Sunday, 19 October 2008

...A pause in the pit before accelerating again

I was waiting for the arrival of full 1920 x 1080 plasma screens at a reasonable price before I bought one. After all, I’ve been looking at images on the best possible display equipment for some time now - why should I therefore compromise my viewing experience with less than the full HD rasta ? (Albeit that I had a 26 inch cathode ray tube with a lot more tonal range than plasma and the viewing experience was pretty awful.

I’m shocked because with only a up-rezzing function for PAL images (720 x 576) and no HD in sight until next wednesday, already the impact of the large screen in my living room is immense. Simply put, the rush of excitement any cameraperson gets on recording an interesting image is now fully delivered through the screen to the viewer.

Baudrillard talked about the ubiquitousness of the image - he was however, through the time he wrote in and therefore via the delivery of images through the technology of the time, hobbled by a lack of vision.

So far, in my study and the idea that resolution increases engagement, I must now deal with the impact and scale of the image in peoples living rooms. I disagreed with the art market structure anyway, that placed contemporary art away for the less educated and the alienation that the gallery produces so that my work was to be delivered in public space with due attention to engagement. Now it seems, the old imperative to bring art into full public and private space, the dream of the early 2nd generation video artists, is back with a vengeance. To qualify this, the first generation from Naim june Paik up until around 1978 where in the UK the academy determined sculptural and painterly concerns in a re-mediatory way for the artist to deal with, was the gauntlet that the second generation of television children who became video artists had to take up.

We, the second generation, understood McLuhan with his Global Village directive, we understood the offering of strange and wonderful moments on TV so that the audience was first confused then delighted at how something so strange could appear on the set in the corner. We were reviled by the academy and it wrote us out of its histories which it is still writing. Now the pervasive imperative is upon us, as characterised by Spielberg’s Minority Report, with it’s personal tracking and then the system of recognition offering each of us an ‘individual experience’. By individual here, the notion of a personalised greeting, knowing that each one is mass produced is laughable and therefore completely un-individual. This notion of individualism is characterised in a terrain as described by De Board’s Society of the Spectacle. If the narrative of your individuality is mediated by a herd agreement to be collectivised into mass messages simply appended with your code number - Terry Flaxton or 84fg42tvf5PIH834df45O9JkiD (and its digital equivalent in 0’s and 1’s - then that is something to be avoided if we subscribe to the notion of individualism at all. The self is changing and has always changed. We seem to be the centre of a set of self-interests and more importantly a set of reflective interests. A contemplative function which enables us to change.

So my changing at this moment is to re-address the idea of the work of art within the electronic landscape. I’m not interested in the interactive nor the pervasive. Both of these notions have a deeper key to engagement than they seem capable or willing to articulate. Last night in discussing the issue a friend articulated the idea of ‘art’ as being and enhancing factor for the ‘individual’, that whatever it was it had a function of enlightening the mind of the receiver, the viewer of the work. I loosely subscribe to this idea with a few caveats. I am concerned that the ‘I’ that looks is a universal I embedded within a local system, the ego. Utilising that simile then you look beyond the local and apparent construction of the system as identified by the facilities of the system and try to look outward to the wider system that it is embedded within. Loosely speaking we have to look to the mathematics of chaos theory to try to grasp that idea. Whatever conclusions you might come to if you go along with this, there is the possibility that the artist might speak to the viewer utilising the medium and its form to create the ‘words’ of the message.

So, apart from resolution and what it does, there is display size and impact. You could argue that if Baudrillard were right we’d so become desensitised to this element; Except that we’d take that on and work with what’s available to maintain the poetic commentary on our condition. Tarkovsky understood that the poetics of poetry (a conundrum in that idea) that is, the poetic logic of poetry, the remembering of moments in the world with the benefit of compassionate hindsight was a logic that had a complete fit with the cinematic medium.

Now the cinema, the impact-full viewing experience (that I think is not dependent on being within a group of people) is available to those rich enough to be able to obtain the large screen for their home environment. This number will grow until it is available for everyone. When high resolution images fill those screens then deeper engagement will be the norm. The political problem in this is that those in power may seek to use this engagement in ways that all our writers who warn of the downsides to technology (Orwell and Huxley) and the writers of the Matrix (as derived from french 70’s insect laden technological fearing comic books). Of course we are always on the look out for those tendencies - and it can be argued that those that seek to enslave and those that seek to retain freedom are the twin poles and governors of the human condition. Pulls from both sides maintain a central course with a veering then a correction, every so often to one side or the other.

As for the developing technology of electronic cinematography and how that fits into this understanding of display size and its impact in the mix, that is the study I am now embarking on in my next series of works.

...And yet I saw the end of Nostalgia again, on a tiny little screen on a laptop on Utube. The slow moving tableau of strange people, the still yet moving image, the man that sets fire to himself as a gesture towards freeing all of us in a final act of sacrifice. An image so powerful that no amount of resolution nor size can add or detract to. There is much to investigate here also.

Friday, 10 October 2008

A series of High Definition Works: The Actual, the Virtual and the Hyper Real

Originally I conceived of this series to try to accomplish a set of intuitions that I’d had concerning making art using the aesthetics of HD - or at least trying to explore what I thought those aesthetics might turn out to be.

Before saying more it is important to me to note that to my mind the two greatest cinematographers of the last century, Conrad Hall and Vittorio Storaro, both understood something about the cinematographic image: that it has a photographic element. No surprises there then you might say, given that cinematography is an extrapolation of photography.

Yet there is a subtle distinction to be made, in what one might think was a simple and obvious truth, given that two proponents at the height of their powers saw fit to make what to them was a necessary recognition of difference. To put this in an over-simplistic manner, both in their own way propose that within the stream of 14 or more frames per second there should be one frame that is photographic. The overall stream is cinematographic, but to achieve truly great cinematography one has to unleash the potential of one frame in every shot that is photographic in nature. As the work plays through the audience will at some deep level recognise this moment and this re-cognition will then place the entire flow of images into a deeper plane of reception by the audience. Hall and Storaro maintained that this is what makes great cinematography. Not all cinematographers know this and those that do, do not all agree with this. However, for me, this is a guiding thought in my practice that of course is not in cinematography, but electronic cinematography, which on a material level has similarities with its predecessor - latent imaging for example.

Practice and Applied Route Series of Works on High Definition:

Dance Floor
Water Table
The Unfurling

In Re Ansel Adams
Portraits of Glastonbury Tor
Un Tempo, Una Volta

The Practice and Applied series of works had two trajectories: One set of works (Dance Floor, Water Table, The Unfurling), was conceived to try to explore what I thought I may have learned from playing with the confused perspective that might happen with the audience when faced with an object which had an image of itself (in a changed state) projected back upon itself. A prior work like The Dinner Party did just this. In 1992 I had conceived of an installation for the Bonn Biennale entitled “White Room”. This was about the same time as Professor Paul Sermon’s Telematic Dreaming but did not use telematic elements - at least not directly. I had conceived of a room full of white goods, fridge, sofa, bed, washing machine, which had been shot, changed and then re-projected back on the object at the same size. Money for this installation fell away at the last minute and it was not until 2003 that I made one of the elements - i.e. the Dinner Table. In the intervening years I did many other things in the artistic and broadcast spheres. I shot a group of people from over head having dinner and instructed them to keep their heads out of shot because I was then going to project the same down on to a table of exactly the same size. I did so and the table - The Dinner Party was successful, mainly in the way that it engaged the audience performatively. The distant telematic element in this was the fact of the real and the virtual and the distance in time collapsed by the audience itself who engaged by the past performers and marvelously - the other members of the audience. My later work, In Other People’s Skins which toured 6 cathedrals and Bath Abbey earlier this year from February to June took this concept one stage further and laid out white dinner plates and chairs and also referred to the medieval concept of the last supper (medieval in art terms that is). In Gloucester Cathedral alone 28,500 people visited the location and as a conservative estimation, around 50,000 sat at the table on the whole tour and worked through a set of concepts that come up in the Practice and Applied Route works that I’ll go into later. None of these works arise instantly; they all had a genesis in prior works or even previous manifestations of a similar idea that changed through exposition.

The other trajectory also had three works in it, (In Re Ansel Adams, Portraits of Glastonbury Tor, and the third, Un Tempo, Una Volta) was to explore the possibility of re-imagining that which was already well known to the popular psyche and somehow in using the new medium say something new about the subject or present it in a way utilizing the technology and the aesthetic that I am coming to understand and articulate that renders the images and places - the familiar in fact - as unfamiliar and therefore worth knowing something about outside or beyond what is already known. Also, in this attempt to try to achieve a renewal of the location or image, flush out whether or not there is an aesthetic that accompanies the form, and is not simply the same aesthetic as obtained with previous and similar technologies (analogue video or 35mm film for instance).

In both trajectories there were deviations from the basic rules I had set myself and also during the first six months of the award I was heavily affected by In Other Peoples Skins: this work in my terms had been completely successful in intent and outcome and that in itself shakes ones artistic foundations: to make work that works means that at least one’s path is correct. I had made work that had won plaudits from the audience before - but never on this scale. To put the ‘scale’ into perspective I have placed a selection of the audience comments as an appendix to this report - the readers should judge for themselves. The affect of this tour was to cause me to continuously re-evaluate every stage of the making of the 6 new pieces - both consciously and unconsciously - sometimes I dreamed new elements of the work I was to make and then modified the work I made.

The other thing to say about both trajectories of work is that they are intimately bound together in intent from artist to audience: through the making and exhibiting of The Dinner Party I’d become aware of the power of the artist to actually affect the viewer if they understand the power that the audience gives to the artist in the agreement to view the work in the first place. That is a transfer of control and influence at one level. It is the giving of agreement or consent and this act of choice by the viewer, if the artist is truly aware of what the transaction means, represents all that the artist needs to make and exhibit the work in a successful way. By ‘successful’ I mean here to fulfill the bargain the artist has entered into with the audience - to deliver some element of meaning or significance (given the life understanding of the artist) through whatever tactics and strategy the artist has engaged in. The word bargain contains the notion of an increase for all involved.

That last sentence is difficult to construct because there are many mansions in the house of art from minimalist strategies to primitive strategies, to the expressionist, the abstract, the representational - and all of these and many more exist within a changing cultural and social paradigm - as far as I understand it.

Equally, too much ratiocination on the part of the artist will in many cases truncate and atrophy the ‘action’ of art. To surprise the audience and themselves, the artist has to be bigger than their own process - or put another way, smaller. Whichever definition you use, the artist must be out of the way of the transaction or else the art will be self-conscious (Self-consciousness is of course, also a tactic one might use).

I mentioned conceiving of this series to try to accomplish a set of intuitions that I’d had, concerning making art using the aesthetics of HD.

Needless to say, of the former, reality always differs from one’s imaginings but in this case the change is one of very high psychological value, or put another way, nutritional value. Each ‘making’ involved almost saturation levels of input. To stand in Yosemite National Park, in Ansel Adams shoes, so to speak, doing calculations about exposure, dealing with one’s tools (in this case a prototype extreme high resolution camera) involved an empathetic act (in terms of the art produced) which was profound in its impact on me the maker. To sit in a very expensive London grading suite with world level technology, and world level craftspeople, reformulating my footage and steering the people and the tools closer and closer to an iconographic image until there is in fact a ‘fit’ is tremendously humbling and at the same time empowering - and then, further, to steer the whole process off at a sufficient angle to achieve an ‘engagement’ by an unsuspecting audience, scary to say the least.

One simply has to continuously to ask oneself what one is doing and until a resounding ‘yes’ comes back don’t continue. So there is a séance-like nature to re-enactment, re-imaging, re-producing, but this is a small element of the act. A principle element is the responsibility felt at taking on a subject.

Years ago I worked on a series for the BBC called Building Sites where personalities were taken to a building of import (like Ralph Erskine’s Boots Wets Building in Nottingham) and then I made a 10-minute palimpsest of the place. In the third series the matter of the Lloyds Building came up and no one wanted to deal with it. The executive producer asked me to take it on with Michael Craig-Martin as the ‘personality’. I like to think that what we did fulfilled our responsibility to the public understanding of the place by re-presenting the place in a way that it had never been seen before. We hauled a huge crane to the 13th floor and set to work.

Photochemical photography and digital cinematography have resonances between them. Consumer end HD has around half a million pixels, many professional cameras have anything between three quarters of a million to 1.5 million pixels and the very Professional end of HD equipment at its high end has around 2 million pixels.

At the moment at the top end of available HD, better understood as Electronic Cinematography, we are working with images that contain around 4096 x 2068 pixels and this aligns to the 35mm still image - the single chip or sensor style camera like the Dalsa Origin or the Red One has about the same size as a 35mm negative which means that the optics in front of the sensor are the same as 35mm movie equipment - this is about 8 million pixels. However, NHK are developing 8k imaging equipment with around 7.5 thousand pixels by 4 thousand which is around 33 million pixels and therefore the capacity to show a detailed image is growing.

I want to first talk about the trajectory of work, which included Yosemite, Venice and Glastonbury Tor. My challenge was not only to re-present these locations but also develop the art that was possible in the place.

My strategy was initially to ‘wrong-foot’ the viewer’s expectations. With Yosemite the original uses High Resolution photography to propose the image so that the audience immediately receives the image with huge visual impact. The use of stark and beautiful black and white is the finessing of the idea.

Using 4k electronic cinematography I conceived of a zoom from deep within the material structure of the pixels of a close up of the Bridal Veils Waterfall to slowly, digitally zoom back until 4 k resolution is achieved on the water and at the exact moment the resolution comes into play the close-up of the water is picked up by an analogue zoom (an Angenieux Optimo 24 - 290 mm zoom lens) until the full image that Adams had made is arrived at - and at that moment I drain the colour to Black and White and faded the image to black. I asked the grader to reflect on what Adams had achieved before asking for the colour to drain. She stared at the print for some minutes before wordlessly taking to her controls and working at the image for a while and ‘et voila’ - she had realized the kind of tonality and detail of the original print in moving image form. The deep pleasure in this act was letting go of the reins to the craft and skill of another - just like a 14th century painter who let their studio work on the huge canvas. At the end of the work I then came back and pointed out some changes to further develop the ‘impact’ I wanted.

In the moving version, the art element is the reveal. The audience is continuously asked the question: What are we looking at? As the reveal develops it sees more and more of the familiar image. In my proposition was the idea that the screen the image was unveiled on is 16 feet by 8 feet - this is of course quoting the cinema domain.

The question that arises for the artist is: does all of this manufacturing fall away for the audience until only the matter of ‘art’ is revealed - in a similar way to that achieved by Adams. Has 70 years of familiarity with the image - it’s ubiquitousness as Baudrillard would have it and therefore its disempowering, has that 70 years been washed away so that another artist - myself in this case - may achieve some kind of transmission or communication with the audience?

In exhibiting this work several times now the audience tells me that this has in fact happened. I showed this work at a smaller size to an AHRC delegation including Professor Shearer West at the Drama Department at Bristol University. I would at some point be very keen to have a response.

A note: In order to achieve creation and exhibition of 6 new pieces of work, as the reader will understand, this is no mean feat so I have allowed myself the luxury of exhibiting at a small level to preview it and therefore achieve a sufficiently fast enough response to be able to write this report. All works have been exhibited (listed below) but I intend to exhibit further publicly and I am in negotiations with various bodies for wider public exhibition during the next two years of my Creative Fellowship.

• 12th September, Scarabocchio, Cannaregio, Venice
• 23rd September The Wickham Theatre, Bristol University

• 16th - 21st September, Somerset Rural Life Museum
• 22nd September, The Wickham Theatre, Bristol University

• 18th September, The Phoenix Project, Glastonbury

• 19th September, The Phoenix Project, Glastonbury
• 24th September, The Wickham Theatre, Bristol University

• 20th September, The Phoenix Project, Glastonbury

• 25th September, The Wickham Theatre, Bristol University
• 26th, 27th, Gallery 204, Bristol (Artist lead discussion the second night)

I am in Negotiation with a set of Cathedrals to show The Unfurling during the first half of 2009 for around 10 weeks in total thus emulating In Other People’s Skins (these are currently Gloucester, Winchester and Worcester). I am in discussion with the Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol to show some of the works in their Dark Studio, with the National Portrait Gallery to show Portraits of Glastonbury Tor, the Photographers Gallery London to Show In Re Ansel Adams, The Exhibition Center, to show Un Tempo Una Volta and ROOM in East London to show Water Table.

I am also in discussion with the Watershed Media Centre in Bristol to utilize their NEC Full High Definition Digital Cinematography Projector in hosting an exhibition and screenings of my work to initialize a full discussion of what HD means with this region and this cities educational institutions and industries (Bristol University, University of West of England, Exeter University, Bath Spa University, The Pervasive Media Institute, Aardman Animation, Hewlett Packard, the BBC South West, 4 2 2 South West, Films at 59 and so on).

A mentor of mine, Liz Beech of the Phoenix Project is teaching me about change in exhibition and original intent of conception. Due to this I am allowing myself to be creatively changed through the exhibition of work. In the conceptions of the pieces I imagine a certain form of exhibition but as time goes on and other works are displayed certain changes occur. For instance my work is in High Definition and therefore you might think that it’s ‘best’ display level were to exhibit it at the highest resolution were the thing I should be aiming at. However, at a visit to the Fortuny Museum in November 2007 I saw a piece of work made in 1935 where an artist had shot some textile work on 35mm and then projected the images on to other textile work - this is an early attempt to change the nature of the screen and the result is certainly low in resolution but high in aesthetic value.

For a while now I’ve been utilising a metaphor to introduce the reader to the notion of the existence of a boundary where a certain level of resolution begins to unleash engagement and performativity in the audience. If you consider the light at dusk then traffic lights can sometimes appear brighter and more colourful than they do in daylight, or even at night. Maybe the brake lights of the car in front seem too bright and too red? This is a moment when our brains are switching over from the cones to the rods, one technology suited to colour, the other suited to movement and more useful in black and white. The point is that dusk evokes a fluttering between the two ‘technologies’ for a short while until that boundary of light is passed and the switch has been accomplished.

If one takes the idea over in to resolution, then at the switch over to a certain level of resolution, the fluttering between lack of belief in the image (because there is not enough resolution to believe in it because we can see the lines - especially if it is projected thus amplifying the lines) and conviction - and here, belief is the key. It’s long been known in cinema that there is a suspension of disbelief when we sit down to engage with a film. When I project an image of The Dinner Party on to a table in standard definition you can see the aliasing around the edges of the plates, the prongs of the forks do not have enough detail to distinguish the grey blur. With High Definition you can see the 4 prongs.

With In Other people’s Skins I shot on a low level of HD and images shot with a 960 pixel Panasonic AG HVX200, then up-rezzed to 1080i created an interesting level of audience confusion with the projected plates of food and the real white plates placed in the projected plates location (a lot of low end HD is gathered at half the specifications for HD then up-resolved with attendant loss of resolution when reconstituted). Some people reached for the virtual plate when trying to move the actual plate often with a delighted effect when they realized what was happening. I’m not proposing here that this is at all important because on one level that can be seen as a parlor trick. Instead I’m interested in what this might mean in a growing aesthetic depiction - a question arises: is there in fact a separate aesthetic in this technology for instance? Also, in the new installations is there anything comparable to this that is in any way interesting artistically?

Water Table
Dance Floor
The Unfurling

As I delve deeper into the digital domain, I realise that what is being unveiled by this exercise are the similarities between what is developing aesthetically through developing digital technologies and previous technology, art and culture.

My prior reference to the pixel count of photo-chemical plate cameras highlights a re-mediatory tend in my thinking, yet my main thrust is to expose and articulate that which is of the new medium and not the old. My intention is to draw a parallel between all prior forms of representation and what we are now doing. Naturally, previous technological designs have come out of our physicality and physiognomy and basic physics and mechanics. The physics still hold but the ‘mechanics’ are heading toward change. Can one use the term mechanics when talking of voltage changes? Or is the metaphor undermined because the behavioral relationship between the elements within the form does not behave mechanistically? Regardless, one has to find language to describe the world, as one understands it to try to make intelligent attempts to propose ways of dealing with that world.

In making new work I’m discovering a propensity toward the performative. By this I mean that I have something in mind for how I want the audience to receive the work. I want them to react to the work in a certain kind of way. I don’t want a passive entertainment experience. I want people to receive the work with a degree of expectation that it will perhaps do something other than either entertain them or simply offer them the traditional ‘conceptual experience’ that modern art has traded in for a long time now - and this in itself is becoming tired and ineffectual. To avoid either outcome I find myself doing things which will upset these two effects and that leads me to make work that leaves the audience expecting something different from the work. This in itself becomes a platform for possible change. To achieve this I feel I need to place the audience in a place where they are not sure of what the outcome of watching the work is. There are methods to achieve this.

Utilising tendencies towards assumption, expectation, assertion, logical trends, aesthetic trends and then re-ordering the criteria, the parameters of how people read the space they are in and the work they apprehend are my starting point and lead to simple strategies like shooting an object and then projecting it back on to itself in a changed way.

One of the traditions I find myself calling upon is that of 17th century live statue works, which eventually lead to tableau vivants in the Victorian era. Aristocrats who were not able to afford imported statues from the ancient world simply employed local people who were treated to look like stone statues. This tradition finally finds its contemporary mode in places like the Ramblas in Barcelona or Millsom street in Bath. Performers stand on pedestals and hold a pose. Delight comes when they move and startle the audience. People pay to be startled. In Tableau vivants ‘images’ were made as recreations of historical or mythical moments. The audience was aware that people were performing by holding the pose and there was a delight in this. Later waxworks gave the same feeling and a horror or guignol literature sprang up to suggest that the dummies might come to life.

This power and possibility of this coming-to-life is what I am discovering in some of my recent work.

In the installation In Other People’s Skins, the images of hands and plates moving on the table at which one sits move independently of the person watching. Sometimes the audience imitates the gestures and sometimes a movement might delight and startle the audience. Sometimes the audience might become confused at to what is real and what is not real.

In terms of the exposition of The Unfurling, in a preliminary test for the work actually shot in America in standard definition a year before, thinking through to its re-imagining it seemed apposite to engage in High Speed High Definition capture so that each moment (at 1000 frames per second) would be unveiled in high definition. Some of Bill Violas work is captured on film or electronic cinematography at high speed - for instance in both Emergence (2002, shot underwater, a man jumps in and sinks out of frame and Viola uses the strategies of high speed and a converse action to that which is suggested by the title) and Ocean Without a Shore (2007, people walk slowly to camera in black and white from beyond the real world and pass through an invisible watery barrier into colour and the real world) - in both of these pieces the clarity achieved though high speed, let alone HD, renders certain actions that will be noted by the audience. I think Viola understands something of Storaro and Hall’s thoughts on the photographic as mentioned at the beginning of this report.

However, Viola and many early video artists, Cahen, Matinez - (and myself) went beyond this simple re-mediatory act and took ‘the photographic moment’ and extended its timeline so that it might be witnessed at leisure - and this witnessing by the audience produced in some cases, not simply the awe of the expansive gesture as characterised by Ansel Adams work, identified as a spectacularising of the ordinary in Situationist literature such as in The Society of the Spectacle by Guy DeBoard and less poetically in The Revolution in Everyday Life by Raoul Van Eigen and as an extension to Dadaist thought - the absurd and existential whose strategies when used by contemporary artists produces an alienated or at least distanced gaze in the audience. But this noticing of the gaze in Viola, Cahen, Martinez etc allows us past the spectacular to what critics of Viola might term the strategy of evoking the Numinous present in every audience member. The atheists amongst us might disagree with this quality or strategy, but the psychologist would be happy to admit the tendency, however it manifests, as humanist or religious and a necessary part of the Human Condition.

Susan Sontag in Regarding the pain of Others (2003) discusses the notions around spectacularising the gaze:

‘To speak of reality as becoming a spectacle is a breathtaking provincialism. It universalizes the viewing habits of a small, educated population living in the rich part of the world, where news has been converted into entertainment – that mature style of viewing which is a prime acquisition of ‘the modern’, and a prerequisite for dismantling traditional forms of party based politics that offer real disagreement and debate. It assumes that everyone is a spectator. It suggests, perversely, un-seriously, that there is no real suffering in the world.’

She goes on to elaborate:

“Citizens of modernity, consumers of violence as spectacle, adepts of proximity without risk, are schooled to be cynical about the possibility of sincerity”.

Later in the same book:

‘So far as photographs with the most solemn or heart rending subject matter are art – and this is what they become when they hang on walls, whatever the disclaimers – they partake of the fate of all wall hung or floor supported art displayed in public spaces. That is, they are stations along a – usually accompanied – stroll. A museum or gallery visit is a social situation, riddled with distractions, in the course of which art is seen and commented upon’.

In this reflection on the preoccupations of a privileged few that have an access not only to a reading of the image that is born of a greater degree of saturation by the image, but also the very idea that one has access to a life where the occupation of viewing art as a ‘stroll’ past the ‘stations’ (and here one has to consider the stations of the cross that are so beloved of Christian artists which adorn the pillars of cathedrals – themselves notably spectacular prior to a society that has embraced this form of presentation of the self to the self) Sontag revives the idea of a viewer who might in fact have an in tact ecology of the self. Buddhist notions of this same self would have it otherwise seeing the self as an obsessive compulsive disorder that gets in the way of an authentic engagement with reality, this being akin to Situationist thinking and here I quote Sontag once more:

‘This view is associated in particular with the writings of the late Guy Deboard, who thought he was describing an illusion, a hoax, and of Jean Baudrillard, who claims to believe that images, simulated realities, all exist now; it seems to be something of a French speciality’.

And here I would add to Sontag, a French specialty that has a surprising effect on the Anglo Saxon academic profession. Perhaps we Anglo Saxons wistfully seek after messages that have encoded within their structure an actual offer of hope to the perceived problem of the human condition.

For me, making and exhibiting images as art is a revolutionary act framed by a system of approaching art that seeks to dis-empower the image and the art itself. I use the word revolutionary in terms of a belief in ‘the essential’. Notions of authenticity of experience resonate for me when making art and I have a deep conviction that, like a shaman making a talisman, I as the ‘artist’ can infuse the artwork, primarily by removing my own set of neuroses from the work itself. Of course there is a person framing the concepts and hopefully, that framing is about transmission of the energy that is present when inspiration comes through. If can do this successfully then I also manage to create enough space within the receiving of the work by an audience that empowers that audience to itself become creative and active in the encountering of the work.

To go back to Viola, the point is that as a user par excellence (no matter what you think of the work) he utilises this element that abides within every artists palette. For The Unfurling I had this possibility but in the end I found myself liking more the disturbance to the surface of the image by shooting at 120 frames per second and then blowing the image up for projection. This distorts the image in a way that I prefer.

For the smaller exhibition, in its presentation I chose to utilise the knowingness of the audience in terms of art reference. I projected the image of a young girl unfurling from a sleeping pose. In real life she took 10 seconds to awaken, unfurl, get up and leave. In art time I slowed this entire act down to 15 minutes. However, the projection was onto the floor and it was surrounded by rostra, thus creating a pool for the audience to gaze into and they took up seated positions around the image and remained silent and still for some 20 minutes each.

But continued gazing at the artwork - and watching this ‘sculpture in light’ a different sense of cinema was produced - that of staring at the unfurling of reality as it happens moment by moment in our quickened timeline.

The larger exhibition was different. I used a 16-foot by 9-foot screen hung at a diagonal angle and suspended above the audience at the Wickham Theatre at the Drama Department at Bristol. The audience was invited to wander around the space, under or around the screen and see the ‘cinematic display’ out of context. There were no chairs, no passive seating space allowed – but there was a soft cushioned space that they could lie on to rest as they looked up at the huge image. They were surrounded by the soundtrack, slowed down, with an overlaid voiceover, which I had written, as well as a musical soundtrack that I had recorded. The text that the voice spoke was concerned with ideas around the unfoldment and birth of the universe (I wrote this with the next context for the exhibition in mind).

Some audience comments:

This work gets the viewer to look at something very ordinary in a different way. In particular I liked the way the film showed the balance of movements, that for every shift in one part of the body we must move another to compensate.

Absolutely beautiful, mesmerising. I could watch it for hours. The architecture of the body and its movement in time and space becomes miraculous in this work.

Aaah - I see the world as hyper-real. The grass feels as though it might crunch under my feet.

Next year I wish to tour this work around a group of cathedrals in a square tent that travels around the cathedral sites; I am currently discussing a launch with Winchester cathedral. As you travel through the cathedral you will approach a 16-foot square tent you note some people standing looking on at the installation. Inside the light proof tent a diagonally suspended transparent screen captures the image (it is transparent to some extent because as you walk behind it, the image also appears on its back. As you walk behind the image and look up, amongst those others viewing the diagonal screen, you see one person looking unnaturally still and see that it is in fact a life like life size mannequin dressed in exactly the same clothes as the object of the Unfurling itself with the image of the subject of the unfurling itself projected on to the face area of the mannequin (in High Definition). Occasionally the eyes look up and around to catch the eyes of the viewer. In this way I can compare the outcomes of both standard and high definition effects of the work - but this will take a degree of time to achieve. The tour will be during 2009.

One last exhibition form, which directly engages with a straightforward performative element is a collaboration with a choreographer (possibly Lisa May Thomas) and stage designer Charlotte Humpston (original creator with Jonathan Holloway of the Red Shift Theatre company) to unleash the theatrical possibilities of The Unfurling. It is our hope to bring this work to the Arnolfini dance/theatre space in 2009.

The work would consist of a theatre set which would comprise of the black space in which the 16 x 9 foot screen is suspended at a diagonal above the floor. Around the boundaries, and sometimes within the performance space itself, large hangings of material derived and inspired by the textures found within the image - the cloth worn by the performer as she unfurls, the material she lies upon - and these too would act as screens for other textures to be projected on to (akin to the work I described earlier in the Fortuni Palazzo in Venice). 10 performers dressed in exactly the same costume (and wigs) as the person on screen would describe in dance/movement form the unfurling activity both in synchronized activity and separately, sometimes making discrete tableaus in fixed stand, sometimes all, sometimes with several whilst others carry on performing, sometimes highlighted by specific lighting, sometimes not. There are potential Tableau Vivants to be had here, or at least elements from the tradition to be explored. The soundtrack would again be that described earlier and the performance would be about 40 minutes in length, which would be four loops of the video work.

As I mentioned earlier, the re-presentation of work outside of what I have already imagined and influenced by the exhibitions I have stages will encourage new depictions of the work so that I might investigate further the set of values at work within my art form.

I had done tests for both Dance Floor and Water Table in standard definition. Dance Floor shares some of performative elements with The Unfurling; Water Table shares some with In Other People’s Skins.

I showed Dance Floor at the Phoenix Project in Glastonbury on September 16th 2008. As people entered the exhibition space they saw some rostra which surrounded an image that was projected from above on to the floor. Around the space some 50 old and worn shoes were placed. The exhibition space was bathed in a slow rumbling sound. As the audience proceeded into the room several people had already stopped around the rectangular well in which the flickering light of movement could be seen. Coming to the edge of the well the audience could see that beneath them, two life size performers were dancing together in extreme slow motion. People said that at that point they realized that the sound of rumbling they had heard echoing around the space was the soundtrack the dancers were dancing too, also slowed down. Initially people stood around the well eventually, some of the bolder viewers stepped down and eventually danced upon the projection.

Some people said that as they stood above the projection they felt like they were falling in to it and stepped back. It was only 9 inches deep.

My intention was that the audience would become actual performers as they used the dance floor to interact with their virtual counterparts and other members of the audience. Elsewhere other people began to examine the shoes and made patens as they felt free enough in the exposition of the installation to change the position they found the shoes in.
There are of course further performative possibilities with collaborations with choreographers and live performance artists possible with this and other works. This will be a matter of energy and time (and funding!).

People remarked that the image displayed a grace of movement that was missing from their ordinary apprehension of dance – they found themselves mesmerized by the movement and stayed for quite long periods just gazing down into the well – some obviously were bold enough to join in. The word mesmerized or mesmerizing is an idea that returns and returns when people describe how high resolution images affect them.

As an installation Water Table is an extension 
of my original 1992 idea for White Room. The Dinner Party, which came out of this, was a shot of a dinner party that was taking place then projected onto the space that it had previously occurred in. There is a reference here to Adolfo Bioy Casares’ novel fated by Jorge Luis Borges in 1946: The Invention of Morel. An escaped prisoner comes to an Island where he finds he cannot communicate with or touch the inhabitants. The explanation is that what he is witnessing is a 3 dimensional recording of a visit to the island the year previously. When he learns this he still remains in love with one of the virtual inhabitants despite the evidence of his common sense that what is in front of him does not truly exist, at least in terms of what should mean something to him.

My Dinner Party was punctuated with images of water, earth, fire etc to interrupt the audience’s belief in the table as being real. Of course the table itself was a real table and the image of the dinner party had a certain reality to it and people certainly believed they were sitting down with a virtual rendition of both these ideas. However, I wanted to inject a displacement to the possible infatuation that audience members might develop by introducing interruptive images. I should say here that one person actually sat transfixed at the original table regardless of my attempts to interrupt her activity. So with The Water Table I wanted to abandon image upon reality (table upon table) and utilize the actual table’s function, that of an object to sit around and utilize for various communal acts, such as sitting around it and conversing, but replace its obvious reality with another. I shot on the coast of California crashing waves and variations of moments where the liquidity of water was almost solid and enhanced this with the use of slow motion.

I placed a white tablecloth as the screen on the table and eight chairs which were an invitation for the audience to sit. On the table itself I place pebbles gathered at various beaches in Cornwall, Turkey and California (for variation). My intention was that this element would provide a sculptural dimension as with the plates in the dinner party or the shoes with Dance Floor.

This gave the audience focus and there was then performative play with the placement of pebbles on the image and in obvious piles, but one or two people removed them and placed them on to the floor between the table and the entrance as an indicator or pathway to the work. It interests me to work both with the virtual and real elements in the same installation as a means of bridging the audience’s connectedness with the work.

Portraits of Glastonbury Tor
Un Tempo, Una Volta
In Re Ansel Adams

A lot has been written on the subject of convergence. Most writing has been of the re-mediated form, that is, talking of this convergence from the point of view of foresight (having to look to the issues as unknown quantities and therefore having to synthesise the ideas from what is known) as opposed to the reverse, to re-mediation, which uses hindsight. Hindsight is of course useful if you exist after the fact as opposed to before the fact. We’ve now started developing the idea of pervasiveness - that we are entering a social order that will be permeated with screens. This to me seems naive and is derived from re-mediatory thought. As if any future can realistically be developed from old ideas. No, the future, as a reality, has to be out of our conceptual grasp otherwise it would be here now.

Cinematography was a refinement of one of the trajectories of photography. Motion was produced from showing still images at such a rapid rate that we physiologically apprehended motion and therefore believed that we were watching a moving image. Digital motion imaging or electronic cinematography uses the same strategy as photochemical cinematography to produce motion.

The largest issues of the area, which are twinned, have been around generating enough resolution to suspend disbelief (we are now approaching the resolution of film in the digital) and generating enough latitude between black and white to represent reality sufficiently to also facilitate the suspension of disbelief. New electronic cinematography cameras are around 4k in resolution as is 35mm film. Using the idea of the f stop from photography, which is essentially a formula which calculates the diameter of a circle and the transmission of light through it, the eye sees 22 - 24 stops in bright sunlight, film represents 18 - 20 of them, electronic cinematography represents 12 -14 stops, and rising.

It has always seemed to be, and ratified by the statements of people like Conrad Hall ASC, that within the flow of cinematic images, an image of photographic import will reside. Conrad Hall proposed that for a cinematographic shot to be worthwhile, there should be a ‘photograph of worth’ within the flow of images. There are a lot of variables and values in this statement, but the basic proposition in here is that a movie is a series of shots (with sound obviously) that there is an aesthetic within this but essentially a great movie is one where these parameters are met with the addition of a photograph of worth within every shot used. Of course Hall was a master and very few cinematographers including most Oscar winners do not have this understanding - they might if they were exposed to the idea, but Hall was a reflective master and constantly prepared to innovate through theorising what he had discovered practically.

What I’m saying here is that cinematography and photography have always shared a set of ideas but with this extra understanding here is another element to be shared which goes some way to make the two even closer in idea.

For me that has meant trying to conjoin the subject matter of the twin media - hence Portraits of Glastonbury Tor. Using a thought process made popular by John Berger I can describe my own concerns: taking ideas from 18th century portraiture (how clothes, location and objects within frame delineated the social level of the subject or something that was of import to the subject), the constraints of the technicalities of 19th century Victorian photography (the long exposure times but the popularisation of images of the subject beyond the aristocracy or the wealthy), 20th Century cinematography (the capture of motion and all that that implied) and 21st century electronic cinematography (the achievement of high resolution capture and display that at least begun to parallel its photo chemical predecessor) - Portraits of Glastonbury Tor as a conception brought all of those elements together and made this work inevitable as a project.

Outside of the technical imperatives to make this work there is a tradition in photography of the photographic series, which displays anthropological undertones - as well as those of the circus sideshow. As I mentioned before, people like Edward S Curtiss, Walker Evans, Dianne Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe have lined up an array of their contemporaries (if not social equivalents) to display a cross-section of humanity and humanities concerns. This was a dominant theme in this work - you may detect a Utopian attitude here with the ringing sounds of Copeland’s Fanfare for the Common Man, or the first two minutes of Handel’s Coronation Anthem playing in the background.

Portraits of Glastonbury Tor
I began to prepare to shoot Portraits of Glastonbury Tor where I loosely knew that I had to re-present this familiar object in a different way. Thoughts of shooting it through the day occurred to me, from different positions around Somerset. Then it finally dawned one that of course I should shoot on extreme resolution HD at 4k, quite close up to the Tor with local people in frame. The reference became 16th-18th century portraiture where what the subject wore, or held, or sat upon, or stood in front of said something about them. In this case the Tor was also the subject of the work so the background was set. Another reference I wanted to use was that of Victorian Photography - in fact the long exposure times. I would therefore ask my subjects to walk in to frame and hold the pose for one minute. A third reference was the standard kind of photographic project where the photographer had made a series of ‘real lives’ of real people from Edward S Curtiss, to Walker Evans, to Dianne Arbus, to Robert Maplethorpe.

I shot the work and then thought I should show this Somerset work at the Glastonbury Rural Life Museum in their 14th century barn - not only in it, but onto it. The exhibition took place inside the barn cleared of centuries of rural tools leaving only a cider press at one end and a Haywain at the other. I originally thought of showing the images on the actual material that barn was constructed in, the interior walls of the barn itself. Often as an artist I feel the need to complete a work by looking for a mechanism to finally integrate the separate elements of the work. However, in the end, having tried this, it didn’t work satisfactorily enough so I commissioned a 16 feet by 9 feet screen and the whole project would be correctly are-aligned if I showed the piece on this screen. I did the same at the Wickham Theatre in Bristol. In Venice, I showed this on a small back projection screen.

Going back to the act of shooting: you cannot work with people without entering into their lives and they in yours some way and if this process is a good one then both parties become enriched. Any artist worth their salt at the moment knows this and with the people from around Glastonbury, the gravedigger, the farmer, publisher, osteopath, priest, mosaic artist, dressmakers, famous chip shop owner, Buddhist monk, window cleaner, special needs carer, etc this was a strong integration process into the community. All were invited to the preview and all gave time and energy and the same engagement as I did as the artist and hopefully this engagement draws the audience’s engagement as it did at the Rural Life exhibition.

Some Audience Comments:

Mesmerising subliminal narratives; beautiful, haunting, informative and engaging.

This is new - it redefines the portrait as a crossover between the static image and its limitations and the elements of time in a portrait. Some characters move too much - The biker is the most fascinating in his stillness as there is doubt about whether the image is live or frozen time. This piece asks a lot of questions about our perception and has given me lots of ideas for photography. Exceptional in a sea of plagiarism.

An exceptional work which questions traditional portraiture with the minute discomfort of posing. The HD video resolution demands our attention - detail becomes incisive - excellent.

Un Tempo, Una Volta
With Un Tempo Una Volta I took up the challenge of re-presenting Venice as a photographic subject in a way that might again wrong-foot the expectations of the audience (solely to enable a re-entry into the subject). Having visited Venice a year before I noted the decaying plasterwork on the sides of buildings near the waterline. I began to image a series of shots of some duration that did not show water, watery canals, sunsets, old buildings, tourists, gondoliers etc. But it was only when I realised I must free myself from simply doing the converse to expectation that the glimmer of an idea that was ‘correct’ entered my mind. It’s hard to find the right words to describe what it is that takes hold of the artist and engages the act of doing so that something may be accomplished.

I began to ‘know’ that we should be able to hear the sound of water and not see it. I also began to ‘know’ that a boat should be present but we should not be able to see that element either. I wanted to see the underside of Venice, the bit that’s always there, but that few people, except those that work there see. I began to think that builders, Firemen, ambulancemen, Dockers all see something as they travel the canals.

In thinking of this it dawned on me that I should create a ‘Portraits of’ this area too and so the second project I was making was a second attempt at the representation of people and space. The camera stays still reading the world (like a mobile scanner as Tim Sassoon, LA Grader calls it) in extreme high definition. That in effect is my research - how resolution interfaces with time. Simply put, there is a relationship between higher resolutions of representation and the amount of time the attention is taken up with perusing what has been represented that is mediated by the interface itself. What I mean here is if you look directly, then that is the experience you get - you and it. If you look via a medium, film, video, a telescope, a ride on a helter skelter, that’s the elemental resource that mediates that gaze.

So I and a team set out to find people that would be appropriate to Ritratti di Cannaregio or Portraits of Cannaregio, a district where ordinary people live to the north of the island of Venice where we were working.

We met the boatman and sketched out a route and then took some silk banners to several of the bridges so that some of our helpers could drop them over at the appropriate moment so that they would brush across the camera lens from above and create a field of colour. This again was a device to interrupt the image or at least the sensation the audience would be having, that of being mesmerized, and the interruption would be delightful – that of a field of sumptuous colour

I then chose to shoot near the time of dusk - dusk or dawn because the camera can better handle the sky photographically due to decreased contrast ratio, pointing upwards to see the undersides of bridges which I would light from underneath. I was thinking that when screened, that the audience should lie down and stare up at the projection which takes place on a ceiling (or ideally, the underside of a bridge) surrounded by 5.1 surround sound of water. I’ve become convinced of the need to integrate art with the community as I explained above and so it was important for me to show this work in Venice to a Venetian audience to see if this work in any way engaged with their lives, let alone a contemporary UK audience. I then shot the piece and the ‘rule’ was that whatever happened during the route which was a circle, happened and that was part of the piece. That was a Wednesday.

Thursday we fetched up at the location near Misericordia and planted down the camera on a bridge and then stood in the heat all day long as our portrait subjects came and went and we occasionally found more people who we could make understand what we were doing there at all. Thursday night I prepared the footage for editing. Friday evening, when the footage had finished rendering at 7.40 p.m. we took the projector we’d brought with us to the Gallery Scarabocchio and arranged for the exhibition to start at 8 p.m. precisely. That was a fine estimation of time.

When the hardboard came down off the window and the images of Portraits of Cannaregio fell upon the cloth as a back projection I could see around 60 Venetian faces waiting and then seeing with surprise the image of their own neighborhood and familiar people coming to stand in front of camera, then waiting and gazing at them before turning and walking away to be replaced by someone else they knew.

Outside there was a table by the canal side with fresh block of Parmesan cheese, a whole wheel, plus prosecco and a lot of delight. The bridge set at 90 degrees to the canal side had people sitting on it drinking, looking and laughing with delight as familiar faces came and went. Yes it was in 4k resolution but shown at 1k and yes resolution etc was important, but more important was the representation of their own world through different yet familiar eyes. Later I showed Un Tempo, Una Volta, then In Re Ansel Adams and Portraits of the Tor. Our photographer showed a slide show of her portraiture then I again showed Portraits of Cannaregio and finally Portraits of the Tor was again requested. This happened at the exhibition of Portraits of the Tor at the Rural Life Museum in Somerset – the request by one community to see the world of other communities, which is why I shall go on and collect other ‘Portraits’.

The audience were presented with their own world, the subjects walked to the camera with pride and stepped up to the mark and took the gaze, the re-presentation in high definition fulfilled the task, the gondolier looked into Un Tempo and said this was world he was familiar with. We were basically accepted into their world - especially when in Portraits of Cannaregio I had asked the crew to walk up to the mark in front of the camera and also hold the gaze. As this was shown I paused the playback and we all walked in front of our own image for real and I started to speak through our translator and thank them for allowing us into their community and let us make this experiment.

At the exhibition at the Phoenix project I constructed a well and let the images fall onto the flow – people sat around the rostra gazing into the well and took the potions usually associated with that of Nymphs to be found in Victorian paintings gazing into the pool they were sitting around.

Here I should mention my choice to add sound. I showed Un Tempo in Venice with the natural sounds of the canals but in Somerset a strong urge overtook me to add a focus and this I found in a piece of music I have loved for years, Arvo Part’s Tabula Rasa. Ther is a problem of using music that was composed for another purpose and I was mindful of this issue, but the strength of feeling that came form adding this music was immense and also, in Malta I met someone who knew Arvo Part and I have now made a DVD of Un Tempo which I’ve sent to Arvo Part to get his permission for this use. It is not just a rights issue – it is whether or not the collaboration of his and my work can take place. I would have asked him had I known him – and now I can. Also the person who knows him is a leading composer and I shall be working with her in future so there is a direct creative spin off to this act.

In adding music I am also thinking of adding text. The piece I remade and sent to Arvo Part was different from the installation work. The text I shall add is by Arsiney Tarkovsky, father of Andrey Tarkovsky.

As I ‘ve shown work, I’ve noticed the positioning of the audience in relation to the work and also they way they are lit. In In Other People’s Skins it has been remarked that the audience assumes poses akin to those in a painting by Caravaggio – the light hits them in a similar fashion. In Un Tempo, Una Volta the lighting became akin to Canaletto, in The Unfurling, Vermeer. I shall be enquiring into this function and lighting at a later stage because I sense an opportunity in this element of performativity – however, at the moment I am aware that it may be myself projecting on to the scene what I should like to see rather than what is happening. I shall reflect on this. However, people said they were amazed at the idea of looking down, only to find themselves looking at the rooftops of Venice – a direct opposite without neck-ache.

At the exhibition at the Wickham Theatre I suspended the screen at an angle of 45 degrees and created an area for people to to lay down. This was covered with reflective cream cloth which then reflected the light. People took the opportunity to lay down and let the piece drift over them.

Some Audience Comments:

Compelling, transporting, I felt a first that the music disturbed the experience. But later felt and found that it drew me further into the images.

Mesmerising and curiously powerful. The way in which the angle of the screen upset my visual expectations of moving mages and films was particularly challenging.

Emotive and interesting that it becomes a journey from a vista. Beautiful to see Venice without people.

For this work I decided to re-shoot a scene made famous by Ansel Adams in Yosemite Valley in 1944, Clearing Winter Storm, which he captured through his exquisite black and white images.

On entering the dark exhibition space the audience saw a 16-foot by 9-foot translucent screen suspended in space. The floor was reflective and so the images that were at play on the screen reflected light around the space. The sound of water slowed down accompanied the image as it was revealed taking around 2 minutes before the whole loop played again. This was an invocation of the cinema space, yet free of the seats which induce a more passive response from the audience - in fact it was my hope that the audience would treat the display as a piece of kinetic art, a kinetic sculpture in fact. I purposely chose a display material that was good for both front and back projection because I wanted people to circumnavigate the image, basking in the light that it emitted or was bounced off it.

The slowly revealing image was not a gesture towards the idea of remediation – a form of copying or simply referencing a previous used of a medium - it was in fact about exploring something I’d noticed as I slowly get my eye into shape with regard to extremely high resolution images. To expose this insight to an audience I wanted an extremely long and detailed zoom out of the Bridal Veil Waterfall, which sat on the right of Adams famous image, to slowly but surely increase detail, depth and definition until the viewer is completely engaged with the shot.

From whatever point the audience entered it would receive some level of information about the image and hopefully experience several loops of the work before leaving the space. At the beginning of this image the sound is dominant and it takes some while to begin to understand that beyond the foam of pixels there is in fact the detail of the rock face to situate you with something that seemed at first to be abstract before rendering itself as figurative. As the shot pulled out of the digitally zoomed element of the work more and more detail would be revealed until finally we reach the analogue zoom itself which then pulls back to reveal Adams shot - but in colour all the time. Eventually when the full image is revealed I then took out the colour to ‘stamp’ Adams mark on the image before fading to black and then fading the image of the foaming pixels in once more.

For the audience, this would be the invocation of the kind of pleasure and awe you get from an Ansel Adams photograph, but with the addition of the ‘reveal’ which of course the photographer was restricted from doing by his medium which gave all away at the first instant.

On a technical level I also engaged with Adams work as he was famous for his zone exposure system - however I approached this cinematically instead of photographically (though there are similarities): I rated the camera at 320 ASA for rec 709 and measured F16 in the shadows and F45 in the highlights. The sweet spot on the lens was between F5.8 and F8 so I offered up a 2 stop polarizing filter, a .3 or .6 of ND depending on the lowering or general lift of light, a .3 ND grad to obtain more of the clouds and a stop of F5.6 (and a half) to place the whole image on the place in the gradient to realise the way I want to see what was before me then, once again. There’s nothing special about the above calculation – it’s a straightforward safety net.

My expectation was that when I see the shot again in its exhibition state in its two dimensional form, I wanted to see its essence as it occurred to me at the moment where I looked at the vast scene in front of me and in a Zen-like way regarded the scene as I imagined Ansel Adams would have looked at the landscape for the first time. This is what I wanted to convey to the audience and this is what I wanted to explore performatively. What would the audience see, feel and do?

As I mentioned Adams had a zone system to measure exposure, to find a way of systematizing the process so that it worked each time he used it. When I’m lighting a room or space I turn off my beta functions and shut my mind down so that the wide-vision aspect of my seeing can come to the fore. By wide-vision I mean in this sense a more reflective state of mind and therefore a more meditative view. Anyone who’s exposed a foot of film will understand the previous description and this is what I am learning is the place we have to go to in digital cinema, together with willing accomplices from post-production data handling who can see that this may be a way forward. What I’m proposing here is a relationship between production and post-production that is simply there to bring this latent electrical image out into the open in a qualitative way.

In that little equation lay a route where people can travel to create images that are transcendent of the values of the first period of intensive look-creation from the industry. What we’ll see is subtleties of colour and resolution that haven’t been seen before. Images that are in their own way as qualitative as those derived though releasing the latent image in the film domain. I showed my teenage children the proxy files of the images and both commented separately that they ‘sort of looked like CGI’. This is significant because it is a realisation that something is going on that they can relate to – something that means something in a way that previous digital HD work didn’t – there is sometimes a sense that the imaging is ‘too good’.

A note on resolution and for this I'll use the following metaphor: If a standard lens of a format is the one that when put in front of the eye does not change its magnification one way or the other (in other words neither gets smaller nor bigger but stays exactly the same), then I would contend that our eyes tend to function at 'standard resolution'. What I mean by that is that when we focus on something, we select the thing to look at and then bring to bare on that two elements: increased focus and increased resolution. By these means we separate the object for scrutiny. What this idea brings up is that we have the capacity to incrementally increase certain visual and mental functions - unlike camera optics which have to be set and relay information in a way the cinematographer chooses to get at the essence of the thing he or she is trying to say something about on a narrative level. I find it exciting that our 'sensorium' the set of senses and the sense common to all, the mind, is available in an incredibly subtle way to the experiencer. There are aesthetic possibilities within this to be explored.

The other thing that rang out from working with 4k imaging cameras was the fact that all future handling of data is limited by its size and the pipelines we can push it through - and, importantly, the physics of the medium. What that means is that we have to start thinking of using metadata to control the oceanic drifts of data around the systems we use. To continue the seafaring metaphor: As we increase our demands on the information that describes what lies in our field of view through the camera, or mobile scanner (as Tim Sassoon, the British yet-based-in-Los-Angeles-grader, calls the modern electronic camera), then the super tanker of data - which used to be through compression a small boat - needs to be steered through its various incarnations by a little tugboat with all the relevant information about it. How big it is, what it’s supposed to do, whether it’s supposed to look like a red supertanker, a blue supertanker etc.

The audience is of course unaware of all the above and so it should be, these are simply the mechanics of the work. However, I believe that exhibiting the work in a large cinematic display - minus elements that grounded the work in a previous exhibition form (lack of chairs and therefore the freeing of the audience to survey the work in a way that was suitable to sculpture, was effective).

To reiterate some technicalities with special reference to Ansel Adams work: Normal HD cameras record images with around 1920 x 1080 which has roughly 2 million pixels in an image. Electronic 4k and Photochemical 35mm both have around 8.5 million pixels (more like 10 million for 35mm). The incoming 8k system has around 33 million pixels.

If the 35mm image fitted into the older 10 x 8 plate cameras area around 57 times then it would have around 480 million pixels - In these calculations you could probably halve the pixel count in the 10 x 8 camera dues to older film emulsions having less resolution - however this is substantially high pixel count at 240 million pixels - some 120 times the resolution of today’s normal HD.

I showed this work at the Wickham Theatre and also in Cannaregio and Gallery 204. The show at 204 was interesting as, like the show in Cannaregio I projected the work on to a shop window. Then I gave an overall show of all the pieces and talked about the work as I had at the Wickham on one occasion.

I shall also be showing excerpts of all of these projects at the Watershed Media Centre at the Encounters Festival in November 2008.

There is another form of convergence worth noting besides the digital form that has been written of at great length. One can see elements of this convergence being taken up as theatrical practitioners embrace video, photography, sound-scape work etc. Sometimes the effect of this is very clumsy as one finds a theatrical presentation of Chekhov with breathless and distracted actors repositioning cameras so that the close-up of someone delivering a soliloquy may be seen on a screen side or back of stage. The results sometimes speak of the paraphernalia rather than the theatricality of the event and the audience can be alienated rather than engaged (and there is an argument for that too).

The modernist project propelled us from the desire for techniques of telematic presentation as described above to the actual realities of the technology, which of course had its own aesthetic. Duchamp articulated the notion that the concept behind the work was itself as substantial as its material representation. Post-Modernism and its proponent Charles Jenks raised up that notion until the material hardly mattered (some architects still haven’t built a building - only proposed them to challenge the systems they themselves worked within). Certain French theoreticians would have it that the image no longer mattered - there is a millennial feel around the theorizing this work encouraged.

But now it seems possible to me to encourage a convergence of art forms that does not become subsumed in the spectacularisation warned about by the Situationists whilst brooding on the possibilities that the commodification that late capitalism was suggesting to them, and then played out by the art world in general.

I have been involved in a series of works as collaborations with other artists that could feel the wind of change on their cheeks: Initially, some years ago I had traveled to Los Angeles and been privileged to visit the Museum of Jurassic Technology. On arriving at the back door one was greeted with a doorway with a small view hole behind a grill being slid aside. A face looked the entrant up and down and the grill slid back in place. Some locks were heard to be unlatched and the door was thrown open. Above the entrance inside was an inscription that told of how a museum was not a dead space housing the works of the past but that is was a Temple where the future would be invoked by a gathering of past ideas, works and technologies, and that in fact a museum was so named because this was where the muse would descend upon whoever entered: artist and audience alike. This was a beginning of the equalization and democratization of the act of viewing and engaging with art. This statement alone prepared the audience for a different experience than the normal museum or gallery experience of art and in fact changed what was in fact exhibited. I shan’t describe what was inside - you should go and visit it yourself and you can only find its location with the right questions when there.

On my return to the UK a friend approached me to help organize a show in a hotel that was to close down shortly. We would show work of some kind on the last weekend of the hotel’s existence. Two friends, Professor Jon Dovey and Jonathan Coles and I began to discuss the show. We discussed the Museum of Jurassic Technology and formulated the notion of an artists occupation of a public space - like an occupying enemy army - which was taken up with vigor by our small group and we enlarged this until 22 artists took over the Hotel space over the one weekend and word of mouth spread and we attracted 1000 people over the two days of the exhibition.

Later, I mentioned this to Romano Fattorrossi of the Milan InVideo Festival where I was showing some work in a retrospective (2006) and later he organized an occupation of a Hotel in Monza, close to Milan. Professor Martin Reiser and I contributed to that occupation which also had artists from Italy, Romania, Greece and Germany.

Also, at the meeting with Fattorrossi, Professor Sandra Lischi of Pisa University and Chicca Bergonzi of the Locarno Film Festival, I began discussing the possibility of working together with an old friend, Robert Cahen the noted French Video maker. Robert and I corresponded, I made a piece (One Second to Midnight) and Robert responded by coming to work with me so that I might help him finish his piece for the project (Blind Song) which by late 2007 had become Blink, an international collaboration of artists from every continent - there are currently 9 pieces finished. We decided that each piece be a response to the piece before, be no longer than four minutes in length, be made by an artist from a country different from the last, that when finished (about 30 artists in total) 1000 DVD’s authenticated by signature be made and sold for $1000 each and all profits outside of manufacture should be given to a children’s refuge in Lima Peru. A direct act by an ‘army’ of artists.

Blink was due to be launched at Locarno this August but I considered it too soon, that we needed more completed works. In fact it will be launched in Milan in November 2008 with myself and Robert Cahen presenting it and it will have work by artists from the UK, France, Finland, the Philippines, Norway, Canada, Mozambique and Ethiopia represented.

My point in telling the above is that the convergence of artworks is occurring in many domains, that something conceived of for stage might also be developed for screen and gallery. That if the idea is good enough it can travel through various forms. That the dominance of concepts are one thing, possibly from the earlier paradigm, and that form and content are now more highly manipulate-able. Concept alone was a staging point of the development of a more sophisticated viewpoint than the one that simply needed product as proof of artwork. We now have to go beyond concept because the audience has understood that simple juxtapositions that concepts alone evoked, though once effective, are no longer so.

Two years ago I was charged (through a 5 country European collaboration) of making some installations, in a local environment that tried to evoke the spirit of place. I chose the Bristol Harbourside for a sound installation that referred to the memories of Dockers from the previous phase of the Bristol Docks before gentrification and the spectacularisation of the docks - bars, museums, media centers, galleries, which contributed to a space more fit for socializing and genning-up on culture. I hung 6 x 5000 watt speakers off the Perot Bridge which was constructed to join across a piece of Water the side with the Watershed Media Centre and the side with the Arnolfini Art Gallery - surely a symbolic act in itself. The speakers broadcast a 5.1 surround sound sound-scape of the docks from 100 years before and the Dockers reminiscences - another occupation of space and a delivering to the transient audience an experience of immersive art that had performative elements should the audience be slowed-down enough to engage with the work (which many did).

Here there were no images; here there was only unfettered imagination with the definition of the images that it was possible to conjure up by the ‘spectators’ in their own imaginations. Here the resolution was unbridled and as high definition as the audience cared to make it. I intend to further explore the nature of HD, sound, the ‘enemy’ army of liberators (and the occupation of public spaces in society which have become spectacularised), the cinematographisation and its articulation in a self-reflective manner in my next two years of my AHRC Creative Research Fellowship.

Monday, 6 October 2008

White Night, Light Night: Lejl Imdawwal

I’m sitting in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport waiting to catch a plane to Malta to Install my work ‘In other people’s Skins’. It’s around 9 pm and the place is quiet which allows me to start to think about what I’ve been doing for the last 3 weeks. 3 weeks ago, Venice was a highlight with the production of two pieces and an exhibition in the same week. The following week I opened Portraits of Glastonbury Tor for 7 days then went on to show three different works on each night starting on the thursday at the Phoenix project. The third week I showed 4 different works from the monday to the thursday, then there was another show on the friday and a screening and talk on the saturday....

It’s Wednesday now.

Comments throughout the shows have been very good. People seem to have understood what I’m trying to say through the work - which is the point after all. Concerning Portraits of the Tor:

‘it redefines the portrait as a crossover between the static image and its limitations and the elements of time in a portrait. Some characters move too much - The biker is the most fascinating in his stillness as there is doubt about whether the image is live or frozen time. This piece asks a lot of questions about our perception and has given me lots of ideas for photography.’

I like the idea that someone has been inspired and I also like the idea that the portrait has been questioned, if questioning is a revivifying force.

Sometimes the responses have in themselves been poetic. The Unfurling:

Nested in the green,
His beautiful daughter unfurls into life
A singularity of multitudes,
And into the bleakness forever -
his long lost friend.

Most of this group of works investigates engagement: how it happens, what makes it happen, what may may maker it stronger - and it is also about the photographic image: what it has been and what it might become, what is the relationship between the photographic image and the cinematographic image. But at this moment I am regarding the whole exercise on one level as an exercise in staging - I hung the screen above the audience, below them with rostra built up around it and at a diagonal suspended in space. On another level the work is as a platform for inventing and creating the next set of works. I take my own brief very seriously: that each new work is a building block in an argument towards an understanding of resolution within the digital image.

In Other People’s Skins was the first work of my Fellowship which exemplified one of the processes that I was engaged in, that of projecting something back on to itself in an attempt to create a fresh view of that thing and hopefully enlarging people’s experience of that thing and therefore the world in general. The main purpose of this to enrich the way we gaze at the world; it is alright for those of us trained to gaze at the world artfully, which often translates as wonder, or for those people who exist in a state of wonder and therefore have it naturally. Most people are engaged in a struggle for survival and need the succour and enrichment of seeing the world as a wonderful place to be rather than as a site for the play of their life and death.

This had followed on from the Dinner Party of 2003 but had been imagined as early as 1991 when I nearly had an installation commissioned for the 1992 bon Bienalle. As luck would have it mine was the last on the list and fell off. A whole room of white goods was to have the images of the white goods projected back onto themselves - with added details. A white bed with a virtual old man asleep, laying in it. A sofa with a little girl virtually added. A dinner party with no guests - only their hands and the food. So years later I was going to make ‘Being Michael Eavis’ a play on Spike Jones ‘Being John Malkovich’. A white room with several Michael’s to be put on during the Glastonbury Festival. But Michael wouldn’t do it so, I made ‘The Dinner Party’ one day with some friends. This lived for a while and even showed in its re-shot HD form at the Analogue to Digital show curated by Professor Chris Meigh-Andrews at the Fieldgate Gallery in late 2007. Anyway, that’s the history. Water Table was conceived to extend the communion of people around an object at which they can sit and Dance Floor was conceived as something that people could observe from above - another downward look at the world and later, the Unfurling, a minute movement exhibited over a long period of time so that the frames of the movement themselves bear a photographic weight.

But I had also to pursue another trajectory, that of rendering something that had been imaged too much and represented in a different way so that it might be seen afresh, a concept which had arisen years earlier when had to direct a programme for the Building SItes series on BBC 2 on the Lloyds Building. No one wanted to direct this piece because it had been shot many times before. I wasn’t afraid, n fact I relished the challenge and went in with Michael Craig-Martin, the artist, and I dragged a huge crane up to the 13th floor and had a hothead on it to crate impossible shots of the place to render it as new images and a new place. So much later I decided to pay homage to Ansel Adams in In Re Ansel Adams, Venice, that over imaged iconic destination in Un Tempo Una Volta, and the very idea of the photographic portrait in Portraits of Glastonbury Tor.

So all these things are building blocks for my investigation into the nature of the mediated image, mediated through resolution - why does an image with many times less resolution that our optic system have an effect on us when an unmediated image may have none ?

I wrote in a n notebook a year before proposing the subject of the work to a friend and now Professor who was supporting my bid: High Definition is not so much a format, but rather a portal, a doorway through which we might look and see things differently. It is a doorway that looks into the future because it somehow looks at our current physiology and psychology which we are currently unaware. If technology is ‘appropriate’ in that it arises through our imaginings (initially through our science fiction writers perhaps) and then manifests when it is needed, then High resolution imaging is a reflection of our state.

The world is melting down though our financial systems which are clearly out of date, having been imagined somewhere at the beginning of the 14 hundreds in the form of mercantile capitalism with advanced capitalism following on from imperialist capitalism and globalisation. Money for the self-oriented is a bad form of energy. Image energy as defined by Baudrillard as having no meaning through its ubiquitousness is a bankrupt idea of the despairing mind. Images clearly have meaning and value when offered with intelligence to the intelligent. Ad the ‘intelligent’ are defined by the way they are treated. The educated as priorised by late modernist curatorial project inhabit arid white spaces which do nothing for the ordinary intelligent person. And everyone who gazes is intelligent - that’s what the gaze is, the energy of mind that is above and beyond ratiocination and mentation - both of which can come into play after the initial impulse to gaze and await the impressions offered by intuition. Everyone has intuition if they listen for it, and this is the currency of art that transcends the old paradigm that can be characterised as capitalist art - the art that gained significance under the rule of capitalism and was valued by capitalism for the market place.

Those artists that do something new in the world do it for art and not capital. But they must eat and that’s where old style art evaluation came into play.

Now though we have to approach the area with an open heart and mind and collaborate together to collectively perform art events with communities.

The reason for this is that global image culture is dominant within the mediated arena. Therefore we have to go out of one community and into another to formulate a fresh and real response. This is the way that Un Tempo Una Volta and Portraits of Cannaregio came into being.

And that’s why staging has become important. Staging is an element within context and context clarifies meaning. My art is about speaking from the heart to the heart of another, because the heart is the purest place in us and untainted by ratiocination and all the ego attachments that come with intellectualising.

What this means is I have to become my own manifesto whilst writing it. I shall reflect and I shall become and I shall make work that exemplifies what I discover as I discover it.

Resolution is about deeper levels of clarity - about seeing more clearly, about creating the possibility of a gaze that is energetic and liberating and that is emblematic of the new paradigm that is sweeping the world.

A Coda: On Saturday Malta had its Notte Bianca, it's white night, or in Maltese which derives from Arabic: Lejl Imdawwal. The white night is the night when everything is free, such as entry to all cultural institutions including the St James Cavalier Centre for Creativity. This Arabic phrase is derived from the Sanskrit word Diwali - known as the festival of light, so in Maltese this would be the light Night - Lejl Imdawwal.

Maybe 200,000 people came into Valetta, Malta’s captial and wandered around seeing over 100 art events, including the premier of In Other People’s Skins at St James. Between 6pm and 2.30, over 4000 people sat at this installation in surges and waves of engagement. This installation will be in the Centre for 4 weeks and it is estimated that around 10,000 people will sit at the table over that time.