Archive for the Contemporary Art Category

Contextualising my practice within experimental film and traditional video art

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Contemporary Art, Moving Image: Psychodrama Trance-film, Video with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on July 16, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

I read the book ‘Film and video art’ by Tate publishing in order to find more moving image artists who share my themes and concerns. The book surveys moving image art from early cinema to today’s digital moving image, which enabled me to isolate certain themes and genres that creep back in different cultural and technological contexts.

The book surveys avant guarde cinema close to Surrealism, for example the films of Germaine Dulaine and Man Rays’s Le mystère du chateau de Dé, where the camera tracks at low level through the empty rooms of a modernist house, anticipating contemporary works dealing with space and emptiness. I have already written about these artists when I surveyed photography and cinema within Surrealism.

In the 1940s, a new wave of avant garde cinema reappropriated the Surrealist idea of the importance of subjective vision in film. Filmmakers in this tradition are Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton. Critic A.L. Rees coins the term ‘psychodrama’ to describe their works that deal with inner life and conflict, and suggest their air of menace and obsssession may be linked to the cold war climate of paranoia which also influenced the film noir genre.

In Maya Deren Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a woman chases a cloaked figure that may or may not represent the temptation of suicide in successive sequences that blur chronology and geography.

Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947) is one the first films ever to have an explicit gay theme: a sleeper awakes to be tormented and and torn apart by mocking sailors, but is reborn in a flow of light and balm to find himself back in bed but no longer alone. The theme reminds me of the old myths of the vegetation Gods (Dyonisos) who suffered ritual sacrifice to be reborn.

(Warning: the following short film contains nudity. Click the embedded player at your own risk.)

Kenneth Anger later made another film dealing with ritual sacrifice: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954-6).

‘Fireworks’ and other films depicting dreams are sometimes referred to as ‘trance films’. The term “trance-film” is taken from P. Adams Sitney, whose book ‘Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) has become the bible of American avant-garde film history.

Sidney Peterson’s The lead shoes (1949) deals with Oedipal themes.

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xe7579
The Lead Shoes (1949) by Lost_Shangri_La_Horizon

Stan Brakhage, a young student of Maya Deren, investigated wish-dreams vs. reality in his films. I liked the light play in ‘Cat’s Cradle’ (1959)

Bruce Baillie’s ‘Castro Street’ (1966) is a non narrative film made of footage of urban landscape and industrial spaces.

During the 60’s, experimental cinema moved towards formal abstraction. In the late 1970’s however, some film makers moved back to exploring the subjective. The best known are Patrick Keiller (now famous for dealing with psychogeography in his films), and Derek Jarman and the ‘new romantics filmmakers’ (including Cerith Wyn-Evans and John Maybury).

The 70’s marked the beginning of a stronger separation between experimental film makers and gallery based video artists. The two traditions of work became very distinct, with gallery based video art tending back then to be non narrative.

However, some works explore the boundary between the real and the dreamlike, for example Robert Whitman ‘Prune flat’ where two performers merge with the images projected onto them and the background.

still from Prune flat

The ‘Psychodrama’ genre in experimental moving image picked up in the 90s.

The works of Canadian artist Stan Douglas deals with the uncanny, the urban space and memory.

‘The Sandman’ (1995) shows two loops filmed at allotments in Potsdam in former East Berlin, while on the soundtrack, someone reads an adapted version of E.T.A. Hoffman’s ‘The Sandmann’ that inspired Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’.

‘Le Detroit’ also uses 2 loops, one projected in negative, the other in positive. It shows a black woman wandering through an abandoned house, looking at abandoned possessions. ‘Le detroit’ makes references to Shirley Jackson’s 1959 horror novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and Marie Hamlin’s 1883 chronicle ‘Legends of Le Détroit’ (Le detroit being a French name for the city of Detroit, MI). The video uses the conventions of the horror film to comment on the decline of urban neighbourhoods in Detroit, and the problems of racial tensions in this city.

still from 'Le detroit'

Isaac Julien and Sunil Gupta ‘Looking for Langston: Homage Noir’ (1989) mixes archive footage, dream sequences and staged photographs to talk about American Black Gay poet Langston Hughes and the cultural renaissance of Harlem.

Matthew Buckingham’s film installation ‘A Man of the Crowd’ (2003) is based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe that influenced Baudelaire’s concept of the Flâneur. The camera follows a man wandering through the streets of Vienna, and shows reflections in cafes and store windows while the viewer themselves is reflected on the glass used to make the installation, thus questioning reality and illusion in everyday life.

still from 'Man of the Crowd'

Catherine Sullivan explores theatricality and social conventions. Her work is insprired by film noir and avant-garde cinema. In ‘The Chittendens’ (2005), a six screen video installation, actors in period costumes perform gestures that symbolise different social attitudes or psychological mindsets. Most of the video was shot in an abandoned Post Office in Chicago. The work reflects on property, insecurity, the act of performance in everyday life and hysteria.

still from chittendens

Judith Barry’s ‘Ars Memoriae Carnegiensis’ reinvents the Renaissance concept of ‘memory theatre’, that is, a mental process where a person maps memories to the physical space of a building filled with symbolic objects (and also the drawing or painting of the resulting imaginary space).

In Doug Aitken’s video installation ‘Electric Earth’ (1999) shows a black man wandering the streets and parking lots of Los Angeles by night. The installation is immersive: the viewer is invited to physically moves through the spaces delimited by the several screens, while the sound design gives a unity to the different visuals. The immersive quality invites the viewer to share the protagonist’s feeling of urban alienation.

In 2006, Aitken produced ‘Broken Screen: 26 Conversations with Doug Aitken’ (Distributed Art Publishers, 2006), a book of interviews with twenty-six artists who aim to explore and challenge the conventions of linear narrative. Interviews included Robert Altman, Claire Denis, Werner Herzog, Rem Koolhaas, Kenneth Anger and others. It seems this book cross references both artists that I found while doing this research, and filmmakers that I like such as Herzog, so it may be worth checking it out.

Irish artist Willie Doherty also uses installations to create feelings of physical unease and psychological paranoia. Ghost Story (2007) shows how the landscape of the North of Ireland is haunted by the traumatic events that took place there. The camera moves down a road, never reaching any destination, while a man (actor Stephen Rea) narrates in voice-over horrible events that he witnessed. However, no pshysical trace of these events are visible on the onscreen visuals, it is just an empty landscape. The land is scarred psychologically, but not visibly.

Kutlug Ataman’s five-screen video installation ‘Stefan’s Room’ (2004) is a psychological study of obssession and an individual’s relation to their private space. On one screen, a young German man, Stephan, discusses in detail his passion for moths which he both breeds and collects. The other screens show close-ups of insects, either live specimen crawling quietly on Stephan’s arms and hands, or his collection of dead specimen on display in his appartment.

Stephan's Room still

Douglas Gordon uses the screen and formal cinematic conventions to explore psychological instability. In a show ‘what have i done’ at the Hayward Gallery in 2003, he used mirrors reflecting his screen based work to create illusions of spatial confusion in the viewer. Because he is is interested in the formal conventions of cinema, he often uses found footage, most notably in ’24 hour psycho’ (about which I had already talked in a previous blog post) where he slows down Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ to last 24 hours. However, a newer piece ‘Fog’ (2002) uses original footage. Inspired by a 19th-century Scottish novel by James Hogg, ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ (1824) where a man meets his double, who really is the Devil and convinces him to commit crimes, ‘Fog’ shows a man looking at his own shadow. The image is repeated on the other side of the screen, deliberately out of synch, so that at times the man is looking at himself looking at his shadow. The theme of the double is also present in ‘Self-portrait’ (1994) where the artist confronts his reflection. The video is shown as a negative image so as to question issues of reality and illusions. In Douglas Gordon’s own words, ‘The negative image indicates a flip-side of our reality, and so everything we know is turned upside down / inside out. What is the reverse side of self-reflection? What is the opposite of truth?’

I found my own video work to be very close to these works which use the aesthetic conventions of fiction, such as horror, noir or other genre movies or dream sequences, to talk about social concerns without formally resorting to the traditional documentary style. I like the aura of moral and philosophical ambiguity that blurring the lines of documentary and fiction gives to a moving image work.

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Video Art – Sylvia Martin

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Contemporary Art, Moving Image: Psychodrama Trance-film, Reading notes, Video with tags , , , , on October 18, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

This books surveys 40 years of video-art.

P10: Andy Warhol 16mm film installation called “Outer and Inner Space” (1965), starring Edie Sedgwick.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/outer-and-inner-space/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHz4yWx9MtE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB8lesKwf5Q

P16: Bruce Nauman, “Live/Taped Video Corridor” (1970): The visitor is filmed in the corridor, and their image is shown on a screen. The closer the viewer comes to the scree, the smaller their image appears (because the camera is located att he opposite end from the screen). “The viewers’s sense of orientation and mental security were equally challenged by this video installation” “visually [multiplying] the feeling of physical distress already caused by the confining space”.

P17: “Pipilotti Rist and Diana Thater play with mentally annexing the viewer in their video installations. With their monumental projections which, from various perspectives, overlay the real architecture and create their own, illusionistic space, they approach the strategies of feature films: that is, conventional narrative films aim at suspending cinema visitors’ belief and getting them to identify with the plot.”

Pipilotti Rist, “Homo Sapiens Sapiens”(2005), projections on the dome of the San Staë Church in Venice.

Diana Thater, “Delphine”(1999), underwater world into which visitors can walk, until they run into the video screens and are brought back to reality.

P18: “conventional narrative cinema works with a parallel film time not connected to reality. The ideal aim of this type of different time level is for the cinema audience to synchronize themselves with it, meaning that they should enter fully into the story and its temporal narrative.”

P24: Gitte Villesen: “I want the line between art and documentary, fiction and reality, to be blurred.”

P24: Eija-Liisa Ahtila «Talo (The House)» (2002) “tells the story of a woman whose connection to reality begins to dissolve. The woman hears voices that disrupt her everyday life and invalidate the “normal” structure of space and time. This work was based upon discussions with psychosis patients who had overcome their illness. Ahtila attempts to cinematically understand an altered spatial and temporal perception, and to audio-visually reproduce abnormal thought processes.” The video contains “perspectively distorted details from the house’s interior”.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/the-house/

Ahtila’s installation explores the mind of a young woman who undergoes episodes of psychosis, yet in the end somehow comes to term with her newly ordered world. Choosing unremarkable surroundings, objects, and activities, Ahtila depicts the everyday trials of mental illness as a rupture in the flow of images, placing on three screens alternate views.
Nuanced and subtle in her portrayal of mental illness, Ahtila avoids melodrama to present a narrative in which the brilliant light of the Finnish midsummer serves as a backdrop for a domestic drama in which, eventually, an unpredictable psyche adapts, however precariously, to the profound and sometimes marvelous distortions it is capable of producing.
(Source:http://www.dm-art.org/PastExhibitions/exhibition_ahtila.htm)

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4vwi5_the-house-eijaliisa-ahtila-1_creation

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4w98d_the-house-eija-liisa-ahtila-2_creation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-ZbvZY7o0Y

P32: Doug Aitken, “Electric Earth” (1999), 8 channel video, “walking through the deserted city at night”, “desolate landscapes, deserted towns, dilapidated industrial zones”.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/electric-earth/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zdSMVhqOsQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSziysd2Duk

P52: Douglas Gordon, “Twenty four Hour Psycho” (1993)
slowed down version of Hitchcock’s psycho, “cinematic ready-made”

P60: Pierre Huyghe
“Remake”(1994), remake of Hitchcock’s “Rear window”(1954) as a home movie
“Les Incivils”(1995), remake of Pasolini’s “Hawks and sparrows”(1966)

P94: Gillian Wearing, “strange mixture of documentation, theatrical production and everyday life”.

Place – Tacita Dean & Jeremy Millar

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Contemporary Art, Photography, Psychogeography, Reading notes, Video with tags , , , , , , , , on October 18, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

The books surveys different interpretation of the theme “Place” in contemporary art. I found a few relevant critical quotes and artists whose practice is similar to mine.

The Stalker talking about the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film:
“Our moods, our thoughts, our emotions, our feelings can bring about change here. And we are in no condition to comprehend them. Old traps vanish, new ones take their place; the old safe places become impassable, and the route can either be plain and easy, or impossibly confusing. That’s how the Zone is. It may even seem capricious. But in fact, at any moment it is exactly as we devise it, in our consciousness… everything that happens here depends on us, not on the Zone.

P23:
“a romantic notion that the critic John Ruskin called the ‘pathetic fallacy’, the belief that the landscape might be made to mirror the emotional state of the person found within it.”

P38: Baudelaire on the flâneur
“The crowd is his element, as the air is that of the birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flâneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet to feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world – such are a few of the slightest pleasures of the independent, passionate, impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define. The spectator is a prince who everywhere rejoices in his incognito.”

P40: Stan Douglas, Canadian artist made a 6 minute film “Le Détroit” that shows a black woman searching for an unknown object in an abandoned house. The film alludes to the economic problems that turned some parts of Detroit into ghost estates and dilapidated neighbourhoods. “The film is projected onto semi-transparent material, while its negative is projected – with a small time interval – upon the screen’s reverse, thereby emphasising the haunting nature of the narrative.”

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/le-detroit/

P68: Sartre on the Fantastic
“The law of the fantastic condemns it to encounter instruments only. These instruments are not … meant to serve men, but rather to manifest unremittingly an evasive, preposterous finality. This accounts for the labyrinth of corridors, doors and staircases that lead to nothing, the innumerable signs that line the road and that mean nothing. In the “topsy-turvy” world, the means are isolated and posed for their own sake.”

P90: a blue-filter produces the day-for night effect from Hollywood films (‘la nuit américaine’)

P98: Rodney Graham took photographs of Aberdeen, hometown of Kurt Cobain, to show the dereliction of the city, and tacky objects of consumerism.

Aberdeen - rodney graham

P138: Chantal Akerman, Belgian film-maker makes documentary bordering on fiction.

“D’est” (From the East, 1993) shows a journey across Eastern Europe, ordinary people and places are filmed.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7QYByp84_6I

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogdA5s81uBc&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SDJ3JiSwGYg&feature=related

“From the other Side” explore a small mexican town just outside the USA border where would-be-migrants wait before tempting the crossing, and the opinions of the inhabitants of Douglas, Arizona (on the other side) about the border policy.

P152: Janet Cardiff makes “audio-walks”: she writes a script inspired by mystery/film noir, then go for a walk in a chosen location where she records the script on tape.

P172: J.G. Ballard
“I noted the features of this silent world: the memory earasing white architecture; the enforced leisure that fossilized the nervous system; … the apparent absence of an[y?] social structure; the timelessness of a world beyond boredom, with no past, no future and a diminishing present. Perhaps this was what a leisure-dominated future would resemble? Nothing could ever happen in this affectless realm, where entropic drift calmed the surfaces of a thousand swimming pools.”

Jane & Louise Wilson

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Contemporary Art, Video with tags , , on April 26, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

After seeing the long corridor shots from “Disciplinary Institutions”, someone at Norwich Arts Centre advised me to check out the work of the Wilson sisters, Jane and Louise. In a 1999 interview, they say their films ‘attempt to describe the psychology of space’. They are interested in places of power in a deserted state.

In “Stasi City” (1997), they explore a building that was first used by the Nazis, then as a stalinist internment camp, and finally as offices by the Stasi, the East German secret police. They were fascinated by ‘Rooms full of files that existed in a limbo; doors that had not been opened since the Wall came down’ and their camera followed long corridors and dwelt on formerly used functional objects.

Stasi City (1997)

stasi city

stasi city

In “Gamma”, they filmed inside the now dismantled cold war airfield RAF Greenham Common. They staged themselves walking the building in military like clothing, while professing sympathy for the “Greenham women” who organised an anti nuclear weapon protest in 1981.

In 1999, they filmed inside the Houses of Parliament while they were empty.

Parliament (1999)

parliament

In “Crawl Space” (1995), they explore “an abandoned house, replete with slamming doors, hints of telekinesis, and amorphous shapes writhing beneath the wallpaper”. (Sadly I could find no images for this one !)

Their latest work “Unfolding the Aryan Papers” (2009) uses footage from a film about nazism that Stanley Kubrick started in 1993 before dropping the project, as well as contemporary images shot by the Wilson sisters of the lead actress Johanna ter Steege recreating some poses from the movie. These contemporary scenes were shot at the semi-abandoned art-deco style Hornsey Town Hall.

Unfolding the Aryan Papers (2009)

jane + louise wilson

unfolding

Decontamination Chamber (1999)

decontamination chamber

Mir 2000

Mir 2000

Maggs Antiquarian Bookshop

Maggs

Maggs

maggs

jane + louise wilson

Erehwon, Rutherford Hospital Ward I, 2004

rutherford hospital

New Hall College “guided exploration”

Posted in Contemporary Art on October 22, 2009 by melaniemenardarts

There is a “Festival of ideas” celebrating the 800th birthday of Cambridge University. Tonight, I went to a performance art/guided tour of New Hall College organised by performance artist and architect collective Urban collaboratory. New Hall College, the last of the Cambridge Female-only Colleges, was built in 1964 in a modernist style.

The performance was some sort of guided tour led by the 2 artists. They had interviewed people living and/or working in the college (students, fellows, cleaners, caterers, gardeners) and stopped at various places to read out quotations from these interviews, mostly focusing on the daily routines of the College’s occupiers and the way they used the space. They also read out excerpts from the architectural review published in 1964 when the College was built.

The key concepts behind the 2 artists’ interpretation of the space were feminity and futurism. The building is built in a modernist 1960’s style, very epurated, completely white (or rather beige in practice, but the architect’s concept was about whiteness …) and famous for its dome. The virginal whiteness and the female shape of the Dome referred, for the 2 artists, to a male architect’s interpretation of what an all-female dwelling should look like. The white dome also reminded them of 1960’s science fiction movies and chosen excerpts from such films were shown in the college dining room. Indeed, 1960’s science ficition movies imagined future architecture to look very much like modernist 1960’s buildings, and several white domes were shown, one of them supposedly on a human-inhabited Moon ! These films also had a vision of the future where male and female roles were blurred or even reversed, possibly echoing the anxieties of the New Hall architect (or not …)

I was very impressed by the stairs leading up to the famous dome. I felt like a in lighthouse.

New Hall College Stairs (Cambridge)