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It Can Be Presented As A Story

10 May

Material Girl: An Interview with Sophia Starling

23 Apr

What are the first materials that you recall experimenting with artistically?

All sorts really, anything I could find from sewing materials to bits for drawing and painting.

You did a foundation at Chelsea College before a BA in painting at Camberwell School of Art – were you always confident that painting would be your medium?

At school, I really enjoyed most creative, practical subjects, like art and design technology. On the foundation there was the possibility of trying new things out, which was a relief as I had become quite bored of ‘realistic’ painting.

During my foundation, I was encouraged to apply for textiles because the projects we did came quite easily to me – following a process rather than trying to decide what sort of a painter I was. I think that’s why I’ve developed a method of working now where the process is key to what I do.

I always felt there was something in painting I wanted to explore, and once I was at Camberwell on the Painting BA I knew I was in the right place.

Take me through your process for the works on display at the Jerwood Space.

They all start with one large piece of material and an idea of the sort of structure I want to make (in this instance, a circle or a lozenge).

I wanted to explore different materials for the three pieces at the Jerwood: how a coarse flax linen would compare to a silky herringbone linen or a canvas when being stretched and pulled.

It’s a very physical process: the material is stretched around the outermost stretcher and then layered up, stretching one over the other, so that the supports create not only the surface but also the composition.

Because they are circular shapes it’s a real challenge to get the fabric to stretch perfectly and folds and tucks naturally appear where I try to make the surface as flat as possible.

I then use an oil paint mixture to paint the flat stretched surfaces of the painting in one or two colours. Depending on the piece, the work is then unpeeled or un-stretched, shifted, before being re-stretched again.

The most exciting part is unpeeling the painted surface to reveal the pleated canvas. The result remains unknown until I have the confidence to undo what I have made.

Did the grant allow you to invest in any different equipment or materials?

I bought a router to cut the wooden shaped supports; I used more interesting materials like the herringbone linen and flax which each have very different, interesting qualities; and I invested more into the paints and pigments that I was using which created richer, smoother colours.

Most importantly, the Jerwood fellowship allowed me to have a studio in which to explore these materials.

Do you use research material, of a visual or academic kind, to prepare?

Not really. Like most artists, I look at other artists’ work. But I don’t take photos or base the shapes of the work on any particular image. They really appear through exploring the materials and the process of stretching.

On my BA at Camberwell, I became interested in the potential of abstract painting, around which there’s obviously a wealth of academic material, so I suppose I have used that to bounce off for ideas.

What attracts you to the personality of certain materials, such as oil paint?

Oil paint has a lustrous quality to it that you can’t quite achieve with anything else. Its tactile and rich and mixed with other mediums it makes more of a uniform surface – which I’ve been looking for with my work recently.

Where do your colours come from?

Everywhere really. Sometimes I have a colour in mind before I start an idea. When there is a blank piece waiting for a colour in the studio I start seeking colour everywhere,- it could be some garden railings or once it was a couple that had brightly coloured bags that went really well together. Then I re-create those colours in the studio and match them from memory.

I work in an art materials shop in Bethnal Green (AP Fitzpatrick, an ideal job) and being surrounded by beautiful vibrant pigments means that I find myself thinking about colour all the time.

Simon Bayliss remarked in a recent review of the Jerwood exhibition that your ‘processes appear more dispassionate’ than the nihilistic energies of an artist like Steven Parrino. Would you say this is true?

Yes it’s not a reactionary process but an explorative one.

Susan Sluglett

3 Apr

For all the brash brilliance of her painting, Susan Sluglett is a person of great humility and humour. I met up with her for a cup of tea and the chance to pose a few questions.

Having graduated recently from her second degree, I began by asking Susan about the first time around. A born-and-bred Londoner, she was keen to leave the city after finishing school, and so embarked on a Graphics degree at Bath Academy of Art, which was then located in Corsham, Wiltshire. Finding herself left to her own devices, she spent three years focusing on drawing, gaining the mastery to go on to pursue a career in illustration. There were illustrious moments, not least being commissioned to do the cover design for Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985), which won the author The Whitbread Award. But with the dawn of the digital age, Susan found herself feeling increasingly displaced and work dried up.

Life took her on a sartorial tangent and one maternity cover and a few promotions later, she awoke to find herself the Manager of a branch of Issey Miyake. Realising that this was definitely not the dream, she gave it all up, borrowed ‘an awful lot of money’, and threw herself back into her education, round two. This was 2004. Equipped with a newly-found feeling that ‘deep down I wanted to be a painter’, Susan took two-week courses at The Slade Summer School, which led to a Fine Art Foundation at Kensington and Chelsea College and then a BA in Fine Art Painting at Wimbledon College of Art. At each stage there were whispered words of encouragement from women in the know – notably, the print-maker Oona Grimes at the Slade and the artist and curator Erika Winstone at Kensington and Chelsea – and she is quick to acknowledge these debts of gratitude.

Yet I found myself interested in a certain single-mindedness, expressed, for example, in the clarity with which she describes herself as a ‘painter’ rather than an ‘artist’. For some, this distinction might be seen to suggest a traditional or apolitical person, but with Susan it reflects someone who is totally enamoured with their medium. There is something delicious about the very way that she pronounces the word ‘paint’ – with a plosive start and a relished middle. Objects (both found and acquired) have a place in her process and there are preliminary sketches too, but ultimately, ‘it really is all about the materiality of the paint’. There is an energy to its application, and a vigour to her compositions, and standing beside the latest paintings at Jerwood Space, which are 2m in width and 2.5m in height, you cannot help but be impressed by the physical exertion it must have taken (especially for a slight woman) to work on such a scale.

When Susan made her application for the Jerwood Painting Fellowships (which also had two rounds, as she initially applied in 2010) she proposed that she had the beginnings of ‘an arbitrary mythology’. The Royal Wedding, with all its panoply of power, had piqued the painter’s interest in ritual, in the idea of ‘mongrels and purebreds’, and in the savage portrayal of celebrity life. With an uneasy mix of intrigue, sympathy and satirical bite she sourced inspiration from You Tube videos of stag nights and other (web)sites of public humiliation that have an almost medieval undercurrent – like the stocks of a digital age. ‘I’m not looking for answers when I paint and I am not taking a stance… I just think this is really interesting material’.

I asked about the relationship with her mentor, Marcus Harvey. From the outset, she laughed, he recognised that there was a fundamental difference in their practices: while he liked to execute a painting having fleshed out his concept, Susan always used painting as a medium through which to think. Marcus was taken aback (to put it politely) to discover that she might make a painting in a day. He encouraged her to experiment at the beginning – and she played with unstretched canvas, a material that made her feel free because the tension was literally taken out of it. Over the course of the year, she found that their conversations shaped her style considerably, with her paintings taking a turn towards increasing figuration, with a greater investment in the narrative and more interest in creating a ‘finished object’ (even if several works arrived at the Jerwood Space still tacky).

There are more formal games too. Like the Georgian column that appears in several paintings in this series, which is in fact a plastic decoration designed for separating the tiers of a wedding cake. ‘It’s like shifting scenery’, Susan considers, ‘I like playing with the theatricality of the work’. Titles such as The Emerald City reinforce that her influences are cinematic too, ‘because so often films are about the core issues of human nature, power and relationships’. The Wizard of Oz feels like a particularly pertinent reference point and I left musing on how Susan, like Dorothy, had journeyed from black-and-white to glistening colour, observing a world of rich artifice, in an attempt to uncover what lies at the end of the yellow brick road…

Hear, Hear

16 Mar

Last Tuesday, on a freezing ‘mad March’ evening, guests gathered at the Jerwood Space for the opening of the Jerwood Painting Fellowships 2013. It was an exciting moment for Anthony Faroux, Susan Sluglett and Sophia Starling, the three emergent artists who were awarded a bursary of £10,000 and the opportunity to be mentored by artists and selectors, Marcus Harvey, Mali Morris and Fabian Peake. The (selected) fruits of their (past year of) labours have been collectively hung throughout the galleries, in a bold and invigorating display. The critical questions of painting – about materiality, abstraction, scale, mark-making, colour – feel ever-present, coursing within and between the works, which have been arranged to play off one another delightfully.

In a fitting reflection of the three parties involved in the fellowships (the Jerwood team, the mentors and the artists) there were three speeches: from Tim Eyles, the Chair of the Jerwood Charitable Foundation, from Mali Morris on behalf of the mentors and from Susan Sluglett on behalf of her fellow fellows. While each had an individual charm, I was so moved by Mali Morris’s words (indeed, at one point, she too paused to settle her voice) that I wanted to re-print the heart of her message here:

‘It all began with a selection process and interviews and then a cheque in the post to the three new fellows, with twelve months for them to draw breath, make work and finally this exhibition. When I heard about the terms of the fellowship I liked the way that the award didn’t specify what the money should be spent on. It buys time of course, maybe studio rent, probably materials, equipment – perhaps it brings confidence and an opportunity to take more risks than usual.

‘Fifteen years ago there was a survey amongst writers about the relationship of their financial situation to their output. When asked what advice he might have for the new generation, especially concerning awards, Will Self declared his approval of the Henri Bergson prize for young writers, which is offered for one year on the strict understanding that they undertook not to write anything at all. I prefer Hilary Mantel’s advice: there must be sufficient money for champagne to cheer up friends whose work has been rejected. We don’t know exactly what the money was spent on by our fellows, Anthony, Sophia and Susan, but whatever it was, their work has intensified. It has gained in scope and ambition and confidence to a pretty amazing degree.

‘In 1963, I received a kind of award myself, along with many others: a grant to study for a degree in Fine Art. This paid for tuition fees and living costs and it shaped my future in ways that I never could have predicted. My generation thought these opportunities would be forever and for everybody. How wrong we were. More recently we were incredulous that politicians would challenge the inclusion of so-called creative subjects – art, music, drama and so on – in the core curriculum of our schools. Wrong again. But we are objecting and we will continue to object to this bad thinking, which belittles the whole idea of creative life.

‘The Jerwood Charitable Foundation is not political but it believes in a practical way of encouraging artists, practitioners, performers of all kinds to make the most of their talent and ambition and to make their way in the world… which these days is not so easy.’

Hear, Hear, was the consensus of the room.

Q&A with Steven Bode

4 Mar

With Tomorrow Never Knows now closed, I asked Steven Bode, Director of Film and Video Umbrella, a few final questions:

– How long have you been Director of Film and Video Umbrella?

Since 1992.

– What were the greatest challenges then as compared to now for artists working with moving image?

In the early Nineties, the challenge was in making the claim that a uniquely special and distinctive artistic medium had definite mainstream potential. These days, it’s about making the argument that there are people working in a medium that’s increasingly mainstream that still have something uniquely special and distinctive to say… Which, of course, they do!

– What was the last exhibition you saw that really blew you away?

Christian Marclay’s The Clock. An obvious one, I guess. For me, it’s the Sistine Chapel of artists’ moving image. It sets an incredibly high standard. We all need to set our watches by it…

– How did the partnership with Jerwood Visual Arts come about?

We had been wanting to work together on a project for a while. Jerwood, as you know, run a series of high-profile artists’ awards (Drawing, Painting etc) but they had not had an equivalent platform for artists working in film and video. While adding a moving-image award to that roster was timely (and overdue), there was a feeling that we should try and give it an extra, distinctive twist. For a start, we felt that the initiative should have a two-year cycle, encompassing development and production, and moving from a prototype/pilot stage to subsequent, more ambitious commissions; this being more representative of the longer time-frames, and the more collaborative process, in which artists generally make moving-image work. Given that emphasis on development, we also thought it would be interesting that the artists evolved their ideas in response to a theme, however loose. Which is where Tomorrow Never Knows came in: the idea of a showcase of prospective future talents speculating on what futurity might mean today…

– If you cast your mind back, what do you remember of the four projects that were shortlisted?

They were all very different, but all very strong, which helped give an insight into the different types and styles of moving-image work being produced right now. The panel that selected them, from what was an equally strong long-list, were intrigued by the way the artists’ proposals engaged with our theme, but impressed all the more by the fact that all four artists had something very distinctive and individual to say, and an incredibly polished and articulate way of expressing and executing it.

– Could you say something about what the ‘development award’ entailed for Ed Atkins and Naheed Raza?

All four short-listed artists (Ed Atkins, Naheed Raza, Emma Hart and Corin Sworn) received a development award of £4,000 (plus production support from Film and Video Umbrella) that they could put towards a ‘prototype’ or ‘pilot’ of the ‘work for the future’ they were proposing to make. These pilot pieces were actually all fairly substantial, and nicely resolved, whilst leaving scope to be continued later. Naheed’s early piece for the first iteration of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ was, in effect, superseded by a longer, and more detailed, documentary overview of the phenomenon of cryonics (and its adherents); the ‘pilot’ project being, in retrospect, a dry-run, or more of a sketch, for what became the final commission. In Ed Atkins’ case, his ‘pilot’ film, Material Witness (or A Liquid Cop) seems more of a companion work to the commission, Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths. There is a similar aesthetic and narrative evolution there, but also a sense that you are watching Parts One and Two of an unfolding series.

–       What do you look for in the artists of tomorrow?

Staying power. Initiatives like The Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards need to speak to the zeitgeist, and reflect the state-of-the-art in the here-and-now. But you are also looking for something that goes beyond that, in some way. One of the subtexts of Tomorrow Never Knows is that history is littered with false dawns, with tomorrows that never quite happened, and also with future stars whose light once burned bright but which sometimes faded equally quickly. All of those initial four artists (and especially Ed and Naheed) felt like talents that were absolutely blazing a trail in the present, but who would also be around for a long time into the future. You never know, of course… But I think we’ll be proved right…

My Valentine

17 Feb

On Thursday night, Naheed Raza was the focus of the ICA’s ‘Artists Film Club’. The audience gathered in Cinema One for a screening of Sand (2010) and Frozen in Time (2013), which was followed by a Q&A with me. The two works acted as an interesting foil to one another: Sand, which was commissioned as part of the Bloomberg Comma series, is a short, silent, film (shot at the edge of The Empty Quarter in the United Arab Emirates) which meditates on the power of the desert; Frozen in Time, meanwhile, is a longer, video work that investigates the practice of cryo-preservation through interviews with a number of its advocates in America.


I began by asking Naheed about her background: having read medicine as an undergraduate, she went on to study Fine Art at Chelsea and the Slade and I wondered at what point she began making art and when she decided it was something she wanted to pursue professionally.


‘I suppose I have always had these parallel interests’, she explained. ‘I was fascinated by medicine and the sense of it as a total subject… the idea of needing to understand the being at a micro and macro level, the sense in which there are these worlds beneath the surface that one only becomes aware of when the normal homeostasis is tipped into disequilibrium. I had this feeling of wonder about the body as an incredibly complex structure that can be traced back to quite simple laws.


‘At the same time I have always had a very innocent enjoyment of art. It’s an activity that I would spend many hours doing and I loved the sense of transportation that it gave me. Growing up, it never entered my mind that it was something I could pursue professionally so I followed the scientific path and I suppose it was only once I was studying that I suddenly realised quite how important art was to me. I started to attend lectures at the Ruskin [College of Art, Oxford] and that’s when I first encountered artists’ talks and I was intrigued by the ways their ideas were manifested in their bodies of work. I sensed quite urgently the need for me to pursue this interest.’


It was nice to hear Naheed talk about her journey into filmmaking, not least because the sense of ‘wonder’ that she described is so readily apparent in her work. She has spoken previously about craft as one of the areas of commonality between medicine and art – two disciplines that are so often stereotyped as antithetical to one another. We might also think of the shared importance of observation, of a thorough understanding of anatomy and of the ability to intuit meaning from a subject. I was interested in pursuing the place of intuition in Naheed’s work and asked her how she had found the experience of conducting interviews for Frozen in Time, which is the first time that human subjects have featured in her work.


‘I approach film from a very sculptural background, from an interest in material and process. I have a fascination with the idea of perpetual transformation and the idea of intuition is very important to this. Having studied medicine at Oxford in a very formal way, when I first went to art school something I was keen to get away from was this rigorous structure to learning and knowing, I wanted to abandon any logical way of thinking and instead respond in an intuitive way to material. Within the early works, I wanted to place the viewer in a position where knowledge or language might not be very useful; where there would be no props to hold onto so they would have to respond to what they see. Because of habit, we no longer see to a certain extent. There are moments – ruptures – when we have a very primary engagement with our environment, but these are rare.’


‘Frozen in Time, as you say, was the first time I had worked with people. There were themes I felt I was approaching from earlier works: an interest in entropy, the desire for permanence, the belief that we can produce concrete, lasting entities. It struck me that this was a subject where individuals were reacting against that process and that was fascinating – it was the opposite of everything that my work had been about. It was interesting to speak to these individuals because one can relate to them.


‘It’s important not to mock even though Cryonics is a subject that can quite easily be ridiculed. What they are articulating are quite primitive fears and desires. Death is one of the most difficult ideas to comprehend or grasp, and in a society where there is a vacuum of faith, death can seem like an absurdity. In terms of the material it was really challenging – I am used to working with material that I can shape, either with my hands directly or through the editing process. Suddenly, when you are dealing with people, you have these bricks that are preformed.’


This felt like a natural moment to comment on the composition of some of the shots and, in particular, the recurrent use of the profile. For me, this seemed to act as a reminder to the viewer that there is someone off-screen asking questions – indeed, at one point, one of the interviewees says ‘let me turn that question back around at you’. The talking heads are inter-cut with atmospheric shots of the cryonics institute, which act like caesuras, creating little spaces for the viewer to reflect. It feels inevitable that in these moments, as the mind wonders what should be believed, that we also wonder what the artist believes…


Understandably, Naheed was quick to explain that ‘it’s important to keep that quite elusive’, but she was generous in expanding on her mixed feelings about the subject.


‘Coming to it with a scientific background, I do feel that the challenges of bringing a being back are enormous, especially given that we still know so little about consciousness. Even something like sleep baffles us: we might be able to take electrical recordings of the brain during these activities and recognise or code certain waves or patterns that we see but we are no nearer to being able to translate what that means. There is still great debate about consciousness too. With Cryonics, they look at the matter from a reductionist perspective, saying that structure equates function but it’s not that simple, we can’t locate a structure within it…


‘On the other hand, there are extraordinary examples within biology of organisms that are dormant for thousands of centuries, a spore, for instance, is dormant for long periods of time and I think that forces us to question the definition of “alive”. One of the character’s talks within the film about “what’s possible” and there’s a sense in which we’re losing this idea of possibility. We need to be reminded that there are these limits of knowledge beyond which we can’t be certain of anything.’


This idea of possibility is perhaps what Naheed creates space for through the rhythm of the edit. These are also pauses in which the viewer can become aware of themselves as a living, breathing, pulsating being – something that we tend not to dwell on. For my final question, I asked Naheed how much she thinks about the viewer and their response when she is shooting and editing her work.


‘I create those pauses for the audience, but also for myself. Editing for me is this quite intuitive process – there are correlates, for instance, between the length of time that we can hold our breath and the length of time that we can watch a shot. I like to play with those limits and a sense of the body helps in how I structure the film. Throughout the work there is a move from speech to silence and from flesh to machine and there are these recurrent reminders of bodily processes’.


At this point, we opened up to the audience. There were a number of brilliant questions: probing about subjects ranging from the financial implications of subscribing to cryo-preservation to the afterlife of a video work like Frozen in Time. I was delighted to have shared the stage with an artist as sensitive and thoughtful as Naheed, and left the ICA with the distinct impression that this might have been one of my best Valentine’s dates to date.


Remembered in Fragments With Surf-Rounded Edges

7 Feb


On Tuesday night, the Institute of Contemporary Arts screened a selection of Ed Atkins’ recent work, which was followed by a reading from the artist and a conversation with Steven Bode, the Director of Film & Video Umbrella. Almost every seat was taken in the ICA’s theatre and at 7pm the animated din subsided, the house lights lingered on for an awkward moment and then the audience was plunged into another world. Each work followed on directly from the last, culminating in Material Witness OR a Liquid Cop (2011) and then its sequel Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths (2013).


The experience was intense, especially when sat on the second row, with the looming screen and booming sound demanding a visceral response. Watching the work in this way (without a palate cleanser between courses) felt a little queasy and the evening, in the words of one of Atkins’ lines, might be ‘remembered in fragments with surf-rounded edges’. A legato stream of images scintillating with meaning; a CG-man with soft-kohled eyes and an impossible number of teeth; a muffled cough, a click, a clap; the sense of traversing epic distances; a neon frog leaping in and out of view; endless filters; a melancholic voiceover; ‘and all that fucking hair’.


Afterwards, Atkins read from the extended script that accompanies Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths and I thought again about the Gilbert Sorrentino poem, The Morning Round Up (1971), that he cites:


I don’t want to hear any news on the radio

About the weather on the weekend. Talk about that.


Once upon a time

A couple of people were alive

Who were friends of mine.


The weathers, the weathers they lived in!

Christ, the sun on those Saturdays.


Situated in the context of Atkins’ HD video, the mere mention of radio seems to ache with nostalgia for an analogue era – perhaps particularly given the recent debates around DAB. I was reminded of a brilliant passage of Leo Steinberg’s writing, first published in Artforum in 1972 (a year after Sorrentino’s poem), in which he talks about the permeability of Rauschenberg’s picture plane:


‘I once heard Jasper Johns say that Rauschenberg was the man who in this century had invented the most since Picasso. What he invented above all was, I think, a pictorial surface that let the world in again. Not the world of the Renaissance man who looked for his weather clues out of the window; but the world of men who turn knobs to hear a taped message, ‘precipitation probably ten percent tonight,’ electronically transmitted from some windowless booth. Rauschenberg’s picture plane is for the consciousness immersed in the brain of the city.’ [1]


I wonder if something similar might be said of Ed Atkins one day: that his videos are for the consciousness borne out of the digital domain.


The ensuing conversation with Steven Bode suggested that Atkins’ concern is very much with the present rather than posterity. Bode began by reminding Atkins of their early email exchanges about Dennis Potter and the techno-utopian promise of virtual reality – ‘it strikes me that what you are doing is quite the opposite’ said Bode, ‘that you are… illuminating the meat’.


It was interesting to hear Atkins respond about the increasingly immersive, ‘corporeal address’ of mainstream cinema and the effect that his work, by contrast, might have on the viewer. ‘You can be perpetually spun back and forth’, he explained, ‘rather than the movement being in one direction. So the work maybe will pull you in, and pulling you in might be an act of leaving the body, but then you’re returned to it, and you cover vast distances, and you may go to another planet or the bottom of the sea, and then you’re back in your seat, or you’re inside your mouth and then you’re feeling aroused or you’re feeling desperate…’


Atkins’ flow suggests that the viewer might become sensitized to the subtle shifts the work enacts on them, both emotionally and physically, suspending them in a perpetual present, much as he wishes the work to be. ‘I don’t believe in any of the immortal things about technology… the possibility of the immaterial, it’s a great fantasy, it’s totally rich… but I don’t want to live forever and I certainly don’t want the work to and maybe there’s an interest there – or a complete disinterest – in the maintenance and the future of the work. It’s very much a wanting to apprehend something now, to feel it now, to be with it in the moment… to delineate a present’.


The title of the exhibition at the Jerwood Space, Tomorrow Never Knows, seems to suggest an ellipsis… and hearing Ed Atkins talk about his work, I wondered whether the final word might be ‘today’: Tomorrow Never Knows… Today.

[1] Leo Steinberg, ‘Other Criteria: The Flatbed Picture Plan’, from a lecture delivered at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, 1968; first published in ‘Reflections On the State of Criticism’ in Artforum, March 1972

Talk About That

28 Jan


‘I don’t want to hear any news on the radio about the weather on the weekend… Talk about THAT.’


This line from Ed Atkins’ Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths (2013) has been haunting me.

The rhythm (almost iambic), the delivery (so confrontational), the imperative (addressed to whom?)

The radio, the weather, the weekend; symbols of universality, spaces of communality – or clichés of polite ‘chitchat’? As Oscar Wilde scathingly remarked, ‘conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative’.

If the radio is not to spout news about the weather on the weekend, then what?

Floating in the middle of the line is the word ‘news’, a measured monosyllable that seems stranger the more you think about it. A plural of ‘new’, the product of the now, a commodity crafted from currency.

Politics seems to lurk beneath a surface that is all artifice; all weather and weekend.

These thoughts led me to Maurice Blanchot, a writer often cited by Atkins.


‘How many people turn on the radio and leave the room, satisfied with this distant and sufficient noise? Is this absurd?

Not in the least. What is essential is not that one particular person speak and another hear, but that, with no one in particular speaking and no one in particular listening, there should nonetheless be speech, and a kind of undefined promise to communicate, guaranteed by the incessant coming and going of solitary words.

One can say that in this attempt to recapture it at its own level, the everyday loses any power to reach us, it is no longer what is lived, but what can be seen or what shows itself, spectacle and description, without any active relation whatsoever…

We are no longer burdened by events, as soon as we behold their image with an interested, then simply curious, then empty but fascinated look. What good is it taking part in street demonstrations, since at the same moment, secure and at rest, we are at the demonstration itself, thanks to a television set?

Here, produced-reproduced, offering itself to our view in its totality, it allows us to believe that it takes place only so that we might be its superior witness.’ [1]


[1] Maurice Blanchot, ‘L’Homme de la rue’ in Nouvelle revue francaise, no. 114 (Paris, June 1962)

Rabbit in the Headlights

23 Jan

A part of your world

Visual and Visceral Pleasure as Anxiety

Moving Image as Object / Moving Objects

Experience is both thrust into supersaturation and completely, coolly obsoleted.

Stop Making Sense

The Ring (hair over face)

Metaphorical weather maybe?

Living, streaming individuals, muse on hollow bodies

Both frozen with broken animation 

Stop. Frame, and move on

A male Rapunzel and the little mermaid

The ubiquitous yet beautiful lens flare.


The opening of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ made me think about the way in which we converse with a work through our conversations with others and vice versa.

I invited a number of artists, curators and writers who I spoke to on the night to write me a line in response to either or both of Ed Atkins’ and Naheed Raza’s works.

With thanks to Sonia Boyce, Daniella Rose King, Rebecca Lewin, James Smith and Mike Sperlinger for their contributions to this collective poem.

Opening Night

18 Jan

‘Sounds are affective. Images are instructive’. Lis Rhodes [1]


Tuesday night was the opening of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows, the Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Awards’. A throng of visitors arrived at the Jerwood Space, eager to see the new commissions by Ed Atkins and Naheed Raza. Both artists were selected from a shortlist of four (whose pilot projects, including work by Emma Hart and Corin Sworn, were exhibited in Spring 2012) and given £20,000 to develop their ideas into finished works. This lent the occasion a certain thrill, particularly for those who were returning one year on from ‘Tomorrow Never Knows: Part 1’. There seemed to be the added intrigue of comparing an imagined outcome to its finished product along with the intimacy of seeing how nascent ideas had crystallized.


Standing amid the lively din of the crowd, I thought about the way in which we encounter moving image works in the context of a private view. The opening night of an exhibition stands in contrast to our traditional expectations of a gallery – in which silence is considered imperative for contemplation – or a cinema – in which a hush, at least, is seen to allow for the audience’s immersion in the action. In preparing an exhibition with film content, a great deal of time is spent anticipating problems such as ‘sound bleed’ (a term sufficiently violent to reflect the strength of this curatorial phobia), yet most concede that little can be done on the opening night to insulate the darkened room from the thrum of art world chatter outside.


But what if this setting were to amplify rather than compromise our experience?


At the Jerwood Space, Naheed Raza’s Frozen in Time (2013) is presented in the first of two near-identical blacked-out rooms. The work investigates the practice of cryopreservation – the rapid cooling and storage of the body or brain after death so that it might be resuscitated in a future age – with interviews intersected with long, elegiac shots of cryonics institutes across America. With her meticulous, clinical style (the product perhaps of an initial training in medicine) Raza allows a certain skepticism to undermine the increasingly far-fetched claims of her subjects. Watching the video play out in the warmth of a room crammed with other bodies I felt more aware of my somatic self. The sensation was shared by the artist Sonia Boyce, who ‘started to think about my own mortality and the inevitable mortality of everyone in the space’.[2]


Installed in the second room is Ed Atkins’ Warm, Warm, Warm Spring Mouths (2013), a high-definition video featuring an animated man, seemingly submerged in an ocean of water, speaking in fragments of phrases that feel as strange and familiar as the single white headphone plugged into one of his ears. The vivid blue feels meaningful as a colour: an allusion to chroma-key and the possibilities made real and realities made possible in the age of post-production. The digital-motion-capture techniques used by Atkins give the work a natural affinity to the computer, and watching it play out on this scale, with the pulse of a party in the air and a room full of half-lit faces, I felt all-too conscious of the atomizing perils of laptop life.


So both works seemed to find added resonance in the ambience of the private view. Instead of the empty, hallowed space of the white cube, in which the artwork looms large, or the blacked-out auditorium of the cinema, in which the audience can become subject-voyeurs, we encountered the two works in a busy, darkened gallery – a discursive space made more so by the sense of social occasion. In light, perhaps, of the recent programming at Tate Tanks, I was reminded of the event-based practices of the London Filmmakers Co-op and an artist like Lis Rhodes, who has always encouraged an activated audience. As Lisa Le Feuvre writes ‘Lis Rhodes’ films rely on the viewer’s enagagement. The film is not the only thing at work: the viewer’s own interaction and translation is a key element’.[3]

[1] Lis Rhodes, from Flashback from a Partisan Filmmaker in Filmwaves # 6

[2] Email correspondence with Sonia Boyce, 16 January 2013