exploring art and writing

Video Summary 2009-2010

In Fine Arts, Video on May 12, 2010 at 9:32 am

The following summaries are intended as contextual statements about each video; they are what I would present to an audience in order to briefly inform them of the concepts behind my videos and what these these concepts have developed from. I have also only covered the videos that strongly emphasize my conceptual and technical progress throughout the year. Almost all of these artworks – in particular the Recital videos – have been discussed more thoroughly in previous blogs; these are intended as a quick summary only.

A to B.

16:9
6’56

A to B was my first video of the academic year and I consider it the catalyst for my current Recital Project. Following several viewings of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker my interest in the idea of observing the observer was growing, as was the idea of motion as subjects remain stationary (of course it is actually the subjects that are moving and their surroundings that are stationary, but that is not the visual nature of the image we see on the screen). This theme of motion was one that had interested me for some time due to Jun Ichikawa’s Tony Takitani, where the camera is constantly tracking past the occurring scenes as if to represent the passage of time as a person remains internally stuck. The mine-cart scene in Stalker is a more literal depiction of motion than Ichikawa’s but is equally metaphorical; for me it personifies the concept of an internal as well as external event as the three men travel into The Zone. My solution to obtaining the visual illusion of stationary subjects surrounded by an an environment apparently rushing by was the Cardiff City Sightseeing bus due to it’s lack of a roof on the top floor. Whilst the video is lacking in any internal, emotional metaphors it did spark my interest in terms of the observing individual and how their concentration allows me to scrutinize them more closely; as shall be seen in the following videos, through my dissertation research I came to know this concentration as the state of picnolepsia, a concentrated daydream that transfers a persons mind into another kind of temporary ‘reality’.

Nintendo Night.

4:3
7’15

Nintendo Night was a video that involved a lot of retrospection on my part because at the time I wasn’t aware of the concepts driving me to make it. What became evident was my desire to really hone in on people in order to convey them in a way we do not usually get to experience; I wanted to film Laura and Gemma in a way that I didn’t usually see them, to pick up on their habits and idiosyncrasies in order to get to know them a little better (hence the title of my statement from last assessment), inspired no doubt by my viewings of Cassavetes’ Faces and Leconte’s Le Batteur du Bolero. What interests me now about this is how the camera allowed such intimacy despite being an object that is technically in the way between myself and the other person; the simulation that I make by pressing record, instead of hindering my approach somehow allows me to become a part of the private intimacies that my subjects commit. Since making the video and since being interviewed about my work I have realised that the drive behind this way of filming is my attempt at making my experiences with these people more permanent. This sounds obvious at first as technically committing anything to film and video is making it more physically permanent than memory, but there is a strong emotional pull for me towards attempting to secure both people as human beings and people as ‘home’. My video of Laura and Gemma was me relishing my familial intimacy with them.

Recitals.

4:3
4’25

This video is what I class as the first ‘Recital’ video that I made, although the theme of the picnoleptic receded somewhat in this and a few others that followed. By asking Laura and Gemma to recite things from memory I wanted to examine their relationship with the camera and how it either suffered or flourished when their concentration was fixed on it, or rather on themselves being watched by it. The intention was to reveal habits and expressions that were unique to that situation and to each of them individually. The video itself seems inconsequential but it had an important part to play in spurring on my interest in the ‘performing’ human: a person who is aware of the camera and whose actions are almost shaped by it. This theme eventually intertwined with the idea of the concentrating – or the picnoleptic – performer in the form of musicians.

Manipulation.

4:3
4’25 (looped)

I consider this video as standing alone amongst the rest of my work, despite it continuing many of the themes that I did and still do work with. Firstly, I presented it as a projected installation rather than on the big screen; the screen was very small and in line with the base of the wall; it was also in the installation room and on a constant loop. All of these things were intended to heighten the intimacy of the setting and the sensitivity (for me) of the subject matter. The content of the video was my own voice dubbed over fellow student Lucy Thompson’s face as she mouthed the excerpt I was reciting; over this I placed increasingly loud sounds that I obtained from around my home. The extract itself is from a piece of writing I wrote in my first year of university; it pinpoints the time when I had gone home from university only to be violently refused a home, an event that was emotionally problematic for me as the rest of my direct family were unobtainable. I came back to Cardiff and spent the Easter holidays on my own; I made the piece of writing that I am speaking from in Manipulation the main occupation of my time, entitling it The Fifteenth Floor after my home at Ty Pont Hearn (included in independent study). This may all sound irrelevant to my videos as a whole but I see it as being highly important in my reasons for making videos at all; the experience, which was slightly unsurprising and familiar, developed my already present anxieties into a condition that I am still living alongside today. My videos as I said before are my catharsis, my way of extending my experiences with those I am fond of and admire in preparation for inevitable loss. This is why asking Lucy Thompson to read my extract was significant (she is in fact the only person ever to have read it), as was the obtaining of sounds from a domestic environment (the attainment of which was inspired by Tacita Dean’s Foley Artist installation). For the audio I was strongly inspired by David Lynch’s Eraserhead and I used them as a sonic representation of sounds I often experience as well as from a more metaphorical perspective. Like Lynch I wanted to use the audio not just as a background soundtrack but as one of the integral aspects of the piece, an approach that is now prominent in my musical recital videos. The dominance of the audio was also inspired by Elia Kazan’s On The Waterfront, in which a confession that Marlon Brando makes is overpowered by the whistle and pounding of the dockyard, promoting massive frustration and yet emphasizing the dismay and anger contained with the situation.

The Recital.

4:3
16’40

The Recital was my assessment piece for December 2009. By using two cameras I was hoping to reveal more of each persons facial idiosyncrasies and through this something of their relationship with the camera; by asking them to recite things from memory and in their own home I was hoping to examine their internal thoughts and state of mind, thereby creating an intimate video that expressed the character of each individual. While I think that it did succeed in this to some extent I do not think that the video was conceptually successful as a whole. At the time I thought the memories that surfaced in each recital would be indicative of extremely personal intimacies and that the two cameras would intensify the scrutiny of each subject; instead the piece to me just seems invasive and sometimes uncomfortable. Whilst their discomfort at being in front of the camera was an integral part of the piece, I found that it held any of the intimacy that was present in previous videos at arms length. In retrospect, even though I did not initially know the musicians I went on to film, I ‘got to know’ them far better than The Recital allowed me to ‘get to know’ those I was already on familiar ground with. I now consider this the result of my confusion regarding the nature of the recital that I was searching for; since filming musicians I have discovered the need to film those who are performing but while entirely engrossed in their performance (as Laura was in Nintendo Night) instead of being dominated by the camera and addressing it directly; this creates an ease with the subject that allows you to hone in on them and gain the intimacy I am constantly searching for. Despite all this, however, The Recital was a useful video for me to make; it taught me that I needed to look closer to find what I was looking for in my observation of people as well as developing my technical skills with audio and editing.

Emily.

4:3
15’58

Quite ironically Emily was a desperate attempt to just give me something to do with video; once the idea was planted in my head, however, I wouldn’t drop the matter with her until she let me film. For many reasons now this video is significant in my work and to me personally, and whilst there are other videos that I have gone on to make that I am equally satisfied with, Emily encompasses all the themes that I aim to portray in my work. It portrays Emily as she recites her Ryo Noda performance but it also shows her warming up, a fascination of mine as it is the private task of a professional musician; I hoped that through portraying the warm-up its usually ‘hidden’ status would give the video another level of intimacy. I also filmed Emily as she prepared for the practice, her pre-performance routine as it were. All this occurred in my own home, the problems associated with which were still manifesting themselves in my attitude towards it at the time. Emily stayed with me in the house for about 3 days which along with my brother made the place bearable and even enjoyable; by portraying it as Emily’s home in the video I think I was celebrating the filling of this house with her presence and with the presence of the music. Ultimately to an audience the video will probably appear as a documentation of a musician practicing in their home, which is entirely suitable, but to me it is a video that rids my home of the ghosts I was associating with in Manipulation. It also paved the way for my following Recital Project.

Molly.

4:3
10’13

Molly was my first attempt at filming a musician – in this case a singer – since Emily. I now understand how difficult a process it is to advertise and organize events with people outside of the art school, but after many disappointments and much frustration Molly was the first one to stick to our agreement; for this I am extremely grateful because even though I am not pleased with the video as a whole it told me what direction I needed to be facing in my work. I couldn’t stick to the theme of home that was present in Emily because I love my home here in Cardiff and so there is no need for an external presence to come and fill it. Her presence as a stranger is obvious in the video, whereas Emily’s preparation previously gave it the intimate level that I could never achieve with Molly as an artwork. So from making this video I learned to either continue filming friends in their home environment (or in my own) or to stick to some of my themes but on a different route: the route of strangers and their genuine ‘practice’ environments. I chose the latter because, despite the difficulties of arranging each event, the prospect of meeting new performers and experiencing their skills greatly excited me. So at this point my work shifted from the homely environment to focus solely on the themes of recital, performance, music and the internal expressions that can be gained from these, both from the point of view of the performer and the audience.

Rhiannon.

4:3
14’38

Rhiannon is the second video in my Recital Trilogy, Emily being the first and Miriam the last. By placing these videos alongside one another to form a trilogy is not a claim insisting on their having to be viewed together. It is more of an indication of the three videos that have successfully represented the themes I am attempting to portray more than any other work I have done. As a musician Rhiannon was a force to be reckoned with; her voice really could blow your head off. My choice of the Samuel Barber piece over the others that she performed for me was to convey the gentleness that such a powerful voice can possess. Like all my recital videos I show Rhiannon warming up and breathing and, as in Emily, I black out the screen as the sounds she makes begin to emerge, albeit in a more constant and simpler way than I had done previously. As before this is intended to allow the audience to focus on the quality of the sounds. Whilst I consider Rhiannon a general success there are aspects that I would change if I got the chance to film her again; I don’t think the camera is zoomed in enough, for instance, and the room was so big that it lacked an intimate feel. These were both approaches that I rectified in Miriam.

Miriam.

4:3
18’00

Despite making The Dark Studio after Miriam I consider Miriam to be the last video that represents my current Recital Project, at least for the duration of my time at university. It is the result of the deductions and additions that I have deemed necessary since making Emily, Molly and Rhiannon. As with Rhiannon we recorded the video in the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama but this time in a very small practice room with a window at eye-level (a similar layout to Emily and very important for the light of the video). I have also known the cellist Miriam Wakeling for some time, albeit not on intimate terms. The familiarity that we did have, however, seemed to make the filming more relaxed and Miriam seemed very poised when faced with a camera at close range. I made it my aim to really concentrate as closely as I could on her facial features and later on her hands and body for the manipulated repetition. The small scale of our environment encouraged this, as did Miriam’s engrossment in her warm-up and performance. Her concentration, her ‘picnoleptic state’ if I want to continue with previous terminology, allowed me to observe her in a way that feels more concentrated than previous videos.

Whilst my last few months of making work have been quite intense and direct in that I haven’t really done anything but make videos, since finishing them I have begun to consider references in more depth. Jayne Parker is the most obvious figure to refer to; her work encompasses both the intimacy and the recital aspect of my work in a way that is gentle but passionate. Like her my aim is also to not use music as a backing track but to include it as an integral part of the artwork; Miriam’s person when playing would not possess the idiosyncrasies that it does without Crumb’s sonata, and equally this particular performance of the sonata would not exist without Miriam as a performer. Person and music are intertwined as one entity during any performance; what I have attempted to do with Miriam is document this as closely as possible, to portray the unfolding of the music and the person that executes it. Their state of mind during the performance, whilst always being rooted the picnoleptic shift from one ‘reality’ or state to another, can hopefully be spied through the movement and habits of their facial expressions, hence why the first depiction of the performances are always a constant shot of the performers face alone. The following manipulated repetition is intended to show the body’s more general involvement with the music by drawing attention to the complexity of its construction and recital. In addition to this the warm up that the video begins with is just as integral to its format as the ‘final’ performance because it is what makes the performance possible; without the practice we would not have the music. It is also a chance for the viewer to enjoy the timbre of the instrument rather than just focusing on a piece of music; I want them to enjoy the qualities of the sounds that the cello is capable of producing through Miriam.

A quote that has deeply resonated with me regarding my work is Anthony Howell’s comment on Jayne Parker: “she works with the exterior to produce as essay on the interior.” (32:2000). This notion summarizes my aim nigh on perfectly. To use an external event, a performance, as a key into the internal formation of both the performers mindset and the performance that they are producing. It is from this that intimacy can hopefully be gained through attempting to observe such a person in such an event. Whilst I am constantly aware of the simulated nature of video, I am hoping to allow an audience to view a performer and a piece of music in a way that, although not alien, is somewhat different to our experience of the two things in our day-to-day lives.

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