My Project

Research Question

I am interested in researching the relevance of the concepts of surrealism to contemporary art using the new possibilities offered by digital media. In the tradition of Surrealism, I do not see my research as a rigid question resolved using a linear, predetermined methodology, but rather as free experimentation guided by a set of philosophical principles.

Important above all to me is the refusal to tell people what my Art is “about”. Most of the time, I do not know myself what the work is “about” anyway, all I know is the mental process that lead me to produce it. This mental process, I have no objection to discuss it in a academic context. It is an interesting and enjoyable intellectual game. I will also discuss some interpretations that occurred to me when I looked at the finished piece but these interpretations will be just this: interpretations from an external viewer and none the truer because this external looker happens to be the artist. They will be aimed at starting dialogue and discussion with the audience, not forcefuly imposing a meaning on them. If there is a “right interpretation” attached to a work of Art, the consequence is that only those people from the audience with “the right educationnal background” that can lead them to this “right interpretation” can enjoy the work “the right way”. The others are left out. I do not want my Art to be discriminatory. I want the audience to enjoy (or hate, or get bored by) my work in their very own way, the way that allows my work to strike a chord in their mind and, because my work is the very product of my mind, that creates a very unique connection between my mind and their mind. I believe that, once I decide that a particular piece is “finished”, stop working on it and show it, it aquires an independent life as a concept. I no longer have the right to claim sole understanding of it, anyone has the right to make it a part of their intellectual and inner life. Whether that process involves finding a political interpretation of my work or gazing at the shapes and color is equally fine by me.

Some of the concepts I wish to explore in my research are: the use of randomness and unpremeditated compositions, the study of the way our subconscious reinvents and transforms our surroundings and experiences, the study of dreams as worlds of their own independently of the interpretation of the symbols present in them.

Context

My research is inspired by Surrealism in the wide sense. This includes previous Art movements which inspired or were liked by the Surrealists (Symbolism, German Expressionist cinema, Dada …) and later Art movements born from or inspired by Surrealism (Situationnism, contemporary cinema experimenting with non linear narrative or concerned with subjective visions of events).

For example, my interest in abandoned buildings refers to Urban Exploration, a contemporary subculture influenced by the Situationnists (although most contemporary Urban explorers are unaware of this parentage), the Surrealist’s interest in discarded and outmoded objects and places as highlighted by Walter Benjamin, along with the Celtic concept that places have a spirit. I am inspired by dreamscapes and strange scenes as pictured in the paintings of Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux and Dorothea Tanning. I am inspired by the films of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman (Hour of the Wolf, Through a glass darkly), “Last year in Marienbad” and also by short experimental films such as “Meshes of the afternoon” by Maya Deren and “Dictio Pii” by Markus Schinwald. I am interested in Raw Art is it offers a raw (unprocessed, unfiltered, void of theorisation) glimpse into another person’s mind.

Generally, I am interested in the discrepancy between physical reality and the individual’s perception of it and the mental processes by which individuals reinvent reality. This could be pictured through fictional scenarios in literature and movies or studied within psychoanalysis or sociology.

Methodology

I will continue the Ghost House project using photography and video. My process is about looking for compositions made out of discarded objects. However tempting, I never move anything to create an artificial composition myself. I look for beauty, harmonious and balanced compositions and cultural meaning into what, to most eyes, would be no more than heaps of rubbish. As the Surrealists would put it, this is about moving beyond the “manifest” reality of things to enter the infinite realm of the “latent”.

Here are some of the ghost house pictures with some examples of possible “latent” meanings:

The position of the chair, fallen pillow and the paint scaling looking as though nightmarish creatures are crawling down from the ceiling strangely evocate a scene of death by hanging to me, which oddly contrast with the peaceful eerie light and the childish apple green tone.

The “immaculate conception” icon discarded on an unmade bed is a very striking example of random occurrences producing a highly composed scene with heavy socio-cultural connotations. But can we be assured of randomness ? Could another visitor before me have composed the scene on purpose ? If so, did I unknowingly take part in some kind of Land-Art Cadavre Exquis when I took my picture ? Does randomness exist ? Or do we call random the events on which our limited perception was not able to impose a external logic ?

Death, crucifixion, nails. A box of pills: are they medicine to delay death or “opium” to forget it ? As soon as I stepped into the windblown white washed deserted cottage, I was overwhelmed by peace and contemplation. This particular scene irresistibly evocates an Ingmar Bergman movie to me.

I simply like this picture as it seems straight out of a David Lynch movie: the red curtains he uses everywhere (on stage in Blue Velvet, draping the corridor in Fred and Rene’s House in Lost Highway, in the red room and log cabin in Twin peaks) and the menacing stairs straight from Twin Peaks.

A picture of Jesus and a piece of paper bearing the word “ejaculation” ! If this had been done on purpose, it would be such a teenage cliché but happening randomly, it is rather fascinating, at least to me. I find the concept of a “randomly generated Cliché” highly entertaining !

Still within my practice of Urban Exploration, I have started a new photo/video/installation project exploring places of imprisonment, especially “unofficial” ones used to make undesirable and/or helpless people disappear discretely. Last summer, I have photographed and filmed inside abandoned and derelict Magdalene convents (used to imprison women), mental asylums and workhouses. Rather than purely documenting the buildings, I am interested in showing how the long gone inmates might have reinvented their surroundings and experience in order to make their pain bearable (fugue state), and how their presence keeps imprinting those buildings long after they are dead. I hope to gain access to more buildings in order to get more footage and images.

I will start sorting and editing the footage shortly, starting with the Magdalene asylums. I will start by making a video showing the inside of 2 abandoned Magdalene asylums in Ireland. Most of the video will be documentary-like, showing the derelict buildings and objects left behind in them. However, shorter flashes will disturb the documentary, as though a poltergeist phenomenon was manifesting itself on screen. These flashes may include: photographs and names of Magdalene inmates, newspaper clippings or official documents about them, historical documents concerning witch hunts and short dream-like sequences recreating the Magdalenes’ dream of escape and freedom. I may also use occult references to the figure of Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic tradition .

I am interested in using digital media to document my dreams, thus moving beyond the technical limitations of painting. I could introduce narrative through traditional video, and use animation if I need to represent a setting or character I cannot find/make in real scale due to budget limit. Still compositions using digital collage and photo manipulation would be appropriate for those dreams that are a vision without narrative. For this part of my work, I keep a Dream Book where I keep record of the dreams when I am awake enough to do so. The records take the from of a written description with subjective comments and very primitive sketches. The process of writing those down enable me to keep a rather clear mental picture, much clearer than any sketch that I could make in the limited amount of time available before I either go back to sleep or tend to daily business. I can then retrieve the mental picture later to work from it. If the mental picture is fading with time, I can revive it by reading the notes. I have discovered that if I do not keep notes, I either completely forget the dream, however vivid, if I go back to sleep, or keep the mental picture for a couple of hours only if I get up straight away.

Installation wise, I would like to create immersive experience inviting the viewer to experience a situation. The way David Lynch uses visuals, loops of events and rhythm to “simulate” the mental state of fugue and invite the viewer to experience it along with the character (in Lost Highway, mostly, but also in Mulholland Drive). I have 2 ideas so far, but am yet unsure about the technical feasibility of either. The first one would be some kind of corridor delimitated by drapes. The viewer would step into it and moving images projected on the drapes would give them the illusion to explore something, while remaining stationary. The visual could create the illusion of getting lost, thus causing disquiet to the viewer. The other idea is some sort of large box in which the viewer would be invited to sit. Visuals would be projected on the walls of the box, and sound played in it. The idea stems from the traditional child game of creating imaginary houses, castles, or other places inside packing boxes. It is also a reference to a (probably fictional) story heard in a movie or TV series, about a high-functioning autist who had created a machine in which they sat and that provided them with everything they need. I found the idea of such a self contained world fascinating. By stepping into the box of the installation, the viewer would be invited to experience a self-contained and self sufficient inner world.

Resources

Hardware: Canon EOS 500D digital camera, Canon HV30 HDV Camera, HP Pavillion laptop.

Software: Gimp for image editing, Serif Movieplus for video editing, Goldwave and Audacity for sound.

Output

Definite: Photographs, Videos, Video installation

And possibly: Still compositions using digital collage and photo manipulation, animation (Flash ?), interactive elements.

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