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waterpoppies
waterpoppies2
Earlier this year I was asked by Anna Cady if I would be interested in contributing to Water, the next film from her ‘co-creative’ project, Elemental Dialogues. In 2015 I had contributed to the previous dialogue based on the film, Air, by Cady and Pauline Thomas. Pauline who had began work on this new project, very sadly died before its completion. In many ways this new film, Water, feels like a lament, a quiet lamentation on loss and absence.

As in the previous project, I received a link to a muted version of Water and was asked to use my own practice to ‘interpret or translate’. And again I felt the best way to translate, was to watch the film a few times, then to look away and let my memory work upon it. It was important not to simply create a new soundtrack, but to work with the film (or the memory of it) to develop a sonic landscape in which it may occur.

water_film projection_mottisfont pantry
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Pantry Recording:   from water recorded in the 13th century Cellarium at Mottisfont.

There is something in the evasiveness of water, its ‘insubstantial nothingness’ (Bachelard), which we can feel but not necessarily touch, that equates to our experience of memory and the unconscious. For Bachelard, ‘[Water] is a substance full of reminiscence and prescient reveries.’ For the film director, Andrei Tarkovsky, whose films are soaked in the continual drip and drop of time escaping and returning, ‘[water is] a mysterious element, [which] can convey movement and a sense of change and flux…[water] has subconscious echoes…’

It is this temporality of water, coupled with the sense of depth and distance created as images submerge and emerge in the surface tension of the film, which persisted in my remembering and which informed my translation. There is a sense of cyclical progression, but, as I have stated previously, the composition is not intended as a synchronised soundtrack, fixed to the film, but rather a work from water and memory, a coincidence for sound and image to coalesce and discord.

In October Anna created an installation at Mottisfont House using the film and it’s interpretation by poets, visual artists and musicians. The installation occupied the 13th century cellarium: a storehouse or pantry belonging to the Monastery which once stood at Mottisfont. This architecture is temporal in intent, creating a space and atmosphere, that privileges stasis and inhibits decay. The cold arch of the pantry, offered an elegant  architectural shell in which we could hear the wet soundscapes of sound and poetry, repeat and recur. We could walk through the atmosphere of the film and its dispersed soundscape to find sounds collecting in corners and clinging to the pantry ceiling.

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Anna Cady will be present A Balancing Act, an interactive event in the cellarium at Mottisfont House, which will combine projections of the film with the recorded sonic translations, live poetry readings by Joan McGavin, Camilla Nelson and Briony Bennet, and live ‘tacit’ drawings by Mel Rose

On the 12th November the four films from the Elemental Dialogue series will also be screened in the Vintage Mobile Cinema as part of Southampton Film Week.

 

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I approached Supersymmetry via a car park lift illuminated in a narcotic violet glow. Cellotaped to the lift wall was a piece of A4 paper, upon which was printed ‘THIS LIFT DOES NOT SERVE THE 3rd FLOOR’. Interjected in felt tip between ‘The’ and ‘3rd’ was ‘2nd’. I got in anyway and was served with the 1st as promised, from here I took the stairs to the 3rd and final floor, where I entered the enclosed darkness of Ryoji Ikeda’s latest installation. It is ironically appropriate to enter the digital, dark matter of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry via an out of order lift and a dank walk up the concrete steps of a car park stairwell.

Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experiment 0Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experiment

Supersymmmetry presents: ‘ an interpretation of quantum mechanics and quantum information theory from an aesthetic viewpoint […] drawing on [Ikeda’s] exchanges with scientist and engineers […] at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), the worlds largest particle physics laboratory’.

The installation is divided into two separate parts: experiment and experience. Entering the first ‘experiment’ I am enveloped in a visceral bloom of base, intermittently pierced by sublime, frenetic pinpricks of sound. People gather like moths around three, elevated pools of squared and flickering light. Small round particles of matter roll across the surfaces of this illumination, generating patterns of shade, which shift, disperse and congregate. The motion is hypnotic, strangely reminiscent of those oily wave machines, so popular in the 1970’s. These wave machines were the domestic equivalent of the Executive Ball Clickers, whose cradle of steel spheres once provided an aspirational pre-glitch click to the ‘modern’ office soundscape.

Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experience 1Sebastiane Hegarty: Ikeda experience 2
From the experiment I proceed through a curtained blackout, toward the noise of experience. Synchronized bursts of light and data travel at speed down a corridor of screens accompanied by an interrupted cacophony of bleeps and blips. The sound suggests organised forms of communication and analysis, as if we were listening to something being questioned, measured and sent. Physically engulfed in the sensual broken waves of digital noise, I am surprised to be suddenly awash in childhood memories of Star Trek;  beamed back to the deck of Starship Enterprise, where control panels flash and everything looks like it is doing something, when of course, it isn’t. As I look around I notice that most people are filming, immersed in Supersymmetry through the raised screen of their mobile phone, a gesture reminiscent of Spock, who would survey new worlds with his handheld Tricorder. A sense of pretense begins to intervene in my experience and I am suspicious that the ‘scientific and mathematical model’ that Ikeda presents is a facade, a beautiful, sensual but ultimately empty aesthetic experience.

Sebastiane Hegarty: ikeda's ceiling
In a sudden peak of brightness I look up and notice a series of wooden structures attached to the roof: they looked like upside down tables. Above these I can see damp stains of peeling paint. I realise that the structures have been designed to protect the technology of the installation from the holes in the car park roof. These uncomplicated structures offer an eloquent mathematical model for the solution to a real problem: how do we protect the fabrication of Supersymmetry from the reality of rainfall?

Carroll/Fletcher: a citySebastiane Hegarty: Harrison & Wood A film of a city
From the pavement outside Carroll/Fletcher I stare through a window at A film about a city (2015), part of the new Wood and Harrison exhibition An almost identical copy. The clinical austerity of Wood and Harrison‘s architectural model is touched with elements of futility as I notice hoards of miniature human forms sheltering under the canopy of a square, whilst others sit on a solitary bank of stadium seating, facing nowhere, waiting for nothing to happen. There is something desolate about this city, this idea of a city and I am reminded of the Talking Heads song The Big Country, in which David Byrne describes an aerial view of the perfect country:

I see the school and the houses where the kids are
Places to park by the factories and buildings
Restaurants and bars for later in the evening

Byrne concludes: I wouldn’t live there if you paid me to.

Carroll/Fletcher: 100 FallsCarroll/Fletcher: Semi Automatic Painting Machine
Unlike the ‘scientific and mathematical models’ of Ikeda, these models, reminiscent of train sets and Airfix kits, are intimate human spaces, they share a physical ratio with reality.
In the video installation 100 falls (2013), Harrison climbs a ladder ascending out of frame. A pause. And then a human dummy dressed as Harrison, drops to the floor. An obvious video edit and the lifeless dummy reanimates as Harrison. He stands up and proceeds to climb the ladder again. So it continues, one hundred times and then, one hundred more. As I talk to one of the Gallery administrators I am aware that behind his back, whilst we chat, Harrison continues with his pathetic ascent and fall, caught in a tragic, inevitable loop of self-harm. The sense of inevitability continues in Semi Automatic Painting Machine (2013) in which we observe various objects as they are mechanically conveyed through a process of being spray-painted. Amongst the bunting, plants and flip charts, we find John Wood, who was born with a face that looks like it has always been expecting this to happen. He is transported and sprayed white, turned, conveyed and sprayed high visibility yellow. Just as Harrison accepts the inevitability of his continual fall, so Wood is resigned to his place in the chromatic production line of the painting machine.

Carroll/Fletcher: Wood and HarrisonSebastiane Hegarty: Wood & Harrison tennisCarroll/Fletcher: car park
The downstairs gallery seems abandoned, models of tennis courts and industrial estates are deserted; the funfair has moved on. In the out of town car park of the video installation DIYVBIED (Do-It-Yourself, Vehicle Bourne Improvised Explosive Device), model cars randomly explode, not in a CGI altered reality sort of way, but in an indoor firework, Captain Scarlet sort of way. The cars look out of date, unexciting variations of the Hillman Avenger or Morris Marina (once the most popular car in the UK). As one car explodes and then another, I am reminded of those television images of motionless cityscapes, evacuated in response to telephone warnings and suspicious devices, scenes which are then suddenly reanimated by a controlled and remote explosion. As another door flies off another Avenger, every car becomes suspect and the anachronistic image becomes a contemporary premonition of landscapes to come.

Carroll/Fletcher: a ruler Carroll/Fletcher: rulers Carroll/Fletcher: tape ball
As with all of Wood and Harrison’s work there is an obsessive attention to detail. In the gallery upstairs their almost compulsive obsession to order, results in a series of small, pointless and joyous interventions. In what appears to be the office work of bored and idle hands, drawing pins are organised, pencils sharpened, rulers bent and string measured, In the senseless world of Wood and Harrison, everyday objects are faintly rearranged and organised into poetic models, which question our perception of the tangible and concrete, perhaps much more than the aesthetic particle physics and sensuous digital immersion of Ikeda’s Supersymmetry.

Film in Space: Camden Arts Centre, London.

Guy Sherwin Newsprint: photo sebastiane hegartyGuy Sherwin Newsprint: photo sebastiane hegartyNewsprint: Guy Sherwin (1972/2012)

‘Film, as distinct from video, is like paint; it’s a tactile material that can be used to make powerful spatial illusions’ (Guy Sherwin, File Note #75).

In a maudlin and rather pedantic tone, I often hear myself reminding students that film is not video; they are different in nature and substance. Hold a film up to the light, run it through the fleshy gate of your fingers and you will see oblong frames of colour and form; try doing that with videotape.
In counterpoint to the flippant immediacy and temporal incision of digitally encoded video, film inserts a chemical delay between the moment an image is taken and the moment that image reappears: in the photographic darkroom we can actually watch this process taking place, we can be there when the once present reappears and light becomes substance.
For those of us familiar with the rituals of the Super 8 process, the additional delay that the international postal systems confers, adds another anxious yet delicious adjournment of presence. It takes a fortnight (an appropriately outmoded measurement of duration) for three minutes of time to arrive or rather return, wrapped in a 50ft coil of film, 8mm wide. The film is immediately laced up in the digital projector of our fingers and the nearest available light source, just to confirm, to see, that something is there.
Perhaps this is merely the nostalgia of a man of a certain age reflecting upon the technology that recorded his childhood. Or perhaps there is something essential in films relationship with light and substance, something that impinges upon our experience of not only the image we see, but also the moment and place that we experience that image in? A relationship Guy Sherwin alludes to in his introduction to the exhibition Film in Space at Camden Arts Centre: ‘Images are formed through certain processes and that affects our understanding of them’ (ibid). For me the strongest parts of this exhibition occur when the materiality of film is most apparent, when light and substance oscillate.

On entering the exhibition we are greeted with the continuous mechanical chatter of a pack of 16mm projectors, biting at the glossy tongue of film and chewing image into light and presence; the occasional film-edit introducing a momentary gulp for air. That the images which Lucy Reynolds’ films project, should concentrate on words, emphasises a distinct lack of voice, language stripped back to the noisy mastication of its production: the hard ‘tittle-tattle of the teeth’ (Stephen Connor) rather than the soft wet vocalisation of lips, tongue and larynx.
An air of the mechanical continues in the large empty space where William Raban’s Diagonal (1973) awaits projection. Here we are presented with a lifeless, lightless, projector and a wall mounted push switch. The motor memory of previous light switches that linger in my tarsals, overcome the awkwardness of the gallery situation, and I witness my hand reaching for the button, causing a temporary change in the state of an electrical circuit and plunging the gallery into a moment of measured light. The ‘kinetic melody’ of my gesture brings with it tangent memories of the dark staircases and deserted landings of Wolverhampton bedsits in the 1980’s: impoverished non-spaces where even light was rationed.
The resuscitated projectors mechanically wrench stillness back into motion. The first familiar static breath of film sound, prefacing the re-animation of images photography has stilled. The whole process of switching the film on is strangely reminiscent of those fairground automata, which suddenly awake as a coin is dropped into their slot. The origins of film are full of such spectral reference: the phantom rides of the Lumière Brothers, the staged illusions of Georges Méliès, but to find such echoes here, in an exhibition concerned with the materiality of film, is unexpected.

In Gallery 1, I discover Sherwin’s Newsprint (1972/2012), a film I have seen and shown many times. The original curl of the actual film, covered in its now yellowed newspaper, hangs on the wall next to the effigy of its own projection. In my previous single-screen viewings of this film, I have been struck by the physicality of the sound produced. The dull sonic cosh to the back of the head as the printed text rubs against the optical heads of the projector and language escapes from meaning.  But here the projector is in front of me, wall mounted on a do-it-yourself shelf.  A constructed armature fixes a mirror to the machines body and projects the text down onto a grey table, a speaker, skinned from its box hangs down beneath the projector. The formerly abrasive escape of language is now delicate and visually confused with the interference of a loose wire or poor connection. It is as if language were between stations, trying to break through, to return here from somewhere else. As ‘what is inaudible becomes audible’ I am reminded first of the EVP experiments of Raudive & Jürgenson and then of the poetic resistance of voices that emerge from the chauffeurs radio in Cocteau’s Orphée (1950).

Steve Farrer Clawless Bolex: photo sebastiane hegartySteve Farrer 10 Drawings: photo sebastiane hegartySteve Farrer 10 Drawings (film projection): photo sebastiane hegartySteve Farrer: Clawless Bolex & 10 Drawings

The ghosts of film’s history continue with a long printed strip of landscape from Steve Farrer’s Clawless Bolex (1878-9), where the artist has removed ‘the claw and shutter from [a] cine camera to record the landscape rolling past a train window’ (Sherwin, ibid): another phantom ride through time and space, resulting in an emergent spectral landscape reminiscent of the chronophotography of Étienne-Jules Marey. In a visual echo of Sherwin’s Newsprint, the ten ‘drawings’ of Farrer’s film, 10 Drawings (1976), are mounted on the wall next to their illuminated future. The drawings are exquisite; a grid of six rectangles, each consisting of 50 strips of clear film stock laid side by side, upon which Farrer has drawn (or printed) simple geometric forms, producing astronomical linear patterns of light and dark. The drawings are deconstructed and spliced into the thin extended line of 16mm film and projected as an oblong of visible light next to their original forms. The optical sound head of the projector translates the patterns of line and light into pulses of sound. It is as if we are listening to the transmission of a signal or wavelength from some far away source, a pulsating star, a distant and active galactic nucleus: a signal we can find on our channel but which we cannot decode or receive due to lack of vertical and horizontal hold (I like to imagine that 10 Drawings was included as part of Voyagers interstellar message).    Although, in both Newsprint and 10 Drawings, I am conscious that the sound I hear is a result of the image projected, there remains a ventriloquial gap between the site/sight of utterance and the sound enunciated, as if this vocal burst of electronic communication was coming from some when and somewhere else or other.
In a corner of this gallery a silent and almost apologetic table and chair invite the physical company of a solitary viewer. Upon the table, a strip of film hangs over the illuminated Perspex window of a light-box, a line of film held in tension between two metal spools.  As my hand cranks the film from one side to the other, the handle of the spool I am not holding rotates in sympathy with my action, as if another invisible hand was shadowing my movement. When my hand stops, the film continues to spool…“spool”.  The solitary intimacy of this situation augments the delicacy of Annabel Nicolson’s hand printed film, Slides (1971). My position mimics that of the filmmaker, as I thread the film through the small rectangular aperture of light. The ritual of this encounter is enhanced further by the attention of the gallery assistant, who, following the departure of each audience, carefully rewinds the spools to ensure that the film is held in perfect tension.

Annabel Nicholson, Slides (Detail): photo sebastiane hegarty

Annabel Nicholson, Slides (Detail): photo sebastiane hegartyAnnabel Nicolson: Slides (1971)

In the artist studios of the gallery, Lynn Loo presents a selection from her personal archive of Expanded (live) cinema. And here I find Sherwin’s performance of the film Paper Landscape (1975-), which seems to me an almost perfect conclusion to the exhibition. As a projector starts we see Sherwin painting into existence the white rectangle of a cinema screen. As this action progresses upwards, the hands of a much younger Sherwin begin to appear, tearing away at the bottom of a paper screen, through which a landscape becomes visible. As the process of painting and tearing conclude, Sherwin is immured behind the image of the landscape revealed. The filmic apparition of Sherwin’s younger self, steps through the torn paper screen and walks toward the camera, before turning back and walking away into distance and absence. The image trembles as the screen begins to tear again, the present Sherwin steps through the landscape of his past, bringing his body back into matter and presence. Once more I am reminded of Cocteau’s Orphée and a return to substance through the refracted portal of mirrored light.

Guy Sherwin: Paper Landscape.Paper Landscape: Guy Sherwin (1975-)

Film in Space selected by Guy Sherwin continues at Camden Arts Centre until February.

Tacita Dean Film 2011

Tacita Dean Film (2011)

A Journey up to London to see Gerhard Richter at the Tate and Building the Revolution at the Royal Academy. I had forgotten that Tacita Dean’s piece Film, was the latest Installation for The Turbine Hall, and as such I was unprepared for the dark shadow that the installation casts into the hall. As you walk into the building you are met by a distinct lack of light, Film’s distant gloaming summoning you down, deeper into the darkness. Like the secular light of an avant-garde Cathedral window the strip of enlarged Film hangs in the night which lurks at the end of the Turbine Hall.

As I watched the eleven-minute loop, looping, I felt myself succumb to its soporific lull, staring through the images into my own thinking. The echo of intermittent footsteps as people approached and moved away became a soundtrack assisting my drift. Although slightly disturbed by the stationary sprockets, which add a frame of pretense to the reality of the film, I sat here silently watching time passing me by: ‘waiting without waiting for’.

I must confess that I am partial to watching nothing happen, especially when it doesn’t happen very slowly. In 2001 Dean’s show at Tate Britain allowed me to sit on the melancholic carousal of Berlin’s Fernsehturm television tower: I sat there for several rotations, listening to the ticking chronometer of the 16mm projector with occasional accompaniment from the man on the Fernsehturm’s organ (this all does sound unintentionally seaside).

Gerhard Richter Baader Meinhof

Design for Speaker no. 7

The grey melancholy of Gerhard Richter’s Baader Meinhof room added to the gloomy pall falling over the day (in an act of unintentional irony, every room in the Richter exhibition had  a sign saying Photography is strictly forbidden) . At the RA’s Building the Revolution I discovered Gustav Klutsis’s Design for Loudspeaker No. 7 and the sublime squares, lines and circles of Rodchenko, Malevich, and Lisitsky (forms also found in Tacita Dean’s Film). But even these transcendent ‘archetonics’ had a shadow cast over them, when seen in the photographic company of the architecture they inspired. Beautiful forms, flowing with function, left to crumble and rot; one of the remaining ‘palaces’ now with its insides ripped out as it was transformed into the foyer of a bank.

Today I found comfort in the discovery of Arthur Zajonc’s book Catching the Light, which was waiting for me on the Oxfam shelf. A ‘multi-levelled history’ of light, the first few pages reveal light itself to be darkness. Zajonc conducted an experiment in which he created a ‘region of space’ (a box) filled only with light: a space in which ‘light does not illuminate any interior objects or surfaces’. What does he see when he looks into light alone: “Absolute darkness! I see nothing but the blackness of empty space […] The space is clearly not empty but filled with light. Yet without an object on which the light can fall, one sees only darkness.’ Following a discussion with the Apollo astronaut Rusty Schweickart, Zajonc realised that even the outer space in which our planet floats, the darkness of light is omnipotent: ‘The sun’s light, although present everywhere, fell on nothing and so nothing was seen. Only darkness.’

I see a darkness indeed.

Yvon Bonenfant performing BeaconsWent to see Yvon Bonenfant perform Beacons at The Point, Eastleigh. Rather impressive. It was interesting how his voice became separated from his body, floating in or tearing apart the air surrounding him: reminiscent of the ectoplasm of clairvoyance. I have a thing for voice and it’s ghost.

I created a graphic score in response to Plague Mass by Diamanda Galas for Yvon’s Masz project. This was subsequently turned back into voice and sound by Yvon & Will Edmondes. Yvon then made a video for the sound, which used the fragile surfaces of my score as a visual texture. The video has been seleceted for MIX 2011 Queer Experimental Film Festival in New York.

Images from my score are available here.

Tree Reflection #2 by Guy SherwinStaircase: three projector video installation

I first saw Guy Sherwins’ 16mm films when I was a student of his, studying Fine Art at Wolverhampton Polytechnic in the 1980’s. These were the last days of a liberal, experimental, non-modular, art curriculum: imagine an education without feedback forms or customer (nee student) surveys. The long list of visiting lecturers at Wolverhampton included artists from all disciplines, alongside writers, musicians and simply unclassifiable performance groups. To mention just a few from the impressive cast list that corrupted my formative years: Max Eastley; Ivor Cutler; Jo Spence; Fast Forward; David Critchley; Roger McGough (who marked my dissertation, generously granting it a first).
I consider myself fortunate to study at this time and to subsequently teach alongside Guy (and Paul Harrison of Wood & Harrison) at the University of Wolverhampton. Guy’s films and poetic investigation of time, film and perception, remain a vital influence on the development of my own practice.
The installations at Siobhan Davies Studios continue to question and impress. I was particularly interested in the Staircase projections, which reveal the choreography of stairs whilst disrupting the tacit anticipation of movement: the distinction between previous and present movement becoming less distinct, as people now ascending and descending the staircase make shadowy journeys through a layer of projected space covering the present situation. Such ghostlike presence is reflected in the architecture of the building, the flight of previous stairs remaining as visible scars upon the tiled walls intersecting the new staircase.

Tree Reflection #2 passes a single loop of film through two 16mm projectors: one running forward and one reverse. Guy had engineered a ‘common drive-shaft’ between the two projectors to ensure the speed of both projectors remains constant.
Having seen the film as part of Guy’s Short Film Series, I ashamedly ignored the projectors and stood fixated on the slow reflected progression of a coot moving across the surface of a canal and the simultaneous inverting of the film, which exchanges the landscape and its reflection. The flip, which echoes the visual inversion of eye & brain, occurs at such a slow rate, that it seems to sneak beneath the boundary of visual perception.
Guy watched me whilst I watched the film, when he pointed out that I was ignoring the projectors, I turned around and only then noticed the mirrored second projection on the wall behind me.
Beautiful films that simultaneously soak up my attention and make my head ache with thinking.

You can see one of Guy Sherwin’s films, with links to others and his perfomative collaborations with Lynn Loo here: Man With Mirror

I wrote an essay to accompany Guy’s first DVD Optical Sound Films 1971-2007. This can be bought from Lux, where a biography of Guy and video interview are also available.

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