Archive for Psychogeography

Sarah Turner – Perestroika

Posted in Artists that inspire me, Cinema, Psychogeography with tags , , , , on January 24, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

In Perestroika, filmmaker Sarah Turner uses documentary footage shot during a trip made on a Transiberian as an Art School student in December 1987-january 1988, and footage shot on the same trip repeated 20 years later. The film explores psychogeography, the unreliable nature of memory and the ambiguity between truth and fiction. The film contains a voice over spoken by a fictional character called Sarah Turner who both is and isn’t the film maker and addressed to ‘you’, who is Sarah’s friend who accompanied her on the first trip but is now dead. However, the use of ‘you’ gives the audience the ambiguous feeling that they are being addressed directly.

As the voice over monologue becomes increasingly hallucinated, psychic reality increasingly replaces documentary reality, culminating in an apocalyptic hallucination where Sarah believes the lake Baikal is on fire. In an interview with Sight and Sound, Sarah Turner explains: “I wanted the indexical and the uncanny to change places by the end of the film. I needed to believe in my stomach that that fictional character ‘Sarah Turner’ believed that the water was on fire. There are real facts of life within a fictional structure, but what is evidence, fact, and what is affect?”

I went to see the film at Cambridge Film Festival and she answered audience questions and commented further on her film. She considers that ‘memory is as much fiction as it is fact’ and the film was a ‘conscious decision to play with the space of fact and fiction’. ‘Everyone that makes some kind of artwork uses their emotional experiences and connects them to the real world.’

About the use of autobiographical material, she considers that the 1987-1988 footage has a quality of ‘unknowing naïvete’: in 1987-88, Sarah Turner realised only after a day that the camera captured sound. So when the students talk among themselves on the recording, they don’t know they are being recorded. Today we are used to the constant presence of cameras, we constantly perform for them. Turner calls our attitudes resulting from our constant expectation to be watched a ‘register of performativity’.

Sarah Turner also seems interested in cinema as a social phenomenon. She considers that, nowadays, ‘our experience of the world is mediated by lenses’. Cinema is ‘a social experience that we have anonymously’, ‘a collective emotional experience, that actually also occurs in public transport’, which she links to her interest in trains. ‘The only two places where people sleep in public are trains and cinemas’.

This idea of constant surveillance is echoed in the sound design where the recurring sound of a shutter clicking symbolises ‘the violence of photography’. Sarah Turner worked on the sound design herself and ‘all the sound in the film is recorded by the tape in situ, including the music’ (people were actually singing in the Church).

Commenting on audience engagement with artworks, Turner considers that ‘the most active experience is reading a novel where people project their own canvas on the frame provided by the author’.

She also gave a technical about how to shoot landscape from a train: one needs to ‘focus beyond the dirt on the window’.

I was interested in this film because of the themes of psychogeography and truth/fiction ambiguity which echo my own concerns, but also because it is an ‘artist film’ almost entirely made by one person with just a bit of technical help from others. It made me wonder how I could introduce some form of narrative in my video art while still continuing to shoot documentary/unstaged footage.

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-5_420.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-2_420.jpg

https://i2.wp.com/www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-4_420.jpg

‘Flâneur’ vs. ‘Dérive’

Posted in Critical theory, Psychogeography, Surrealism, Urban Exploration with tags , , , , , on January 21, 2011 by melaniemenardarts

The ‘Flâneur’ (approximatively equivalent to ‘roamer’, ‘wanderer’) was invented by Baudelaire and was a key figure in late 19th century and early 20th century decadent literary movement. It is a gentleman who strolls the city in order to experience it, as a detached, gently cynical observer. The flâneur is a passive figure, he observes the dynamics of the city from a disengaged point of view. Baudelaire called the flâneur ‘a botanist of the sidewalk’.

The Surrealists reused the concept, putting a greater emphasis on the role of random chances in the activity of ‘flânerie’. The Surrealist version of the flâneur was to devise experiments involving randomness and chances in order to experience the city without being blinded by mundanity. For example, follow beautiful female strangers across the city, or visit a city while guiding oneself using the map of another city. The ultimate Surrealist goal was to reach a higher level of truth by attaining the point where ‘reality’ and ‘surreality’ converge. By playing with random occurrences while strolling the city, the surrealist flâneur expected to gain a higher awareness of the city, beyong immediate reality. Therefore, the Surrealist flâneur is already a more active explorer than its decadent ancestor.

In ‘Theory of the Derive’, Guy Debord defines the concept of the ‘Dérive’ which he explicitly defines as opposed to ‘different from the classic notions of journey or stroll’. The ‘dérive [literally: “drifting”]’ is ‘a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances’ that ‘involves playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects’. The participants of a Dérive must ‘let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there. Chance is a less important factor in this activity than one might think: from a dérive point of view cities have psychogeographical contours, with constant currents, fixed points and vortexes that strongly discourage entry into or exit from certain zones.’ A Dérive implies the ‘domination of psychogeographical variations by the knowledge and calculation of their possibilities’. This phrasing has connotations of the scientific explorer, almost of the military strategist. Indeed, Debord compares the mindset of the Dérive to those of the ‘ecological science’, and the act of ‘Dérive’ is a tool in the Situationists’ revolutionary project.

Debord explicitly takes position against letting chance take a too important role in a Dérive, because ‘the action of chance is naturally conservative and in a new setting tends to reduce everything to habit or to an alternation between a limited number of variants. Progress means breaking through fields where chance holds sway by creating new conditions more favourable to our purposes.’

Canterbury University Symposium: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”

Posted in Critical theory, Methodology, Moving image techniques, Reading notes, Video with tags , , , , , , , , , on September 11, 2010 by melaniemenardarts

In June 2010, I attended a Symposium at Canterbury University: “Video art: between documentary and fiction”. Below are reading notes from this symposium. I was interested in it because it focused on lens-based images creating an awkward feeling of ambiguity regarding their documentary or staged nature, something I came to identify as a key concern in my practice.

Jon Dovey ‘The Limits of Vernacular Video’

Gaza Sderot: interactive video
The Himan Pet: Fake hostage video asking viewers to save the filmed subject
Derrida – Kate Modern on youtube ? the camera crew is no longer invisible

“Creative manipulation of reality” (author?)

Sarah Turner ’On documentary and Perestroika’

In Perestroïka, Sarah Turner repeats a journey to Siberia done 20 years ago (1987-88). Two friends present in the original trip are now dead at the moment of refilm in dec 2007- jan 2008

external events internalised
“Why and when does a documentary work display the truth of fiction ?”
memory, loss, photography, truth/fact, evidence
ourselves vs others and how it makes us
uncanny/real
refuses the duality between facts and the fiction of memory
psychogeography/dream

questions from audience:
Does the web esthetic of autobiographical filmmaking infect normal filmmaking?
I thought of Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park. Someone names Eli Harrison
“Who holds our story if the other is not here to do it?”
There is a more democratic access to cinema than to Art (just buy a ticket and be anonymous in the dark, compared to gallery environment)
Stiegler – Montage

Elizabeth Cowie  ‘The Contingency of the encounter in  documentary video art’

Rien que les heures – Cavalcanti – 1926 shows the city of paris and images of poverty
Badiou
Deleuze – intervals ????
Walter Benjamin “dialectical image” = image charged with history

Lauren Wright ‘The time between reality and fiction’

Curator at Turner Contemporary, Margate

picture by Turner of an imaginary landscape: he had read the description of it but never seen it
temporality shaped by artwork shaped by artwork and exhibition space
Bergson “creative evolution”

Matthew Buckingham: situation leading to a story
The visitors hears the sound but they have to walk around some walls to see the images (the sound continues in 2nd space with image)
the images are found footage: 4 rolls of 1920s home movies. The soundtrack is the artist’s comments/reflexions about what these films are about, who are the people in it, why the films have been thrown away, suppositions about unknown family drama and the possible cause of it.
Time as a collection of different temporal frames ? it does not let us collapse the different temporal frames

Robert Smithson, spiral jetty

Irit Rogoff ‘Bared Life – On the Documentary Turn in Visual Culture’

I missed most of this because I was watching the screenings.

Foucault: territorial ->population

Adam Chodzko ‘Latitudes’

ghost, echo, journey

Salam Cinema, 1995, Teheran

1998: Meunien ? he tried to find the 16 young victims from Pasolini’s Salo. Only one responded, he found doubles to replace the other original actors
The actor that responded was the one whose character did not do the final execution scene !!!
originally, Pasolini wanted footage from the cast party at the end of the film. But he finally decided against it, decided it was more disturbing not to explicitly tell the audience it was “only fiction”
-> makes me think of the ending of Greenaway’s The Baby of Mâcon

fabricated images from Milosevic trial ?check?

1967: David ?Holsman? Diary. Story of a director who obssessively records everything. Against the claims of “direct cinema”

Strawberry pickers
archive show “migrant workers” from East London come to pick hop in Kent in the 20’s and 30’s
the archives were edited by contemporary Romanian strawberry pickers. They said that the workers in the archive looked happier than themselves. By the end of the archive watching session, their attention start to drift and they start talking about themselves and their dreams

Chris Marker, Sans soleil: People sleeping in the tube, intercut with scary images of their dreams

An actor comes to an audition for a movie and pretends to be blind. When asked why by the director, he says he did it for the love of cinema.

A man burns himself with a cigarette, saying it is the only way to show the effect of Napalm (which causes a 3000°C burn compared to 400°C for a cigarette.
-> Does trauma/hurt guarantee authenticity ?
-> My own work on Magdalene/asylums ? Is it a cheap trick ?

Agnostic anxiety: not to know whether what you see or think is real or not, correct or not.

As a spectator, do you expect transformation from an artwork ?

Questions:

My question: in “A letter to Uncle Boonmee”, “soldiers occupied the place, killed villagers, forced them to flee to the jungle”. Yet the deserted houses are very clean (and houses in ireland show how very quickly they deteriorate). So this image hints at recent trauma/violence. This is reinforced by the presence of fictionnal soldiers played by local teens. Are they real houses or stage design ?
-> previous speaker: trauma/hurt guarantee of authenticity
-> I point out to a urbex forum discussion of the moral implications for the artist/urbexer of picturing recent trauma. Are the moral implications different between taking pictures of Tchernobyl and post Katrina NOLA?

Michael Newall

Pyramid – Adam Chodzko: Folkestone residents reaction to the appearance and disappearance of an otherworldly object, the pyramid.

International God Look-alike competition – Adam Chodzko

Philosophy of Art
Cognitivism: the value of Art is to offer knowledge/deepen understanding
Bourriaud – relational aesthetics: art that facilitates communities
-> critic of it: it designs only social situations where there are no conflicted interests. Different from real life.
-> he argues that activist art can change social situations, as opposed to relational
-> my objection: Activist art gives an answer to the audience (thesis, propaganda) whereas relational art make audience make their own meaning
-> later I actually get the opportunity to ask this and here is the answer: he refered not to propaganda/thesis art but to activist art in situ that have uncontrollable consequences where the happening takes place. And also other things like Antisocial Networking which used Google advertising revenues in order to buy google shares.

Brian Dillon

André Breton and Dogma 95 have in common a confusion between fact and fiction, and put serious and comedy together.

Artists are increasingly encouraged to be academics (“practice led research”). The relationship between Art and Academia is ambiguous. He says that the artist does not like the label of intuition and wants the image of rigour (my unvoiced objection: Certainly not all artists !!!)

The museum values what is not Art in Art: what looks like Art is called kitsch! That’s how the Avant guarde gets into the museum, because it looks different. The Avant guarde blurs the line with everyday life. In order to be successful, the artist produces something that does not look like Art. My unvoiced objection: this is a recent “postmodern” phenomenon. Dada and surrealists certainly did not make it to museum when they first started making strange objects, rather they were insulted n the press by respectable art critics.

What is now valued in Art is the research/knowledge underneath the work. References to other disciplines, “the world as such”. My unvoiced objection: “the world as such” is not the same as “the world as observed by academics”. What did art refer to before ? Didn’t it refer directly to “life” as opposed to an academic representation of life?

Jeremy Millar

Human Forms in Art (2008)
-> taken from the name of a display case in the Pit Rivers Museum (Oxford) that was emptied for building works
-> When interviewing someone for a documentary, people first say what they want to say. You have to keep looking at them without saying anything or stopping the camera and after a while they end up saying what they did not want to say, which often turns out more interesting.
Withdrawal of responsibility by pretending to be just passing on some found material: this is an old tradition in literature.
-> he found something about Duchamp by making a film, a fact that no academic knew of, but someone commented to him that a Phd would be more valued than the movie: the Big Duchamp stained glass “The Bride stripped bare by her bachelors” was apparently inspired by sash windows he saw for the first time in a little town in Kent.
-> My idea: there may be a pun behind this. Sash window = fenêtre à guillotine. A nickname for the guillotine was “La Veuve” (= “The Widow”) which sounds a lot like window. This coincidence may have amused Duchamp -> sacrificing a bride to make a widow?

Jeremy Millar filmed “Ajapeegel” (“Time-Mirror” in Estonian), a video set in the abandoned plant where Andrei Tarkovsky filmed “Stalker”.

Ajapeegel (2008)
Digital Video / PAL 16:9 Anamorphic / Stereo
Narrated by Simon Paisley-Day

The work has been developed from an earlier, abandoned video of the same name, that was to explore the relationship (or lack thereof) between groups of English men on stag-weekends in Tallinn, Estonia, and the three men in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film ‘Stalker’ (1979), which was also shot in and around the city. In ‘Stalker’, the eponymous guide, a scientist and a writer all travel to a room in the ‘Zone’ where, it is said, their inner-most wishes will come true; similarly those men on stag-weekends also make a transitional journey, where, they hope, their desires will be made real also. However, after having filmed a great deal of footage on the original locations in 2005, I found it impossible to realise this planned film, and this new work is, in many ways, a documentary of this failure; an ‘unmaking of’ rather than a ‘making of’ film.

Time-Mirror (2007)
Duration 00:19:20:10
Digital Audio File

This project has been developed from another work, ‘Ajapeegel’, (2008) inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 film, ‘Stalker’, much of which was shot just outside Tallinn, in Estonia. ‘Time-Mirror’ — the English translation of the Estonian ‘Ajapeegel’ — was made by mixing recordings made at the site of a disused hydroelectric power station outside Tallinn, where parts of ‘Stalker’ where shot, with recordings made at Grain Power Station during an artist’s placement there. The similarities between the ‘Zone’ and Grain — the power stations, the desolate landscape, even the military installations — mean that they act as ‘Time-Mirrors’ to one another, or perhaps, more appropriately in this context, as echoes; these are places that reverberate.

Ajapeegel (2005)
Colour Photographs

These are photographs taken in and around Tallinn, Estonia, on locations used for the filming of Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 masterpiece, ‘Stalker’; these locations were also used for my own film, Ajapeegel (2008).
The title of these works was taken from that of a book by Tatjana Elmanovits, the first monograph on the Russian director, which was found in a second-hand bookshop in the centre of Tallinn; it means, in Estonian, ‘Time-Mirror’.

Untitled Drawings (2002-onwards)
50 x 70cm
Colour Photograph

Part of a series of photographs that take as their motif the throwing of a metal nut and bandage which is found in Andrei Tarkovsky’s film Stalker (1979). In the film, the Stalker ties bandages to the nuts and uses them to navigate around the mysterious Zone; if the nut travels true through the air and lands safely, then the Stalker and his two companions may travel that way also. While the actions were carried out in similarly uncertain spaces, between nature and industry, and suggest an uncertain presence also, they might also be considered as a rather elaborate means of merely making a line on a piece of paper. The first photograph was made in 2002 in Blean woods, between Whitstable and Canterbury; the remaining photographs were made in Hungary in 2003, during a brief artist’s residency.

One of the speakers?: the inventor of anthropology invented fieldwork techniques because he was forced to stay extensively in Australia in order to avoid being drafted in 1st world war.

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

Psychogeography in popular culture – rural space

Posted in Parallel theory, Psychogeography with tags , , , , , , , , , on October 4, 2009 by melaniemenardarts

A short post today. I am reading different things and need to leave the information rest before I can really write about it.

To Andy’s suggestion, I am reading about Psychogeography. There is not much reliable source about it. Guy Debord wrote an article in 1955 Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography and made a psychogreographic map of Paris. Then the situationnists seemed to have got disinterested in the idea and did not elaborate on it any further. Later on, different people took the concept of psychogeography and made their own thing with it. The closest to a reference is the book Psychogeography by Merlin Coverley (2006). This book has the merit to study earlier practionners of psychogeography, such as William Blake, who reinvented their cities long before Guy Debord invented the word, and to give an introduction to contemporary psychogeographers such as Iain Sinclair. This book is mostly interesting in giving the reader directions for further research. In itself it is quite flawed: city-centric and intellectual-centric, ignoring the long folk tradition of “spirit of the place”. The author only talks about exploring London and Paris as though psychogeography could only be done in the urban landscape. He makes a reference to the term “genus loci” (guardian spirit of a place in roman mytology, that turned into the contemporary concept of “spirit of the place”) but links the origin of the concept to neo-romanticism (late 19th century). No reference to the obvious roman origin of the word, nor to the fact that the same concept is very strong in Celtic mythology, and in folk culture from various places generally.

In “Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge”, Iain Sinclair plays with an esoteric interpretation of how the 6 London Churches of Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor are disposed on a map. This amused me as it reminded me of popular film Hypnotic whose plot was based about churches by a fictional architect forming a pentagram on a London map and being used for some dark purpose … I am wondering whether they ripped off Sinclair’s book, or both took inspiration from similar London urban legends.

I found another reference to psychogeography in one of my favourite book Den amerikanska flickan by Monika Fagerholm (The American girl, no yet translated in English). In the French translation, a reference is made of a teenage character being “à la derive” (going wild) with in brackets the playful comment “(il avait lu un livre)” = “(he had read a book)” which is obviously a reference to Debord’s theory of the “dérive” (wandering, aimless roaming, drifting). The idea behind the pun of wild teenage lifestyle finding justification in obscure avant-garde theories amused me a lot … The whole book itself is concerned with psychogeography. It is set in the early 70’s in a sleepy small town on the south coast of Finland, and observes the slow process by which the remote, boring location is invaded by rich people from the capital (Helsinki) who build summer homes there, and by urban feminist intellectuals and artists living in a commune there during the summer months. In summer, the city invaders clash with the locals. The clash is aggressive and literally an invasion: the whole coast is built up with private posh summer residences, so that the shore becomes private property and the locals loose access to the sea (this really happened on most of the south coast of France, the cote d’Azur). At the same time, it is liberating: local teens seduce the rich invaders into giving them an escape to the big city, or go off by themselves after discovering avant-guarde theories from hanging on with the commune residents. Yet in winter, when the city invaders depart to more hospitable climates, the place reverts to its former self of a harsh self-contained world where time moves slowly. The place identity is strongly infused by the memory of the mysterious disapperance in 1969 of a visitor (the American girl of the title). This local tabloid-type news item takes the scale of local mythology. Bengt, the boy “à la dérive” obssessively draws maps of the place containing obscure symbols referring to his own theories about the American girl’s mysterious fate. During the winter, local teens invade the deserted posh summer house and wreck havoc in them, as a form of radical reappropriation of their stolen territory. I myself grew up in a backward, remote and boring village and recognised the situations described by the author. Teens from backward places develop an instinctive talent for psychogeography, as weapon against boredom. While in cities, places usually have a set purpose (the cinema, the ice rink, the bowling …), teens from dormitory suburban areas and backward villages need to claim their territory and assign a purpose to them: the bus shelter, the supermarket car park become centres of sociability. At the same times, streets rarely have names in small French villages. Common names are assigned to them by the locals, often referring to names of old residents or local landmarks. Getting about in those villages requires to be coopted in the community and educated in the local lore. In small French villages, people tend to stay in place 20 years or a whole lifetime. It gives enough time for local gossip and news to be transformed and reinterpreted into some sort of informal local mythology.