word.

LW- You think it’s the wrong word?

ML- Maybe. But there is something very…there is something very natural, but at the same time slightly uncomfortable, about the close-ups of people’s faces and the intimacy-

LW- -yeah, it’s the intimacy, but it’s also not intimate because I’m guarded behind the camera.

ML- Exactly. And I think that creates a dislocation that brings you back to subjects that are similar to the unheimlich and the uncanny. The intimacy is, especially for the audience, completely artificial because we’re not there with the person, we’re watching a film.

LW- It’s a simulation.

ML- Yeah, so the intimacy is a fake intimacy. I think once you’re hitting that part you are into some sort of uncanny area.

LW- Absolutely. With Emily it was taking that even further I think, but I didn’t realize. Nintendo Night for me was genuinely intimate. Sitting there, watching my friends for hours do these things – it felt intimate. But Emily I filmed in a house I’d lived in for twenty years back in Stafford, and it’s a place I associate all my anxieties with. And in the video I didn’t realize that there’s a point when I’m filming Emily drying her hair and there’s three photos on the wall behind her of me and my two brothers when we’re young. And there’s something…when I watched the film I got this horrible sense…I was filming in this house but I wasn’t filming me, I was filming someone else who’s barely ever been in that house before, as if it was her home. People would never guess that it wasn’t her home. But it’s empty and that house is just a shell; that was just a passing…I never wanted to make a film there. It’s a place I don’t ever want to film in, but it was just convenient at the time. When I watched it through it bought back these associations of this empty shell, this house, and suddenly Emily bought this life into it, but then when she finished it went again. I suppose I get a sense not of the uncanny like you said, but of this ‘it’s like home but it’s not home’, which is technically what the uncanny is. It reminds you of home but then it’s also slightly not like your home so it becomes uncanny, it becomes sinister. And I think that’s perhaps why I picked the Ryo Noda song, because she played some Debussy and some Bach for me, which was so beautiful. But the Ryo Noda song, the improvisation was so unsettled and it appealed to me and it still does. I can remember it in my head now.

ML- I think that’s a very important point about your decision-making. Maybe even the whole reason why you liked to pick Emily, a saxophonist, preparing the song, and a singer preparing their singing.

LW- It’s very important that they have to be warming up.

ML- It’s an echo of the same themes of ungroundedness, of trying to get somewhere and trying to prepare something, rather than already having a settled place.

LW- It’s not a formal performance. That was Emily practicing her saxophone and when I speak to her now she despairs, ‘oh, I can play it so much better now’, but to me it’s very important that she was in the process of learning it. And at the time, whether it does now or not, it meant something to her because she was putting a lot of herself into practicing that piece. She did end up performing it for an assessment I think.

ML- And it’s very vulnerable for a performer to show those moments before they show off their polished performance, to show the bits of them practicing and maybe getting things wrong. Warming up, you know. I think that’s important for you.

LW- I remember after I showed Emily in a Tuesday show I spoke to Lucy Thompson about it – not as in depth as I’d have liked to but we’ll probably go back to it at some point if I end up showing it in the degree show – and she said, and this is a very valid point, that I don’t need the bit when Emily’s drying her hair and the bit where she’s getting her saxophone out of the case. And I suppose as a video it would make it flow better and more successfully, but for some reason I find it so important to have that bit there. In my proposal I’ve been – hopefully – very definite about the fact that I want to see their rituals, their pre-performance rituals.

ML- So we’ve got your piece of work. You’ve gone back to this house that you feel very unsettled by. You’ve got a person performing a warm-up to a performance instead of the actual polished performance and you’ve chosen a piece of music which seems very discordant and ‘all over the place’.

LW- It’s based on music for Japanese theatre, I think.

ML- That’s a very clear three things, which I think fit extremely well together, especially when you put it in this conversation where we’ve mentioned David Lynch, Blue Velvet, and Hook.

LW- I remember Davida saying in my crit after viewing Emily that she felt…that it did make her feel – I can’t remember the words she used, I don’t want to put words in her mouth – that she found it…sometimes people can’t believe that they’re seeing someone so close without make-up on, or putting make-up on and then their face changing colour because of what they’re doing, in this case Emily playing saxophone. It does make some people feel uneasy. I don’t know. You know I don’t think I know…we’re talking about the subconscious and dreams…but I don’t really know why I film people like that.

ML- Let’s go back to when you were talking about Emily and you mentioned anxiety. You mentioned anxiety when you talked about the house and anxiety in things we’ve both been reading. Anxieties can be linked to things we’ve mentioned in this discussion already, the unheimlich, ungroundedness, uprooting.

LW- Lynch as well. His films are the epitome of anxiety. There’s something about them. His sound quality, what he does with the sound in his films procures that sense of anxiety that doesn’t go away, often even when you’ve finished watching the film. I wonder why I keep watching them then?

ML- They must strike a chord with you.

LW- They do. This idea of anxiety…if people were watching this interview or reading it when it’s put in a transcript, or if they’ve seen my films, they’d probably wonder why on earth I’m talking about existential homelessness and anxiety. But it’s come to light this year, since I’ve had to start facing certain things, that I’ve actually been in a certain way for so long – literally since I was very young – I don’t actually know what it’s like to live without these feelings. This ominous undertone that accompanies every single aspect of your life, and I’ve always avoided it in my art which is why I stopped doing self-portraits. And I still avoid them. Which is why I feel uneasy now, in front of the camera, because I don’t know how evident any of these undertones will be when I watch myself. But I feel that by filming these people…it’s almost cathartic. And it’s indulgent in that sense because I would love to sit down and watch a singer perform for an hour because it moves me, and because I find it so interesting that they have the power to do that. I know that I’m filming them and the film will be just a simulation, something that you can’t really experience in the same way unless you’re there – which is why people always go and see live music – so what I’m doing is cathartic in a way; filming these people, these singers. My favourite vocal sound isn’t necessarily a female soprano; the majority of the music I listen to isn’t that – but it probably moves me most. The piece I’m thinking of is John Tavener’s Eternity’s Sunrise, which is this haunting piece that always brings out certain feelings in me but it is cathartic afterwards. When I listen to pieces like that it makes me think that if I experienced that first hand it would be so much more cathartic, which I think is why I’m seeking out these women who have this talent. And it’s leading to really interesting things because I’m meeting a guy who sings soprano on Monday and I have no idea know how I will react to that. I don’t know how important it is that this person I’m going to develop a relationship with through the camera is a woman, but I won’t know until I try.

ML- I think you’ve touched upon a few things there. I know this meeting with this man isn’t what you had in mind. You’ve specifically been thinking about a female singer and there’s Emily-

LW- -and Laura and Gemma in Nintendo Night.

ML- Yeah, and obviously the person in your film is going to be male or female so I don’t know if I’m just reading too far in. But I wonder if there’s a significance in the people that you’re filming being female and your being female.

LW- I know that with previous projects, the first person I turn to is Lucy Thompson because we’ve collaborated together. There’s a comfort that I get from working with someone like Lucy and from filming people like Gemma and Laura and then Emily. These are people that I’m really close to. I’ve filmed men for a couple of my videos but they never seem to stick in my mind. With Manipulation I asked Lucy to learn an extract from a piece of writing I did, which has started to play a really important part in my third year, strangely. Or perhaps not strangely.

ML- What piece of writing was it?

LW- It was a long piece of writing I did in the first year. The first year was when…it was a time when my entire life – as well as coming to uni – changed in ways that…certain people know about what happened but it’s an odd thing to try and explain. My sense of ungroundedness was very harshly and violently confirmed and I realized that although I live in Cardiff, I’m not grounded here. It’s my university town and I won’t live here for the rest of my life but there’s nowhere else for me. I haven’t got a consistent base. So I wrote this piece of writing and I had no idea how cathartic this was for me in the first year and no idea how important it was for me to write these things down. But it’s such an existential piece of writing – when I look back at it I had no idea at the time! And I talk about Jung and the shadow and…I mean, I’m including it in my independent study this year because the extract in my video Manipulation was all to do with this ungroundedness. And again, that’s the link to what I was saying with Emily and how strange I found it filming it that house, which is my home, but it’s not. This idea of existential homelessness…if I’d known that term, if I’d been reading Heidegger or Miwon Kwon or Lucy Lippard in the first year my life probably would have made a lot more sense because I didn’t know what it was that I was feeling.

ML- It’s a very strange thing to understand unless you read the terms. It’s something I’ve been aware of but haven’t been able to put into words until reading these phrases and realizing the terms exist.

LW- Yeah. And when we started discussing these terms it made so much sense. This whole idea of being ungrounded-

ML- -as a root form of anxiety as well.

LW- And my anxiety is directed towards the loss of people, which I’ve come to realize probably only in the last month or so. I think filming, in a way, is my attempt at making my experiences with these people more permanent. Obviously I’m not going to be living with Laura and Gemma for much longer, which is going to be hard because they’ve made me feel more grounded than anyone that I’ve lived with before. And I keep getting this idea of ‘oh, I’d love to make a video’ of us, just us living together, and I would make this really solid video and we could each have a copy and somehow in my mind it makes it easier to cope with the idea that we’ll be separated. Because, although it’s a simulation and you’re watching pixels, it’s a DVD and the image you’re seeing is permanent – in a way; it’s not really permanent, it’s totally finite, but…that idea of making a good experience last longer. Which is what’s wonderful about films and about music, recorded music.  Perhaps this is also why I’m so eager to work with a singer, or, you know, musicians. But particularly a singer at this time.

ML- I wonder if the specific filming of women, and you being a woman, is some form of projection; whether you’re subsidising yourself for another person who appears more settled than yourself?

LW- Perhaps, but I won’t ever know that, if that’s the case. How would you find that out?

ML- I don’t know. How would you find any of this out?

LW- I don’t know! The people that I’ve filmed so far are people that I respect and admire and have affection for.  It’s always been suggested that I should try filming strangers and I’ve thought about it, and the closer I get to doing it the more horrendously uncomfortable and the more false I feel. Which is why with this project I’m having to find singers but I’ve been so eager to converse with them first over email, over text and phone, then we meet, then we meet again – then I’d like to film. That was the plan, but there’s been let downs. There’s this idea of building up a relationship. That is just as important. For instance, I’m meeting Iain tomorrow but I’m not taking my camera – I don’t want to meet him and then straight away start filming. I have to meet him and I have to talk to him, I have to get a feel for the way he moves and for what he’s like. It’s not necessarily about getting on, it’s just about getting this sense of familiarity and then I feel I could film them more honestly. I know the camera is always a lie. It’s never truth. I think it’s false…I mean, how can this idea of verite cinema really exist? But anyway…building the relationship is just as important as me filming them. It doesn’t have to be a crazily intimate relationship. Just one where I know them; where I’m not filming a stranger.

See Lucy Thompson’s work at lcthompson.blogspot.com

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  1. […] the joy is in this mass of interpretations, all wrong, all right. This links closely to my discussion with Matthew Last about people’s very individual relationships with music and how your interpretation of a song […]

  2. […] thoughts originate from my interview with Matthew Last, where I […]

  3. […] Without meaning to appear as though I’m avoiding answering, one of my previous blogs entitled Questioning My Practice revealed a few hidden truths for me, all the more so because I made the following statements […]

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