Year 4: Written Commentary

The Healing Room is a project-based work of art exemplary of how through this MA I’ve evolved my practice around the concept of making “deconstructed films”. The works span a variety of mediums including an experimental film with atmospheric soundtrack projected into the corner of a rough wall; a storyboard of stills printed like a master blue print plan; large format photo portraits of my main and only character; and props from the film placed as found object sculptures. Though these “art objects” The Healing Room is a character study by way of a portrait, guided by a simple looping narrative. The “Seer”, a female character embedded in a cycle of torment and joy, obsessively repeats a ritual of her own creation. She believes that she must do so in order to keep the heartbeat of the world alive and thus preserve all life. The Seer is an archetypical character of myth and legend and because she is an archetype so is her story — primary, elliptical, and repetitive. She is Joseph Campbell’s mythical savant, witch, healer, and mad woman rolled into one. Through this narrative I wanted to explore ideas about the habits and patterns we individually create in order to make ourselves OK with our world and to explain and justify events and outcomes. Through this narrative I wanted to explore the psychological landscapes in which we inhabit.

I worked with sequential photographic stills to create stop-motion animated movement which is a method I’ve been developing to fulfil my interest in taking photography (still single images) into the dimension of time. I use techniques similar to claymation and early painted cel animators. Individual photographs are merged into sequences which I then edit as moving image. This creates a stuttering effect in the eventual footage due not only to the sequential images but also to my hand-held, camera work and the 8 frames per second speed at which I animate the stills. The roughness is intentional because like the filmmakers of the 1960’s Cinéma Vérité movement I want the camera to be obvious and present in the work.

The film’s soundscape is crafted through my voice with percussion and then the digital modification of those sounds. There is no ambient noise from the location of filming nor has the actor’s voice been recorded in performance. It is a sound collage in a pattern of repeatable motifs and phrases, meant to be a distinct layer to the work not a mere accompaniment; the psychological landscape in which our character inhabits. Making all aspects of the work myself, including the score/soundtrack, is important to me because I believe it separates my work from the world of commercial filmmaking and positions me as a individual, studio-based artist.  My approach to experimental film making stems from my position of identifying both a painter and a photographer. The context of my methods branch off somewhere amongst the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge, stereoscopic magic lanterns, and early animation to create immersive moving image through digital means as if the Hollywood blockbuster had never existed. 

Times are good for experimental filmmaking. Digital cameras and software make it even more possible to bypass the tools and methods of big budget celluloid production. Individual artists such as myself can readily pick up and conflate filmmaking into existing artistic practices, and the prominence of film in contemporary culture make it compelling to do so.

Sequential images are the DNA of film, and the photographic studies of Muybridge (1830-1904) were the precursors to motion picture projection and moving pictures. Images shown in sequence serve not only to illustrate motion, but also as storyboards indicating action – the narrative cause and effect. Early experimental filmmakers who made use of the sequential image such as Canadian Arthur Lipsett (Very Nice, Very Nice (1961)) and French Chris Marker (La Jetée (1962)) were influential in shaping ideas for the composition and cadence of this artwork.

I have been questioning my move into making experimental film and the relevance of this act. Philosopher Alain Badiou considers film to be the “most potent contemporary art form” combining the populist aspects of all other art. For Badiou, film also contains paradoxical relationships because it takes common elements from the other arts but reduces or negates them; film is a “painting without painting”; music without music…theatre reduced to the charm of the actors” (Badiou, 2013). Using film became an obvious way to fulfill my desire to work across a number of mediums, and my intent is to deconstruct and reconstruct the filmic through photography, painting, sound, and sculptural installation. In doing so, I also challenge Badiou by isolating and re-inserting the original artforms back into my expanded definition of a film.

My use of sequential image revisits the notion that film is a series of succession of still photographs per Henri Bergson’s idea of how duration exists in film, or for that matter anywhere — as a single point extended into a series of points. Gilles Deluze, another prominent philosopher, argues that instead the essence of film is “movement-image”, the concept that figures in motion transcend mere sequential continuity. In The Healing Room, my use of stop motion technique to animate still photographs examines both sides of this debate.

Delzue also believed that “movement-image” made film capable of thinking (Deluze, 1986). Badiou as well believed that films think, and that philosophy transcribes that thinking. To “think cinema” for Badiou was to displace the established rules of the other artforms and to rearrange their connections. In turn, I seek to rearrange the rules of cinema/film by repatriating those displaced connections. In doing so I may be creating an artwork with some awareness of the way in which it may possibly “think”.

“Digital” is important in this work. Contemporary digital tools allow individual artists to work with moving image/film more readily that ever. Digital lenses have also escalated the influence of “lens-mediated” storytelling. The Healing Room is at it’s core a portrait. Digital social media has expanded the genre of the portrait and created implications for contemporary storytelling through portraiture. One way to view Instagram is as a vehicle for autobiographical storytelling through sequential images which, in aggregate, construct and deconstruct a conceptual portrait of the profile holder. In this light, The Healing Room is as closely related to various Instagram feeds as it is to John Cassavetes’s hyper realistic portrait of madness in “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974).

Digital, the web and the virtual are shape shifting our experience of the tangible. Stephanie Rosenthal, chief curator at the Hayward Gallery when explaining the work of British artist Helen Marten to W magazine commented that “we now live between virtual, physical, and emotional parallel spaces”. In my work, one way this multi-dimensional reality shows is through my inconclusive narratives which are constructed as if surfing the hyperlinks of a web browser search.

Narrative underpins The Healing Room despite the fact there is no actual script, a situation that film philosophy may support. Bergson felt that film was most useful as a conceptual model for philosophical thought, and Deluze felt that film was pre-verbal and could be understood directly. Both ideas could render text or traditional storylines unnecessary in film.

The Seer is an archetypical portrait of legend as well as an actress acting a role in which she was cast. Joseph Campbell, the foremost scholar on myth, supports film as a vehicle to convey mythological essence. “I think that the movie is the perfect medium for mythological messages. The medium is so plastic and pliable and magic things can happen.”  (Toms, 1997).

My modus operandi has two driving forces. I use deconstruction as a way to identify and connect to subject and expansion as a way to explore and identify with object (a.k.a. medium). The projection of moving image is my method of expanding that medium. When projected, moving image exists outside of the virtual constraints of the screen and spills over to the tangible world. Projection expands moving image into immersive space — space which can then have physical dimension.  

In The Healing Room, the projected image is treated like an expanded painting. This allow me to express my primary concerns about painting within media-based work: painterliness; the material nature of paint; the hand of the artist; and challenging the 2D picture plane. The way in which I’ve worked with digital media doesn’t utilize the polished, seamless effects and the technical virtuosity that is possible, but seeks instead to reveal the more binary parts that compose this artwork. Subscribing to Glitch Theory (documented manifesto-style by Hugh S. Manon and Daniel Temkin) allows me employ the nature of my concerns in the virtual realm. Allowing or encouraging “glitches” reveals the nature of digital through artifacts, pixel blocks, and any evidence that virtual reality is trompe-l’oeil underpinned by binary code. Revealing glitches in the digital both deconstructs and demystifies, while also expanding the dimensions of the medium.

My interest in painterliness circles back again to Cinema Vérité and it’s relationship to my camera. “Invented” by French filmmaker Jean Rouch in the 1950’s, these filmmakers sought to unveil some truth about their subjects. The presence of the filmmaker was made apparent at times and acknowledged by the actors who often improvised brutally realistic scenes. Making the camera evident was one way of exposing the medium of film and the process of filmmaking and allowed the human “hand” of the artist to remain prominent. 

REFERENCES

A Woman Under the Influence (1974) Film. Directed by John Cassavetes. UK: The Criterion Collection.

Badiou, Alain (2013) Cinema. 1 Edition. Polity.

Campbell, Joseph (2008) The Hero with a Thousand Faces, Novato, California: New World Library.

Campbell, Joseph; Toms, Michael (1991) The Wisdom of Joseph Campbell, Mythic Dimensions, Tape 3, Side 1.

Cinema Verite (definition) Wikipedia (online)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cin%C3%A9ma_v%C3%A9rit%C3%A9[retrieved 31 October 2014].

Deleuze, Gilles (1986) Cinema 1: The Movement-Image. 1 Edition. Minneapolis: Univ Of Minnesota Press.

Guerlac, Suzanne (2006) Thinking in Time: An Introduction to Henri Bergson. 1 Edition. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press.

La Jetée (1962) Film. Directed by Chris Marker. France: AlloCiné.

Manon, Hugh S.; Temkin, Daniel (2011) Notes on Glitch, World Picture Journal (online)http://worldpicturejournal.com/WP_6/Manon.html [Retrieved 31 October 2014].

National Museum of American (2001) History Freeze Frame: Eadweard Muybridge’s Photography of Motion (online exhibition) http://americanhistory.si.edu/muybridge/ [retrieved 31 October 2014].

Sherwin, Sky (2014) Object Lessons (interview with Helen Marten), W Magazine (online)http://www.wmagazine.com/culture/art-and-design/2014/08/helen-marten-artist/photos/ [Retrieved 31 October 2014].

Very Nice, Very Nice (1961) Film. Directed by Arthur Lipsett. Canada: National Film Board.

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