Archive

Tag Archives: avant-garde film

Radiophrenia Poster: Emer Tumilty

I am delighted to announce that two new works for radio will be broadcast as part of Radiophrenia 2017, which begins broadcasting at midnight on Monday 6th November. Radiophrenia is a ‘temporary art radio station, offering a two-week exploration of sound and transmission arts. Broadcasting live from Glasgow’s Centre for Contemporary Arts on 87.9FM, the station aims to promote radio as an art form, encouraging challenging and radical new approaches to the medium.’ Radiophrenia will also be available online.
The two works will be broadcast on the 8th and 9th of November and the full Radiophrenia schedule is available here.



Tappng the air: a wireless ecology of the Lizard Peninsula.
Radiophrenia: 09/11/17 | 09:30 – 10:00

Wireless, the air receives us: ‘scattered souls, in expected or else irremediable exile from matter…’ (Gaston Bachelard).

 In the summer of 2017 I took a holiday and covert residence at The Lizard Wireless Telegraphy Station; built by Marconi in 1900 and site of the first ‘over-the-horizon’ wireless communication. Prior to this, it was thought that wireless communication was restricted to the optical horizon, there had to be a ‘direct line of sight’ between transmitter and receiver.
The ‘residency’ concluded in a live micro FM transmission to an audience of one, in what once was the ‘operating room’ of the wireless station. Broadcasting through six radios the performed transmission was based on field-recordings from a local landscape haunted by the architecture of listening and communication: the looming pulse of the Lizard Lighthouse foghorn, the automatic Morse of loose wires and antennas at Poldhu (site of the first trans-Atlantic wireless transmission), the perimeter hum of wire fences that surround the galactic ear of Goonhilly Satellite Earth Station and the abandoned listening-in of RAF Dry Tree.
The piece opens and concludes with the di-di-dit, of Marconi’s test signal, tapping away at the surface of the Wireless Telegraphy Station, a signal answered by the ethereal tap of another letter ‘s’ as performed on the nearby walls of a derelict radar room at RAF Pen Oliver.


the silence of nostalghia
Radiophrenia: 08/11/17 | 12:00 – 13:00

One part of a trilogy of silenced films, in the silence of nostalghia, all dialogue and non-diegetic sound has been removed from Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1983 film Nostalghia.
The silence that survives pulls the background into focus, concentrating the attention of the ear on the sonic details of an emerging landscape, wet with the revenants of footfall, entrance and exit. The textures of optical-sound silence, reminiscent of the atmospheric leaks and spillages of radio transmission, amplify the spectral and oneiric qualities of a soundscape where apparitions of place and time seem to appear, disappear, dissolve and fragment.

Advertisements

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
waterpantry
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.

mott-event-invitevmc-1_orig
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.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


air: acoustic match / mp3 / 01:01

I was recently invited to take part in Elemental Dialogues: air, an interdisciplinary research project by the artist filmmakers, Anna Cady and Pauline Thomas. The project involves artists from an array of disciplines, writers, musicians, poets and dancers, all of who were invited to create their own ‘interpretation’ of the short film Air by Cady & Thomas. The resulting interpretations would then be ‘re-embedded into the film’, creating new, pluridisciplinary artworks, each of which tells a different and sometimes radically unexpected story’. It seems inherent to the project that the contributors interpret not only the film, but also the meaning of interpretation.

Perhaps because of my use of field-recording and an educational diet of 1970’s conceptual art and avant-garde film, I have an inherent suspicion of interpretation. As a word it suggests a concern with the subjective and considered. In her essay Against Interpretation, Susan Sontag describes interpretation as “a conscious act of the mind [illustrating] a certain code”. This description is augmented by the Oxford English Dictionary, whose definition combines the austerity of ‘explaining’, ‘understanding’ and ‘defining’ with the superficiality of ‘stylistic representation’.

Whilst field-recording I attempt to be as transparent as possible in order to let the sound through, allowing the unrecorded present to become a recorded past with as little interference (or interpretation) as possible: in the words of John Cage: ‘let sounds be themselves’. I am of course aware that Cage was not a fan of recorded sound (see David Grubbs book, Records Ruin the landscape) and I accept that the fluff of my blimp and bent of my microphone will find and amplify certain noises, whilst excluding others, thereby interfering with the sound recorded. But an inclination toward absence remains, whilst in my practice I accept and often celebrate the flaw, blemish and failure inherent in the act of recording.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


air: wire wool and battery / mp3 / 01:10


dialogue with air: composed interpretation / mp3 / 03:56

For my contribution to the project I wanted a dialogue with ‘air’ that would avoid subjective, analytical, or emotional ‘responses’, preferring an ‘interpretation’ focused upon the sensual and temporal qualities of the film. I was drawn to the ephemerality of the imagery, and began listening for moments of air when its presence drifts between the audible and silent. I was interested in listening for these temporal qualities, more than the sonic consequence of its visibility: such as the rustle of leaves in a breeze. I began exploring chemical reactions that required air to occur, moments where air is used up and sound goes out. These field-recordings included the flameless chemistry of wire wool kindled by electricity and the designed illumination of a match struck gently[1].

I used these recordings to ‘compose’ a soundscape in retrospect: it was important not to watch the film whilst recording or composing, to look away in order to allow the sensual and temporal qualities to be filtered through my memory. This also helped me to avoid the temptation to synchronise sound to imagery, although a simple graphic score was created, to map the geography of the composition. I also used the fixed length of the film to set the duration of composition. Subsequently, it occurred to me that this almost intuitive inclination to synchronisation created a restriction that would be neither required nor applied to an interpretation in words or drawing. It seemed more appropriate to interpret the film holistically rather than breaking it up into a code of synchronised fragments.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA


air struck gently (away from the body) / mp3 / 05:05

Listening to the soundscape and the original field-recordings I found the austere narrative of a match struck, was the most transparent and eloquent interpretation of the film. The temporality of each match was innate, unique and complete, whilst in the composed soundscape time was fragmented. I concluded that the interpretation should preference performance to re-composition, allowing the unique sound of each match to occur and disappear like a breath, unformed by the voice of aesthetic decisions.

I found the stillness and temporal shifts in the film, reminiscent of Yoko Ono’s Flux Film No. 14: One (1966), in which the muted strike of a match is filmed at 2000fr/sec, extending and pausing the moment of illumination. Free of a prescribed duration, I applied this process to one of the match recordings, prolonging and amplifying the sonic details of its narrative, from the rush of chemical ignition to the gaseous cackle of flame and the final intermittent creek of exhalation as the match curls up in the silent darkness of light and air exhausted: ‘Then there begins a silence that breathes’ (Gaston Bachelard)

[1] The safety instruction on boxes of Swan Vesta matches advises the user to: Strike gently away from the body’.

An ‘exploration’ of the interpretations by artists, writers and dancers have been ’embedded’ in a site-specific collaboration at The Manor, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire next weekend. More details here: https://talkthinkmake.wordpress.com/book/

Another collaboration will take place in London on the 7th May.

INVITE the Manor copy

 

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.

Sheltered: sebastiane hegarty

I took a day-trip to London to see Wood and Harrison’s Things That Happen at the Carroll / Fletcher Gallery and hear Graham Dunning’s talk at SoundFjord.
It rained and my navigation skills proved themselves to be suspect once more. But I was justly rewarded for my endurance.
Having had the immense pleasure of teaching with Mr. Harrison at Wolverhampton University, I have some knowledge of the video works that Wood and Harrison have created over the years. Things That Happen brings together, new pieces (I have never seen), alongside earlier works, which I have only seen on old, defunct televisions in various badly lit seminar rooms. The show is an eloquently curated retrospective, presented within an appropriately minimalist space: Carroll / Fletcher is a beautiful gallery with a very satisfying gray concrete staircase.

mic-amp-apologies-to-mr.-reich: wood and harrisonBlind/spot: wood and harrison

At the back of the gallery a familiar black dot provided me with a mnemonic focal point. I have watched the video Blind/Spot on DVD many times. In my mind I had imagined it to be exhibited full size at the end of a gray minimalist corridor.  I find it however, unassumingly projected onto a free-standing projection screen, similar to those once set up in schools and homes throughout the 1970’s, enabling us to watch educational films on childbirth, and Super 8 films of holidays in Rhyl or unprofessional family pets. Of course, this is the perfect situation for the work: a screen upon a screen: a projected space upon a space for projection. The video holds a black dot in the middle of a white rectangle, before abruptly snapping up to reveal another black dot on the white rectangle of another screen, which snaps up again to reveal another dot on another screen further down a corridor of other screens. The dot remains the same size, although in fact it is increasing in size as it recedes down the corridor: the circle filling a larger area of the rectangle in order to remain unchanged to the eye. This simple experiment seems to rent a hole in my perception of the space I am seeing: a visual diagram undermining my frail understanding of the laws of physics. The tear is accompanied by the audible snap of the screen rolling up, however, the sound is not dramatically amplified, but carefully left to descend from the tinny speaker of the projector above our heads.

Next to Blind/Spot, in the corner of the gallery, a TV monitor sits abandoned on the floor. In front of this hang a pair of headphones, quietly awaiting the unification of sound and image. On the TV screen a microphone swings from side to side in front of a small amp. I am of course reminded of Reich’s Pendulum Music, to whom Wood and Harrison offer their ‘Apologies’, but here there are no performers and the repetitive un-touched initiation and cessation of movement, adds futility to the dull tock of the looped swing. The visually mute chronometric pendulum of MIC/Amp remains silent until I put on the headphones. At this moment an intermittent feedback, swings through my ears, slowly approaching an exquisite full stop, in the form of a constant standing tone humming intimately, right between my eyes. Wood and Harrison’s use of sound is adroit and understated, the work Shelf   (2007) ( (not in this show) is in many ways as much a sound piece as it is a video installation.

In 10 x 10 (2011) a cyclical almost autonomic gush of breath, reminiscent of a David Lynch soundtrack, seems to repeatedly drag down image after image projected onto a large wall.  The regular rhythm of this noise implies continuity, a mechanical descent, which distances us from the space we are observing.  The closed-circuit of these images provides a voyeuristic glimpse into the windowless rooms of a bizarre office block, inhabited occasionally by a bored man (Harrison) whose behavior seems simultaneously mundane and bizarre: throwing paper planes into a bin; blowing up balloons, which never increase in size; dropping office furniture onto randomly arranged strip lights. The monotonous descent of images proceeds like a visual paternoster, allowing us to join or leave the threads of narrative that a full ride reveals.   Sometimes Harrison appears adorned in a line-up of fancy dress costumes, which reminds me of Village People: a police officer, a cowboy, a Red Indian (sadly no macho man). Harrison seems to be waiting for an office party that no one else could be bothered to attend. The dull dejection of such overdue moments pervades many of the works that make up Things That happen. The actions performed seem to result from a lack of purpose, time suspended in that idle never ending empty moment when things that happen, don’t.

found tape: sebastiane hegarty

Soliloquy #3: sebastiane hegarty (2008)

Later that afternoon I clumsily orienteered through increasingly unfamiliar regions of Tottenham, in search of SoundFjord, where Graham Dunning was giving a fascinating talk as part of his exhibition For Posterity. The talk concerned his attempt to reunite a found reel-to-reel tape with the owners of the voices left upon it.

At a car boot sale, Graham had bought a flat-bed tape recorder together with a spool of audio tape. Upon this he found waiting the voices of a family who had recorded themselves ‘for posterity’: for the listening attention of unknown ears. Diligently Graham had located the survivors of these voices and corresponded to discuss a safe return. But the narrative had continued whilst voice remained still: one of the children heard singing had died in a motorbike accident and his father had also died some years after the tape had been recorded. The surviving relative of the voices could not bear to hear them speak: to have them happen again.  She did not want them returned, but preferred them left where they were: unspoken and unheard.

Found tapes have featured in my own sound work and I have boxes full of discarded voices that others have left to disintegrate on forgotten audiocassettes, reel to reels and answerphone tapes. There is something fatal in the act of recording voice.  Edison of course, considered the phonograph a portal for conversations with the deceased, whilst, in Ulysses, James Joyce imagined a gramophone would one day be placed in the headstones of all our dearly departed.
Having made numerous covert recordings of people talking on trains or in the delayed spaces of transport waiting rooms, I am aware of the fatality that occurs when we attempt to keep that which is fleeting. When listening back to these voices whilst still in the present company of their author, I was struck by a dull but absolute sense of loss. The layering of the past upon the present generated a distinct lack in time, a lack that made ghosts of those whose voice I had confiscated.

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.

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.

%d bloggers like this: