Saturday, 26 December 2009

Late in the year thoughts...

I make art to explore my subject, which is high resolution image making - or, after several years of looking at the subject area, where everyone is now experiencing something of the high resolution form, I feel that I should now just refer to the area as simply, image making.

Yes there is a high form and a low form of high resolution and very much of what people are experiencing is to my mind very, very low. But then I’ve had the luxury of circumstance to experience many levels of resolution. Like Blake.

Art like everything else turns to dust in time. So, if that’s the case why do it, if your rationale was to make something that was about connecting to the eternal? That was after all my rationale as opposed to having a project that was about shape, form, structure - all that old, old stuff. I certainly have had no interest in recent yet profitable exploits of the artist/charlatan state where the kings new clothes are worn de rigueur - and with pride. Always by very very stupid people with everyone else wondering what the fuck it is all about. Well I’m here to tell you it’s about nothing - nothing at all.

I’ve come to the point (once again) where I’m standing looking up at the cosmos and thinking about my own existence. There it is and here I am. When I’m absorbed in looking at it then there’s no need to do anything - when I come to the end of my looking then there’s a need to sustain my self, food, heat, light, exchange with others and making marks which speak about the absorption I’d previously experienced whilst contemplating the immensity that we are placed within.

Why reprise that - why not just go stare at it again? For one I don’t just want to repeat myself because in that repetition are the seeds of hedonism - self-pleasuring. So I realise that a return to that contemplation can only happen once again when I’ve been refreshed or remade or changed sufficiently for that experience to once again mean something - all of which can come from sharing the experience. In that sharing comes further enlightening moments as once articulates what it was that transfixed one in the first place.


That’s a word that refers to the crucifying of the human spirt on the cross of matter. Yet actively contemplating the infinite relieves that state - and sharing that relief propagates renewing the self. It’s a circle - but then most of existence as experience, from the human point of view, is a series of circular movements and wisdom tries to speak about that - ‘there is a time for hope, there is a time for grief, everything has its time’ - say the psalms.

Art has been commodified by a value system that has fetishised commodities and so art itself within the limited and local zeitgeist has also been commodified. But we know the earth is in some kind of trouble and so we need to make art that relates to this condition. I’m not proposing a lot of eco art that will be just as local as the prior form, - rather a making of art that speaks of the eternal, right here, right now. People have found that they want to express themselves as being alive in an important way - ordinary people have extraordinary selves inside them and commodification will no longer be helpful in defining the extraordinariness of that self.

So to me it seems that we the artists must speak to that need for articulation in the ordinary person and so we must speak of the eternal - the most difficult of subjects to be clear about - and for all of those reading this with lack of understanding at this point someone else once said - if you’ve got the ears you’ll understand the message.

The Italians say: Few are called, but many answer.

Though the commodification of the world eventually implies that anyone can make ‘art’, by reducing what art is to a commodity, therefore it’s re-produceable easily- the truth is only a few can make worthwhile art and at a time when everyone is answering that call, it’ll take some time to be clear about what is good art and what is bad art. But then again one can simply see what’s there with intuitive eyes and mind and respond to the work knowing that it’s good if it speaks of the eternal and frankly, no-good if it speaks of anything less.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Time to make some good work

For an assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings.

So a young artist, Eugene, wins ‘School for Saatchi’ - well, someone has to win - but truth to be told, Eugene’s piece was by far the best work - if you judge the idea of art within contemporary ideas of art: that it is impactful, easy to read, understandable, interpretable and also at the same time, enigmatic. The enigmatic element is what keeps the art market going. If it were not enigmatic then it would be hard to make a commodity of the work - which doesn’t fit in with the decadent end-of-civilisation stance that those who broker the value of art within the contemporary zeitgeist require. (For those unfamiliar with this TV programme, 6 artists make work week by week then get eliminated until 1 wins an exhibition with Saatchi in Moscow).

Saatchi is an ad man - he shapes art in his own image, his own understanding. In McLuhan’s world in which he grew up, things need to be impactful to get through in the global village, they have to be fairly direct to be able to sell the moment where everything is clamoring for your attention. No blame - it’s just the way he is and because he had money he could shape the work of artists by functioning as the demand element of the supply and demand equation. Artists cannot be blamed either. They had to eat. Some of them engorged, but some of them are trying to make amends (if they truly understood their acts in the past) and Hirsts paintings for instance are creating opprobrium amongst the critics and curators because they of course, are behind the wave.

It’s a problem we all have to deal with - the intervention of the artist, the relationship to an audience of a work; the relationship of ideas to objects.

As an artist I’m of course interested in all of that and it is disconcerting to be ‘unrecognised’ and probably were the contemporary curator to consign me to oblivion as an artist then it would be affecting of my confidence - however, all of that must not matter in pursuit of what art might actually be in relationship to the Mammalian/Homo Sapien project - which of course may or may not be existent - but I like to think that it does: that we are an improving species and that ‘art’ is in fact a galvanizing and improving force in relation to the goals of the project - that the artist is in cahoots with the project to make work which reveals something about the truths of life for those that are busy living it.

I’m pretty sure that when I exhibit, I exhibit in some kind of vacuum. The vacuum is my own set of beliefs - see above - and that though I understand about the space in which a young artist is dealing in, the assets and the real estate and the property bonds, the stocks and shares of art, the determining concepts as raised by Duchamp, outlined by Magritte and articulated by Warhol - then utilised by Koons and Hirst - etcetera - I have a responsibility to do more - and I also have to accept my own pre-disposition to the cultural and historical continuum in which I have been placed - but, within that understanding I use my chosen form, video - electronic cinematography - which has a relationship to single image, single frame photography, to photochemical forms... I still have to take the space as did Eugene with impactful work, but then create work which has deeper meanings and resonances for the public, deeper than the flimsy, frothy expressions of concepts (as being as weighty as materials) and going beyond those concerns reveals the deeper empathy of people made sentient within a human frame.

I’ve played with ways of getting at that state and sometimes made work that resonates with that inner tension found in a ll sentient, conscious beings. Now, however, I have to challenge myself to be bold enough, creative enough, brave enough to go beyond my own form and thoughts, transcend my own condition to reveal work which itself reveals everything said above and more.

That’s my manifesto - I have intimations of things that I have to do. I have first to make ‘The Way North’ which I’m part way through making, then I have to make The Crucifixion and use the symbolism in that mithraic and christian idea (and Babylonian and Egyptian come to that) to demonstrate where we stand in history - which as usual, is crucified on our own lack of ability to see beyond our own state - the cross is usually the cross of matter - but we now have to face the fact that the cross is made of everything that constitutes our own blind spot.

‘The Way North’ or as it’s subtitled ‘Until I’m Gone’, is about my own passing on the basis that we really should get used to the idea of death, that just as we were born so shall we die. The Crucifixion is the crucifixion of an ape - because that’s what we are in terms of genus - seen as Dali saw the son of man, from above. At the apes feet there will be the carcass of a cow in a vegetable plot, because it’s time to stop eating living sentient beings, turn the planet over to the production of vegetables, limit the amount of people on the planet and find pleasure in doing real things and stop consuming experience (and things) - because it’s now time. We don’t need ‘The Age of Stupid’ to know what we have to do. True there are a lot of men attached to the idea that they need to eat meat to be a man and carry along their womenfolk in that belief, much as grandmothers commit the actual act of circumcising the young women for the culture - those who should least be involved - but it’s time to stop or terminate the planet (as we now know it to be).

Not that there isn’t a zillion earth-like planets out there and we should also get over our own ‘specialness’ - but our own particular backyard needs tending simply because some of us do not want to be wanton, some of us always wanted to care for the environment, some of us knew from the very beginning that animals should be spared - not just because they too feel as we feel (in every respect), but how could we look ourselves in the mirror if we committed an act of cannibalism ? It’s just time to change, that’s all - and art has to reflect that decision to mean anything to anyone in a world that just might seem to be dying.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

A friends questionnaire

Bristol University 1921 - from a a recent Portraits Project

A friend asked me to complete a questionnaire on the subject of 'Art' and I realised I've been thinking about this subject area a lot lately and needed to commit myself to 'paper' no matter how pompous it seemed. I write this just having examined the latest thoughts on exposure and compression in wavelet transforms (as used in Red One). So though there's not a technical note at all in what follows, it's written with a mind to the technicalities of producing moving image art with todays digital media.

1.How did your recent Portrait project come about?

I began in photography when I was a student – so the still image is my starting point (in some ways). Having made many documentaries which examine ‘real issues and real people’ and having come to the conclusion that the only thing a documentary documents is the attitude of the maker at the time of making to their subject, I put the documentation of the real on the back burner and became more involved with fiction and with art in the moving image. Having gone through many ideas over 20 years I became interested in doing the opposite to what you should do with moving images – move the camera and change the shots: so moving image portraiture became of interest because you neither moved the camera, not the shot. Portaits iof the Somerset Canivals is my fourth portraiture project and there will be more of these plus developments of the form – Monumental Portraits of the working people of the Somerset levels being the next. In this I’ll turn the screen portrait at 20 feet x 10 feet to aggrandize the subject. It’s a socialist perspective.

2. Where would be the ideal place for you to show Portraits of the Somerset Carnival?

Tow ideal places: The Rural Life Museum because it contrasts the past and contemporary technology and the second would be any foreign environment because using the ‘strangeness of others’ is a useful and impactful staging of work. When Portraits of the Tor was shown in Venice, the Venetians loved it – and – when Ritratti di Cannaregio (Portraits of Cannaregio) showed in Glastonbury, Somerset people love that too. Therefore ‘difference’ works as a staging tool.

3.Do you think the location of where your films are played makes a difference to how people think about your film?

This only appears to be a film – it is s movement of light and a movement of sound which we choose to see as an ‘image’. So I reject ‘film’ as a description – also it doesn’t describe this technology but the late 19th century invention of celluloid. As for the place where people are exposed to this play of light and sound, it is as key as where it was shot and what was shot. The artists selects the subject, the form, the description and where the audience apprehends all of these. Sometimes the artist has to randomize their own preconceptions (as above with the use of ‘the other’). However all you’re trying to do as an artist is to display, depict, transmit your own intuition about the work as clearly as you can – I don’t mean intellectual clarity – that’s an academic position which is explicitly centered on how we apprehend via the frontal lobes of the brain. I’m more interested in the whole or gestalt experience of the audience. If the artwork is ‘true’ to the artists original intuition and realized without too much personal baggage attached, and then staged knowingly, then the audience will receive the ‘transmission’, the artwork, as the artist originally intended (baring in mind that the artists intentions are very wide of the mark in terms of what’s good for their own work – it’s a minefield)

4.What do you think when choosing an angle to film?

So far I utilize western aesthetics – ‘the golden mean’, said to derive from our sensory condition and how ‘beauty’ is derived from the fact of photo-sites, optic nerve weave, data rates of transmission, receptor cells, brain capacity – all that western stuff which like everything else is simply a narrative to tell ourselves how it is for us within the human form. For 30 years I’ve been pointing a camera in professional situations and therefore have experienced the norms of depiction. If you’ve done this enough you can frame with your eyes closed, just listening.

Having said that – I go for pure and direct naturalistic framing with a balanced frame simply to acknowledge the above and not be mired in any of the various ‘problems’ of alternative framing choices.

5.Which is more important to you, the subject for your film, or how it was filmed?

These two are one.

6.What moves you most in life? (Inspires or upsets you)

Art is the only important thing in life. It is the eternal in the now. This very moment, the acknowledgement of which, is the art of the moment. Whether contemporary art school training is turning out artists or ‘noticers’ of the fashions of the mammals and the apes is another question. For those that have managed to not be bogged down in that question – everything is possible. The collegiate of artists, greater or lesser, are people I understand. Anyone who has realized that this is not all that there is is moved to speak about that – and ehat they speak about is art, with greater or lesser talent. The rest are the ones that didn’t volunteer for the job, for one reason or another. Art is a painful route sometimes – as you’ll no doubt know.

I should’ve written this up as a blog…..


Tuesday, 22 September 2009

On Making a New Piece of Work in Bergen, Norway

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings.

What follows are some musings on the motives behind creating a new piece of work. This is a blog about high definition but I am also concerned with making art within this form and for a long time now I’ve been concentrating on the technology and then aesthetics, but my recent trip to Bergen to teach a workshop on the subject of HD to MA and Phd students and staff of an art school (not a standard academic institution) has altered my view on what I’m doing. This visit has opened up some issues for me and I wish to discuss how and why I make art so that I might articulate (also to myself) the process, so that I might better improve what I’m doing. This begins with the naming of the work and certain titles have arisen that say something about this project:

Self Portrait
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
The Way North
Nor Way
Until I’m gone

I might use one or none of these. They come from the fact of Norway itself – known in Norwegian as ‘the way north’. ‘Nor Way’, because there’s an element of ’no’ way forward. Matsuo Basho’s ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’ was very influential on me. Beautiful and sometimes comic travel descriptions of late 17th century Japan, sometimes encapsulated in haiku form – the use of the title would be an homage. ‘Self-portrait’ because that’s what this is at this stage of my life (a nod to Rembrandt here and his persistent and useful self-portraiture). ‘Until I’m gone’ is the subject of the text – who am I whilst here, how will it be when I’m gone – does the world stop – or just me. Was it here before me and how was it/will it be.

I took a trip into the fjords and of course there were a lot of people on the boat – but you will not see them – only me and only what I saw. I couldn’t help but abstract images of water, hills, of reflections. There’s the issue of what the artist notices – what’s in his or her eye and mind and therefore aesthetic – is it worth looking at ? I’ve seen so many small works of art in museum’s and galleries that really are just neurotic responses to the world, that were not worth making (or at least worth it to the artist to get something out of their system but actually insulting to an audience who had travelled to see it.

Moving image works occur in time – generally starting at one point and ending at another. Point A leading to point B. The use of narrative in video art has been frowned on in recent years because entertainment uses this strategy to entertain the audience as its primary force and the art system here doesn’t want to associate with its strategies, as if art will become contaminated by that association. Artists tend to think of narrative as candy floss – a means of overwhelming the audience into submission. Then various strategies within narrative capture the audiences attention and others deliver fulfilment – narrative resolution being a strategy that sends the audience home happy. Except of course, its now been so overused that even Hollywood is faltering in its stride.

So I wanted to think about narrative – about whether art should not use this strategy about whether the use of it automatically disables the art and turns it into entertainment. About whether things do not need to have a story – a line, a direction, about whether art can use narrative in its palette of expression – or whether narrative is too heady a strategy and will in fact take over a work that the audience is then left entertained by, rather than going through that more subtle of experiences that we call ‘art’. Through looking at this I also wanted to look at the nature of what that more subtle experience was, about whether when looked at too closely it comes apart as you examine it.

Entertainment makes an audience read a work. Assumption, expectation, congratulation (for having realised a point – but then modern art uses that strategy invariably), various ways of reading the information you have before you – and one very dangerous way: Interpretation. Much modern art requires approaching something that has disguised intentions – disguised because that strategy is considered allowable by the 20th century modernist project as it grew into conceptual form – if an intent or a concept was disguised or withheld then its revealing, the revelation of the point of the work, would come with added impact. So many works are a simple juxtaposition of two ideas where a frisson is generated in the viewers mind – how much more powerful if this frisson was ‘revealed’ rather than seen straight away. To me this is as disingenuous as a bad use of narrative form. Equally the pointless work, or the work that is solely concerned with form gathered weight in the curatorial mind, then a series of strategies that involved the use of irony – to show how we are now beyond being affected by the qualities that used to be paramount in renaissance and enlightenment works. These two are different of course but share common functions.

But irony is the work of the cynic and the scoundrel, the craftsperson who avoids the point that comes when ideas like ‘beauty’, carrying a terrible relativistic edge to its meaning and appreciation. In this sentence I’m calling the artist a craftsperson because that person is avoiding ‘the matter of art’. Of course the contemporary theorist is having terrible shudderings at my cavalier attitude to this well thought out area. But I make my comments because I am mindful of one important thing – that the artist is above all, a practitioner and needs be true to practice rather than theory, value, the market, the dominant curatorial project or any set of values or ideas that might sway the embodiment of the urge that makes people create art works as pure transmission from the deeper psyche.

All an artist does is ‘know’ something, perhaps dimply, then follows their inspiration and intuition towards an expression in some kind of form, for display and exhibition to their fellow men and women. This gesture is the childlike gesture of finding something interesting and saying to ones fellow children in the play area – come, look see what I’ve found – what do you think of that.

The artist show the audience what they are about to know and become familiar with, the artist journeys ahead to the horizon to see the landscape that lies beyond.

Earlier in the dim light of early morning I awake and began to think about staging my new, as yet unmade work. I knew pretty much how I would formulate the images and sounds and the general direction of the work.

Over the last couple of years I had made many installations that were to be experienced in part. One could enter a space and come upon a work that would simply continue before one entered and after one left. That way, my theory went, the issue of ‘narrative was diluted and people could approach the work which involved a ‘going’ and leave without the addition and complimentary act in narrative of ‘coming’. The narrative journey of moving between ‘A’ and ‘B’ was interrupted.

I had taken on the issue of staging – moving the screen from the wall and perhaps suspending it above the audiences heads, or laying it down upon the floor, or doing away with it and projecting images on to objects. But now I realise that I have to go even further because all of the things I’ve tried are simply strategies – some very effective and to be used again. But now I wish to go more deeply into the form itself and I no longer mistake the material of the form, video, electronic data, digitality etc, as the form. The form is the concept, the idea of moving image itself. The idea in fact of ‘image’ moving or not. The idea of ‘art’ embodied or not, concept or form, material, displayed or not.

But with all of this remaining true to the original engagement – I’m not talking here of my fellowship, but my original engagement with the act of making. I have spoken before about a compulsive inner urge to make inscriptions. I have been challenged on that through the argument that all that you do is chosen and so I am not free from responsibility towards choice at all points; but if you practice, you know that deep down beneath any set of intellectual constructions about what art is or why we do it is for want of a better descritption, the ground of the human condition.

By this I mean that which moves us through the world – not as individual personas, but as the human species upon the human project. And here I use the term ‘human’ as descriptive as a local state, in our case biped, primate, carbon based. To me, ‘human’ means sentience embodied – and I don’t care if that sentience is in carbon reptile, carbon mammal, silicon, gas whatever. If sentience is present then I call that ‘human’.

So, in the early hours I began to think of this piece I was upon in terms of its possible outcome: single screen, black box installation, multi-screen performance etc. I was trying various outfits on to my idea, my tailors dummy, to see what clothes best suited it. Of course it became relative – but that’s part of the condition.

I have various thoughts on how this will come about, but I do know that the act of making will begin t change what the work is, what thoughts I had had, will change and the material will start to ‘speak’. I will apply simple conventions to the use of the footage I’ve shot and they will either enhance or deplete its power. My set of aesthetics gathered through many years of making will come into play and start to determine the relative use of these aesthetics and what you now see and hear before you will be one outcome of this act – one outcome because I now know, whatever I think this thing is, it is also many other things and can be displayed and exhibited in many ways.

The artist must lead the curator and not the other way around. Most artists are within the zeitgeist and of course should be lead by the curator – but some artists must go ahead. As the Italians say: “Few are called, but many answer”. So it gets harder and harder to find the work of the people that innovate, because innovation is not just something different from what you normally see. Sometimes innovation is very hard to see because it is in fact so different.

But – importantly, I have begun my work and it excites me, makes me want to come back to it and develop it because I sense that it is a way through this conundrum. I am asking a Norwegian friend to translate my work into Norwegian and speak the voice part, my text will be in English – I have used this technique a few times now. It’s necessary because we are in a global situation and the voices of the many languages will speak a common truth.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

The Concept of Colour Space from the practitioners standpoint

Colour and the Moving Image

Colour is a phenomenon of mind and eye - what you now perceive as colour, is shape and form rendered as experience. Visible light is electromagnetic radiation with wavelengths between 400 and 700 nanometers. It is remarkable that so many distinct causes of colour should apply to a small band of electromagnetic radiation to which the eye is sensitive, a band less than one "octave" wide in an electromagnetic spectrum of more than 80 "octaves." When thinking about the issue of synesthesia, remember that it occurs in a very limited sensorium.

Above are two representations of colour space. In each, the coloured area represents the visual field that evolution has endowed us with. This is one octave of possible experience.

Trying to systematize the idea of colour and naming that understanding ‘colour space’ has historical precedents which I’ll discuss later, but the notion of systematizing the concept grows out of ‘Enlightenment’ desires to know the world in a material way by mapping and planning, then proceeding into Victorian methods derived from, indexing and cataloging – which comes from a desire to create the experience of understanding from methodology, an idea who’s dominance is still with us.

Colour has been formulated by intellectual cartographers but is not a map – colour is experiential as the cinematographer well knows. In photographic terms colour as a function of seeing and meaning came late to the form. Because of this, notions of areas of containment of colour grew – as if colour had been graphically applied to an area - thus denying its inherence in form. This is in fact true in terms of late analogue televisual forms – but not true of digital electronic cinematography.

Film is exposed and latently holds an image, then is developed to ‘reveal’ that image. Film was and is a medium that had and still has many intricate and alchemical processes before its exhibition and revelation of a captured reality in the cinema: a temple built for the purpose of ritual display, where all who enter are required to suspend their disbelief. Film asks us to deny the actual material reality of the environment we are in and also to deny something of our own self.

Colour in this environment too was to be a function of the act of belief in the unreal. The generation of the idea of Colour space is an umbrella concept under which sets of ideas coalesced around the organisation of that function and as such took on various methodologies for its assemblage.

Because we are the ape that we are, mathematics quickly becomes for us a key organising factor in the description of this functionality.

“A colour model is an abstract mathematical model describing the way colours can be represented as tuples of numbers, typically as three or four values or colour components - for instance RGB and CMYK”.

“Most colour models begin as three dimensional forms because when you distribute the values in 2D space, that space cannot hold all the necessary axes relevant to the distribution of those values”.

In one of the examples above, there is a simple distribution of values that charts how a display from a computer is related to a display from a printer - in other words what the computer can display and what a printer can display.

The other example of colour space seeks to demonstrate the relationship of the visible spectrum to film, print and the computer.

“The range of colours varies enormously across different media. Of the billions of colours in the visible spectrum, a computer screen can display millions, a high-quality printer in the order of thousands, and older computer systems may support only 216 colours across different platforms.”

I could elucidate further on variations of description of print colour space, film colour space and computer colour space, I could elucidate further on whether those spaces are best displayed in their respective display co-ordinates of RGB or CMYK.

I could try to tell a history of film space and how electronic space addressed that, of how Kodak generated the cineon file system which was created for electronic encoding of film colour space with later developments of Digital Picture Exchange (or DPX), both of which generate a set of separate files each of which is one frame of film taken over into one digital frame of display - of how each carried meta-data about the conditions under which the image was generated in - and so on and so forth - but I won’t because that is for further reading - if you are interested.

What I will do and I’m trying to do it right now, is to indicate that simple technical terms that are understood by ‘the industries’ are replete with not only cultural and social meaning - but also exist within paradigms of understanding that are now changing – primarily due to the advent of the digital.

The Practitioner

I wish to turn now to the practical act of the cinematographer entering into the concept of colour space and how that can be achieved.
The early issues of video and film are now behind us and in some senses a rapprochement between film and the latest representative of the electronic – digital electronic cinematography - has occurred.

Original electronic imaging was analogue in form – as was film – yet the formulation of the capturing of an image was different from film.

Film has a large latitude – one could make an intelligent ‘mistake’ and rework the material and formulate a sense of ‘atmosphere’ within the image. This is commonly known as ‘the Look’.

Analogue video was clean and clinical and you had to get the exposure right – in the early days, if you didn’t get exposure correct then you didn’t get focus. Colour itself was grafted on to an already set formulation of image capture – PAL - it was effectively an afterthought: Phase Alternate Line.

I shot one of the first features, generated on video and transferred to film for theatrical distribution; this was Birmingham Film and Video Workshops production ‘Out of Order’. I approached the task by imagining video as being like a reversal stock – with very little latitude for mistakes in exposure. The transfer to film was adequate, but when compared to today’s digital transfer techniques, was not good in terms of colour.

With the advent of electronic cinematography something very important has happened in the capturing of the image. In both photo-chemical and electronic cinematography until the image is developed, the image resides in a latent form in both the silver halides and the un-rendered data. Development, the bringing forth of the image in film is similar to the rendering of the image in the digital and electronic domain – and importantly, colour is within the bit-depth of electronic data and is therefore an integral part of its material form.

This developing practical understanding in the professional realm is counter to arguments that circulate within media theory – for instance: New Media A Critical introduction latest publication 2009, Lister, et al, claims an essential virtuality to new media where the precise immateriality of digital media is stressed over and over again.

However, industrial and professional expertise now challenges academic convention by seeking to re-inscribe digital image making as a material process.

One of the first films that took a material film base and dealt with colour in the electronic realm was ‘O Brother Where are thou’. When Roger Deakins was asked by the Coen Brothers to shoot this, being a creative and intuitive cinematographer, he knew that he was being offered a chance to cross the bridge between the ‘convergent’ and the ‘integrative’ paradigm. Deakins job as he saw it was to enact the kind of colour space seen in the faded, poignant, postcards of the twenties. Deakins knows his film colour space. He’s had enough practice.

I want to tell you the kind of method that a practitioner like Roger Deakins employs to understand the function of colour in the world when faced with a multi-million dollar set of technologies - also adopted by a friend of mine when shooting a quarter of a billion dollar production recently.

If you decide that you’re going for a certain look, because intellectually you’ve justified to yourself that this look in some way underlines the intention of the director - and after you and he or she has toured the galleries, looked through the books, seen the movies that seem to relate to the project – and after you’ve jettisoned all of that because you know that referencing is mostly an act of creative failure and after every residue of resistance has gone, then and only then you turn to your intuition about the way you must proceed.

It might be that that intuition is to evoke green as a colour - or maybe it’s a magenta cast - or it has a warm glow which at the dramatic end you feel has to be taken away from the audience and supplanted by its opposite....

Which ever of these tactics you decide to embrace to achieve your goal, you accept the fact that you have to enter a colour space and live in that space until you know it fully - so fully that you can reveal its nature to both yourself and then the audience.

So you buy yourself some sunglasses.

If the world you need to reveal is green, you find the right colour green and wear those sunglasses for a month or for however long you need to wear them to know the world that has that particular shade of green.
Conversely, but with a little more risk, you can take the opposite approach and buy a pair of sunglasses that are the complimentary opposite colour of the world you eventually wish to invoke.

In so doing you exposure yourself to the opposite world of colour so that when you take the glasses off, the complimentary opposite of the world is revealed with even greater intensity – more so than the continuous appraisal of the world by seeing the correct colour continuously. That moment is a moment of incomparable intensity.


I now want to give you a brief idea of how we began to systematise the idea of colour:

Aristotle developed the first known theory of colour. He postulated that God sent down colour from the heavens as celestial rays. He identified four colours corresponding to the four elements: earth, fire, wind, and water.

Leonardo da Vinci was the first to suggest an alternative hierarchy of colour. In his Treatise on Painting, he said that while philosophers viewed white as the "cause, or the receiver" of colours and black as the absence of colour, both were essential to the painter, with white representing light, and black, darkness. He listed his six colours and within this is the age old symbolic system of alchemy.

The Enlightenment project then later stimulated a material examination of our physical state so that eventually theories developed that began to mirror and explain how we next believed that we ‘really’ perceive colour.

Isaac Newton created a colour wheel of perception in response.

Moses Harriss wrote the Natural System of Colours in 1776.

J. W. Goethe developed a colour harmony theory on the basis of his hue circle. In this circle, colours are categorised into two sides, the positive and the negative.

Ewald Hering (1834-1918) devised the first accurate theory of colour vision. And so on and so forth until we truly enter the physiological description of ‘reality’:

“Colour is a response of the eye and brain to data received by the visual systems evolved from the immediate environment. Objects emit light in various mixtures of wavelengths. Our minds perceive those wavelength-mixtures as a phenomenon we call colour, and this perception creates questions that current colour theory tries to explain”.

Vertebrate animals were primitively tetrachromatic. Tetrachromacy is the condition of possessing four independent channels for conveying colour information, or possessing four different types of cone cells in the eye.

With the trichromacy normal in humans, the gamut of colours construed by our perception will not cover all possible colours. Human trichromatic colour vision is a recent evolutionary novelty that first evolved in the common ancestor of the Old World Primates. Placental mammals lost both the short and mid wavelength cones. Human red-green colour blindness occurs because the two copies of the red and green opsin genes remain in close proximity on the X chromosome.

So we humans have a weak link in our chain with regards to colour - we are not 4 cone tetrochromats, we have three and in some cases only two - in extremely rare cases we have one!

We are now within a profoundly material description of our experience, yet this is incomplete, especially in terms of emotion and intelligence as has been brought out in other papers - I want to bring in another idea that relates to this description which is called: the Modular Transfer Function.

We humans value detail and sharpness more than resolution in an image. High resolution is synonymous with preservation of detail and sharpness, but high pixel count - which is generally regarded as being a measure of how good an image is - does not always translate into high resolution.

“As you try to increase the amount of information on the screen, the contrast that you get from a small resolution element to the next smallest resolution element is diminished. The point where we can no longer see contrast difference is called the limit of visual acuity. It’s the law of diminishing returns, and a system’s ability to preserve contrast at various resolutions is described by the modulation transfer function (MTF).“

The point of this technical description is that, as Alice observed on traveling through the looking glass, the smaller you go, the rounder you get. As Ivan Illych noted in his analysis of the creation of systems, there are drawbacks within the actual material construct of the system that you design. And this is especially so with colour: for instance a camera might be at 4k resolution in red – but it might only be 2k resolution in blue.

What I’m trying to come to here, is that I regard the area that each colour space covers as being a footprint of understanding, demonstrative of a world view - and world views, as we know, have many ramifications.


In film alone, compare Technicolour of the '50's with Colour film in the Eastern Block in the 80's and Chinese colour film in the 40’s. Surely a statement about national psyches and all existing within different film colour spaces.... The dominant colouration of these spaces speak about the state of the nations zeitgeist at the time of production.

The recent electronic and data based colour space is a statement about this particular time and the new possible epistemologies of understanding that are developing beyond the simple systems of materialist thought and materialist theory.


Using the metaphor of ‘modular transfer function’, that a chain of information and in this case a chain of understanding, is only as wide and as deep and as strong, to mix my metaphors, as the weakest link in that chain. Then only in the narrow optical region, just that region to which the human eye is sensitive, is the energy of light well attuned to the electronic structure of matter from which colour derives.

But we must not confuse this attunement as a metaphor of complete meaning - there are many meanings to be obtained within the concept of colour space, many emotional spaces, many spiritual and many intellectual spaces – and above all, many experiential spaces.

We see within a matrix of words when considering the subject, but when simply experiencing it, we do so on a different level of comprehension.

1 With the advent of the digital and our necessary remediation of it via older analogue understandings, we are upon the brink of constructing new concepts, to utilise the metaphor of colour, that will enable us to see outside of our current visible spectrum and therefore gain understanding to illuminate our intellectual world with greater intensity and detail. In this ‘seeing’, new language will be generated, new ideas, new uses of light and new concepts of colour and understanding that will begin to match what is now intimated through the development of digital colour space.

To effect this change at a more rapid and experiential pace – to achieve revelation: let us all buy a new pair of sunglasses.

Making HD Work

In May 2009, though having shot quite a few times before on 4k, I spent a week on a 4k camera - here are some thoughts written immediately after shooting about the process in relation to the idea of art history:

This week brought into focus some issues around High resolution imaging and art.

The camera per se was invented to ‘capture’ ‘reality’ (as if it needed catching and like all wild things did not want to be caught).

Contemporary art seems to have long passed the idea of configuring reality through brush strokes or forming matter as simple representations of what seems to be before the artist and then exhibited to the public as an act of art. The last century discussed the idea that the artists conceptualising of an issue was at least as important as the materials he or she was using, until only the idea mattered and the form that was being used was some kind of barrier to that act.

But the camera relentlessly presses it’s two dimensional representation, whether photo-chemical or analogue video or latterly data, as the formal configuration of what lies before the person ‘capturing reality’ at a chosen moment - and yet this act is in contradiction to the dominant mode of art, including its exhibition at this point in time.

It seems to me, that in ‘the matter of art’, art historians are as important as artists for it is they who set the cultural value system that society’s dominant modes of reading of art lies within. The current mode of understanding of art within late capitalism is of course the commodification of art - giving it value so that it can be traded in the market place - whether that market place uses currency or tokens of value.

In the late 1930’s the Frankfurt Social Sciences research project moved to New York and in a moment of pure modernity, art historical appreciation of their own project changed. Two cultures, the continental and the American met and exchanged and entrained to produce the project we now make art within.

This collision produced a set of relationships between Theodore Adorno, Meyer Shapiro, Claude Levi-Straus, Herbert Marcuse, Arthur Porter et al.

Meyer Schapiro wrote a text on the appreciation of a sixth century church doorway that differed from other early sculptural works in that it was principally asymmetric - it depicted a sleeping figure, not a figure doing something - as well as many other features.

The contemporary project was examining an issue in a sophisticated way. If producing the idea of a biography of the artist to produce a reading of that artists art was bankrupt - i.e., the projection of a closeness felt through understanding of a life lived, then re-projecting that understanding on to a painting as if that projection in some way made sense of the painting was incorrect (after all, that life lived and understood by a contemporary mind was a fictionalisation) then ‘understanding the work through that fantasy was false.

So the project of the art historian became about finding the anonymous artist to study, then there could be no biographical projection. Also, the project had been up until Shapiros work, a looking at the general early romanesque work where certain fashions of representation were consistently used - Christ and the Saints in their place - as was that fashion. Shapiro looked at a trameu above a doorway that did not fit this because it was asymmetric and had representations of man and devil that were different. Shapiro worked out that prior interpretations were a reaction to the artist as biography, its opposite in fact, so what if the artwork were a description of the world that it was produced within.

All of this is tracked and beautifully described in Thomas Crow’s The Intelligence of Art, (University of North Carolina Press)

After many years and waves of fashion, through the sixties and the french intellectuals - Barthes, semiology, semantics signs and signifiers, through the post modern project until the present - what the art historian has been doing is paramount to the way the contemporary artists work is valued and therefore a conditioning factor in what they produce in the first place. It is what art history and what it considers to be worthwhile that determines the surface motions of curatorial practice that then determines what its extension, the art market, values and therefore the notion that the artist is an heroic adventurer in the new continent of meaning as a creative force that is wrong. This individual is no individual at all but a simple clone of a value system that is prevalent.

The YBA for instance simply is a tool of dominant values to challenge those least sophisticated of societal values. Even in the 30’s modern art was seen as froth. Right now, when the currents of the modernist project have become weak and are flowing back on themselves, as can be seen in a piece like Hirsts Diamond Skull, begun over 100 years ago, that is coming to its end.

So within all of this is someone like myself, raised above the general project of recording the world through digital media and presenting it back to itself through digital media (i.e. access to the more refined end of capture - that is hi resolution imaging). I now find myself having to enquire about the values of the project that uses the energy of current technology and the meaning that the ape that we are has successfully presented back to itself, so that I can realise my own internal needs to make a mark in the sand.

But given all of that, that we have a need to make work, (which needs questioning as it might not be an internal need but a demand of society for some individuals to be utilised like workers in a bee colony) - then if the project is about meaning and not representation, then the camera is the least best way of doing this - and yet intuitively I feel it is the only way for me at the moment !

So, during the last week I shot several new works not the least of which was one of my portraits projects where I use the moving image to capture someone being very still - like a statue, like a tableau vivant. All the time I’m asking people to be conscious of the power of their gaze. That it is energetic at the least and that at the most, they are actually emitting energy in that gaze that is met by a similar form of that energy by the viewer and that the screen is the liminal boundary where the two equivalent gazes meet, displaced only by time. Portraits of Bristol Universities Centenary captured the life of the university from the cleaning staff, via students, via professors, to the chancellor. As a work, this is more towards the corporate end of things, in that it is of an institution, but I see no barrier here to making the act as it sits within my general portraiture project.

However, photo realism and the problem of transposing the gaze of the viewer into a location he or she could not have been (except through luck) is not a problem in this piece as that is the ‘operator’ that works. Familiarity and unfamiliarity, stillness and movement, recognition on a universal scale, issues of size and display all come into play. The public recognises this stream of work and can place it in their value system, their interpretation and translation system and in terms of the overall social project the boat is not rocked but in fact, reaffirmed.

But of course there is no boat, no project, ‘no such thing as society’ as ‘that woman’ has said (at least in the uk) - there are only us sentient chickens. Yet that of course is another reading. Late capitalism requires us all to feel as individuals, in contradistinction to a 4th millennium BCE Egyptian slave who might have been more bonded to society and might have felt it their duty to sacrifice themselves for the whole. Nowadays that will not happen in action (throwing oneself under society's train so to speak), but in terms of the value system - it is the only game in town.

So for the artist interested in the nature of the functions that determine their activity, one of the first questions that the art historian has now to ask is: what is the viewer engaged in doing when meeting a new work of art (be it in image or sound or performance or whatever the artistic flavor of the month is)?

Picture this: You enter a gallery and there ‘it’ is (the artwork). What is it? What is it doing? What did the artist intend in segregating these elements and placing them before you? If it is recognisable then one simply marks it out of ten: It’s one of these and its a six. The curatorial elite requires that it is disguised to do its work so therefore it has to veil it’s functions. The more veiled, the more ‘unreadable’ the better. It’s very good if after a period of enquiry you recognise something - a material, a juxtaposition of materials and ideas - whatever the means - that finally something adds up and a little epiphany occurs and you ‘get it’ or recognise what the artists was up to in doing the work in the first place.

But all of this is a desert wine - easily appreciable. The connoisseur requires the wine to taste foul, then that is beyond public taste and because the function is then that only a few very sophisticated people can appreciate, it enables then to feel part of an elite. There are two readings here: that this small grouping lies directly in line after the art historian and controls the worlds museums and galleries and the second is that this elite just can’t see what the child can see, that the king is naked. Either way, you can’t win because philistinism is the highest charge that can be made against someone and you have to go directly to Coventry and not collect £200 (sorry, mixed metaphors).

The above is a Philistine description. But the Philistines were a cultured people who appreciated art and sculpture, who were militarily crushed by the incoming invaders and so necessarily as beaten people their history had to be propagandised and distorted.

But the questions have to be asked because the ship of art must not run aground and the dominant aesthetics and readings are driving us towards the rocks.....

The artist when faced with photo-mechanical, photochemical or photo-electric means of making art, which in itself denies the long project which is not simply recording the world, has to go further.

In pointing the camera towards the latter end of this week of production, beauty and pictorialism, the twin evil sisters of the figurative representation of reality, plagued me deeply.

As it came to me, everywhere I looked was full of beauty and yet when the camera presented it, it mostly deteriorated into pictorialism, a chocolate box version of the the world which on one level, in itself, was replete with the divine in the act of being. Every time the divine was captured as being without its divinity I did not shoot. Equally, when the divine was captured and was present, I turned off the camera - because that was not my project either (though it was good enough for most practicing artists prior to the 20th century). So I had to push on and try to interrogate the urge to make the mark in the sand.

What is this about ?

Everyone when looking at a work of art, through either ignorance or knowledge, is an art historian. Every artist who looks with the gaze of art is an art historian (albeit all of us better or worse informed about that history). But the artist has to reach beyond the project - surely?

Thursday morning and we take the 4k red camera into the somerset countryside. All day we point the camera at a set of pre-set scenes. All day I try to break the chains of intention.

Ideas kept hitting me: “It’s not the job of the artist to copy the world badly. Neither is it the job of the artist to try create a world ‘better’ than this - I surely can’t as it’s a fools errand in that they are created and can only make gestures towards their creator”

So what is the job of the artist ? To make nice scenes for people to put on their walls? To challenge the views of the populace about their views (doh) that’s really not hard as the public is way down the food chain. Is it to challenge the curatorial elite - more food chain issues. Or are both strategies about representing the world and then challenging ‘the local primate’ of any value at all? Is there a better way forward ?

Cinematic images can stun.

Art can stun.

Why isn’t being stunned enough?

Should we also be moved?

Is being ‘moved’ another diversion (Bertolt Brecht thought this not enough).

What is our sensorium and our psychology? Should we look more deeply at our make-up ? What’s is going on with us that art is important anyway?

As a researcher into the visual image, I am enquiring into its the formal and material nature: What it does and how it does it.

As an artist I have two enquiries: i) I am also enquiring into it’s formal nature and like all artists that are operating within the contemporary paradigm, issues around truth to materials is dominant - by this I mean that whatever the nature is of a material, taking wood as an example, it’s best to work with its ‘grain’.

Equally though, the pictorial aspect of image making is a large and thorny issue. What is an image best concerned with? The way it depicts the world for instance? Or equally what is the images symbolic use, or it’s conceptual, or ironic use?What are it’s cultural meanings, its societal meanings and the ideologies that lay behind these choices?

And also, what’s the history of use and where might that use be taking us?

So at root, I make work that points up something that I have gained insight about and so I take a position and a strategy in this act of unveiling and sometimes the effects are either beyond what I have gauged and sometimes the results are completely unforeseen.

In terms of High resolution imaging at the moment, as you can see - for me there are only questions.

To Be Continued...

I just couldn't resist

This is off topic of course, but occasionally you simply have to write what's on your mind. In my last post I noted that there's a movement to create an economy for HD that makes it cost as much as 35mm - what I've written below, I suppose, is in contradiction to that.

There is now a movement to promote a 'Free Economy'. An economy where all the normal functions of exploitation exist, but hidden beneath the surface. As artists we are the guardians against the hidden atrocities of social form. The owner class requires profit to function. The artist class, sadly, has joined in this production of wealth. Artist - stay awake. Google that fine line from the poem and u get a u tube video of a baby trying to stay awake.

Ha Ha.

'The situation is nicely summed up by' - if the situation can be nicely summed up, we'd better abandon ship, derail the train, blow up the building, set fire to the symposium - Freeconomics.

But free - what does that mean?

This idea, without context, is almost worthless. It's worthless because it like all ideas sits within the social and economic context of the production of meaning.

When each young artist constructs a work, are they mindful of the context of that production? Do they know, for instance, why those most beautiful of medieval artifacts, the Limewood Altar Pieces of Middle Germany and the Netherlands are disfigured by the context of their own production? That they served as ego enhancing commodities for the owners? Whoever owns the biggest, finest, altar piece has the biggest cock. That’s why the religious system effectively banned their production. They were a statement by Mammon about Mammon. Do the new young video artists understand where they stand in terms of the stream of commodification that is now prevalent in the selfs' need to be an 'individual'? Do they just want to say something - loud. Do they just want fame?

Is the 20th centuries grand modernist curatorial project finally bankrupt - running on empty - or to paraphrase Pete Townsend, ‘drawing energy from a pyre of burning artists?’

In terms of Wired and it’s push towards marketing its editors book on the idea of Freeconomics (what a Bush-like word!) big thinkers bore me as they offer off-the-peg-solutions to difficult problems that they themselves not only identify, but promote. That's when the bullshit detector rings loud. It's an industry.

We, 'artists', have to enquire much deeper than the theorists who simply respond. We 'artists' are mining at the coal-face of reality. We 'artists' trace our lineage back to the mind in the cave that drew the first cave painting, or carved the first flute maybe some 100,000 years ago. We the artists trace our gaze back to the ape looking across the tree canopy and wondering - just wondering - and possibly 'responding'.

To respond is not a freedom - its a biological act. To respond intelligently, is also an accident of evolution. To respond with a conscious gaze - which may determine that no response should be made at all - that is the issue within freedom. The rest is just commodification at a late stage of capitalism.

Fortunately, there is a new paradigm arriving shortly at another platform.

You heard it here

In my very first post in May 2007, High Definition, Web 2.0 and a Growing Aesthetic (click to read), some six months before taking up my fellowship, I laid out my understanding of the then current sate of High Resolution Imaging. I call it that rather than High Definition because for me its like calling a vacuum cleaner a Hoover. High Definition was a group agreement amongst a group of manufacturers to promote the next consumer development – High Definition. It soon deteriorated beneath 1920 x 1080 to 1280 x 720 then much worse most of the HD that people see is within the GoP structure of HDV formats and streaming (Group of Pictures, where the image is refreshed every 7 or 15 frames, short or long GoPs, and a lot of info is left out in between). High Definition as a title suggested something above and defining, a title which spoke about what you had come to accept as not being good enough.

Some artists work with a tenth of the pixels of standard PAL or NTSC and make more defining images that 10,000 HD productions.

So currently we’re at the intermediate stage –announced by the recent tests in LA and London that compared Film and Data stocks. These tests were weighted by a process of remediation: that of seeing the new media in the old medias terms and so the new media simply can’t match those terms. Yet the fact is – to my eye – the new media is now adequate to the task, with some reservations.

This is very convenient for me as I can predict that by the end of my Fellowship I’ll be able to announce the fact that Electronic Cinematography has come of age. That also fits my Verbatim History project where I am interviewing a group of practitioners about the Hi Res form. My original argument that as there are hardly any verbatim reports from practitioners on the early history of photo-chemical photography between 1890 and 1910 – I really can’t allow that to happen between 1990 and 2010 in Electronic Cinematography.

So – watch this space for confirmation.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Contemporary Portraiture and the Divine Being

For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings. An amended version of this is published in the Journal of Media Practice, June 2009.

I sometimes have to stop and ask what is it that I am doing whilst being engaged in making images. last night someone asked me why I do it and I referred to the phrase ‘the creative urge’ which I coined for myself whilst a teenager (and later found was current in most artists vocabulary). I went on to say, it is like breathing, I have to do it. Not as an urge actually, but as a demand of my existence, like breathing, something that is necessary. My commitment is to the gaze that we all have and the only thing that is actually yours in life - and here I am avoiding saying ‘the only thing one can own in life’ - you can’t own something that is inherent within you - like eyes, or hands (if you have them). Making images is what I choose to do, to be.

I have become interested in portraiture yet I realise that most of what a photographer can do has been done, and any iteration of the act of segregating one person in a frame to say: ‘here this person is’, has either been done or is reminiscent of having been done. Not that doing something new is the be all and end all of art - more that one should be cogniscant of what it is that one is doing and that replicating things means replicating their cultural content as well, either as direct quote or via some function - like using irony for instance.

If you stand someone in front of the camera, in isolating them from the mass of humanity you are saying: ‘look at this detail of our existence, this representative of ‘us’’. The detail itself to function well, has to be so microcosmic in order that it evokes the greater macrocosm of the human condition. At least, that has been the strategy of many a photographer.

I don’t take photographs though - I take ‘cinematographs’. High resolution still yet moving images where I ask the subject to pose as a reference to the early days of photography, where it took some time to actually create a latent image for later development. I like the idea of it taking time as the contemporary gaze is more and more momentary in its relation to contemporary media, and what one learns from maturing is that anything worth having takes time to obtain. So my strategy is to ask the subject to wait and stand and gaze and exchange energy with an audience that I’m also asked to wait and stand and gaze and exchange energy with the original subject - the two displaced only by time in their energy and gaze.

So - given the above and the developing form through my portraits series (Portraits of Glastonbury Tor, Cannaregio, the Somerset Carnivals and Bristol University’s Centenary) and given further enquiries into the area (A Moving Portrait of the Poet Elisabeth Beech, the Window-cleaner Alfred Glasspole and the Artist Charlotte Humpston), I’ve come to the conclusion about what I have to do. Or at east I’ve found the impetus for the next strand of research, that it is changing the form a little, especially in its display, that will render some extra insights into the act of portraiture - because, ‘the subject is the subject is the subject’ and ‘the strategy is the strategy is the strategy’ - so to speak.

In the portraits of series I projected life-sized high resolution images for the audience to scrutinise and then be surprised that this wasn’t a photograph but a moving image.

In the Moving portrait series (playing on notions of poignancy about the human condition in the title) and also the isolation of the head where the windows of the soul are contained together with the complex musculature of the mouth where the knowing/anxious/happy/worried/reflective expression might play. Display is on a 42 inch plasma screen plus a still photograph of the same size next to the plasma screen, extracted from the flow of frames that creates the moving image, plus a 20 foot by 10 foot image suspended above the audiences head, plus a 8 inch video enabled photo-frame on a plinth (a gesture of isolation) - all of this contributing to what I hope would prompt the casual viewer to examine their own notions of what a portrait is....

Equally and at a tangent I am working on other pieces that isolate and create pause by that isolation. ‘The Divine Being’ is a moving image of a rose - but framed as a photograph - that is its one shot isolation is the photographic element and the fact that it is a number of frames per second which simulates movement by persistence of vision is the cinematographic. The title is both ironic and yet true. This small focus on one thing that is culturally accepted as exquisite by poets and painters alike, is clearly ‘divine’ - that is given its two possible definitions:

Of, relating to, emanating from, or being the expression of a deity


To conjecture or guess; i.e. to divine rightly

Equally though, I note that divine and define are only one letter apart, so defining, divining and to confront that which might be divine are all similar activities, in that an isolation of form or presence is necessary.

So the use of the word ‘being’ in the phrase ‘The Divine Being’ is both a a noun and a verb. It is a thing (a godhead) and a state of being the divine in manifestation before your very eyes and to me this is the principal currency of the portrait - the divine being, sentient consciousness before ‘your very eyes’, coming to you as energy through and the gaze of another as you yourself, being that other to them (albeit displaced by time), return that very gaze.

Saturday, 2 May 2009


For a thorough assessment of my research up until this moment, please see the blog dated 8th February entitled Time and Resolution: Experiments in High Definition Image Making, which outlines my work and current findings.

What follows are some notes for a proposal to celebrate through a series of screenings, Analogue Video and its transition into Digital Video during the late seventies, the eighties and the early 90’s. There are some video links in here but do let me know of other works online and I'll connect the dots...

I may have misremembered some facts and would welcome correction on anything I’ve said during these notes - also healthy disagreement. Meanwhile however, you are going to see some details that differ from the books on the subject that have been published since 1980. There are many incorrect ‘facts’ stated in most of the UK output in the area because they have been coloured by a revisionist thinking that this history sets out to redress. There are some simple untruths and incorrect things written such as in ‘A History of Artists’ Film and Video in Britain’ by David Curtis, where for instance my own 5 part series on UK and European Video Art is said to have been selected by myself and Sean Cubitt. Though Sean was interviewed by myself, he did not select any of the work. It was selected by Rod Stoneman and Triple Vision together.

The question then arises: ‘what else is incorrect in these histories’ and the further question arises concerning whether or not they leave out much of the ‘intent’ of the period under review and concentrate instead, on a history that fits a world view that was then dominant. For my money of course, the last question is its own answer. This history no longer needs to be as dominant as it was (and to some of us this history is destructive). As a documentarist as well as artist at the time, I found myself described in one book as a ‘sometimes psychedelic artist’. I directed some 20 hours of documentary, some of it very socially concerned at the time - perhaps I was moonlighting too. So much for documentary 'verite'.

Though the Seventies and Eighties many makers dealt with the question of ‘ubiquity’ that analogue video had presented them with by engaging with the television form. Following on from Walter Benjamin’s 1936 essay these makers celebrated the fact that the aura of art could neither adhere to the original nor the replication of the original. If all were ubiquitous and re-produceable where could the aura of the art object lie? Therefore the strategy HD to be to adduce value in other areas - in the aesthetics of the work itself whilst the electricity was turned on. This was the earliest gesture toward the digital which itself has no material, only a set of processes to describe itself.

From the beginning makers decided to intervene in the dominant hegemony as represented to what people felt was the central value system of society: Television.

One of the earliest engagements was David Hall’s Television Interruptions in 1971.

Click here to see Television Interruptions.

For me these were the products of a film understanding and derived from an attitude evinced from the modernist project of truth to materials and remediated the new form in the shape of film and its working practices. Hall engages with the TV set in the sense that he occupies it with elements such as water. In one intervention he focusses on a tap dripping and eventually the TV set is filled with another medium. This is reminiscent of Viola’s more spiritual installation where a camera looks at the drip on the end of a tap as it forms - a buddhist statement of impermanence as the image is projected on a wall and the world comes into being and out of being periodically. The British material reading of the form at the time was more concerned with the material of the medium itself - in my opinion, a lesser study. Later taken up by conceptualists like Hirst and co with their evaporation out of art into concept. True, Viola had a material concern too - but over-ridden by the act of the artist concerned with our place in the world as opposed to the artist concerned with his or her materials.

The excitement these makers felt was limited as many film practitioners were bound by a love and loyalty to and of the material of film and therefore their excitement was derived from the fact that some of videos process were ‘improvements’ on the problems of film. With video you didn’t have to wait for development and printing; with video you could shoot for longer than a standard roll of 16 mm which lasted 10 minutes at most and 4 minutes if you used a Bolex 16 mm camera; with video you could erase what was unsatisfactory aesthetically and marvelously, re-record over that to make a new recording. But these virtues were not the aesthetics of the new medium, they were simply improvements over an old medium and therefore constituted a re-mediation of the new medium. The film-makers were busy re-inventing themselves in their own image.

What came next was a new generation of makers that were not bound by the aesthetics of the material of film or busy with an anti-establishment view on a material level. However they were intensely political and carried with them antiestablishment political views.

Prior to describing the history of what came between 1976 and 1992, the period where the exploration and investigation of a set of ideas that amounted to the birth of the digital age via aesthetic concerns it is important to situate what the author believes to be the actual condition of the digital realm as it currently stands. On element that can be identified about the digital is its dependence on electricity in some form. When the power is turned off, the digital ceases to exist. Another condition of the digital is its requirement that everything that enters its continuum is first encoded into some form of data. Also, the use of a term like ‘continuum’ identifies something about its state and its material condition - or rather its lack of a material condition.

If the digital is not a medium, or has no medium then one must describe it in other terms, that of process. Lev Manovich described this in ‘The Operations’ which are basically threefold in nature: to gather, to compose, to publish. One gathers on the net via software; one composes on a ‘site’ like on the computer via software; then one publish on the net via software. To extrapolate backwards into a prior art form such as sculpture, one conceives the work, chops the wood, sculpts the wood, display the wooden sculpture - now substitute any object of art and its materials. The is a description of various material mediums via the processes that describe their operations form inception into materiality. Loosely though, the project is the same: gather, compose, publish. The difference is the prior conception and origination of the work in the mind.

The process begun by Duchamp where he argued that the patron no longer should determine the nature of art by commission, but the artist should choose what the work should be. Magritte question notions of representation in a prior representational medium - ‘ceci n’est pas un pipe’ - the use of text under a picture of a pipe to demonstrate a loosening of pictorial form in relation to concept. Mid 20th century art recognised that one could begin with the material (or the process) such as with Jackson Pollocks' paintings and then eventually came Warhols' project, that of demonstrating that not only anything in our world is art if the artist so chooses, but all of us, artist or audience member should open our eyes to see with this understanding.

With Digitality we now transcend and end the conceptualists project. Hirsts final statement about form and value, the platinum skull, demonstrates the end of the material project and also the end of the artist as selector. An Absurdist gesture prior to the ubiquitous event of everyone as artist maker which is demonstrated daily on utube. But again, current digitality is simply in a moment of change toward what digitality will eventually become, so even these articulations and insights are remediated by what has gone before and do not fully describe what is truly happening. That will only come when time has revealed what the birth of digitality truly was.

Where we currently stand is as ‘flatlanders’, the Victorian 2 dimensional creature that when witnessing the passage of a sphere through their world, first see it as a point then an expanding circle which then contracts to a point. They have been in the presence of three dimensions but not understood its nature. Our state of understanding is remediated by the past, our historicisations are naturally via the hindsight of the last understood era, our theories are equally derived from what has past, so the perception of the present is veiled through the absence of a language that will develop. The mistake is in trying to label it through the medium of the victorian project which is about categorising and indexing each element into a separate part which of course is analytical and part of the enlightenment project which does not understand that we now have to develop theories that are underpinned by a gestalt approach, rather than an analytical approach.

The period of innovation beginning in 1972 with the first edit that was constituted of a re-recorded image transposed across portapaks as opposed to that which was executed by a razor blade and glued together with sticky tape, ended around 1992 - and the world wide web was on the horizon via the early patterns of encoding of the analogue and now digital video signal. With the advent of wavelet transforms as opposed to discrete cosign transforms (both originated by Jean Baptiste Fourier in the early 1800s) a transformative period occurred during the ’90’s generally referred to by the term ‘convergence’.

This period was he tail end of a paradigm which began with the descent from the trees of early anthropoids with their gesture towards standing upright as the essential use of technicity and other uses of technology eventuating in the use of tools or implements, the first being the use of flints the last being the use of the stand alone personal computer.

By 2000 the modernist project had been superseded by the digital project, which still leaves many people confused by what it actually is - mostly because they try to understand it via modernism and its bastard child, post-modernism, a rehash of the analytical imperative with the bells and whistles of a non-rigorous gung-ho attitude. But convergence was simply the antecedent of the integrative as opposed to convergent moment. The integrative is digital, is no longer concerned with tools and implements to affect the world - the world as we now know it is digital, is immaterial, is not concerned with tools because the whole world is both tool and arena of experience: the medium is completely the message and the message and the medium is the world.

Integrative technology is the height of technicity where technology is the ontological state of being of its inhabitants, where the stand alone computer and its predecessor the flint tool gives way to a complete 3 dimensional real time mapping of the world inside the grand computer, where the ideal state is continuously held and updated waiting for perturbations in its fabric, created by its inhabitants which it intelligently and virally reacts to. The world is truly the suitcase, the suitcase is truly the world.

To situate the series of screenings I’m proposing, it is now necessary to elucidate the history of analogue and digital video with reference to the state of digitality we find ourselves in. The screenings themselves are intended to lead towards the propositions I’ve made in a discussion format at the end of the run with prominent makers (that are still active) from the sector.

It is important to note that the first gesture towards digitality via the analogue was accomplished by Frank Zappa using 2 inch video to ‘film’ the feature, 200 motels, in 1972. Here, 2 inch quadraplex machines were taken on site to to the studio to facilitate the recording of the film in apparently portable mode. The cameras however were connected to the recording machines via cabling.

In 1972 Hall and Le Grice made their interventions which were undertaken by film makers who were excited by the specific aspects of the new medium that speeded up the slower processes of film had coalesced into London Video Arts - this kind of film remediation of video was to hang around long into the early history of video.

Other film makers took an oppositional position and remained engaged with the material of film and its timeline whilst their colleagues more deeply immersed themselves into a remediated position with the new video medium. The concerns of that group and that period were of the academy: a concern with aesthetics of time, space, location, gaze etc that had developed from the work of the futurists, Vorticists, Fauves and so on who were a product of the acts of socialism and marxism at the turn of the 20th century. The influence of Kuleshev, Vertov and of course Eisenstein could be witnessed daily at the film co-op in the early seventies as the project continued and the light burned brightly.

The first portapaks entered the UK around 1967 and were instantly celebrated by a group of creative people distinct from the film based experimental moving image community located at the Film Co-Op. These however were more interested in ‘the happening’ than ‘art’. Yet of course, there were others less bashful about calling random experiments with light and colour by the term art, as was seen in the symposium on Expanded Cinema in April 2009 at the Tate. Early portapak video was a playful form which morphed eventually into ‘Community Video’.

As the middle of the 70’s passed, the community video makers jumped from out of the back of their vans in the derelict housing estates, they cried, much the same as that of the workers on an Agit Prop train during the 1917 revolution in Bolshevik Russia ‘We have the means of production - workers, let the revolution begin’. As Tony Dowmunt of Albany Video noted some years later: ‘Not many people came out to join the revolution and if it were raining then we’d be howling into the wind and rain’.

This socially active work was more related in some ways to the aesthetics of the post marxist experiments at the film co-op due to the simple common fact of a desire to change the society that the makers found themselves in. However, instead of examining the medium in a structural way as the filmmakers of the 20’s and 30’s had done, the community video makers were pleased that they finally had the means of production and it somehow echoed their lives. Film had to be sent away - video stayed right where you put the portapak and played back when you pressed ‘play’. This was instant and instantly affecting - it was of the period of now - a time period made popular in the sixties.

On the other side of the city however, painterly and sculptural concerns and the aesthetics that governed the academy and their work as derived from film practice grew and was sponsored by the Arts Council and became early video art.

Throughout the next three or four years new makers were engaging with the educational system and the project as espoused by the arts council sponsored video artists was falling on deaf ears. Punk was beginning but not necessarily in moving image terms (that was to happen 5 or 6 years later). But the strength of passion against the old school academy system was breaking down attitudes towards what video was and how it should be used. An early group thoroughly engaged in the struggle was Vida, coined from Video, to see. Vida meant, ‘look at this’. An imperative cry. Vida cut their teeth on late film style experiments with colour and flashing and actually shooting some film before abandoning the older language and engaging in the documentary form. By 1980 Vida had given over 250 shows.

Nothing was sacred at that point and whilst working through the ‘veracity of documentary’ Antony Cooper a founding member of Vida declared that ‘the only thing documentary documents, is the attitude of the maker to their subject at the time of making’. Hence documentary itself was under suspicion as not being truthful.

Elsewhere many other experiments were going on via the work of West London Community Video, Moonshine Community Arts, Fantasy Factory and Oval Video. Their film equivalents were Four Corner FIlms, Concord Film and Video, Circles Film Distribution, and the Film Co-op.

So the landscape held a series of separate and sometimes antagonistic artistic and political communities, split by aesthetics and intent. But then, with the advent of basic computers in the latter part of the 70’s, the new medium of analogue video was instantly in transformation. Mores Law, that stipulated that there would be an exponential increase in capacity accompanied by an exponential decrease in size, was having its effect.

By 1981 a group of interested parties, including London Video Arts. the Berwick street film collective, Oval Video, the Film Co-op, gathered around London Video Arts and formulated the idea that video should have a festival and the First National Video Festival was held at the film co-op in 1981, the second was at the ICA in 1982 and a dwindling 3rd festival at South Hill Park in Bracknell.

The altercations between the two media were overcome when the Independent FIlm Association allowed Video into the hallowed film ranks and the association became the Independent FIlm and Video Association - mainly because the language of video spoke to the new CHannel 4 initiative and film production was struggling both aesthetically, materially and financially with television as a display and distribution medium. Film sought to engage the video makers as allies in the cause.

Vida, who had originated in 1977 were responding to the transformative phase between film and video, then transmogrified into Triple Vision by 1980. Documentary experiments were still ongoing but now accompanied by experiments in narrative and non-narrative work. Some of the members of Vida had joined a commercial company called Videomakers in London’s Shaftesbury Avenue and the owners turned a blind eye to the exploits of this small team who then made equipment available to video artists and documentarists alike and began engaging in changing industry working practices by employing camera women at a time when there were only a few professional sound women in the sector.

Many Video makers had circled around London Video Arts, Oval Community Video, Albany Video and also Triple Vision who were working within the Framework of the Soho based company called Video Makers who worked in both the commercial realm and the arts realm. Videomakers distinguished themselves by engaging camera women and began to break down traditional working practices directly in the belly of the beast. Equally Videomakers allowed artists to come and use their equipment such as George Barber, George Snow and Gorilla Tapes. The Duvet Brothers were working at Diverse Productions at that time. Founded by Peter Donnebauer who had eschewed the cause of the Academy and its form of sculptural and painterly arts practice for the commercial realm. However, Rik Lander as part of the Duvet Brothers was given access after his working day to high level editing equipment, which allowed him and Peter Boyd McLean to creative distinctive forms of editing only glanced upon by traditional avant guarde film making. On his return form Australia, Jon Dovey who had worked with Oval Video brought back the australian fast cut form, a kind of montage of attractions on methedrine, which created a great furore at London’s Cinema Action when shown to a traditional film making audience. This was an avant garde of the electric cinema - not photo chemical cinema. The name of this form of editing was derived from black music experiments: “scratch Video’ named after working with playing vinyl records in a scratch style.

Whilst with Triple Vision I unconsciously utilised the form in a work which documented the arrival of Apple’s Macintosh through being the video crew (with Anthony Coper) for Apple on Ridley Scott’s famous commercial. I had previously worked with Jon Dovey on a Ridley Scott Commercial for British Airways. I then ‘stole’ the footage I shot, which I then used as ‘found footage’ and then scratched this into “Prisoners’. The act of scratching came about as I had edited this footage for about 6 or 9 monthds and I wasalways unhappy with the end result. It worked fine - but not potently enough. One night, about 3 oclock I became angry and cut the girl hurling the hammer into the television screen against the skinheads racist talk... I came out of my act and realised that this was how to cut the whole work. It’s not generally included in scratch anthologies because it is intensely serious and scratch had a humorous bent to it. C’est las Guerre.

Click here to see Prisoners.

Meanwhile due to the advent of Channel 4 and the appointment of Alan Fountain with Caroline Spry and Rod Stoneman then funded the workshop sector, which was primarily film based but struggling with the budgets, the sector was engaging in trying to break down traditional aesthetics, but being mostly film oriented and having to use video, the struggle became confused because it was primarily motivated by budgetary concerns. Nevertheless some amazing video works came out of the cracks of the period. Isaac Julien’s ‘Who Killed Colin Roach’ for instance.

I and the other members of Triple Vision then left Video Makers and due to Channel 4 funding managed to operate in a television company form until 1992. This was a fertile period as television documentaries on various subjects were produced but long-form narratives such as Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen’s Bad Sister (1986) were also made completely on Video as opposed to film - as an artistic statement and exploration of that mediums suitability in the act of suspension of disbelief - or its absence due o the effects of the medium. Birmingham Film and Video Workshop made Out of Order in 1987 for £500,000 - an unheard of amount in the sector for a video production up until that point. It was also one of the first ‘films’ produced worldwide on video and then transferred at Moving Pictures to 35 mm for theatrical release.

And where may you ask was the representation of the ‘dominant artistic video’ form backed by the Arts Council ? Absolutely nowhere. Abroad many of us met up at festivals and our work, the work that was not celebrated in the UK by the Arts Council, was being celebrated everywhere but in the UK. Only amongst the film/video coterie that was in its Ivory Tower was there any sense that that was where the work was happening. We made many connections abroad, set up projects involving 18 groups through ten countries (the State of Europe which connected RTE, TRBF, Channel 4 and ZDF), had retrospectives at places like the Mill Valley FIlm Festival in California (Coppola and Lucas had just moved up there and set up a festival). I found muself one day outside of a screening three people who were musing on the change from film to video. As I listened it dawned on me that they were the directors of the three films that were screeing and they were smoking and talking nervously. They were called Jean, Jim and David. After a while I reslised that whilst they kidded me about my interest in video, they were actually Jean Jacques Bienix (Diva) Jim Jarmusch (Down By Law) and David Drummond (Defense of the Realm). I had a cigarette and proceeded to go back into the screning and realised the little funhny bloke next to me was the star of Down by Law, Roberto Begnini.

Meanwhile, a branch of the academy, barely recognised but too powerful for the academy to ignore, was publishing the American revolution in the form of John Wyver’s Illuminations Ghosts in the Machine commissioned by Channel 4’s arts commissioning editor Michael Kustow. However, this was not the English Academy, this was the vital, fast, speeding video that video audiences as far back as the Air and Acme Gallery shows held in 1980 were used to. The Americans had access to hardware and the British had a less well-endowed access. Chris Meigh Andrews, Alex Meigh, Dave Critchley and myself had organised a series of shows where the early works of Gary Hill and Bill Viola, John Sanborn and Kit Fitzgerald could be seen. Equally shows of the work of LVA were being seen in the US by exchange. I always had a principle to not put my own work in these shows seeing that as a corrupt act. Doh!

By 1984 the Americans had matured and Ghosts in the Machine was an 8 part series of mainly American Video Art. Countering this Triple Vision had been commissioned by Rod Stoneman and Alan Fountain at Channel 4 to make a series about UK video art entitled ‘On Video’. This was originally to be done by Luton 33 but somehow it hadn’t happened, so we received the phone call to come in and talk about it.

Click here to see On Video 1.

Click here to see On Video 2

Click here to see On Video 3 (90 mins)

Click here to see On Video 4: TV or not TV

Click here to see On Video 5: Statement of the Art

Two sixty minute programmes and one 90 minute programme were initially made and in contradistinction to Ghosts in the Machine, interviews filled the silence between video art works. The difference was context. Many artists work was shown including Jeremy Welsh, Cerith Wyn Evans and John Maybury.

Eventually by 1987 Channel 4 commissioned two more 90 minute programmes, ‘TV or not TV’ which was ‘On Video 4’ and ‘Statement of the Art’ which was in fact ‘On Video 5’ which also interviewed and showed the work of European Makers such as Dalibor Martinez and Robert Cahen and his excellent and ground breaking Just le Temps which rivaled anything Viola or Hill was doing with the aesthetics of Video.

At that time too, there was another television investigation which I directed in association with John Wyver called ‘In The Belly of the Beast’, which used Video Positive in Liverpool as a platform to discuss where video might be going. Ths programme was commissioned by Zanna Northen at Granada.

Click here to see 'In The Belly of the Beast'

By 1987 I had developed a good relationship with Complete Video (a high level commercial house) at a moment when digital media became available. I gained access to some of the worlds most advanced digital equipment and this allowed me to investigate the coming digital realm with works such as ‘The World Within Us’ and later when I became Artist in Residence with them, The Inevitability of Colour (CH4 and ACE) which went on to be premiered at the Bonn Bienalle and win some international awards (Montbeliard and Locarno) - ironically I had directed Channel 4’s On Video series and The World Within Us was commissioned by John Wyver’s, Illuminations for Series 2 of Ghosts of the Machine. Meanwhile Invisible Television had been made by Gorilla Tapes (or Vulture Video depending on what they felt that month), and shown on Channel 4.

Click here to see The World Within Us
Click here to see The Inevitability of Colour

There is much more to say, many details to add but from the earliest experiments by Fantasy Factory and CAT, Albany Video, West London Community Video, Oval Video, Vida, Gorilla Tapes, the Duvet Brothers and Triple Vision, an aesthetic of production grew that was distinct from the academy and film based understandings of early video artists who’s concerns were those traditionally evinced in painting and sculpture. Again, there is much to add and as this is intended to be inclusive of what happened I welcome anyone emailing me to add to this history - or challenge it.

It is my contention that the excitement and aesthetics and material experiments of this time were the seedlings of the digital. We were passing across a boundary. Through my relationship with Complete video I made the Object of Desire which was a multi-layered version of Inevitability of Colour - this was deeply digital in its concepts and constructs and aesthetic. The Americans were generating works that were slight and lightweight with an aesthetic traceable to disney on a lot of levels. They were direct and obvious - the UK works were of a culture that had been around for a long time and one not prepared to be so simplistic about artistic and aesthetic concerns and therefore not so grabbing in their visual form - yet, in relation to time passed they stand up more strongly than the American works, which have of course grabbed the historical record. On that basis it makes sense to organise screenings of the named works of the timer against what was going on in the UK to give context and allow the audience to reflect on just how good the British makers were, who have been forgotten or written out from history.

These early investigations were indicative of what was to become digitial media and embodied concepts that were in contradistinction to the modernist project of truth to materials and a growing dependence on the concept as being as important as the material.

The screenings could run for three weeks and the first block could be the Channel 4 On Video series, 1, 2 (both 60 mins) and 3 (90 mins) and also On Video 4, ‘ TV or not TV’ and on Video 5, ‘Statement of the Art’ and a series of discussions with contemporary curators and artists. Screenings could be in the evenings, but also with agreement with various colleges during the daytime.

For the second week of screenings I propose to invite the group that chose the work for the 1st National Independent Video Festival in 1981 to select work from the ’80’s, plus have a series of discussions with artists who were active at the time the works were made.

The last 5 screenings could be in the form of showing a well known international work from a particular year that may for instance have originated in the United States - say the Vasulkas The Art of Memory - and then it could be accompanied by several works that originated in the UK and Europe. The point being that the US artists had a full blown push from their own culture on why the work should be seen as world quality work - the British however had none of this due to the reasons mentioned above, yet I will seek to demonstrate that the UK works are at least, as good as, if not better than the work that obtained the publicity. The screenings could be accompanied by discussions with artists of the time and contemporary artists and curators.

A possible fourth week of screenings could seek to demonstrate the nature of the digital via the works that have been made since 1992 - these works will be selected by a group formed of those active making work and curating during this period.