James Richards and Leslie Thornton: Abyss Film
The other day I visited Tate Modern for a screening of film collaborations between James Richards and Leslie Thornton. The screening also featured work by Bruce Conner. I thought this would be a great opportunity for me to not only see work by James Richards, who I have recently been researching, but also to learn more about how an installation environment can influence how one sees the work.
The film itself was more of an assortment of clips. The work itself sprung from the artists opening up an online visual dialogue, sending each other fragments of video and sound, both edited and unedited, over dropbox and other sharing platforms. This evolved into a game of attacking videos, distorting the "grammar" of the other's editing.
In the Q and A after the screening, James Richards that one of the things they share in their work is the "half-baked" feeling. Though my work with video is of course substantially more minimal, it was interesting to hear this from a practising artist's perspective because I often feeling that when I am making video work it is more of an exercise in distortion, than working towards a final outcome.
To continue this investigation, I looked into more of the artists' work, particularly James Richards' 2014 film, Rosebud. I also discovered this description of the work, in the words of the artist:
The censored images in Rosebud were shot in a library in Tokyo. I came across them by accident while researching there in the spring of 2012. The books, monographs on Mapplethorpe, Tillmans and May Ray, were being imported into Japan from Europe when they were stopped by customs officials. Local law in Japan forbids a library from having books with any images that might induce arousal in a viewer. So after negotiations with the Director, it was agreed that customs workers would go through the shipment and sandpaper away the genitals from any contested images. The video is focused on the violence of the action of sandpapering – to the point where glossy black printer ink gives way to the scuffed and bruised paper stock underneath. There’s something intense but also futile in these marks. The video is a study of rubbing against and along different surfaces: the meniscus of water over the print, the elderflower rubbed along a boy’s body. Around the same time as this I was working a lot with a small underwater camera. Carrying it constantly and building up an archive of footage of water - puddles, passages of a submerged camera looking up at the water's surface, the slow rotating of the lens in the meniscus of a river's shallow bed. (Text courtesy of the artist.)
I find the way that James Richards articulates his work completely enthralling. I was struck by the clarity in his phrasing at the Q&A and again here in this article. There is something so natural about how he describes his process of making and discovery. The way in which he draws links between his research (the library) and his own personal creative obsession (underwater camera) is I think very beneficial for me to read about. This is because I often feel an imbalance between my research and making. Research is very important to me and I sometimes feel as though I am forcing the making onto it. However, here I am coming to understand that this is not the case, and building up my practice is about finding these links between making and research, and considering them as one, as opposed to two separate parts.
1984 and Beyond (2005)
Tate Etc: Gerard Byrne
- recreation, reconstruction, appropriation
- constant re-appropriation and (to some extent) fetishisation of time
- referring to art history, stealing from previous artists' work
- perception - reconstruction of memory
- Nostalgia and how to avoid it
- "time is constructed as a coherent experience through the media industry"
- time, its passing, memory and fragmentation
- abeyance = state of temporary disuse or suspension
- there is a brevity in experiencing video in a gallery setting that isn't quite as possible in perhaps a cinema
- when encountering video work in a gallery, it is rare to watch the entire thing - you watch until you understand or cannot bear to watch any longer
- As a result, the work appears endless. It has no beginning or end. It is a fragment.
- In a way, it is like the mental exercise of a tree falling in a wood, with no one around. Does it still make a sound? Does the video have an end?
Black is a Colour (1946)
Before, when I didn’t know what colour to put down, I put down black. Black is a force. I depend on black to simplify the construction. now I’ve given up blacks. The use of Blacks as a colour in the same way as the other colours –yellow, blue, or red is not a new thing.
The Orientals made use of black as a colour, notably the Japanese in their prints. Closer to us all, I recall a painting by Manet in which the velvet Jacket of a young man with a straw hat is painted in a blunt lucid black.
In the portrait of Zacharie Astruc by Manet, a new velvet jacket is also expressed by a blunt luminous black. Doesn’t my painting of the Morocains use a grand Black which is as luminous as the other colours in the painting.
Like all evolution, that of black in painting has been made in jumps. but since the Impressionists it seems to have made continuous progress, taking a more and more important part in colour representation, comparable to that of the double-bass as a solo instrument.
"Their approach to color often recalls the films of the silent era, before the advent of full color. In silent film, color tinting was used to signify time and setting: blue for nighttime scenes, red for fire, and so on. But filmmakers in the silent era understood that the choice of color need not reflect the way things look in the real world. Color was not reserved for setting alone, but could also be used to reflect mood: green for a sinister feeling, pink for romance, etc."
- Flips between black and white, and colour. Monochrome evoking something in the past, a memory. Whilst colour is used to suggest the present, something of the now.
"These sections are most prevalent in the scenes set on Earth, in memories, and in video recordings made by his characters. Tarkovsky’s use of unrealistic color leaves a viewer wondering: What is real? What makes a memory “true”? Can it ever be as true as a video recording? And if the memories change, can they still be true?"
"Tarkovsky’s blue evoked memories of relationships, but it’s a kind of head-memory." (Consider Yves Klein's mural at Gelsenkirchen Opera in 1959 as a collective national amnesia/memory of Germany's past)
"One character in all three versions of the story refers to the planet Solaris as a “mirror,” because it takes the memories of the people in the station nearby and reflects them back in the form of “visitors.” These visitors are perfect copies of their loved ones, replicated from their memories. And yet, despite appearing to be the people they’re replicating, these visitors are not—and cannot ever be—the people they represent, because they’re made entirely from outsiders’ memories: incomplete, inaccurate."
I visited the Massimo Bartolini exhibition at Frith Street Gallery. It was called Credits, after the artist's 2018 video work, a loop of 1 hour 23 minutes and 12 seconds. The work consists of two projections, one of which is a seemingly endless list - like the credits at the end of a film - of names of dinosaurs, extinct creatures. This solidifies for me an interest in the continuous, the endless, the eternal.
The Beach (2000)
When watching Danny Boyle's The Beach, this shot really stood out to me. Whilst the premise of the film is not directly relevant to what I'm making, and the film itself is not one of my favourites, there was something so crude and yet beautiful about this particular shot. The image reminded me of some of Francis Alÿs' work, a lot of which involves the motions of dragging, pushing, extending and pouring - except this is of course a much more grotesque depiction.
I think this is something I want to try out more. Extending the opportunity for paint to perform outside of the canvas, perhaps simply outside. Having less control over the appearance of the paint through a highly controlled performative motion.
The word "soundscape" was coined by composer R. Murray Schafer to identify sounds that "describe a place, a sonic identity, a sonic memory, but always a sound that is pertinent to a place" (Wagstaff, G. 2000).
"The taiko: a traditional Japanese drum with limitless rhythmic possibilities. Kodo’s mission is to explore these possibilities, and in the process forge new directions for a vibrant living art-form. In Japanese, the word “Kodo” holds a double meaning. It can be translated as “heartbeat,” the primal source of all rhythm. Indeed, the great taiko is thought to be reminiscent of a mother’s heartbeat as felt from the womb, and babies are often lulled to sleep by its thunderous vibrations. If read in a different context however, Kodo can also mean “children of the drum,” which reflects the group’s desire to play the drums with the simple heart of a child."
I attended a taiko drumming performance by Kodo quite a few years ago. I do not remember much of it as I was younger and did in fact manage to fall asleep to it, much like the name suggests. I am interested in how this kind of sound, despite being loud and intrusive, also allows the mind to wander, to lull.
I visited Thomas Dane gallery and saw the work of Ella Kruglyanskaya. I found her work very informative in relation to considering painting as an act, or a motion.
The show also reminded me of the recent exhibition at Simon Lee that I also saw, of France-Lise McGurn's work. What I found especially striking about this show was the freedom in the way McGurn utilises paint and painting as an action. The paint is not restricted to the canvas, instead it stretches out of the frame and onto the walls. Reading reviews and articles about her shows, McGurn's work is often described as "transportational" and "atmospheric". There is something very different about being in the conventional white cube space, and yet being surrounded by her work and motion stretching outside of the traditional canvas.
“Untitled.” 1991. Billboard
"Felix Gonzales-Torres questioned the notion of the unique art object, making series of works based on identical pairs (two clocks ticking side-by-side, two mirrors embedded in a wall) or finding inspiration in the possibilities of endless reproducibility (stacks of sheets as give-aways for visitors, piles of candy to be continually replenished). He wanted his work to be disseminated, to exist in multiple places at the same time, and to be realized completely only through the participation of the viewer, which he described as “one enormous collaboration with the public,” in which the “pieces just disperse themselves like a virus that goes to many different places—homes, studios, shops, bathrooms, whatever.”"
I am increasingly aware of the domestic space, and the role it plays within memory. Can I use the domestic space to show my work, or is it more effective when I remove that link to the emotional or personal? These are questions I want to answer as I experiment further with creating outcomes whilst confined to a domestic space.
Also, as I (like the majority of the population here) am confined to my own space, this limits the degree to which I can make others interact with my work. As a result, I can either work solely with hypotheticals. Or I can find a platform which allows others to converse with the work, even from their respective homes.
Pierre Bonnard: The Colour of Memory
I happened to see this exhibition twice. Once in London at the Tate, and a second time over the summer in Copenhagen at Glyptoteket.
His paintings open windows into a private world of quiet everyday events. But they are rarely direct translations of what the artist has seen. Bonnard paints from memory, detaching himself from his subjects and resurrecting them in colour, plane and form. He fills his canvas with the colour of memory.
The Green Line, Jerusalem, 2004, 17:41min
"In the summer of 1995 I performed a walk with a leaking can of blue paint in the city of São Paulo.The walk was then read as a poetic gesture of sorts. In June 2004, I re-enacted that same performance with a leaking can of green paint by tracing a line following the portion of the ‘Green Line’ that runs through the municipality of Jerusalem. 58 liters of green paint were used to trace 24 km."
Cut! Reproduction and Recombination: Hito Steyerl
As I am trying to educate myself more about time-based media but coming from more of a painting background, I chose to read this chapter from Hito Steyerl's The Wretched of the Screen. I found it surprisingly insightful that she chose to write about cuts from an economic perspective as an allegory for cuts within cinema. The aggressive tone of all the terms used within both economics and video-production (cut, trim, tighten, eliminate, dissect).
"the same kiss; each one unique"
- contradiction/duality of time and space
- distortion in video
- almost only possible in video and SOUND
The Incredulity of Saint Thomas
Visual Art and the Moving Image
"Viola’s installations explored the sculptural, 3-D properties of the monitor or the painterly pictorial properties of the projected image, creating a tension between the modernity of the technology and conservative fine art conventions of presentation and content."
"Gordon’s 24 Hour Psycho provided an ironic and compelling allusion to the domination of film theory by psychoanalysis"
"In Stage the gestural fragments of narrative cinema are appropriated in an encounter between a black man (McQueen himself) and a white woman, reinforced by the monochrome (explore the monochrome further? both as in black and white, and as a singular colour) image. McQueen’s work deploys a minimalist strategy derived from a visual art practice referenced to the history and codes of cinema, creating the possibility of complex multiple meanings. "
- Silence, audio, sound
Wild Strawberries (1957)
GABRIEL RAMIN SCHOR: Black Moods
"We talk of colours as if they were physical fixtures in our daily lives."
- How can I make a physical (or sensual) manifestation of colour? Warm/cold? Through temperature? I am not investigating colour theory and yet it is highly relevant, unfair to avoid. They're all around us (films such as Don't Look Now exhibit that), so how can I?
"[Goethe] called colour “troubled light”, and there is a no more troubling – yet fascinating – colour than black."
"All we know for certain is that in our collective consciousness it can evoke a sense of helpless vulnerability. We talk of the Black Death, the black market and blackmail. It often connects to irrational things or those that refuse to submit to any system of cultural certainties."
"For Goya, black is the vehicle for a radical negativity in the social universe – you just have to look at his copious images of death and disaster."
- It is interesting to read about other artists using colour as a vehicle, as this is how I have referred to it in my own work. Goya is an artist I refer to frequently, but it may not be evident on the surface. His use of colour (red and black are strong examples) plays expertly with the viewer's associations, which is part of what makes his work so affecting.
- Matisse "Black is a Colour" (1946)
Hitchcock's Vertigo shows how colour can be used to reflect emotions and relationships in cinema. The colours seem to be linked to particular characters. Green, for example, features heavily in reference to Scottie's phobia and struggles with vertigo, and appears to be "Madeleine's" colour, but is also a colour that often symbolises jealousy or envy (which can also be seen as linked to Judy's character, and her jealousy over Madeleine).
The ending of Vertigo reveals the troubles of memory, and wanting to recreate it. A desire to control the past as well as the future, particularly when something is so intertwined with the imaginary, can become so toxic, almost like a disease - this is what drives Scottie to madness.
Bruce Conner: BREAKAWAY
After seeing some of Bruce Conner's video work sandwiched between Leslie Thornton and James Richards' at the Tate screening, I wanted make sure I caught his exhibition at Thomas Dane.
"This concept of images which are a collective of images or experiences that then make up a whole experience is something that I've worked on most of my life" - Bruce Conner
I find Conner's way of working in a hybrid-like manner very intriguing as they seem to sit between video, performance, and collage. I want to try experimenting with some of the techniques he himself uses, such as stroboscopic effects, diverse frame rates and quick-cut edits. The whole experience of the film was almost epileptic, highly invasive, as well as somewhat psychedelic.
Three Colours: Blue (1993)
"In the devastating first film of the Three Colors trilogy, Juliette Binoche gives a tour de force performance as Julie, a woman reeling from the tragic death of her husband and young daughter. But Blue is more than just a blistering study of grief; it’s also a tale of liberation, as Julie attempts to free herself from the past while confronting truths about the life of her late husband, a composer. Shot in sapphire tones by Sławomir Idziak, and set to an extraordinary operatic score by Zbigniew Preisner, Blue is an overwhelming sensory experience." (https://www.criterion.com/films/27731-three-colors-blue)
The Three Colours trilogy is more linked thematically than by plot line. Each film contemplates the French political ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity, set against the backdrop of the colours of the French flag. The use of blue in the first film of the series is overwhelming. Ranging from tints across the entire screen, to the motif of the blue glass lamp, or the appearance of blue in small details, such as tissue packets or cigarettes.
I find it surprising that I am only watching the film now as it feels to linked to the work I was making in the previous unit. Having said that, this film gave me a lot of inspiration with regards to ways in which I can continue to work with video and colour. Whilst dealing with the themes of the French liberty, the story is a personal one and so liberty is addressed from an emotional perspective. This feels reflective of the way in which I am working with themes of memory, belonging and borders - all prominent in politics today and yet by working from a personal narrative, this gives me more freedom.
I wonder if I can take inspiration from this film not only visually but perhaps with a broader sensitivity. The blue motif is repeated throughout the film, but so is the use of music and sound. The recurring music serves as a reminder of the previous lifestyle of Julie, the one which she is struggling to liberate herself from. The role of sound within memory is crucial. Colour is used to enhance this in the film.
- Try bringing colour into broader experience of the work. Take outside of the video, into installation setting? Enhances how much the viewer picks up on colour in video.
Hurvin Anderson (B. 1965)
oil on canvas
63 ¾ x 104 3/8 in. (162 x 265cm.)
Painted in 2003
"Like memories, Hurvin Anderson’s paintings are by turns lush, layered, and occasionally patchy... locales hint at the private experiences... The artist relies on photographs and drawings to build his paintings."
Colour and Bauhaus
In order to keep considering colour and its role within my work I want to look into colour theory. There are a few avenues I want to explore, namely, Goethe's colour theory, Josef Albers, Bauhaus, as well as more contemporary writers like David Batchelor. I found this article about Paul Klee's notebooks, many of which have been made available online. Within them are his own thoughts, albeit in German, and drawings.
- "In visual perception a colour is almost never seen as it really is – as it physically is. This fact makes colour the most relative medium in art. In order to use colour effectively it is necessary to recognise that colour deceives continually. To this end, the beginning is not a study of colour systems."
- qualia = conscious, subjective experiences which cannot be shared between people
I am interested in how Kandinsky, though being fascinated with the spiritual powers of colour, also seemed to be interested in the aspects of colour that were intrinsic and defined. The prime example of this seems to be the survey he conducted with students at the Bauhaus, to determine that certain shapes were linked to certain colours; the yellow triangle, red square and blue circle.
I find it peculiar that this seems so definitive and yet it is practically impossible to prove. For me, I am most inclined to work within the ambiguity of a field such as colour.
Borderliners: Peter Høeg
It took me a while to get through this book but it was a very rewarding, or perhaps more of a haunting, experience. The last few pages are complex and so after reading it, I decided to see if I could find any articles or reviews on the book to help me grasp it better. Unfortunately, all I could find were rather frustrated reviews on Goodreads from people who it seems were after something else from the novel than what they got,
The premise of the book is that it takes place in a strict Danish boarding school for "damaged" children, with the aim of one day reintroducing them into society. The story follows three teenagers who begin to question the rigid structure of the school with the aim to break away. The plot reminds me somewhat of Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go and admittedly is what attracted me to the book at first. However, as I got into the book I came to the realisation that the plot is almost the least important thing about the book for me. Rather, this book has opened my eyes wider to the idea of time.
The writing style in the novel is inconsistent, at times it is highly academic, referring to linear and circular time, and even referencing Hawking's A Brief History of Time. However, this off-beat way of storytelling, I believe, goes hand in hand with the concept of a fluid time proposed within the story. I am interested in how the characters wish to distort and let go of time, to upset the structure by off-setting time. Naturally, this is a novel and so I will not trust it as my only source, but this has definitely helped me to realise that time is something I want to work with.
RED: The Art and Science of a Colour
When searching for David Batchelor's Chromophobia in the library, I stumbled across this book. It caught my eye because of the title. I have spent some time deliberating on the colour red, and the place it has within my memory, mind and perspective. Hence, I picked it up hoping to find something that could spark further interest, help me to broaden my investigation. The book itself is very dense but I photographed the first page as I found it captured the premise of the book: red is everywhere. As I went through the book I found it referenced the colour in relation to language, popular culture as well as traditional processes. Below are some notes I made and may wish to investigate further:
- Goya red (noses, cheeks - charming, jovial, greedy)
- Red Sorghum - a book by Mo Yan I read about a year ago, revolving around the struggles of three generations of rural Chinese people between 1923 and 1976, pivotal years in Chinese history.
- Safflower - bright yellow flowers used to produce rouge and red dyes in traditional Japanese culture
- "I hear you paint houses"
- Jane Eyre - the red room
"Hear Green Think Yellow"
Memory and Nostalgia in Cinema
Screening the Past: Memory and Nostalgia in Cinema, Pam Cook
This book, written in 2005, proposes that one of the most significant developments in film in the past 15 years, has been the "growing preoccupation with memory and nostalgia". I feel like this isn't only to be found within cinema, however. In almost all corners of culture, from music to popular culture to fine art, memory seems insistent. I find it challenging when I think about this, to validate my own work. I am interested in memory. And I am not saying I am the first to be interested in it, nor do I simply want to be one in a crowd. I think the problem I am wanting to solve with this investigation lies in the issue of nostalgia. I do not seek to make nostalgic work, though I cannot always help if something is nostalgic to someone else, merely by removing the "nostalgic factors".
Christopher Nolan's Memento is a perfect example of a film about memory that doesn't feel nostalgic at all. It deals with the traumas of forgetting, of being unable to retain information, of losing a grip on reality. Described as a "back-to-front memory thriller", the film follows Leonard (Lenny), a man with anterograde amnesia, searching for the man who murdered and raped his wife. The story unfolds backwards. The opening scene is in fact in reverse and I think this is something I would like to experiment with a little. Previously, I have only experimented with using green screens, superimposing and creating composite screens. But I believe that if I wish to explore the ideas of time and duration, working with speed and direction could be interesting.
Though it may not be obvious why, I believe the work of On Kawara is vital for my investigation of the relationships between colour, memory and time. His Today series in particular - a series of paintings he made throughout his life, consisting of acrylic on canvas, dates on a monochrome background.
I am interested in how these paintings are almost a stance. A piece of evidence that the artist made it to that day, existed on that day, lived that day. They are a commemoration of a day, some more evidently moments in history than others. They prove that On Kawara occupied a space in time but he does this through painting. Rather than using time-based media to handle the issues of time, he works with paint (arguably still a time-based media anyway - it is affected by time).
Memory is something that often bears reference to something lost, something dead, something passed. However, in the work of On Kawara this is evidence of life, there is a proof of consciousness. This is something that grabs me. To make work solely about death gives rise to nostalgia, sentimentality and risks becoming one-dimensional. Life, on the other hand, is nuanced. Memory as evidence of life. Life as evidence of memory. This interests me.
I've wanted to read Calvino's Invisible Cities for a long time, but am glad I read it at this time. The premise of the story is relatively simple: a collection of conversations where Marco Polo describes his travels to Kublai Khan, except all stories are about the same city, Venice.
"Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased... Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little."
There is something about this sentence that stuck with me, and I still can't quite shake. I think what attracts us to memories is their transience, their personality. They are private and yet also manage to be communal, as they can be shared but are always unique. They carry so many contradictions, they're unreliable and changeable, but we consider memories to be what make us. But since memories are unreliable/incomplete, are they not then untruthful? Do they therefore come under lies? We fear losing them, so we photograph things, we write diaries, all in order to hold onto a memory. And yet, this is what ruins them. In defining them, we taint them, we set them into stone. We cannot remember things as they were. Instead, we remember things as we've said them.
Another story from this book that stuck with me, is that of Zobeide, the city built on men's desires to catch the woman in their dreams who evades them. Described by Marco Polo as an "ugly" city. There is something ugly about wanting to recreate, or rewrite a memory. Although this city is written about in reference to dreams and desires, this seems inherently linked with memories. It is about the mind, the conscious and the subconscious. The ugliness of the conscious that tries to meddle with the subconscious, or unconscious.
Sara Cwynar: Marilyn
“Every political gesture associated with democracy is branded with a colour”
"The Order of Time" Carlo Rovelli
In order to inform the time-based nature of the work I am making, I read The Order of Time by Carlo Rovelli, which addresses time from a physics standpoint because it felt necessary to acknowledge the academic side of the subjects I am investigating. Though not all of the book was particularly relevant, and sometimes difficult to understand, I found that what was most informative for me were certain phrases. I found myself paying closer attention to the ideas sparked from chapter titles and the odd sentence than the wider ideas proposed:
"The Crumbling of Time"
"The growth of our knowledge has led to a slow disintegration of our notion of time."
"...Our knowledge of time has reached: up to the brink of the vast nocturnal and star-studded ocean of all that we still don't know."
"Between this past and this future there is an interval that is neither past nor future and still has a duration: fifteen minutes on Mars; eight years on Proxima b; millions of years in the Andromeda galaxy. It is the expanded present."
"...Prompted by the experience of life itself. Fragile, brief, full of illusions. It's a phrase that speaks of things that lie deeper than the physical nature of time."
When reading these phrases, I was rather struck particularly by the verbs used by Rovelli in relation to time. They remind me of Richard Serra's verb list. Similarly, I'd like to take these verbs and perhaps use them in making, in relation to time.
- To crumble
- To disintegrate
- To expand