Saturday, 19 January 2008

14 History Lessons, 18 Visions, 21 Beatification

Last night, Friday 18th January 2008 I premiered a work that has taken me 18 years to make. It is called 14 History Lessons, 18 Visions, 21 Beatification. This large scale moving image artwork is the culmination of a response to a piece of work by John Wyver, a friend who made a programme entitled L'objet d'art a l'age electronique. This programme, featuring the thoughts of prominent French intellectuals Jean Baudrillard and Paul Virillio, amongst others, opened the then new satellite channel, La Sept. The programme made reference to Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay that discussed the idea of whether a reproduction of an object of art in the age of mechanical reproduction could retain some element of the original ‘aura’ of the work itself. By updating the argument to the current age it argued that in an era of electronic reproduction, where the copy itself had the possibility of a certain verisimilitude of the original, that the ‘image’ no longer had any meaning, as it had become so reproducible, so ubiquitous and therefore meaning had been eradicated by dilution.

At the time of my first response to this programme I was Artist in Residence at Complete Video, a leading commercials production house that had acquired D1 recorders, which were the first commercially available digital recorders in the UK – or for that matter, the world. Digital recorders promised to eradicate deterioration of the image and this set me to thinking that I might be able to construct landscapes or ‘picture-scapes’ from images combined together – previously, analogue images deteriorated on being copied.

I then promptly wrote to channel 4 and they gave me £20,000 to argue with the French. Of course, the project became transformed in the doing and took the form of a series of dialogues. This became The Inevitability of Colour where I used the analogy of the idea of colour as inevitable in the construction of the eye as the idea of meaning and significance were inevitable in the construction of the looking, seeing, sentient self. This transmitted on Channel 4 in 1990.

A principle idea in the project was the myth of Echo and Narcissus, sound and image, who were locked together through eternity, somehow producing meaning in the mystery of their imprisonment together. I wanted to see if I could construct an image track that apparently ‘randomly’ accompanied the soundtrack that through the act of repetition at certain points gave a set of meanings to the images.

Soon other ideas began to come and I then made Echo’s Revenge shortly followed by The Object of Desire which takes Narcissus’s viewpoint as he is captured by his punishment to only see himself – Echo’s punishment was to only be able to use the words of others with her own meaning injected.

These three pieces became the Colour Trilogy, which premiered at the 1992 Bonn Biennale. As this was happening I was beginning to get more ideas and wrote 4 other parts which joined the other pieces and together to become the larger 7 part work which I called, The Colour Myths. After moving to Somerset, and with the state of computing and low level video it took some time to have the resources to make the pieces at the level I wanted to make them and finally, by 2005, as so much time had passed I also had to go back to the first piece and ‘interrupt’ it, to confess some experiences I had had as a youth which of course coloured my beliefs. This then prompted the last name change.

Last night after the screening I organized a response session, because as I said to the audience, the proprietor of the Phoenix Project, Liz Beech had taught me through her curatorial skills, the artwork may be finished and ready to view, but one can learn a lot from the first viewings and so my intent was to learn from the audience’s. Of course many things came up it being a complex piece of work. But principally I was congratulated for making a ‘vulnerable’ piece of work, an open piece of work.

Given that I’ve recently realized that the artist taps into an inspirational creative act when making an artwork – and that inspire has it’s roots in the Latin verb spire, to breath and in this case to ‘in-breathe’ or to take note of positive internal intuitive impulses – then what the audience receives through the artwork maybe the distant resonance of that inspiration. If the artwork is ‘true’ then much of the original inspiration will be carried through to the viewer. So, if the main message was openness and vulnerability (depending on the audience member, because I can see that vulnerability is not directly swappable for openness) then what I managed to do was to transmit my original intent through to the audience – which from my point of view is very good because the work began in the intellect (after the first motions and inner whisperings that prompted me to respond).

Vulnerability always evokes a protective response in a listener or viewer, but openness is about simply baring ones inner emotions and thoughts and in this works case, ‘spirituality’. I can see how some people think that that is making oneself vulnerable. One person said to me that watching the work felt like seeing a man hanging on a cross. Another noted that the technique I'd used of making impossible phone calls to long dead people, because they took place in West Country landscapes, afforded a welcome break from the denser parts of the 'text' which took place in constructed environments. An appealing response was that of enjoying the duration of the work which was 'an intense 67 minutes - like being washed over by a wave of creative energy - an inspirational wave". Others wanted the work to be longer still, with more space between the elements.

For myself I’m so glad I premiered this work within a local context as opposed to a big international premier – the smallness of the event allowed me an intimate contact with my audience, which will feed through to any new formulations of the work. Various people had intimated in their comments a need for a less dense experience and I get from this a desire to expand the work and let spaciousness into the experience. I may even place some other images in the work for it’s second screening in February – I am now a fan of an opening that does not represent a closed piece of work – but instead an open piece of work.

(The Colour Trilogy, The Colour Myths: Myth and Meaning in the Digital Age - A Work in 8 Parts) 1989–2007, 67 minutes
THE INEVITABILITY OF COLOUR (1989 - 2007) (part 1 of both The Colour Trilogy and The Colour Myths) 21 minutes (now interrupted by my own tales)
Echo's Revenge (90/91) (part 2 of both The Colour Trilogy and The Colour Myths) 5 minutes
THE EYE PROJECTS THE WORLD: 1992 - 2005 1 minute (part 3 of The Colour Myths)
ECHO'S COMPASSION: Echo’s Gift, 5 minutes 2006 (part 4 of The Colour Myths) 4 minutes
TIMEPIECE 1992 - 2005 (part 5 of The Colour Myths)
THE OBJECT OF DESIRE: (1992) (part 3 of The Colour Trilogy and part 6 of The Colour Myths) 6 minutes
NEMESIS: THE MYSTERY AT THE HEART OF MEANING 5 minutes, 1992 - 2007 (Part 7 of The Colour Myths)
EPILOGUE: UNREAL TIME PIECE 1992 - 2005 1 minute