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.