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Archive for the ‘Performance’ Category

Chris Burden.

In Art, Performance on May 11, 2015 at 6:56 am
‘Trans-fixed’, Venice, CA, 1974 Photograph © Chris Burden

‘Trans-fixed’, Venice, CA, 1974 Photograph © Chris Burden

Chris Burden is an art school staple. As you warily begin to ingratiate yourself into the world of modern and contemporary art, you soon realise that Burden is one of the world’s preliminary performers, perhaps because he’s done well to make sure you never, ever forget him. Whether you perceive his performances to be a destructive waste of time or whether you consider him a courageous genius, that’s up to you. Many people know him as ‘that bloke who kind of shot himself in the arm.’

Burden was born in Massachusetts in 1946. His early college works were sculptural, but early on he noted the potential for human interaction with the artworks. In reference to his untitled outdoor tunnel sculptures constructed out of plastic and steel, the artist claimed to have “realised that what I had made was not a piece of sculpture but something that had to be activated” (Horvitz 1976). It was the act of running through the 100 foot long tunnels that drew Burden towards processes more associated with physical activity than minimalist sculpture. And so a performance artist was born.

‘Shoot’, F Space, Santa Ana, California 1971

‘Shoot’, F Space, Santa Ana, California 1971

From then on Burden’s artistic explorations began to consist of sculptures that required physical triggers, thereby causing the viewer/performer (you essentially became both) to become an inherent aspect of the artwork. Then he went one step further with Five Day Locker Piece, where he confined himself to a 2’ x 2’ x 3’ studio locker for five consecutive days, apparently for reasons more to do with curiosity than anything else.

Burden’s work continued to embody these themes of tense and often claustrophobic anxiety, although in some cases he actually came to enjoy the isolation and deprivation. In Bed Piece (1972) he inhabited the corner of a room with only a bed and a portable toilet for him to spend 22 days of his time on. His visibility to the audience, however, prompted Burden to rethink his approach. He came up with White Light/White Heat (1975), in which he spent three weeks lying hidden on a raised platform in the Ronald Feldman Gallery in New York. When discussing the piece with Robert Horvitz, Burden elucidated:

I have this fantasy, which may or may not be realised, that someone will come in off the street, not knowing my name, just doing a gallery tour, come in and see the platform and be able to feel that something’s amiss. There’d be something that would nag at them and they could maybe feel my presence…” (1975)

Not all of Burdens work was so contemplative and quiet. In what are perhaps his most famous performances, entitled Shoot (1971) and Trans-fixed (1974), we are offered much more abrupt and violent artworks. In the case of Shoot, the statement goes: “at 7:45 p.m. I was shot in the left arm by a friend. The bullet was a copper jacket .22 long rifle. My friend was standing about fifteen feet from me.” Ouch. This overtly aggressive performance impelled journalists and the public alike to consider him as either a crazed man or as an artist presenting a commentary on modern-day gun use and warfare. Whichever stance was taken, it certainly got people talking about him.

Burden following ‘Shoot’ 1971

Burden following ‘Shoot’ 1971

In Trans-fixed (pictured in the title image) Burden was literally nailed onto a Volkswagen in the manner of a crucifixion. Whilst his palms were pinned to the car, the vehicle was displayed for a matter of minutes before it was placed out of sight and Burden removed. Whilst this performance and Shoot did not appear to outwardly resemble his subtler, durational pieces, references to religious themes such as voluntary seclusion and trial by ordeal were consistent throughout his entire practice (Horvitz 1975).

Other performances by Burden involved the artist electrocuting himself, not to mention all of the cutting, drowning, disappearing, (yet more) shooting and fasting that went on. On later returning to a literal sculptural approach he created artworks such as Medusa’s Head (1990), the monstrousness of which renders it almost irresistible to look at.

‘Medusa’s Head’ 1990.  Plywood, steel, cement, rock, model railroad trains and tracks, 14’ in diameter.

‘Medusa’s Head’ 1990.
Plywood, steel, cement, rock, model railroad trains and tracks, 14’ in diameter.

In 2005 Burden revealed his project Ghost Ship, a yacht that is capable of navigating itself on the high seas. Whilst we may not have all been talking about it in our lunch-breaks, it is impressive that Burden had the momentum to keep his art practice up, especially when considering the fact that the prime question on everybody’s lips in 1971 was “will he even make it past 30?” Well, I”m glad he did.

Chris Burden passed away on 10th May 2015.

What Next For The Body? The Inbetween Time Festival of Live Art and Intrigue at Arnolfini, Bristol.

In Exhibition, Fine Arts, Performance on January 7, 2011 at 9:35 pm

It was with high hopes that I arrived at Arnolfini on Thursday to gain my first experience of the Inbetween Time Festival of Live Art and Intrigue, with the subtitle and theme What Next For The Body? Whilst I don’t pretend to be able to review an entire festival based on its opening night, I can attempt to interpret it and the actions performed within it as a taster for the rest of the week.

To begin I’ll set the scene: Arnolfini, as ever, had a warm and bustling atmosphere inside and it was a welcome haven from the hackling cold. The bar in particular had a wonderful buzz and was filled with students and families alike, with a dimly lit chic but casual feel to the seating and bar. On this occasion the weather called for a winter warmer – perfectly made hot chocolate with a much-welcome shot of rum.

Drinks consumed and sufficiently toasty we made our way into the main foyer where two artists, Jones and Llyr, were about to embark on their first collaborative performance, A Mouthful of Feathers. 

Jones, an Arnolfini Associate and Llyr, a member of Random People and joint-founder of Showroom (both organisations are currently proving to be quite elusive – my research continues!)

A crowd had gathered around the small table at which both artists’ sat. Wearing underwear in the form of white vests and white pants and donning garish, imitative Native American head-gear, the two faced each other with scowls that comically contradicted their appearance and situation. Sitting between them on the table was a large jar of what looked like a certain well-known peanut confectionary brand; throughout the performance these sweets would be plucked from the jar by both Jones and Llyr before being placed in their mouths and sucked for a brief period prior to discarding. They then proceeded to spit and salivate on the white cloth that covered the table, resulting in a childlike ‘watercolour’ of shades that matched their rainbow headdresses. Throughout the duration of the performance one would gaze at the other, the stare being returned with apparent, and it must be said often unconvincing, animosity.

Described in the booklet as “a bold, queer performance exploring play, pleasure, spit and disgust”, Llyr and Jones certainly achieved this in regards to the visual aesthetic of the performance, perhaps to the point of over-compensation. And whether they endured “the limits of their own revulsions” I find doubtful, unless they truly detested the treats on which they were sucking.

The metaphors are blatant for all to see here, but for every one of my comments on the perhaps disappointing starkness of such a performance, as the evening progressed I found very few objections to their actions. I retain the belief that simple, repeated actions often portray messages far more succinctly and so, when durational, they allow the audience to experience an artwork with more intensity and integrity, irrespective of whether they decide to subsequently adore or despise it.

And so I found myself interested in the two men and their relationship, both to each other and to their resources, so to speak. The childlike aspects of the artwork’s appearance – the brash rainbow colours, the sweets, and Jones’ and Llyr’s matching garb – when infused with the queer innuendo’s that these characteristics were also pervaded with, became humorous in their irony. The stoic façade being maintained by each of them added to this joviality as the intimacy of excreting saliva, typically repelling in such a public environment, saturated into the tablecloth until the two bodies had essentially met and mingled.

As Jones’ and Llyr’s performance unfolded visitors had the opportunity to meander through Arnolfini to view the rest of What Next For The Body? The exhibition guide is there for viewers to pick up on entering Gallery 1, where Kira O’Reilly and Jennifer Willet’s artwork Refolding (Laboratory Architectures) can be found alongside The Inbetween Time Lounge.

Kira O’Reilly and Jennifer Willet, ‘Refolding (Laboratory Architectures)’

The guide begins with an appropriately meaningful and yet elusive quote from American poet Mark Doty’s Lament-Heaven (1995): “Isn’t everything so shadowed/By its own brevity/We can barely tell the thing from its elegy?”, some Baudrillard-esque sentiments that told me I’d have to put my thinking cap on.

My knowledge of O’Reilly’s previous work alludes to the body, flesh and biochemistry. It is not surprising, then, to find her showing work in an exhibition that is concerned with “the conditions and outcomes of the body breaking down in the face of political, sociological, technological, scientific and environmental upheaval” (exhibition guide). The same goes for bioartist Willet, whose various projects all seem to refer to contemporary biotechnology and the political discourse surrounding it.

Whilst the work they are presenting to the audience in Arnolfini no doubt began as performative actions, we are presented with two large photographic images only. What they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality, however; the images, both of O’Reilly and Willet tangled in the sterile white lab coats of their surrounding ‘bio’ environment, are stunning in quality and composition.

The guide reads that the laboratory coats “create molecular-like structures”, sometshing that I failed to perceive (perhaps because my knowledge of molecular structures is extremely limited), but I could certainly appreciate the structure of their forms as they entangled themselves amidst the laboratory. There are further nods to the simulative-reproduction ideas of Baudrillard when you turn from the first wall-mounted image to the second photograph, placed before you in a slightly ominous ‘light-box’, in which we see them straddling in the first photograph. Here we can experience both the physical object and its simulacrum, a neat echo to Doty’s quote.

Moving up the stairs to Gallery 2 leads to Zoran Todorovic’s Warmth (2009). As an installation it is striking; on entering the gallery you are faced with several piles of ‘merchandise’, in this case blankets constructed of human hair obtained from various salons, prisons and military barracks. Each blanket is for sale at the price of £100, a reiteration that we ourselves consist of sellable and tradable goods. Mounted on each wall is a monitor showing footage of the hair being cut and collected, although I will admit I felt a sense of slight disappointment on realising that each screen was showing the same footage (several of them were also not working – this did not necessarily impact on the meaning and quality Todorovic’s piece as a whole but it certainly diminished my initial experience of it). In spite of this, I could not suppress my fascination with the tactile, literally human aspects of the blankets and the corporeal history that each one was constructed of.

Zoran Todorovic, ‘Warmth’

If the connotations of Todorovic’s Warmth/Toplina seemed potent in its enquiry regarding ‘what next for the body?’ then Teresa Margolles’ 37 Cuerpos (37 Bodies) and Aire (Air) intensified the direct relationship between audience and external bodies even further. Margolles’ Mexican background and her career origins as a forensic morgue technician have provided ammunition for her artistic explorations. In the exhibition guide her work is described as exploring “the life of the body after death…[and how] in Mexico thousands of people are affected by the violence resulting from the international trade in illegal drugs”.

This brutality is subtly encompassed in 37 Cuerpos (2007) and Aire (2003), the former being 1240cm of discarded autopsy thread, previously used to stitch together the bodies of those whose lives had met a violent end. When I first viewed the connected pieces of string I was unfamiliar with the context, although I assumed from the stained thread that it had been used for some visceral purpose. Spanning the length of the enormous third gallery the train of thread was simultaneously inconspicuous and obtrusive as it sliced the space in half, characteristics not inappropriate considering Margolles’ intended context. Like the surreptitious and yet violently obtrusive threads that make up the Mexican drugs trade, and in accordance with the private nature of the morgue, 37 Cuerpos embodies the polarities of discreetness and flagrancy, but also of grief.

Teresa Margolles, ’37 Cuerpos’

The morbidity and political slant of the subject matter continues in Aire. In a small room two cooling systems circulate disinfected and recycled water into the air, water that was once used to hygienically cleanse bodies prior to autopsy. Whilst this morbidity appeared to be too invasive for some, tap water is often recycled from such sources. By putting autopsy water in an air humidifier, Margolles seems to be expanding further on ideas that express quietness and yet hint at insidiousness. Her use of “vapour as a metaphor for the absent body” and “as a reminder of mortality and the rituals of death” (exhibition guide) reflects the influence of a culture infiltrated by uncertainty and violence.

The final performance that I came across prior to my regretful absconding of the nights events was Jordan McKenzie’s Drawing Breath. This was the most physically interactive and intimate piece of the whole night, a status maintained by a limit on how many members of the audience were allowed access to the room at any given time. After repeatedly marking brown paper with charcoal, McKenzie proceeded to blow into the paper until a balloon had formed, which he then slammed into the wall, causing it to form a dusty pattern as it exploded. He then approached an individual member of the audience, unbuttoned his shirt and placed their hand on his respiring chest, only to retreat and repeat the process for two hours.

Drawing Breath appeared to be an enquiry into the act of breathing, of its necessity, its repetitiveness, and of the transience in the intake of a single breath. Whilst I will admit that I found the performance slightly rigid and uncomfortable – in particular when he took my hand in order to lay it on his chest – it was also a very fitting way to end a night of pondering such a loaded topic as the current and future state of the human body. The simplicity of such universally organic actions was a soft reminder that we all, for now, begin purely as flesh and blood. Whilst this may be perceived as wonderful by some or as naïve or even crude by others, as we journey further into the twenty-first century it is a subject that will grow in technological complexity and philosophical ambiguity. Let us hope that artworks such as those found in What Next For The Body? and the following Inbetween Time festival will aid us in comprehending both where we now stand and where we are heading.

Jordan McKenzie, ‘Drawing Breath’

Rhiannon.

In Fine Arts, Music, Performance, Video on April 27, 2010 at 8:57 pm

I’ve just finished editing my latest video Rhiannon, the result of a day working with the singer Rhiannon Llewellyn from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

In this video I have dropped some of the more complex themes that are present in previous works such as Emily and Molly; the context of ‘my home’ and the connotations attached to this have been replaced with the more formal environment of the educational/artistic institution. This simplification seems to be working well; so far my experience of Rhiannon as a video is precise and more focused because of this change in approach. Whilst Molly and Emily were imperative to my development as a video artist and editor – Emily in particular – the connotations resulting from the placement of them into my own homes was a context that was beginning to weigh me down. In Rhiannon I focus on one thing alone and that is Rhiannon herself; her voice, her face, her body, and occasionally her surrounding environment whilst it contains the presence that she brings to it.

In relation to her video Drunk the artist Gillian Wearing stated in an interview with Carl Freedman that:

“it was more a case…of choosing the moments that make the whole coherent. This in a way can feel like painting – choosing the right brushstrokes to make a form”,

a quote that resonates for me with strengthened relevance to my work. Really what I am doing is painting a portrait; I just happen to be painting it on Final Cut.

So before I dissect the events that form the video Rhiannon, perhaps a quick rundown of my prerogatives regarding the piece would be appropriate; I say ‘quick’ because if I think too much about it I will end up with nothing to write.

1 – Pre-performance ritual; allowing an audience to see what is usually excluded from a typical theatrical/musical performance.

2 – This procures intimacy to an extent that would be unattainable from the depiction of the performance alone. Rather than seeing a person merely performing someone else’s composition you are seeing them become it and how they embody it.

3 – Multiple viewpoints and repetition will, I hope, increase this depiction of emotional and physical involvement further; it allows the audience to focus on parts of a performer that they otherwise would not get to see or would not focus on. The inspiration for this repetition technique is, of course, still from the ‘monologue’ scene between Elizabet and the nurse in Bergman’s Persona.

4 – Blacking out the screen, as I did in Emily, is intended to manipulate the audience into not only focusing all of their attention on her voice alone but also to synchronize their breath with hers; the intention is to allow the audience to observe sound and the strangeness of the human voice as well as to gain some level of empathy with the effort this takes. I want people to feel her voice; how else are we – those without similar talent – supposed to experience this amazing feat of human skill?

I need to quote the statement that I wrote for the degree show catalogue to really state my motives that drive the piece:

“I try to find not just the obvious approach, just focusing on seeing the surface. I’m trying to illuminate beyond that.” Gillian Wearing, 1997.

My work is primarily concerned with the human face and the idiosyncratic nature of its expressions. To observe and document this I look for two things: the intimate event and the picnoleptic who allows me to intrude upon it.

For the sake of this blog and for the specificity of this project, however, I need to make my statement particularly relevant to this project and the themes of the isolated performer (symbolized by a cappella performances) and of pre-performance ritual. A good place to begin would probably be why I think filming a musician can be classed as an intimate event and why I believe that pre-performance rituals are emphatic in enlightening the audience’s perception of a piece of music as well as of the performer. In addition to this, a third question that is no doubt worth answering is why I chose music, or rather musical performers, in the first place.

In answer to the first question I can only claim that filming a musician who is performing a cappella can be nothing but intimate, even if the performer is a stranger. It has a lot to do with the type of relationship that can be built through the lens of a camera; ironically this ‘digital’ intimacy is gained through the disguising of yourself as a human. Whilst the red light is flashing you become an eye rather than a whole human being, and this can be very useful if the person you are documenting is a performer. They are generally more used to such an experience and the majority of performers, I would assume for obvious reasons, would like it. What makes the event intimate, however, is the exclusion of all other performers and accompaniment. To repeat my point above, this allows an audience to hone in on the subject being depicted. This technique was used well in Jayne Parker’s Reunion, where she filmed dancers Lynn Seymour and Donald Macleary. Whilst there is the inclusion of music in her film, the fact that the dancers are performing with no-one else (with the exception of the cameraman) and in an empty theatre promote the intimacy that the event encapsulates despite the uncanny emptiness of their surroundings.

Still from Jayne Parker's 'Reunion', 1997

As for pre-performance ritual being important in allowing audiences to gain a greater understanding of the performer and their performances – that’s my aim. Whether or not I achieve it is another matter. It may also be worth clarifying here that by ‘pre-performance ritual’ I mean the habits of the performer and their methods of preparing for a performance; with musicians this seems to encapsulate both the little physical idiosyncrasies in people that I have always found so fascinating, as well as the more musically-trained specific ones that only appear unusual to those who are not familiar with the habit. As for emotional idiosyncrasies, I think that lies in their involvement with the piece, and so to a great extent the ‘success’ of my videos rely heavily upon this as well.

And now the big question, the ‘why I chose musicians and singers’ question. 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 without thinking:

“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…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.”

and: “I think filming, in a way, is my attempt at making my experiences with these people more permanent.” Music has always been an extremely cathartic force in my life and the associations I plant into certain songs remain potent to this day. The voice is the ultimate instrument because nothing external is needed; it always has been (and still is) a major source of disappointment to me that I do not possess this skill, therefore I have always sought those with it. Video is my way of fastening this securely into a particular format in order to prevent my memory from fading. I am aware, of course, of the irony of this; the video itself is nothing but a digital memory, a simulation that reflects an event from the past. It is no less permanent than the image I recall in my own brain. Despite this, however, it is experienced differently and exists with more clarity, at least in a literal physical sense. In other words, it’s better than nothing.

The quotes above sum the third question up far better than I’m capable of expressing via formal writing. I’ve battled for a long time with myself over whether this really justifies the indulgence of the content and context of my work, but it has gradually dawned on me that if you choose to embark upon art as a full-time vocation then almost anything you do in your work is an indulgence. I’m choosing to accept my documentation of musical performances as no different to the making of a print or a painting and the concepts that also feed them. The art bubble has to burst soon after all, so I may as well embrace it while I still can.

Instrumental and Vocal Recitals: Molly.

In Fine Arts, Music, Performance on April 8, 2010 at 11:42 am

At last: one more video is nearing completion! And it also looks like the dates for my next two days of filming are (almost) definitely set. If I were religious I would be praying right now; instead I’ll just have to make do with keeping my fingers crossed that I’ll get all the videos finished by the end of April.

The video is of young student Molly Jones who currently resides in Monmouth, and the piece I selected from her many performances was O Del Mio Dolce Ardor by Christoph Willibald Gluck. And yes, I did laugh when I read his name. The piece itself, like Molly’s voice, is very sweet. In its original Italian – how Molly performed it – it runs something as follows:

O del mio dolce ardor
Bramato oggetto,
L'aura che tu respiri,
Alfin respiro.

O vunque il guardo io giro,
Le tue vaghe sembianze
Amore in me dipinge:
Il mio pensier si finge
Le più liete speranze;
E nel desio che così
M'empie il petto
Cerco te, chiamo te, spero e sospiro.

But for those of us (like me) who are ignorant of the language, it translates as below:

Oh, desired object
Of my sweet ardor,
The air which you breathe,
At last I breathe.

Wherever I turn my glance
Your lovely features
Paint love for me:
My thoughts imagine
The most happy hopes,
And in the longing which
Fills my bosom
I seek you, I call you, I hope, and I sigh.

Or, perhaps, more like the translation that’s below. I didn’t want to offend any Italian speakers so hopefully an accurate translation is somewhere in between the two:

O thou beloved
Whom long my heart desireth
At length, the air thou breathest
my soul inspireth

Where'er mine eye may mander
Still of thee some vague semblance
Doth Love awake within me...
My every thought doth win me.
To yet fonder remembrance.

Thee I seek, thee I call
Fondly and e'er fonder.

O  thou beloved
Whom long my heart desireth
At length, the air thou breathest
My soul inspireth
My soul inspireth.

The song is a massive contrast to saxophonist Emily’s performance of Ryo Noda’s Improvisation I. However, the piece I am aiming to create for the degree show will hopefully consist of three singers, all of them sopranos. I suppose the format will resemble my last assessment piece The Recital in some ways; depending on how I feel when all three films are made there will probably be a mixing of footage in order to create an amalgamation of the performances. I am perfectly aware of the difficulties that may arise from this, the prominent one being the blending of music and the uneducated, ear-aching decisions that I could so easily come to, much to the chagrin of my (currently) imaginary audience.

At the moment I’m not going to pull my hair out over the issue; there will be plenty of time to stress over it when the three films are completed in front of me, which at the moment is my prime stress-causer.

Molly follows a similar format to my previous video Emily, although there are some significant differences between the two. The major difference stems from the variation in my relationship with each person; Emily is a close, long-term friend, Molly is an acquaintance I met through this project. As of yet I haven’t shown Molly to an audience as it’s not quite complete, but I have a lingering feeling that this difference in closeness has somehow penetrated the ‘feel’ of the video. The intimacy of filming Emily while she was applying her make-up and doing her hair was as much a part of the film as her performance; to this day I believe it is this aspect of the video that procures the intimacy that my audience apparently gained from watching it. The lack of any pre-performance ritual in Molly also denotes the receding of relevant themes such as personal ritual and the intimacy that can be gained via the observation of such generally unobserved actions. This in turn further decreases any intimacy to be obtained through the close scrutiny of a persons face. Whilst I am perfectly happy with the shots I acquired from the days filming with Molly and as well as being extremely pleased with her wonderful performance, I can’t help but perceive a lack of the small, personal intimacies that made Nintendo Night and Emily the ‘successes’ that they were. But to clarify my thoughts on all this I need to show the film to a tester audience, which I will perhaps do later today.

Another predominant theme, albeit on a more personal level rather than as a necessary context for the audience, is the idea of home and the occupation of such a place. In my previous blogs I have discussed my tumultuous relationship with the concept of home and homeliness and the undercurrents of this that Emily contains as an artwork. I filmed my friend Emily in my home so as to deceive and convey it as her own; this, for me, extracted the literal emptiness and alienation I associate with the place. Her performance also brought life and actions, no matter how transient, into what is for most of the time an empty shell. In a way for me it was almost like an exorcism, as if it was ridding the place (or myself) of lingering ghosts.

I knew that filming Molly in my home in Cardiff would present a very different perspective. To begin with, I have a massively contrasting relationship to my home here in the city; I love my house and I am also very close to the people I live with but I am constantly aware that it is only a temporary arrangement. I’m already arranging my room in order to make moving out in June more maneuverable. My walls look naked without their mass of posters and photographs plastered all over them.

But even here in a place that for me surpasses anywhere else, I am beginning to feel oppressed by the looming deadline for my own removal. At the moment the house is empty apart from myself, which is the usual set up for all holidays and which suits me fine. So when Molly and her friend Harriet arrived I did encounter similar feelings to when Emily arrived at my old home; not on an emotional level, of course, but regarding a human presence that suddenly fills up a quiet space – and getting a classically trained singer to perform in your living room certainly does that.

The format of my video is the direct result of this theme and so it begins with shots of my home mostly looking rather empty, although not uninhabited. It also hints at what is about to take place through the depiction of the microphone, which in turn acknowledges the camera that it is attached to by having the wire extending towards the screen; if making a video then why pretend that you don’t have a video camera? Also, I’ve attempted a little ironic twist throughout these ‘set the scene’ shots by placing various Anne Weiss tracks from Singing For The Vocally Challenged over them. This is intended as a playful nod both towards my own lack of ability and longing for an angelic singing voice (alas, never to be) and also to my search for singers and musicians being an undeniable result of me enlisting these people to help me both wallow in and forget this fact; music, after all, has always been my downfall in terms of distraction.

I have included a shot of the three brooches that are pinned to my black coat and for me this is very significant. The pearl brooch was a very welcome present from my friend Glenndog, although my interest lies mainly in the sun and the clown brooches. The clown has a smile on his face but two holes where his eyes should be and the sun is a gold and garish flower shape with a glum, theatrical grimace; when I undertook my now- left-behind video Crazy I had begun to consider the connotations of the mask in relation to these two unusual and hideously tacky items of jewellery. My attraction to them I think stems from this fascination with personae and the emotional relations that such a topic is imbued with; it all links in very closely with my relationship with and my attitude towards the idea of ‘home’, and consequently to my take on most things in life. So there is my little bit of symbolism for you.

Following this is a few more still shots, including one of my lovely rainbow pants (I couldn’t resist) and one of my empty sofa, intended as a nod towards not only the idea of the empty home but to the anticipation that the room will not be empty for much longer. This is also what the shot of the chair and the microphone is intended to suggest. Following this the video resembles Emily very much in editing method and format; Molly looks through her music, chooses it and then proceeds to warm her voice up with vocal exercises. She then performs the song, shown in its entirety and in a single shot, and the song is then repeated with a more varied visual accompaniment. So the imperative question is – and I avoided asking myself this following the completion of Emily – why have I structured the video in such a way? What artistic merit does it gain from being made so?

I have always been wary of answering questions such as these. Even the conceptual dissection of certain shots that I have offered above is unusual for me. However, even I am beginning to wonder about it all so I may as well consider the factors that have led to my decision-making. The themes I have mentioned so far involve home, existential homelessness and the filling of a space. The more immediate theme is, of course, music and the close observation of a performer. So now to consider the Why, not just regarding themes but also how these themes are conveyed through the way I have composed Molly and Emily. For the sake of this blog, however, I will refer mainly to Molly as it is my most recent project.

The best place to start is probably my lifelong fascination with the human face and human habits. By habits I am not just referring to facial ticks or the wringing of hands etc. but to a wider, more diverse and even more seemingly absurd topic; basically I am in awe of the weirdness of human beings, an obsession that gained more clarity through my prose entitled The Fifteenth Floor, a task that I undertook in my first year of university. In fact, all of the themes in my work can be found in that piece of writing – it’s a shame that I didn’t pay more attention to it at the time. Anyway, I have always seen music as the strangest and yet most fantastic of human phenomena, in particular the voice; listening to music as well as the act of performing it allows a person to encompass an entirely different state of mind that either is on the verge of or is completely picnoleptic in nature. Virilio’s term ‘picnolepsia’ was originally intended, I suppose, as quite a negative term referring to the daydreamer who transfers from one reality to the other (if either states can be referred to as a reality) and consequently intakes as much experience from the ‘fake’ reality as they do from their everyday physical world (Virilio’s book The Aesthetics of Disappearance is in fact not the best source for gaining understanding of the term; Timothy Allen Jackson’s essay Towards a New Media Aesthetic explains it with much more clarity). A prime example of a stereotypical picnoleptic would be the computer-gamer deep in play.

When I use the term ‘picnoleptic’ I am actually coining it due to my lack of ability to conjure up another appropriate term; I am merely using it to refer to a mind shifting from one concentration to another, which is basically surfing from one ‘reality’ to another in a way. There are only two things for me that completely shift my holistic perception of the world, and they are music and sex; they are the only things that will stop my mind ticking over all the stuff that stresses me out, and I don’t really possess the inclination to make art about sex – although I am glad that there are those who do – so music will have to do, for now.

Singing is a great thing to observe, particularly if ones art practice involves scrutinizing the human face. The ‘picnoleptic’ concentration that singing entails, as with anyone who is in deep concentration with the task at hand, is brilliant and sometimes very amusing to watch. Yet again I find myself thinking of Leconte’s Le Batteur du Bolero and the hilarity of the drummers face as Ravel’s music progresses.

I think that this is why I have structured both Emily and Molly in the way that I have:

Firstly, when warming up their voice or instrument I black out the screen when a sound is made; their faces or wherever the camera is pointing flash up when the sound ends, so basically when they are taking a breath for their next note. I personally found – and I was informed by a few audience members following their viewing of Emily that they had a similar experience – that this focuses your mind both on the tone of the performers music as well as on their breathing. For instance, when Emily played an exceedingly long note I suddenly found myself out of breath as I was unconsciously attempting to hold it with her. This method of ‘blacking out’ the screen allows the audience to fully concentrate on the sounds being produced; it also allows this sonic observation to occur whilst listening to a musical performer warm up, an event that is more hidden and less heard than any other performance despite its necessity. The only common ‘warming up’ that some people may be familiar with is the stunningly cacophonous sound of an orchestra tuning for a concert.

Secondly, for the first take of the performance – in Molly’s case she sang O Del Mio Dolce Ardor by Gluck – I show a continuos ‘face shot’ from the beginning until the end of the song. This harks back to all the fascination that my mind accumulated towards the human face whilst watching films such as Faces, Persona and Grey Gardens. It is also an attempt to offer a brief respite from all the heavy editing and manipulation, to all the deception that my videos entail; to convey a piece of human absurdity as simply as possible in order to express its brilliance. This could be done with any human being undertaking any task; music is my choice for the present time as I consider these polarities that I am continually discovering in music irresistible by their very nature.

So, thirdly, if I do this in the name of simplicity and honesty (but can the latter really exist in film?) why do I then proceed to repeat the performance from various angles and points of view? In the case of Molly the shots consist of the previous full-facial shot, two opposing side profiles, her hands also from opposing angles, her neck and hair, and her stomach as she takes a breath for her next note; I also got a shot of Molly reflected in the mirror, so it is of the ‘real’ her and the ‘simulated’ her simultaneously. To make this easier for myself, keeping in mind that this is more a path of discovery for myself than anything else, I’m going to consider these shots one by one. This method of analysis isn’t intended as a pretense that I composed the shots in such a way because of these reasons, but rather as a consideration as to why I chose them over the other various compositions and why this may be. But who really knows? I’m trusting my gut feeling on this one.

With the close-up shots of Molly’s face I think what I am attempting to portray is exactly that: her face. I just want to show – or perhaps scrutinize, intended in an affectionate way, is a more appropriate word – to just show this thing that fascinates me from several viewpoints.  The intention is for the audience to acquire a level of close observation that expresses this interest as well as following the rhythm of the visual accompaniment. In doing so, I suppose, my work is creeping slightly towards the throes of television and entertainment, although I would hope that other aspects of the piece (such as the repetition and the slow, relatively quiet build-up) would steer it away from straying in this direction completely.

The reasons for my filming her in this way are also interchangeable with the drive behind documenting not just her face but other parts of her body, as I did with Emily. Filming Molly’s hands whilst she is singing is an attempt to acknowledge the habits a person commits when undertaking this type of performance. Like Emily with her feet, Molly’s hands reflect both her formal training and her attitude towards the situation at hand. Filming in a strangers house must have been extremely odd and her clasped hands seem to express a reserve that I would have expected from anyone; the polite formality of such a gesture also, for me, reflects the type of voice that Molly is lucky enough to possess. It also unveils to the observer the ‘picnoleptic’ state that any performer must realise whilst practicing their skill; unconscious habits, postures and gestures that make their concentration on their perfomance, their other state of mind, evident.

The shot of Molly standing whilst reflected in the mirror was one of the shots that was executed with more meaningful deliberation than most of the others, and in a way it relates to my previous research into the mask as a persona as well as to the deception of video. The shot interest me conceptually because I see Molly as being reflected – or simulated – twice, once by the mirror on my living room wall and then by the lens of my video camera. Showing it on a projector in the space-workshop will be a further simulation of this woman and my home. There is a light irony in reflecting a person who is being reflected, and whilst I was physically present with Molly in the room at that specific time, the audience can only ever experience these simulations of her, neither one being more real than the other. Even my memory of the event is merely a simulation. But here I am becoming too indulgent; it is yet another personal fascination of mine that is not imperative to the viewer’s take on the piece. It was merely the intention behind this particular shot, which can be seen at the top of this blog. My inclusion of the camera in this still shot is another acknowledgment towards my activity as a film-maker as I see no point in pretending that I was absent; the video, after all, is me attempting to develop an intimacy between myself and the performer so why should I pretend that I was not there?

Filming Molly’s neck and the intake of her breath from her diaphragm is a more literal reference to the fact that she is a singer, as filming Emily’s hands was an obviously direct representation of her skill as a saxophonist. Like the blacking out of the screen during Molly’s vocal exercises, filming her intake of breath encourages (I would hope) a more empathetic response from the viewer who can, whether a musician or not, understand the necessity of each breath. The shots of Molly’s neck are even more literal than this; they are intended to make the source of the sound a focal point, even if only for a few moments. It seems to me that as the vocal chords in the neck are where the vocal sounds we experience are produced, it makes sense to film them. Perhaps these shots are too boring for an audience however, and perhaps I am being too logical.

And the other question I now have to ask myself is how much of this boredom do I feel I have the right to inflict upon an audience, particularly in relation to the repetition in my video?

I can’t really answer that one. Again, I stand by the audience’s right to walk out whenever they please, although I’m aware that creating a cinema-type environment discourages this. Molly is around ten minutes long so time-wise it isn’t as demanding as Emily. I can only hope that people who see it will not want to walk out, but that is far too optimistic an assumption on my part.

I think my next blog will have to address this topic of boredom and the differences between what is classed as entertainment and art; there must be someone, somewhere, who has drawn a line between the two in order to distinguish them from one another. I don’t want to discover this line in order to adhere to it, simply to question it. I experience a lot of pleasure from art that entertains whilst procuring deeper thoughts. I suppose this will loop me round to when I had just finished my video A to B and was approaching both deliberate symbolism and verite parallel to one another. For now, however, I think this blog is long enough.

Mime, Make-up and The Mask.

In Fine Arts, Identity, Performance on March 29, 2010 at 8:58 am

“The mean lie as much as the actual truth lies in the mask; a work as mask is the interchangeability through ambiguity and foreground manifestation”. Karl Jaspers (in Sorell 1973:28)

Still from Ingmar Bergman's 'Persona' 1966

I don’t know where to start with this one. It hasn’t been completed yet but it’s come together enough for me to surmise that I don’t know what on earth I’m doing!

During filming, thanks to the lovely Amanda Bathory and her camera-skills I managed to get a few sweeping, semi-circle shots that were completely out of focus (that is not me being sarcastic – I really did want them out of focus!). There is a contradiction in the application of a mask then being masked itself. This lends questions as to what is truth and what is reality; is the mask allowing me to evade my everyday persona, albeit through cowardly means, or is it a direct physical representation of my persona? Either way I think it is representative of the ‘homelessness’ myself and others appear to be experiencing at the moment.

A sweeping movement and a smile isn’t necessarily indicative of happiness or ease. The smile can be more of a mask than the make-up, as most people are aware.

It’s weird how when a spotlight is shining at you you can’t see a thing! And it’s very unsettling.

Below is an action that allows you to be able to gain sight of yourself and your surroundings again, whilst lessening the exposure of yourself. Perhaps if I were to explore performance in greater depth I would be more suited suited to these subtler types of action. The actions of Eve Dent spring to mind, although not so much for her integration of body with architecture, but for her exposing herself through quiet and physically hidden means; I don’t seem to hold my own so well if I am trying to act or be too symbolic. This is why ‘Crazy’ will probably always remain a small series of film stills to anyone but myself.

The photograph below of Dent’s work conveys this contradictory method of at once hiding and exposing yourself perfectly. To further my attraction to it there is an echo of Tarkovsky’s Stalker in the appearance of the place she is containing herself in. So I seem to be going round in circles.

Eve Dent

I honestly don’t know why I’ve gone and filmed this ‘performance’. When I watch over the footage I have no idea as to how to deal with it. I will say this though: I am extremely glad that I have not only done a performance (although it is for video) before I leave university, but I am also glad that I have made use of the MAP spaceworkshop before I leave.

I don’t think the ideas behind the piece have worked: to release what before was too terrifying to say. Although it has been done by means that still prevent much clarity, I know that the video will remain strictly private. It’s no-one else’s job, after all, to have to figure me out – especially if I can’t do that myself.

“The self… ‘wills desperately to be itself – with the exception, however, of one particular, with respect to which it wills despairingly not to be itself’.” Sorell quoting Kierkegaard (1973:31)

The Dream: an alternative route.

In Fine Arts, Identity, Performance on March 21, 2010 at 9:41 am

I suppose my recent video Emily and my subsequent quest to film musicians stems from a desire to document a form of creative power. This ‘power’ is based in reality; it consists of a person, lit by daylight, making sounds with an instrument based on musical annotations. The power I am referring to is not only the effect their creation has on their own physical and emotional state, but also on the musicians ability to draw forth emotion and specific moods from their audience. People who possess this power, however, are a minority. The rest of us who for a myriad of reasons cannot embrace the skills involved in making music must make do with experiencing it secondarily, which for most of us is sufficient enough.

But what about direct expression through music that you are not technically performing? What about mime and theatre, with artificial lights and brash makeup? What about in dreams? Dreams, after all, are what every single moribund individual is clinging onto when they take centre stage on the television-mutant that is the X-Factor. And dreams are when we perceive what our mind really wants us to know, whether in waking or in sleep. How many of us fantasize about our own life, about power or revenge or lust or grief whilst listening to music? A good few is my guess. It is this polarity to the reality of being a musician that makes all this dreaming so easy and so distracting; it must be the most common catalyst for Virilio’s picnolpsia and for the development of our individual personas. Music fuels what you are already feeling and you manipulate it’s meaning in order to make it yours.

So far what I’ve posted above echoes strongly my previous blog about the films of David Lynch. Apart from Lynch’s work the other driving force behind this turn in interest is my recent project involving musicians. I have certainly learned a great deal about working with others outside of the art institution, others who have lives far busier than my own. It has proven to be difficult, although I am hoping it will all be worth it. At base level I’m just trying to be practical: my degree show is in two months and I need an alternative plan and it has to be self-driven, otherwise there’s no point in doing it. My mind has been mulling over the two scenes mentioned in my ‘In Dreams’ blog and what they may mean, or rather what they mean to me and why this is so. This has led me into research to do with the ‘mask’, or the Other Face as Walter Sorell phrases it in his book on the subject.

To clarify, the two scenes I am referring to are from Mulholland Drive and Blue Velvet. You can watch the video clips of them in my previous blog here. Both make use of songs by Roy Orbison, the former being a Spanish rendition of Crying performed by Latin American singer Rebekah del Rio, the latter being In Dreams mimed by Dean Stockwell’s suave but sinister character Ben. Both performances are extremely theatrical and include a strong but acknowledged deception (in both instances the ‘deception’ being mime). So now I am asking myself: how does this theatricality enhance our experience and perceptions of the performances? And how does the ‘cutting short’ of the performer in both cases – and therefore the abrupt interruption of both performance and song – influence our attitude and interpretation towards what has just occurred? Both questions are, I believe, linked closely with the idea of mime, in this case referring specifically to the miming of a song. Del Rio’s clown-like makeup and Stockwell’s subtly powdered face are further nods towards this theatricality and to the acknowledgment that this other accepted ‘deception’, whilst appearing in the form of a mask, is in fact a far deeper and truthful expression of “our innermost visualizations…[reaching] beyond the ordinary for something of which [we are] only vaguely aware” (in Sorell 1973:10). Indeed, like Lynch’s films, Sorell sees in the mask a containment of polarities of which we have long been aware: “wakefullness and sleep, life and death, the live and rigid face” (1973:11). It is these themes that I am intending to explore in my next piece.

Still from Mulholland Drive of Rebekah del Rio performing 'Llorando'.

Still of Dean Stockwell as Ben in Blue Velvet.

These thoughts originate from my interview with Matthew Last, where I stated:

“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-“

Why Lynch decided that del Rio and Stockwell should be painted the way they were, I have no idea; like everyone else I’m floundering towards my own conclusions. In Mulholland Drive the singers makeup is circus-like with a tear drop representative of the song she is performing, her hair in an almost classical, elegant style that is falling out in curly wisps. The smudged kohl lining the lower lids of her eyes furthers the reference to Crying, whilst her passionate frown reinforces the clownishness of her makeup simply by contradicting it. Stockwell is less clown-like and more associative with street mime, albeit in a subtle way. The setting of his performance – as a home rather than a theatre space such as the one del Rio performs in – suits the characteristics of his white face and the song In Dreams; druggie-like, he is a mime without the essentials of black and red embellishments; he is drained of life and not quite real. The white powder almost seems to be a metaphor for the translucency of his existence and raises questions as to whether what we are viewing is dream or reality – or whether both are the same thing. Who knows?

Sorrel, in his chapter on literature and theatre, describes the mask as “often little less than a symbol of escape, a protection with whose help a direct confrontation with the contemporary world can be avoided” (1973:23). Perhaps this is why the two characters discussed above are masked with make-up and are both commonly assumed to be part of, or consisting of, dreams. Llorando could be accepted as the significant moment in Mulholland Drive when the mysterious blue box transcribes directly as the blue key Diane finds on her coffee table following her attempt on Camilla’s life; the song Llorando, performed by a ‘masked’ del Rio, could so easily signify the “protection” that Sorell is referring to. Her other ego Betty cannot keep this mask on, however, and it is the song that crumbles this persona; even after del Rio collapses, mask and all, the singing continues and Betty and ‘Rita’ continue to cry as they examine the elusive blue box. It is the song that transcends the mask.

Hence why I am intending to film a singer. Now my thoughts and ideas are streaming down different avenues, however, because I can only wait for so long. This led to the horrific idea that in order to be self-sufficient I should do it myself. But no-one wants that, myself included; I cannot sing and as far as I’m aware I’m not a very skilled performer either. On the other hand, despite the unavoidable impending awkwardness from undertaking such an action, I see myself ‘performing’ a song as a quiet rally for the musically ungifted. I just don’t know if this enthusiasm will translate to the audience successfully.

So far the idea directly resembles only one other piece of work I have done this year: Manipulation. It parallels it in method, possibly in appearance and definitely in concept. Manipulation involved me asking my fellow student Lucy Thompson to mime a passage from a piece of writing I did in my first year of university. It’s pretty self-explanatory, although the depths of its meaning are withdrawn somewhat if the audience isn’t aware of the circumstances that procured me to write it. Either way, context or not, the piece was a kind of catharsis for me.

“I think my heart has broken for the sake of someone else and because I have nothing better to do. Looking out, the hills are shrouded once again in a violet shadow that transforms into the impenetrable bulk that I am so used to seeing; that blurriness, yet that sharp, precise line, that fake horizon. The tilted profile of a giant’s head; its breath of exhaust, its twinkling mass of hair. My home now, it would seem, and so often viewed through this grim, spotted glass; this glaze.” (from The Fifteenth Floor).

The theme of home has been recurring in many of my videos, albeit more as background noise rather than a forefront concept. My videos take place with people I know well in order for myself and the audience to gain some sort of intimacy from the pieces. In the case of Manipulation (watch here), not only did I ask one of my closest friends to recite the passage above, I asked her to mime it to my voice. The actual video lasts four minutes and involved the same passage of speech being continually repeated (the video was also played on a continuous loop), as well the passage being overridden by ominous and domineering sounds (all derived from the ‘home’) and then silence, with the image of Lucy continuing to mouth the words. At this point the only film of Lynch’s I had seen was Eraserhead; following this I went on to watch the films discussed above, so it’s not really surprising that the In Dreams and Llorando scenes struck a chord with me.

The miming in Manipulation – and the process of getting someone else to do it for me – was the cowards way of expressing what they needed to say. Miming to the relevant song is also cowardly, but it’s the next step. Plus songs often say what is desired to be said far better than a person is capable of expressing themselves. The idea of the mask or make-up, for me, is also a nod to this cowardliness but is something that may allow you to begin to acknowledge what it is that you want to say. At least it should be in the piece I’m planning; I am intrigued to discover how I will feel about simultaneously exposing/masking myself. Or how the audience will feel, for that matter.

The build-up to the piece itself:

This page wasn’t written by myself but by a singer I met in order to arrange a filming-day (yet to actually happen). Listening to the music she suggested gave me a strong idea of what it was that I was looking for in my next video; like Emily playing the Ryo Noda improvisation, I wanted whoever I worked with next to be passionate and to perform pieces that challenged their skill and that were not excessively mainstream. I hoped, and am still hoping, that this would prevent the video from resembling the omnipresent formats of musical pop performance we are faced with daily in the media and on Youtube.

This was when I first started to consider miming to a song, mostly due to watching Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive again, as well as from the frustration of events moving so slowly due to factors outside of my influence. I realised that I had to become self-sufficient in whatever side-project I was going to instigate, otherwise I would find myself struggling for the same reasons. I began to consider mime more literally whilst thinking about people’s relationships with specific songs, as well as how Lynch manages to tap into these concepts so well; in his films songs are often used to reveal hidden ‘truths’ that could not be admitted otherwise.

Ad hoc: then I had to consider the deliberate nature of embarking on such a piece; what would I mime to? How obvious should I make it that I am actually miming? Unlike my other films which are somewhat left to chance (during filming at least – I very rarely direct), every moment will appear significant, as if steeped in meaning. This is the challenge when you aim for a more Lynch-like, symbolic approach to constructing a video, especially as at this point I am not quite sure what it is that I am trying to say (a bad starting point, surely?). The deception doesn’t necessarily have to be entirely contained within the mime and the mask, however; filming Emily in my home as if it were her own was also a deception, one that could be done again but in my house here in Cardiff. This would sit well with the ideas of ‘fake intimacy’ and a home that’s not really home, both of which I mention in my interview with Matthew Last. This seems especially appropriate since it is these themes that are prompting me to make this ‘dream’ video; I will be masking myself in order to try and express something that I need to say, much like I did in Manipulation. The dream, the mask and the physical acknowledgment of the persona allow me to do this.

Here I also came to the conclusion that learning to mime to advanced pieces such as those suggested on the first page, as well as other pieces such as John Tavener’s Eternity’s Sunrise, would be too difficult in the time I have for this project; perhaps in the future, if I could invest in singing lessons to gain a greater depth of understanding about how the vocals work, a project such as this would be convincing at a more advanced level.

These few pages are a record of a dream I had recently; I accepted it as significant in indicating the reasons for my feeling the need to express my anxieties, albeit while masked and through another voice (again, as in Manipulation).

I was discussing with my housemate the songs that I was considering for my performance, the first few being The Book of Right On by Joanna Newsom and Oedipus by Regina Spektor, as well as the Tavener piece mentioned above. In my head these songs seemed to fit but I couldn’t explain why, so I thought they would perhaps be too ambiguous; whilst the video will probably not resemble my previous works I don’t want the whole thing, song included, to be completely reliant on symbolism. The simplicity of the lyrics in Llorando (Crying) and In Dreams is what attracted me to the songs in the first place. Using a more simplistic song would also refer to the idea that things are often more simple than they seem and are often right there in front of you; while the mask hides this, the song brings it out. This eventually led to me listening to a lot of old Irish folk songs such as One I Love, but I felt distanced from them. Then my search led me to songs from the Orbison-era of music and I came across Patsy Cline; I was already familiar with a few of her songs, Walking After Midnight and Crazy being two of the ones I recognised. Immediately I latched onto Crazy, as well as another track called Sweet Dreams. Crazy was the song that seemed to encapsulate everything however, although not in the romantic sense that the song was originally intended for.

This statement concurs with the themes of picnolepsia and ‘deception’ that I am continually referring to. There is an irony in the fact that whilst music is my trap, in this performance I am hoping that it will be my release. Whether this will actually be the case once the video has been made remains debatable.

The lyrics of Patsy Cline’s Crazy. Not all of it has been interpreted literally, but it all fits.

This was me trying to imagine what events would occur in the video. Despite the differences that I assume there will be between Emily and this film, I was thinking about what could be relevant similarities between the two. For instance, since I am planning to wear make-up – or my ‘mask’, as I’m calling it – it would make sense to film me applying it as Emily did when I filmed her. Not only would this represent the development of the persona, but by being a reflection in a mirror it would further the uncanny idea of the double specifically in relation to the persona (the etymology of which means ‘mask’ in latin); this in turn furthers the ‘deception’ of new media in that we are only watching a simulation.

I also started considering more songs, this time by Polly Jean Harvey. The songs are called Shame, You Come Through and Down By The Water. However, as much as these songs have affected me I found them to be too contemporary for the sound I was looking for; the older sound of Patsy Cline’s country music is more alien to my generation and because of this it often seems to have a poignancy and charm unlike the music we generally listen to today. This time distance between myself and Cline’s music also allows me to distance my immediate, more surface-level emotions that I tend to feel whilst listening to PJ Harvey; I am looking for a song that, whilst appearing distant or even irrelevant to myself, taps into something deep-seated beneath whatever persona I have developed.

Here I also started thinking about filming the application of my make-up in my own room. This would tie in with the theme of ‘home’ that is so intertwined within my reasons for making the video (see dream above).

It may be worth noting the artists I have been suggesting. So far, apart from Patsy Cline I have been constantly thinking of songs by either Regina Spektor, Joanna Newsom and PJ Harvey; all of them are female singers/musicians that I have latched onto in the past in order to break through the ‘existential homelessness’ I was experiencing at the time.

Practicalities: list of necessities for the filming of the performance.

I had to start considering how I wanted my ‘mask’ to appear. This led to research into mime make-up, which to me seemed like the perfect hybrid of del Rio and Stockwell’s faces in their performances. Mime, as in street theatre etc, indicates fakery and falsity in the same way a mask hides the face and therefore the character of the person wearing it. It keeps you safe.

Lyrics to Patsy Cline’s Sweet Dreams. The song strongly appealed to me but slightly missed exactly pinpointing what it was I was feeling. It is a very specific song that is undoubtedly about a more romantic love. Crazy, whilst appearing similar in meaning, can in fact be customized.

The page above is very self-explanatory.

How to begin: this is the closest I’ve come to story-boarding in a while, and what a pathetic attempt it is! It emphasizes my lack of knowledge in what it is that I want to be doing in the video. I’m hoping that filming will stabilize some of the ideas I’m having.

The piano chords are for Crazy. I thought I may as well learn the song in as many ways as my talents allow. I can definitely play piano better than I can sing! Whether this will permeate the content of the video remains doubtful. Playing piano for me is a very soothing activity that I am more keen to keep private.

The End, at least until filming begins.



Artist/Singer Collaboration: Full Proposal

In Fine Arts, Performance on February 15, 2010 at 11:05 am

PROPOSAL:

My name is Lucy Wright and I am a third year Fine Art student at UWIC School of Art and Design. My primary media is video and for my current project I am interested in working with someone who is a trained/passionate singer.

Ideally I am looking for a classically trained singer who has a strong interest in modern and contemporary performances. I wish to film a video that will form the second part of a trilogy and that will most likely be exhibited for my degree show at the end of May. The rundown of the video is: I would like to film a singer preparing themselves, warming up/practicing, and then finally performing a piece of their choice. The video will probably end up being just short of 20 minutes but will require several hours worth of filming.

I will ask the performer themselves to choose the songs they would like to perform; for my previous film I recorded a saxophonist from Edinburgh who played some Bach, Debussy and some Ryo Noda (the latter of which I used in the film). I ask for a range of music because my project is about studying faces, so the more varied footage I can gather the better! What I must stress as very important is that I film the performer ‘warming up’ and preparing for their performance, as well as any small rituals that they might indulge in beforehand (in the last video this involved the performer doing her hair and putting on her make-up).

Still from 'Emily'

As you have no doubt guessed from this, the film will be quite intimate and it will involve a lot of facial close-ups, so you could perhaps see this as a challenge if you’re camera shy, or you could just love being on camera. My films resemble a format associated with television documentaries more than they do a stereotypical ‘art’ film and I aim for perfect sound quality.

The filming itself could easily be executed in one day so as not to take up much of your time. However, it would be necessary to meet beforehand (in a place of your choice) in order to discuss the music you would like to perform; I would also be able to give you a DVD of my film ‘Emily’ so you could observe the style in which I would be filming you.

Still from 'Emily'

The filming itself will be done wherever the performer chooses, be it their practice rooms at university, their room in their house or anywhere else they would feel comfortable. Preferably I would like to start filming as soon as the participant will allow – definitely within the next 3 weeks.

If you change your mind after watching the film or for any other reason then that is absolutely fine! I do not want to make anyone feel pressured into participating if they decide otherwise. The performer would, of course, receive a copy of the video once completed.

Please contact me if you are interested, or even if you are not quite sure. If there is anything I have not explained well or not addressed then feel free to ask, I will be more than happy to reply (my email address is posted below). This project is a collaboration and I will work around what suits the performer and what makes them comfortable. There is no pressure for the performance to be perfect; I am more interested in filming a person who is utterly passionate about the pieces they are singing.

For a more in-depth look at my work (including film stills) check out the links below to previous blog entries:

Video Stills: Autumn Project Archive

Getting to Know You: Extended Artist Statement

Kind regards,

Lucy Wright

email – lewright.va@googlemail.com
Tel – 07979502792

Ras Goffa Bobby Sands, The Bobby Sands Memorial Race.

In Exhibition, Performance on November 1, 2009 at 8:35 pm

It can be difficult when considering a politically concerned piece of art to identify an appropriate reaction, or should I say a reaction that one feels is appropriate. In this case I am referring specifically to Ras Goffa Bobby Sands, or The Bobby sands Memorial Race, a  multi-disciplinary piece performed at Chapter Arts Centre by contemporary Welsh dancer/artist Eddie Ladd, with music composed by Guto Puw and a responsive sound environment constructed by multi-media artist Nick Rothwell.

My prior knowledge of the 1981 Hunger Strike that took place in HM Prison Maze was, I must admit, nigh on non-existent, a fact that I see no point in hiding; I have no one but myself to blame for my own ignorance. It was refreshing, then, to leave a performance feeling not only creatively (and, I must add, physically) inspired, but also to have something historical to consider. Since researching Bobby Sands and the political context that Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom was steeped in at the time, I am amazed at how I have never heard the strikes being discussed or referred to; either I am brilliant at ignoring matters or schools really are wasting our time. However, I’m not writing this to offer a political analysis or even to submit a political opinion, and by saying this I am in no way denying that the context of such a piece is imperative to the experience of it;  I am merely guarding others against an unsophisticated political analysis. I study art and am concerned with how myself and others experience and interpret works, be they political statements or pretty pictures, or both; I am still learning in this field as well, but as an artwork I can honestly say that I found The Bobby Sands Memorial Race a deeply affecting and beautifully constructed piece of art.

When the performance began I had a few concerns inkling away at the back of my mind; Rothwell’s laser beams were gleaming towards the audience through slowly emerging, hissing bellows of smoke, followed by Eddie Ladd emerging to run laps around the stage; by doing this the audience was placed at the beginning of something extremely physical and mental as themes of exhaustion, and also of an endless circle, an entrapment, came into play (symbolised neatly, if not intentionally, in the soon-to-be constant whirring cycle of the 12 ft running machine). The inkling I was referring to was quickly dashed away: as Ladd slid through the smoke and underneath the thin beams of light I got a sense not necessarily of cliched visuals but perhaps of distracting ones; however, as the running track geared up and began its process – and as Ladd, portraying Bobby Sands, began hers – the piece obtained the rhythm and grit that seemed more analogous to Sands 66 day struggle.

This was where the running began. Sands, who was an enthusiastic runner throughout his life, is personified by Ladd on this monster of a running machine, stretching across the stage and issuing unsettling hissing and clunking noises that don’t cease until the end of the piece. My mind was fooled at one point into believing that I was watching a character in forward motion on still ground, as if a world were passing them by. And the faster Ladd ran the more I empathized with her exertion, and the more I sympathised with Sands’. Towards the end, when the running machine begins to slacken pace, the gradual calm that ensues feels more like an absence rather than a peaceful quiet as we are fully drawn into the characters deterioration. Ladd’s quick and nimble movements prior to this not only emphasise the slowness of these last moments but also reinforce the passionate emotions that Sands and his inmates must have felt regarding their cause.

Throughout the performance we hear various monologues, including the first-hand account of Sands’ fellow republican prisoner Laurence McKeown, as well as information provided by Sands’ latest biographer Denis O’Hearn and a new poem by Welsh poet Menna Elfyn; the former two are successful providers of context and keep the mind trained towards the purpose of the piece. The most effective excerpts of monologue, however, are the softly read words of Bobby himself read by performance artist Andre Stitt; the words, which are taken fromThe Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cripple and the Comms that were smuggled in and out of Maze, are calm and stead-fast in comparison to the stamping of Ladd’s feet thumping on the running machine. Here you get a direct sense of Sands’ character rather than just a feel for the general situation encompassing him; when these words are spoken the piece becomes suddenly personal and you begin to realise that, as Ladd’s dance begins to meander and stall, you are watching a representation of something that was far more of a struggle than even this performance helps you to imagine. This does not belittle Ladd’s performance in any way; her motions are consummate physical actions to such soft words.

Ladd’s performance, when combined with the chiming discord of Puw and Rothwell’s sounds and sensor beams, builds up to a fantastic climax of movement as well as one of struggle; at one point massive multiple shadows leap in all directions as Ladd begins the final fight, creating a disorienting feeling of overbearing, unstoppable and arduous motion. This climatic build-up ultimately transforms, however, into a subdued and slow crawl towards the final resolution; a crawl parallel to the line of salt lain out in recognition of its power to stall death, a line that has poured away over the edge of the running machine. And like the salt, Ladd finishes the performance lain on the floor; only when the motion stops are we sure that Bobby Sands’, and of course Eddie Ladd’s, exertions are over. Overall a visually appealing, technically impressive and thought-provoking piece that is more than just a pretty picture.