Lucy Clout and Marianna Simnett selected to develop their #WWTSOM? projects for the next stage in the awards

22 Apr

Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Charitable Foundation have announced that artists Lucy Clout and Marianna Simnett are the winners of the second edition of the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards. Both have been selected to receive commissions of £20,000, to allow them to work on major new moving-image projects. These new works will premiere at Jerwood Space, London and CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow in 2015. Looking forward to seeing what comes of this fantastic opportunity – building on the successes of all four artists up to this stage in the awards. Below are some clues of which direction they might take their work in. And for background on their projects, re-read my interviews with Lucy and Marianna on this blog.

Lucy Clout

In her new commission, Lucy Clout will continue her focus on the background noise of everyday life, moving beyond the background voices of the TV extras who were the subject of her first-stage project, The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips, to the thoughts that lurk at the back of people’s minds. Casting her eye over an online world where private lives (and private parts) are increasingly on public display, she will look at acts of self-exposure, such the case of US politician Anthony Weiner, not for what they reveal in a shocking or scandalised way but for what they lay bare about the mundane complications that occur when words refuse to disappear. 

Marianna Simnett 

In Marianna Simnett’s The Udder, the purity of milk and the struggle to keep it free from outside contamination are symbols of other forms of pristine innocence, and the wider threat of corruption. Further developing the central themes of her original work, Simnett will broaden her focus from the farmyard to more far-flung, mythological horizons – from the ‘sworn virgins’ of the mountains of Albania (and their esoteric oaths of chastity), to the figures of medieval saints as embodiments of female virtue.

The precarity of video in depicting the world as it is: Interview with Anne Haaning

31 Mar

Anne Haaning KhoiSan Medicine’ (excerpt) 2014

Anne Haaning is one of the four artists participating in the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ (#WWTSOM?) exhibition, the first stage of a major awards-giving process for moving-image artists in the first five years of their practice, a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella. In the following interview I asked her about her new work ‘KhoiSan Medicine’ (2014) in which she analyses digital culture through a wide historical lens and a reading of the mythologies of the ancient KhoiSan people.

What is KhoiSan Medicine? 

My starting point for making this work revolves around hunter gatherer myth. I’ve tried to approach the age I live in (and particularly the digital) from the same distance an archeologist would when trying to unpick lives and identities of humans thousands and thousands of years ago. The KhoiSan are a people descended from the first human beings to arrive in a desert (in what is now called South Africa) more than 100,000 years ago. I’ve been to that desert; it’s an extraordinary place, in a sort of subtle way. At first glance the most impressive part about it is the vastness of it, it’s not like the picturesque screen saver sand dunes at all, it’s just rocks and bushes for miles. What makes it so special is its unique geology; the ground there has been dry for hundreds of thousands of years which meant that there was barely any erosion of the soil, and for this reason stone tools from different generations and human species divided by millennia lie next to each other in the same field. In theory you can access all of human history just by sifting through the sand with your hands. For me this really recalls what is happening with the digital and the internet, not so much the access to everything but more the levelling out of time. The ‘shallowness’ and the ‘flatness’ (and I don’t mean this in a derisory sense) (I’m tempted to make the reference you’re making! “It is the flattest and the dullest parts that in the end have the most life.”)

The palaeolithic anthropologist Chris Low is an expert in KhoiSan peoples and their relationship to myth and wind; he was, clearly, influential in the course that the work took. One of the voices in the video is Chris Low’s', it’s taken from a lecture he did on ‘Potency and the Role of the Environment in KhoiSan medicine’.

So finally, to answer your question. KhoiSan Medicine is a direct hint to where the work is coming from but also, I hope, a title that encapsulates ‘it’ – the video, as a substance: KhoiSan medicine; a drug that possibly intoxicates, heals or enlightens.

Is it a theme you’ve addressed in your work before?

I’ve been trying to dissect the digital for a while, but it’s the first time I’ve taken such a ‘profound’ stab at it. I got really fed up with talking about ‘the digital’ as ‘other than real’ – the thing that separates us from the world. For me the problem with the digital is the force that drives it (military, state and capital) and I guess I’m kind of going down a route where in theory I’m fighting for ‘digital rights’, the digital itself is just another emerging media, like the printing press was when Bibles were the only books to be printed. This work is the beginning of what I think will be a longer commitment to the digital as an ecology in its own right to be understood as an extension of the physical, rather than a removed data field.

I picked up on a comparison between the immaterial image and ghosts, or spectral digital identities – is this reading as you intended?

Yes. This sort of links back to my interest in myth. One of the reasons I’m interested in applying the idea of myth to the digital comes from their shared immateriality. In contemporary western society, matter generally takes precedence over the immaterial, hence the internet being some kind of ‘virtual’ reality. For the KhoiSan people, traditionally there was no division between mind and body, space and time and even dead and living – a worldview that, to me, both prefigures and recalls the digital. In the digital, history is always now or uncertain. The end is transitional, and so what we leave behind of digital evidence of our existence is indeterminate. Ghost translated into Danish is ‘genfærd’ which translated directly means gen = re and færd = journey. I like that definition of a ghost. The journey that repeats.

How did you make the imagery for the video – was it all done within the screen (ie. through graphics and found material) or did you film anything yourself (using a camera)?  

I usually pick up certain elements (video and sound) that anchor with the main idea. I then translate those elements through a number of editing tools, I guess to see what happens when those translations are compared and how meanings are linked to their mode of representation. It usually involves filming, making 2D and 3D animation, and processing found material. Eventually those elements start connecting, sometimes they don’t and then they have to go. Making ‘KhoiSan Medicine’ was a very different process from what I usually do in that I was lucky to get the opportunity to work in the studio of UEL (University of East London) which both meant I could be a bit more ambitious with what images I could achieve but also that I had to plan everything out beforehand. It was terrifying, but it really paid off, I think. Also, it was great to let other people into the work during the shoot, and see this otherwise extremely intimate process from the outside suddenly.

I’m interested in whether you’ve worked with celluloid film before? If so, how did you find the difference in quality of experience or filmmaking?

Briefly many years ago, but never professionally. The materiality and the presence of it fascinates me, and particularly the idea that the images are actually evidence of a place in time, but my way into film making was actually through architecture (i graduated from the Royal Academy of Architecture in Copenhagen in 2004), so my first experience of it was through making stop motion animation exploring temporality in architecture. In that way, I think my videos are made as animations even when they include shot footage; I understand the duration through frames rather than seconds. Also, the way I used video in relation to architecture was often to do with proposing a world that didn’t exist yet, so my relationship with video really hinges on its precarious relationship with depicting the world as it is.

Whose are the voices we hear? Are they reading from a script?

There are three voices, one is Chris Low as I mentioned before and the other two are motion graphics experts presenting the latest plugins and advances in the motion graphics industry. I’ve watched thousands of youtube tutorials, this is how I’ve learnt everything I know about 3D animation and motion graphics. So I know that language very well, and I’ve been struck by how often terms from the digital universe of the programs refer back to the physical world, and how these conversations taken out of context suddenly start to say quite strangely profound things about the physical world. In the original source material, one of the digital experts is presenting a plug-in that you use to make particles. This means making fluids, clouds, dust, sand… etc. anything that moves according to swarm-based dynamics, and I thought that was the perfect counter part to my fascination of the mythical ideas of wind and flow.

It’s interesting how you use the wide-format screen to mirror the space in front of the screen. Did you have an idea of how the viewer would encounter the film (using the two sets of headphones hanging from the ceiling) before you started, or did it come to you later in the process? 

Having the headphones in the space as a mirror of the video was something I decided quite early on. Practically, the decision of choosing headphones rather than speakers was a response to a logistical constraint. We are four artists in two rooms. And in the end I think this constraint was very helpful in driving the work. Having the headphones there as a mirror is a way of implicating the audience in the work and of extending the video into the space of the gallery. With youtube and vimeo being the primary platform for watching videos today, I think it’s important to emphasise the unique situation of actually watching this thing in a room, and that this is where this particular video works and belongs. I also like the way the hanging headphones stage the viewers wearing them, as being weirdly attached to the work with this pseudo umbilical chord. As for the wide-screen format, I knew from the beginning that there was going to be a lot of flow in it, and so it seemed suitable with a very wide and horizontal space for this to happen.

Anne Haaning 'Khoisan Medicine', 2014

 

The headphones seem to be an extension of the flow depicted in the film. But I’m curious about the two ‘dead heads’ pictured next to the head we see doing what we’re doing: They’re very cinematic! Has their wind expired? What do you mean when you say (in the notes accompanying the film) that digital bodies can have a more lasting presence than bodies?

In this constellation it’s clear which of the three is ‘the original’, but really, they’re all copies. As you say two of them are ‘dead heads’, but all three heads are doing exactly the same and are ‘made of’ exactly the same immaterial stuff; the only important difference is that two of them aren’t staring back at us. I suppose they are a bit further down the digital chain of transition. Their non-existent gaze kind of reminds me of the feeling I get when faced with ancient greek marble sculptures. They’re oblivious to the world, how ever much it’s changed and even when they lose their limbs. I think the same goes for the digital.

‘KhoiSan Machine’ by Anne Haaning, alongside the three other new works in the  Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ exhibition is on show at Jerwood Space, London until 27 April 2014. The exhibition will also be installed concurrently at CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow between 4 – 21 April 2014.

Affective viewing: Interview with Lucy Clout

22 Mar

Lucy Clout 'The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips' 2014

Over the past few weeks I’ve exchanged online videos and emails with Lucy Clout, one of the four artists participating in the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ (WWTSM?) exhibition, the first stage of a major awards-giving process for moving-image artists in the first five years of their practice, a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella.

Hi Lucy

I’ve been looking for a starting point for our video conversation. So far I’ve come up with three online videos. They’re all artworks, but that wasn’t necessarily intentional. I was thinking about a theme in your previous work – how the experience of watching can produce (non-cognitive) affects in the body. I’m curious if this is what you’re looking at in your new video for ‘WWTSM?’ – some sort of fleeting encounter or feeling, drawn out a while longer? Or is it more to do with how actions are produced from those affects – however minor or incidental, like the words the extras are miming? Feel free to pick a video to respond to, or all, or none. Look forward to hearing more about the new piece and starting our discussion.

Joyce Weiland and Michael Snow, 'Dripping Tap' 1969

Mark Leckey 'Pearl Vision' 2012

 

Hi Shama

I’ll leave out the slowness disclaimer.

It is friday night and I am sat at home waiting for parts of the new work to render. It is my sneaking hope that a title will come out of these conversations, but y’know no pressure…

The Joyce Wieland and Michael Snow is so very much ASMR. Except I guess you had to watch it in a room with other people, just like those same audiences had to watch porn in a porn theatre. The past was disgusting, no?

‘Fleeting and sub cognition’, yes there’s some of that in the new work I think/hope. It’s odd to write about it at this stage, hard to distinguish between what the work is and what it was going to be. I use a voiceover which might be recognisable to some and images of a beach that is not just any beach. These aren’t cameos, the voice and the place aren’t used to bestow status, the mild recognition is to be an experiential entry point for audience. It’s manipulative.

Manipulation Under Anesthesia

Speaking of which (ha) here is some of what I am looking at for my next work; manipulation under anaesthesia. here and (1.25) and here, those images of the unconscious body being moved in those odd ways for their own good are just fascinating; horrifying though funny at points too.

I can’t even look at those red trousers. I used to play the drums as a teenager, did I tell you that? I wasn’t good at it and I was particularly not good at it when others were watching. okay I am on the edge of just telling anecdotes, which is an annoying default of mine, so I am going to press send so at least I’ve begun.

 *

Those videos are horrific! And those people are mad – it’s like watching somebody falling down awkwardly over and over, only at the (over-excited? mauling?) hands of others. The patients must wake up horribly bruised, no? For once I’m on the side of the insurance companies – one of the stated risks of MUA being ‘an increase in pain’ is surely decisive? Are these videos for educational purposes? Or where do you place this video on the ASMR > S&M scale of emerging spectatorship?!

I’m really interested in the difference you pick up on between videos which work better watched in a room with others and the experience of watching solo, behind your own screen. How will people see the finished video in the gallery – will there be headphones or speakers? (I’m quite enjoying the freedom of knowing my audience – talking to you by email rather than posting straight to the blog. Maybe I should include the NSA spooks in my unknown known audience??).

I can imagine how the voiceover and the familiarity of that voice, and the ‘not just any beach’ draw the viewer in, in an instinctive way rather than through rational instruction. For those who recognise these hooks, they become implicated in the work, through the coincidence of their own memory. But I guess something else happens with those who don’t recognise those elements. One reason I included ‘Pearl Vision’ by Mark Leckey in the last message was because he describes it as a self-portrait, I guess Leckey’s identification with this brand of drum is, for people who know about it, to also share in his affinity with it. For me the risk is of people not recognising those things. I guess then the clues would have a different, unintended effect? Despite not knowing much about drums (and despite his red trousers!) I still appreciated ‘Pearl Vision’ as a paean to something held dear.

*

I imagine those videos are mainly watched by people desperate to regain mobility, there seem to be links from pain forums or sites about specific conditions. The combination of the authoritative medical (dangerous!) anaesthesia with the always-a-bit-suspicious chiropractor is particularly interesting to me. Would I believe in the healing possibilities of a chiropractor more or less if they had the full operating theatre set up? Over excited mauling- I love that. There’s something about one body handling another, one body the authority on the other. I don’t know how they fit into the world, there’s a fair bit of horror/glee in the comments about the sound of the body cracking, but I suppose it mainly talks to people’s desires to be mobile and understand the physiology of the body externally.  I am sure there is something of the drug rapist in the watching of it (and god knows I can’t face doing that google search), but I am interested in the subjectivity/experience where watching one of those videos might lead you to having this procedure, the decision to temporarily hand over your body.

Yeh it’s funny because I feel like almost everything is better watched at home, except 3d, blockbusters and art video. I wonder if this is partly describes my own comfort with the gallery space? What an unexpected thought. Also you know I am just your sham audience right? All this is fakery, like when you fancy someone and try to have hilarious conversations in their vicinity? I am going for quick and jocular whilst trying to hide my feelings of narcissism. And you?

In the Leckey thing (who I think is generally an amazing artist -I say to the imagined audience, and indeed to Mark Leckey who is probably reading this knee to knee with the NSA spooks) that lone drum drives me crazy. It seems like such a status object, all macho and smooth and fulfilling a fantasy only available to this man, a thing advertised to him, the word “paradiddle” hanging over it all. VOM. I want to watch a fat body, an old body, actual genitals or maybe some huge fuck off pubes, anything other than a slightly older yet still financially viable body expressing itself via a literally shiny new object of status, an object which wants this man’s attention. I think the work assumes not that you know the brand of snare but his brand, his earring, etc etc.

But I think maybe my work isn’t clear of that trap either.  I want that voice and that beach to activate a type of reading and bring forward these very known background objects (repeated at least twice daily). However I am aware of the risk that their position as disposable culture could be understood as part of the tedious reverse-snobbery use of pop culture that has filled review sections and dating profiles for the past 20 years. I really can’t bear for that to be how the work is understood. I don’t think these soaps are hilariously naff, or that my attention to them is democratic. They are rich and omnipresent and describe both a culture and a set of desires. I do like that grubby keyboard and mac in that Leckey work.

Here is my only link, a crane building a crane:

*

Thanks for that nice intermission! I like time lapse and have recently discovered the mesmerizing qualities of tilt shift (the cars are life size! Trust me).

I’m interested in how ‘minor speech’ and the disfluencies which interest you might have a more, resonant or horizontal affect – rather than an argument which would be more targeted. Previously, we’ve emailed about Silvia Federici and affective labour, which engages both our rational intellect as well as our feelings in an exchange. Typically air stewards and call centre workers epitomize this shift from mechanical to ‘feminised’ service economies. Now the ASMR you draw attention to in your previous work ’Shrugging Offing’ (2013) complicates this as the actual exchange between the videomaker and the viewer is less obvious and more performative?

Lucy Clout ‘Shrugging Offing’ 2013 (trailer)

You were the first to tell me about online therapy, which I couldn’t help thinking about when I watched ‘Her‘ recently – have you seen it? It struck me that, increasingly, therapy is available to us as a consumable form, rather than something more lasting – we’re ok until we need the next update!  (In a less narcissistic, more urgent way, how you describe how the back pain sufferers might be prompted to impart their agency to those crazed chiropractors, is a selflessness quite apart from conventional therapy.)

I wonder, as the economy becomes progressively touchy feely and peripheral (the internet of things etc.) there’ll be less and less direct, or argumentative communication and it will be harder to distinguish fading memories of a certain Merseyside accents and Australian beaches we’ve never visited but remain in our vernacular. I think, as I understand it, your focus is very timely identifying the axis on which these things are turning on.

Anyway, all this talk before I’ve actually seen the new video, which I’m sure will prompt a host more ideas and questions for you.

Did you decide on a title?

*

I’ve never had Skype therapy but I imagine it to be very practical for some people. The idea of the lone chair with tissues beside it waiting to be activated seem no less problematic to me. I’m both intrigued and horrified by the art on the walls of therapists’ offices, these images which someone else imagines will be cognitively or emotionally useful to the imagined patient…. I’d much rather be in my own surroundings with the familiar distraction of the laptop. I don’t think that therapy really works in this country anyway, since the NHS is financially unable to offer the kind of long-term relationship that seems necessary and yet the idea of paying for medicine is both alien and humiliating.  I have had this long term plan to make an expanded documentary about the peculiar situation of the big old beast that is the NHS taking on the American secular Buddhist practice of mindfulness – socialized medicine using this individualized meditative practice because medical trials proved it financially viable. It’s such a curious case study of how the state deals with the bodies of its citizens. Particularly when looking at the interpretations of mindfulness that stress acceptance and place the power/burden of health back onto the consciousness of the individual.

It is hard to imagine that there will be less touch in the future (there will always be children and their grabby hands) also since I’ve been thinking a lot about how touch and minor speech are often interchangeable, I think that the desire for touch expressed on the internet doesn’t necessarily describe an alienated population but just how strongly people’s desire for it is.

The video is called ‘The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips’. I’d been saving Her until after the work was finished, and now it is finished so I’m going to go on Sunday night.  What do you think of the actual work now you’ve seen it? Does it resemble what you thought it would be in these conversations?

Bonne voyage

X x x

 *

Hello from sunny Vancouver!

I think you’re right to point out that these online alternatives to the physical encounter aren’t necessarily a lesser experience. Lest we forget that the porn industry has driven the rise of the internet and most popular screen media. Indeed, online therapy could be a viable option for the NHS – a cheaper way of offering longer term therapy? But no doubt demand is higher than ever and they’re too far down the line with that stopgap style ‘mindfulness’ therapy train to change course now.

And of course filmmaking is this very proxy we’ve been circling around. Seeing the new video, ‘The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips’, I realize it wasn’t important to have seen, or to remember the details of this never-ending soap. The lack of continuity you mention and the dependable regularity of its scheduling was the sense of it I remembered most (perhaps too even those extras who didn’t quite blend in as expected). Not to say I wasn’t aware of watching it in a room with lots of people my age and collectively remembering this easily forgotten part of (lots of) our lives, just more self conscious of it! It was a strange pleasure to see Marilyn again!

I liked how you had to work out the connection between all the elements of the work as if you were a forensic detective, but without needing to make a judgment about what it might all meant – similarly to how the female lip-reader explains her role in the investigation process. I imagine this must have been your experience in the production phase too – working without a script and responding to the different directions the people in the video, and the practicalities of filming sent you in.

Thinking about the other way we use words – as throw-away sounds like ‘yeah’ and ‘um’ – you realize their function is gestural, almost like ‘pre-speech’, rather than trying to persuade or reproduce desire. In your film I felt aware of this even when something was being explained – the way the lip-reader repeated the phrase ‘dead-end-road’ resounded with me quite musically for example. As algorithmic language increasingly tries to pre-empt our desires it seems necessary (to me at least) to be able to distinguish between the two. The way you bring memory into the equation seems quite un-computer-like in this sense – when forgetfulness is one way of dealing with the mass of information we’re so close to all the time.

Not sure if you want to say anything else? If not, congrats and good luck for the opening in Glasgow next month x

‘What Will They See of Me?’ exhibition open!

12 Mar

An exhibition of the four films commissioned for the first stage of the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me? opens to the public today. Over the course of the past six months artists Lucy Clout, Kate Cooper, Anne Haaning and Marianna Simnett have produced the following films from which two artists will then be selected to develop their ideas further as part of the second stage of this annual award.

Each of the artists have approached the theme with remarkably distinct approaches pertaining to their ongoing practice interests. Over the next few weeks I will be speaking to the artists and writing about their works here on the blog, please stay tuned for updates.

Lucy Clout

The Extra’s Ever-Moving Lips 

7 minutes, 40 seconds Digital Video
Represented by Limoncello, London

Kate Cooper

Unknown Species in Full Resolution 

3 minutes, 48 seconds Video

Anne Haaning

KhoiSan Medicine 

12 minutes, 19 seconds HD video

Marianna Simnett

The Udder 

15 minutes, 30 seconds HD video

 

All films commissioned for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’. A collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella, in association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow and University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries. Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.

“The real protagonist is the udder…”: Interview with Marianna Simnett

2 Mar

Production shot, Marianna Simnett, 'The Udder', 2014

I met up Marianna Simnett in the week before filming began on The Udder - her new work for the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’ (WWTSM?) exhibition, the first stage of a major awards-giving process for moving-image artists in the first five years of their practice, a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella.


Shama Khanna: How are you feeling about the shoot?

Marianna Simnett: So much is reliant on these four days to go well, I’m finding the weight of it quite odd – as in heaviness, not the waiting! I’m very excited. There are a lot of unknowns – there are animals and children involved, there’s an element of chaos I’ve chosen. There’s something unpredictable about it, it’s going to be … hopefully good!

Talk me through who’s on the production team – the crew and the cast.

There’s me and the production manager, then a cameraman, a sound person, a lighting person, about five assistants and a friend also joining to keep me in check. There are five cast members – all people who relate to udders… OK, so I’ll talk you through those, there’s the farm manager of a farm in West Sussex where they have implemented robots instead of traditional herding methods. She is the mother and her real nine-year old daughter is the protagonist, although the real protagonist is the udder, which she is the substitute for. There are two brothers who are her siblings, who all met up for the first time yesterday. And there’s the herdsman, who is deaf, who hasn’t met anyone, and again, I don’t know what’s going to happen!

I can talk you through what it’s all about… The film is essentially about the threat of mastitis, an inflammatory disease of the mammary gland. All farms try to stave it off because it can effect milk production. Women get it as well when they breast feed, [the syptoms] can get very severe. It’s a big evil. There are lots of measures in place to stop it from happening as, you know, it’s insidious like any disease: you can be hosting it without showing any of the symptoms.

[The film] is partly about a pursuit into the anatomy of the udder down to a molecular level, at the same time it’s also about chastity (MS laughs) – this is where the young girl comes in. She plays a girl who doubles up as the udder. Her nose, which she tries to see the end of, by crossing her eyes repeatedly (MS demonstrates), like that, also doubles up as the end of the teat. [I was imagining] Something about horizontality, but also looking down. The udder has this gravitational pull, it is so forced to be pointing down towards the mud, like an index finger pointing down, that’s why I like it as an object, reminding us about the ground.

Production shot, Marianna Simnett, 'The Udder', 2014

Before I tell you about the narrative let me describe the two locations: There’s the documentary style filming which takes place on the robotic farm and then there’s the studio which is the interior of an udder which will be constructed out of theatrical skrim – a material which has hundreds of tiny holes in it so you can back and front light it. It has this membranous quality – it can be seen through or opaque depending on how you light it. Which for me is a nice minimalist gesture towards a construction which also relates to this skin, or surface. So the room is divided into quarters, like an udder which has four quarters and is hermetic – if one of them becomes diseased the other three remain perfectly fine. It has this beautiful organisation within it …

So an udder has four teats, and they each have their separate section, or…

Chamber, internally they’ve got their own chamber – some things can pass through the walls and some things can’t. It’s more complicated than that, I’ve cut one open myself and it’s not as clean… but that’s pretty much that’s what happens inside. So, the story is that the young girl gets chased out of the interior of the udder by her two brothers who plot against her, and she ends up on the outside of the farm, lost, a bit like ‘The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe’. Meanwhile the mum is on the inside as well, her character is a prudish Victorian [figure], and is always shown behind glass – she’s repressed basically, she can’t get out! Whereas the young girl can get out and wants to and the mum tries to hold her back, and stop her from going outside, because she could be susceptible to disease, because she is the udder and if it’s outside mud can stick to it which contains bacteria which can develop into mastitis… But in terms of the girl it’s more about sex and chastity, and less about disease.

Then the herdsman character, he’s deaf, he is a 24 hour herdsman in real life. He oversees things. He needs to live very near the farm in case one of the robots goes wrong and he has to go and fix it. So his job is labour, well, lack of labour but he needs to be present all the time. This is what’s happening with the change in agriculture – humans don’t need to work as hard as before but they need to be there. He’s this all-seeing omnipotent guy, and he recognises that something’s going to happen to the girl. He’s the only one who can go outside He’s got a spiritual presence – he can see more, but hear less. The end of the story is that she cuts off her nose.

[Sharp intake of breath!]

She finds a blade in the mud which is the same blade that will be used for a post-mortem on an udder – I’ve got the blade on me, I can show you! So cutting off her nose is a reference to the nun, St Æbbe who cut off her nose to spite her face because the Danes were invading and she didn’t want to lose her virtue.

Is that where that phrase comes from?

Yes, I think so. So Simon, the herdsman, has an alarm that goes off, but because he’s deaf he can’t hear it, so sometimes his wife has to elbow him! In the film he does miss the scene of her cutting off her nose, and returns to the udder to tell the two boys who then discuss what will happen to her. The older one thinks she will be fine because she has inherent chastity and the power to stave off danger of the worst kind, and the younger brother, who’s more practical thinks because she’s really pretty people will flirt with her.

15 second film clip, Pier Pasolini, 'The Gospel According to St. Matthew', 1964 (click to watch)

She does get seduced, by herself, wearing red lipstick, but Simon heals her before she goes back into the udder. Maybe you’ve seen the miracle scene in The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1964) by Pasolini? It’s a bit naff but basically a leper is cured by the word of God… So the herdsman heals her with his words and she returns to the udder as if nothing’s happened but her lipstick is smudged – while she seduces herself she applies and wipes off lipstick, in a Brechtian [performative] sense . By the end of the scene she’s smudged, you don’t know if she’s good or bad. And that’s it!

Wow!

When you were at the proposal stage did you know about all the intricacies of the script?

Not really. I’d heard about this method called decapitation secretion, which is where a portion of cells in the udder pinches off and becomes milk – so I was interested in the brief of  ’WWTSM? where you have to martyr a bit of yourself, in order to be yourself, in a paradoxical way. So in the cells themselves they’re ridding themselves of themselves in order to become the milk we drink. So that turned into the decapitation of the nose, and it all folded into itself quite naturally.

Do you see this as a pilot for a longer piece?

Yes, it’s a pilot – I’d like to work with the same people again. If I did get through to the second round I would make it more about mastitis having occurred rather than it being an outside threat. This film is more about cleanliness and trying to maintain order. (MS pulls out a text book and shows me pictures of some infected udders) It would be more an investigation into the actual disease itself. It is a metaphor about our relationship to technology and other things, so I’m not done with it. Here’s a really gruesome one, look…

Do you feel you need to know that level of detail about the biology of the udder?

I don’t need to no, but something happened at the end of my MA when I started looking at brains – I read a  book by Catherine Malabou about trying to become conscious of the consciousness our brains – the organ has a type of psyche. Thinking about science not being opposed to psychoanalysis – a new branch emerged called neuro-psychoanalysis which merges the two. So organs aren’t just boring things in books – they actually contain a jewel … I feel like it’s shunned because it’s boring and too stiff, I’d like to shake it up a bit – to marry it with something that’s more fictional and energised.

Have you read about Object Oriented Ontology?

Not really, I don’t really like buzz terms. It’s like when we were all talking about ‘affect’ on my MA .… it felt very institutionalised, but now I’m out of it I feel I can dip in and out of it. Why do you ask?

Well, I think of WWTSM? as a type of othering – viewing yourself from an undisclosed point. I imagine organs and animals, things which we have a conception of according to their functionality being re-read through this new type of philosophy. I’m interested in how much is [the story] your imagination, or facts, or your experience? Do you feel through your filmmaking, you’re constructing a type of consciousness?

Production shot, Marianna Simnett, 'The Udder', 2014

There are personal experiences in it. Even down to the story of not being able to play outside, that happened, and the crossing the eyes – it did used to frustrate me that that was the only part of the face that you could see – it felt wrong! There are so many brilliant things that happen when you allow a project to completely dominate you, and that’s what it’s done.

Why an udder? It’s a strange thing to isolate from a cow, but I guess it has the most relevance to us… 

I’m trying to take away the panto-quality from it. I liked it because of how heavy it was, how it looked severed from the body. Like it had almost dropped outside of the tummy, organs are meant to be inside.

Apart from one… the phallus!

OK, yes. But something’s not right about it, it’s supposed to be tucked up! Anyway, hopefully I can do something that won’t make people snigger. The udder’s weird because it also looks really phallic at times, it’s got both genders, I feel it’s like an asexual object.

Why is it a symbol of chastity?

It’s not. I made that up! Also it’s a lie I like because also the only way a cow can produce milk is to feed a calf, so it can’t be. There’s a wrongness about the facts I quite like. Have you heard of the Sworn Virgins from Albania? They are women who dress as men and swear an oath of chastity to their neighbours. It’s how fiction, drag or role-play can become actualised within a society despite everyone knowing they’re not. So in relation to your question – is an udder chaste? No, it’s definitely had to have sex, but if we say it is then maybe it can be, in a drag kind of way. Just because we say so.

So far you’ve been working on the conceptionalisation and the logistics of the project, how will the next of week of the production go?

The first day in the studio we’ll build the set with the crew, then we’ll spend the next day shooting, everyone’s coming, then there’ll be two days on the farm. The last day will be just me and a friend collecting little things – filming udders and things like that. I’ve written a song as well! It’s about mastitis and chastity, she’s going to be singing it as a solo / duet with herself in front of the robot, and the chugging of the machine will provide the beat. A little ditty…

*

The pictures were collected during the following week’s filming – from the shoot in the Docklands studio and on the farm in West Sussex.

The Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’, are a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella in association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, and supported by University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries.  Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.

Images: Marianna Simnett’s The Udder (2014), courtesy of Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Charitable Foundation.

‘What Will They See of Me?’

28 Feb

What Will They See of Me?’ (‘WWTSM?’) is the thematic title of the second edition of the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards. The four projects by artists Lucy CloutKate Cooper, Anne Haaning and Marianna Simnett respond to the question by considering the importance we continue to attach to individual expressions of personal identity when the circulation, and consumption of images and data within an on- and off-line attention economy has never been greater.

The application process for the Awards was open during May – July 2013 to artists within the first five years of their professional practice. The selection panel included artist Ed Atkins, who was previously selected for the first edition of the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards and Catherine Wood, Curator of Contemporary Art & Performance at Tate Modern as well as curators and directors from the host organisations. For the first stage of the Awards the four selected artists were each given bursaries to make new works to be exhibited at the Jerwood Space in London between 12 March – 27 April 2014. Two of the four artists will then be selected to develop their works into full-scale commissions with an award of £20,000 each. From 4 – 21 April the exhibition will show concurrently at CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow as part of Glasgow International 2014.

As the new Writer in Residence, I will be posting about the Awards on this blog, following the artists’ thought and production processes up to the ‘WWTSM?‘ exhibitions in London and Glasgow opening in the coming month.

The Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards: ‘What Will They See of Me?’, are a collaboration between Jerwood Charitable Foundation and Film and Video Umbrella in association with CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, and supported by University of East London, School of Arts and Digital Industries.  Film and Video Umbrella is supported by Arts Council England.

Conversations overhea(r)d

21 Feb

The sound I think it makes is, is that whispering sound, to me it sounds, it almost sounds, um, uh, what’s the word I’m thinking? Um, like historic, not historic, but, um, oh: a legend, it, it sounds like a legend, you know, when you think of a legend or something way back in the past you get that, that, it sounds like that to me, like this legend or somebody’s, this whispering sound: it’s a legend.

Hannah Rickards

**

I’m sitting in what feels like a dark, warm box. There’s no one else in it, and I’ve sunk into the ground on a beanbag. A loudspeaker stands in each corner of this box, or den, and ahead is a monitor through which Chris Watson’s voice is walking me down a Kielder forest path. The trees are dark. We come to a little stone bridge, and Watson’s voice dissolves away, the monitor fades to black, and the space plunges into darkness.

**

I went home and started reading about ravens. I came across a photograph of them roosting on an abandoned US Nike radar dome. I read Edgar Allen Poe’s magnificent narrative poem, The Raven (“But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only/That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.”) In numerous books and journal articles, linguists have tried, with various strange, gnarled compositions of letters to evoke the raven’s rich and textural voice. Robert MacFarlane uses gorrack gorrack (they always seem to be circling above him in his books) and anonymous experts on Wikipedia write their own attempts. Prrk Prrk. I found a YouTube video called ‘Raven sounds creepy, ungodly‘, which might be one of my favourite film titles ever.

Manet's illustration for Poe's Le Corbeau, published in 1875 and translated by Mallarmé

**

In February 2014, Jerwood Visual Arts announced that one of their two Open Forest commissions would be awarded to Chris Watson and Iain Pate’s remarkable proposal, to reinstate a raven roost, using ambisonics, into Kielder in Northumberland, the largest man-made forest in Europe. The other commission was awarded to Semiconductor, who I wrote about here.

**

In early February, before the announcement was made, I had a conversation with Chris about his proposal.

You are inviting people to come deep into the Kielder forest, to stand and listen to the sounds of ravens returning to roost. How do you imagine this will unfold? 

The ravens come to roost at the end of the day, and although they are quite independent creatures, they do assemble en masse, and from a bioacoustic point of view, it’s believed that they exchange information about food and resources. In my proposal, while standing there, you’ll gradually lose what for most people is their main sense – vision – and I’m hoping that all the dark connotations of the forest, filled as it is with folk stories and myths and legends, will return to people while they are standing there.

The accompanying walk into the sound installation is also very important. You’ll walk up trails, through the mixed deciduous woodland, and then slowly enter the valley of the river Cottonhopesburn. There’s a mature conifer plantation, and by that point you’ll be into the darkest part of the forest, and it’ll loom all around you. We wanted it to be there because the sound changes, the acoustics of the forest change.

Then, we’ll cross a small stone bridge, quiet, and over the next fifty minutes, the piece will evolve. By that point, I hope that people will be tuned in to the natural sounds of the place. The idea of the piece is that the arrival of the ravens will be seamless with the already existing soundscape of the forest, and so darkness is innate to the whole process. After the piece finishes, people will be led out by torch light.

And what’s your own history with the ravens? Are these birds that you’ve recorded and listened to before? 

In 2007 I had a commission from Bergen, in Norway, to make a piece celebrating the centenary of the famous norwegian composer, Edvard Grieg. He famously documented local folk music, often writing it down in the cabin at the back of his house, which was a place where he was very much influenced by birdsong. The birds found their way into his pieces, but not in the way that they did in the composer Messiaen’s work, where he tried to imitate birdsong, but rather that Grieg was definitely influenced by his surroundings, and the voices of the ravens were prominent for him. In Norway, ravens are very powerful totemic birds. Like in the story of Odin suggests – where the Norse god sent his two ravens across the world to collect information for him – the Norwegians still have a lot of respect for ravens. They’re unique in that they span both the animal world and the spirit world.

Edvald Grieg, The Raven’s Wedding, from ’25 Norwegian Folk Songs and Dances’

Later, almost out of coincidence, I was travelling in Ethiopia, where the white-necked raven are often found nesting in the stone-carved churches in Lalibela. After that, I was recording a festival in Timkat, and I learnt from the local people that ravens are also regarded there as powerful spirit birds. They kept cropping up! I went to a sacred mountain in Japan, where I did a residency at the Kitakyushu centre for contemporary art, and there again there were fascinating stories about ravens. Here in this country, there are ravens in the tower of london, but nowadays they have to clip their wings apparently if they fly away, the monarchy will fall…

18th century Icelandic manuscript depicting the god Odin with his ravens, Hugin and Munin

In a lot of places they’re seen as birds of evil omen, particularly in Scotland, because they would stalk the battlefields and feed on the carrion of dead soldiers. Much earlier in Scottish and Norse mythology, they were also seen as birds that would carry the spirits of dead people into Valhalla.

But under all this rich mythology and legend, and on a much simpler level, they just have remarkable voices.

Studies of their voices suggest that they demonstrate ‘object displacement’ – that they can communicate about things distant in time and space, which only bees, humans and ants are proven to do. To return to the mythology, and particularly the Odin narrative which has circulated from as early as the 5th century, early cultures imagined that ravens were able to reap information, and to retell it. It seems as though myth might have quite accurately prefigured what science would later confirm.  

Quite often, folklore is surprisingly accurate, and based on fact, because people generations before us were much better at listening. To give an example from my own experience: when ravens find a food resource, whether it be a grain store or a dead animal, the next day there might be 20 ravens back there, but never more than the amount of food that’s available. They are obviously sharing information, not only about the location of it, but how much there was. That’s incredibly sophisticated, like the waggle dance in bees. Ancient societies could obviously hear the rhythms of their voices, and interpreted that something more complex was occurring.

Time is a key element in your proposal too: mythical time returns and bleeds into contemporary narratives; ancient time, and the cyclical time of the ravens returning each year to roost all gives a powerful sense that we are only fleeting visitors, temporary in this world. Your proposal seems to emphasise this.  

That’s a very good summation of my thoughts, in many respects. The whole point of the piece is that from the moment people cross the bridge into the raven roost, by the very look of the place – the tall mature trees, and because the speakers are placed high-up in the canopy – it will sound like ravens in the halls of Valhalla. It will have a cathedral-like acoustic. I hope that it will send a tingle down peoples spines, that it will activate an innate sense within us, an animal instinct, of being in the dark, being rather at a disadvantage, but hearing the birds that have been in the forest for thousands of years, having a conversation directly overhead. At first, you might be anxious, unsure, but you re-emerge slightly altered, along with others, collectively, and then go and resume your normal life. I like that idea of a changing process.

It feels like the kind of listening you are encouraging – an embedded, close-listening of the landscape – is an ancient practice. Today, we’re completely submerged in sound, but it’s very hard to listen. 

As a species, we’ve evolved with such sophistication because we’re good listeners. It was vital to our survival. What’s happened now is that we’re bombarded by sound and noise, and so we no longer get an opportunity to listen, or to interpret it. If you ring your bank, they’ll play music at you. There are constantly aircraft above us – helicopters, planes, computers, lighting systems. We spend a lot of time, negative energy, processing power, shutting these things out, simply to concentrate on our day-to-day life. But if you take people to a place where they can really open their ears, it becomes a very creative function. You start to tune in and it engage your brain in a different way – it stimulates the limbic region of your brain, which is linked to creativity, emotion and memory. So this isn’t a soporific exercise. It’s something we need. It’s not an artistic whim, we need to listen for our psychological health and wellbeing.

Quietness is paramount to creativity. A place to go and rest your thoughts.

Land art 2.0: a conversation with Hayley Skipper

5 Feb

Within Jerwood Visual Arts there are five proposals. From sawmills to ravens, to the tinnitus ringing in your ears amid a dense silence, each artist selected for the Open Forest has developed a unique proposal, the bones of a commission that could later exist somewhere in Britain’s forests. Using video, ambisonics, live performance and data drawings, the artists have created protean forms – suggestions of what might be to come. The commission is unique in that it straddles two very different environments, and in doing so raises questions about the places in which contemporary visual arts practice operate.

In the 1960s the term ‘Land art’ emerged, signalling a practice that existed outside the gallery walls. At that time, in the pages of Artforum and The New York Times, critics and artists alike spoke of their disillusionment of the commercialisation and insularity of the gallery. Ecological and environmental concerns activated a new anxiety and call for a new kind of outside engagement. In 1967, the then 22-year-old Saint Martin’s student Richard Long walked across a field back and forth, marking a track in his wake. The piece, A Line Made by Walking (1967) now seems to characterise the fine-drawn, romantic nature of much of the Land art that followed, a movement that often produced ephemeral works which could instantly disappear, engulfed or washed away, operating in a grey area between performance, installation and sculpture. Similarly, David Tremlett’s piece The Spring Recordings (1972) captured a snippet of sound from each of the 81 counties that make up England, Scotland and Wales. A close-listening on a huge scale.

In the catalogue for the 2013-2014 touring exhibition Uncommon Ground: Land Art in Britain 1966-1979 , the curators Joy Sleeman, Nicholas Alfrey and Ben Tufnell write that Harald Szeemann’s 1969 exhibition When Attitudes Become Form arguably encapsulated a significant moment in contemporary art, but that the show’s subtitle – ‘Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information’ – indicates a set of concerns shared by the artists who were moving their work out into the open. In this sense, Land art did not, and perhaps still does not, differ conceptually from work produced within the urban, gallery context, but rather it is characterised by an attitude to the outside world.

 

© the artist. Anthony McCall, Landscape for Fire, 1972. Gift of the artist and Spruth Magers Gallery, London

 

In the Jerwood Open Forest exhibition, it occurred to me that this might be a Land art 2.0 (forgive me the cliched term…), less concerned with large-scale material propositions, but perhaps evidence of a new attitude which incorporates the technological and visual forms of mediation through which we now encounter the outside world. In January 2014, I spoke with Hayley Skipper, the Forestry Commission’s art curator, who spends most of her time travelling between forests engaging in projects with artists, locals and visitors. We spoke about some of the ideas around the project, and what it means to present an artwork both in an urban setting, and in the deepest darkest forests…  

 

It struck me that what appears in the gallery has some relationship with Land art , but that the works build on and expand that artistic history, and are moving elsewhere…

I think the fact that we are only offering a £30,000 commission does have some sway in this. Not that you can’t produce a piece of Land art for that amount, but I think that does affect the sense of scale. For the final five selected for the Jerwood Open Forest, we wanted this to be a more public work than perhaps they would normally produce. It wasn’t a deliberate – we didn’t decide to ‘take the digital outdoors’ – but we haven’t been afraid to embrace new technologies. It’s actually quite a tech-heavy show. I think that does say something about where art practice is at. The artists are all in differing ways attempting to capture the immateriality of the forest, too. That seems to be thematic; that sense of something happening in a moment, of performance, of temporality – and how possible it is to capture things through film and visual documentation. All the artists have been thinking about the legacy of the work too, so in that way too it has brought in the history of Land art and how it does often live on through film, rather than through a primary experience of being there.

 

The artists don’t seem necessarily to be interested in ‘installing’ something into a place, but exploring how they might be able to change the atmosphere, or change the sensation of being in the forest.

Even with work that isn’t sculptural or land-based, well, anything at all in our culture now, not just visual art practice, it’s mostly all now mediated by devices, digital technology, visual media… We were trying to acknowledge the different spheres in which works sit, and travel. But of course, we are also conscious of our audience. We are thinking about how this commission sits within the various geographies across Britain, but it also wasn’t entirely about people going out into the forests, but also bringing the forest into the contemporary art milieu.

 

Is there still a political dimension, in general, in the act of artists and artworks moving outside of the gallery? I’m thinking of the way the 1960s Land art movement was characterised as ‘in opposition’ to something. 

In many ways it’s a recognition of the artists who are operating outside the gallery, but also an encouragement to those who are – it’s a provocation in some way. Critical practice can happen anywhere, it’s just a case of broadening our understanding of ‘anywhere’. Part of the reason we have included the exhibition in the Open Forest format, is because we didn’t want to set it up as an exclusive thing centred around a rejection of the gallery. We wanted to operate in both those languages.

 

Is this a process you have worked with before?

I trained in Fine Art at Wimbledon in London, and then went on to study sculpture, so I suppose I’ve arrived at curating from a practitioners perspective. I used to work a lot in the outdoors, and I also ran projects with students which were all about taking the institutional capital of the university and transplanting that into the community, or into a wider environment. I’m primarily interested in that intersection. Like now, for example, I’m working with the fact that the Forestry Commission isn’t an arts organisation, but I’m exploring the exchange between the non-art institution and artists, and what they do, and how audiences experience that. That’s the theme that runs through everything I do. As a practitioner, it was precisely the negotiation part which interested me. I worked a lot collaboratively, and that very broadly is key to my role now, and to this project here.

 

A typical interviewer’s question, but I’ll ask it anyway: was there an artwork which first inspired you to work in this way?  

The moment that immediately springs to mind is when I first saw the Turner Prize on TV. At that point, I didn’t really know what it what was, but Rachael Whiteread had just finished her Artangel commission, House (1993). It just seemed to be to be such a radical thing to do; to make sculpture in that way, so completely rooted in its context, and yet still a formal sculptural proposition but which couldn’t be separated from its landscape and its context – and its time. I think that was definitely a moment when I realised, wow, art can do that. Art can stand alone and make a statement, for itself, about a time and a place. That was definitely a landmark. It still feels exciting, even thinking about it now.

Hugo Young, The Guardian, 25 November 1993:
“In the East End of London, Rachel Whiteread’s architectural sculpture, House, has been voted into destruction. House is a modern masterpiece. In it an ingenious idea is realised with great evocative power. Taking a derelict dwelling, Whiteread has turned it inside out by casting the interior in liquid concrete then removing the bricks. What is left is a monument to past domesticity, a coarse yet intricate edifice, alone in the space it once occupied with a hundred similar residences. It satisfies contemplative as well as aesthetic taste. Once seen, it makes you look at all houses in a new way.

 

House, 1993, Rachel Whiteread. Artangel commission, photograph by John Davies.

 

Since that time, do you feel that because we engage with culture through new and changing digital means, this has meant that we engage with outside spaces less, or differently? In your role for the last six years, have you noticed a difference?

I’m not sure. I think there is definitely something different in how we experience landscapes and the outdoors, and our notions of the outdoors, which is mediated through our cultural and technological consumption. On one level, I think that excellent television programming, cinema, digital projects which allow us a certain access to the environment when we are unable to explore them first hand actually expand our horizons. But there is also another dimension, which is on a more pragmatic level. I see many people arrive at the forests bewildered because their sat-nav doesn’t work, and they have no phone signal. They can’t ‘plug in’. But it may also be a big part of why people come at all, because they don’t want to spend an afternoon on the Internet.

You can read more about Forest Art Works, and other Forestry Commission projects here

 

A technological sublime: Semiconductor

24 Jan

On Wednesday 22nd of January I took a trip to Brighton to visit Semiconductor. Amidst sheets of data drawings pinned to the walls, computer screens, stacks of carbonised paper, bicycles and digital etching equipment, we talked about their proposal for the Jerwood Open Forest, which was exhibited throughout January and February 2014 at Jerwood Visual Arts, London. For more films, photographs and writing, visit their website.

 

What is your proposal for the Jerwood Open Forest commission, and how does it relate to the tower that is currently standing in the gallery?

We want to make a wooden sculpture – a two-metre sphere – created and shaped using data compiled from four different instruments from the flux tower at the Alice Holt Research station, in the South Downs National Park. We’d like to take the data and create something tangible with it. The sphere will be composed of triangular wooden tiles, and each one of them is inscribed with a different piece of data. Our installation at the Open Forest exhibition is a recreation of the flux tower, with video playing from the tower’s two cameras – one on the floor of the forest looking up, and one at the canopy looking down. The scientists use these to monitor leaf change, colouration, and mutation.

And what is the data evidence of?

The forest is actually ‘experimental’ – they are growing oak trees specifically for research purposes, which is a wonderfully romantic idea. The data we’re using is from the flux tower, which examines how much carbon the trees collect and sink into the ground. Climate science is always looking at this process – how carbon is taken out of the atmosphere and transferred. It also collects information on temperature, water and wind direction because forests actually create their own climates and wind systems. They’re called ‘eddies’, which is the flux.

Stills from the cameras attached to the Alice Holt flux tower, installed by Semiconductor at Jerwood's Open Forest, 2014

 

At the beginning of your practice, you were both creating large-scale sculptural works. Does this proposal feel like a return for you both?

After we left college, we didn’t have any space to keep making our large installations. That time coincided with the first generation of domestic computers, so we started looking at those, to see what languages we could develop through working with them. We soon started working with basic, very early 3D software, which suddenly offered us infinite space. That became our studio, and our new sculptural practice. Our earliest digital moving-image pieces were on an architectural, landscape scale. Now, we’re keen to re-introduce a materiality into our work. We want to feel things, although we’ve always played with the relationship between analogue and digital.

A theme which is prominent in your work since the early 2000s is translation, or conversion: taking one set of data and inscribing it into a different form, or making an image a sound, or a sound into an image.

The term ‘translation’ makes you think that it’s changing from one language to another, but it isn’t always like that. Scientific data becomes abstracted, and we are trying to feel the data. We’re trying to find a language through which to experience the data, through sensation. A kind of sublime.

In our early ‘process works’, we were literally translating sound into images. One piece was called A to Z of Noise (1999). We were using the computer as a third element in our group, which is why we called ourselves Semiconductor. We wanted to make the computer do things which were noisy and messy, to humanise it. In A to Z of Noise we used noise reduction, both for images and sounds. It’s supposed to clean it up, but we applied it to pure noise. We did the same thing to black leader, applying the reduction over and over again.

WATCH: A to Z of Noise (1999)

It feels like there’s a certain romanticism in your works. A lot of it is about making us, as bodies, more sensitive to landscapes – whether digital, material or informational.

It’s a kind of ‘technological sublime’ we realised. So many people presume science is fact, but a lot of the time it’s fiction. We don’t know, but they (the scientists) also don’t know. It’s an unfinished process. Ongoing. We’re interested in creating fluidity between languages and tools. Things don’t need to be so rigid and structured. We are playing with the philosophies of science. There’s so much data being produced all the time, and people assume it isn’t interesting just because it’s immense, and everywhere. But you can release it, or present it in a way that it becomes accessible, and experiential.

In our early work we were quite dystopian – we were dealing with things like earthquakes and climate change. But now we’ve found subtler ways to encourage people to reflect. A good example is the solar wind: it is deadly, and it can kill us (and it’s the reason we still can’t go to Mars), but it’s also awe-inspiring.

WATCH: Black Rain (2009)

Time-based media’ is a term which is increasingly used to refer to cinema and moving-image, and in many of your pieces, ‘time-based’ could refer to geological time, as well as cinematic time and digital time. Playing with time is a key way in which you re-situate your viewer into a greater schema, or system.

That’s one of the reasons we work with moving image. As soon as you play with time, in any medium, it becomes animated. With video you can get really plastic with time. Equally, as soon as you start working with sound, which we very often do, you immediately have something moving in time. You can’t have a ‘still’ of sound. There’s a piece we made called All The Time in the World where we took seismic data and reanimated the landscape it derived from. We used photographs, and then applied different processes to make them seem three-dimensional, and used the sound waves from the seismic data to animate the photographs. It was stripping things right back to the basics of filmmaking, in some ways.

 

Stills from 'All The Time In The World' (2005)

 

How do you see the world in which your works live in? You operate in many spaces, not exclusively the gallery.

We found platforms abroad, often at multimedia festivals where we seemed to share a language with other artists. When we were working exclusively with digital technology, the UK scene seemed to be a bit behind. Then we started putting our work online, from early on, and in that sense we were creating our own audiences. We started our own clubs, and invited musicians and other artists to do short performances. We released our work on DVD around 2001; and as far as we know, we were the first artists to self-release in that way. More recently we’ve returned to the gallery space, because it’s where our language comes from. 

Bodies in Motion

24 Dec

For my last post on the Jerwood blog I’ve written a collaborative text with Joanna Piotrowska about her work. The blog will continue after Christmas with the next Jerwood writer in residence…

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

'XI / FROWST' Silver Gelatin Print, 2012 Joanna Piotrowska

 

The photographs are connected to the histories of contact improvisation, a dance technique in which the physical contact provides the starting point for exploring movement. It is a way of generating empathy and community, the first thing that happens when we start to discipline the body socially is that we remove physical contact, this is most apparent in learning. We start by learning in the sand pit and end it sitting at a desk. Environment dictates forms of bodily behaviour – self control of the body is a primary mechanism for social inclusion. We can also look to the formation of gyms, and sports activities in the 19th century as an effect of industrialism – organising the working body so that it was healthier and more productive.

What can a body do to be safe?

 

“In a state of trust to the body and the earth, we believe that we could learn how to handle the forces involved into physical interactions between two people who permit each other the freedom to improvise. Memory of past judgments tells me that pre-judging is not secure.”

I’m interested in psychological violence and its connotations with love and desire.

The Material Body

A photograph, like a body is able to reproduce itself, embedded in the photographic image is the will towards procreation. The DNA of the analogue image is the negative, each print offers differences in the image – it mutates.

Dance is a language, and as in love, the most beautiful things are said through the body.

 


The Staged Body 

There is a shallow depth of field, shot with a flash that flattens out the image, although the image is shot in domestic and private spaces the image recalls the imagery found on billboards. The theatrical quality of the work creates a form of distance – there is a disjuncture between the tropes of public and private address.

 

 

The Anonymous Body

The faces of the people are anything but blank. They are loaded with emotional intensity which never happens in fashion photography and the “set“ of forced smiles – slightly open lips, particular expression of the eyes – so called “fashion squint” never appears in the work. It is significant that there is a lack of self – confidence that the models possess. The represented figures appear withdrawn, unreachable – they seem to be trapped somewhere else.

 

 

The Repressed Body

“A choreographer who shall remain nameless said: “The body does not Lie”. Such a remark is based on that disgusting old modernist myth bogged down in judeo-christianity. The body is not the sanctuary of truth, authenticity or uniqueness. It is deeply subjugated to culture, politics and history”

Jerome Bell in Conversation with Geral Siegmund.

 

'Untitled', Silver Gelatin Print, 2013 Joanna Piotrowska

The Timeless Body

The photographs remain analogue. Theblack and white image is timeless. There is nothing in these images that help us to place them. They could have been made at any point in the last 50 years. The images have the resolution of a dream. Black and White is more claustrophobic. Content is clearer and bodies are heavier. Black and White invokes nostalgia and longing for the past. Black and white makes the subject more important.

Do photographs document reality or create it? Who is looking at who? To paraphase Diane Arbus, what do these photographs teach us to see? It makes me laugh, we always end up back at beginning, the simple questions are always the hardest to answer. Why do we photograph? Who do we make images for?