Tuesday, 22 January 2008

Here We Are Then

In cinema, activity contained by narrative framing can hint at a universe beyond the local narrative as an ellipse often occurring at The End. In Chekhov (the Russian writer to whom Maeve tells me she has formed an attachment) characters inhabit clearly defined places, situated in a kind of pre-cinematic spatial mise en scene, place is key to their narrative form. There is this same tension in these paintings as their contained form and arrested energy fixes the temporal activity of painting in dimensions inside and outside the boxes.

Here we are then, first with 43 small polyglottous paintings. Small strokes inscribe
stories, a number of occasions coexist in one pictorial space just as a place that can be described or named exists only when a number of temporalities have occupied it. In these paintings multiple, sometimes repetitive, actions and movements describe a spatial index, the body and movement both within and beyond the frame: activity is occupation within borders colonised by haptic abstraction.

There are qualities here that I remember from Maeve’s films in the nineties when we were both active in the Melbourne Super 8 Film Group. Films like Tawdry Sass (1996), incised and painted skinny film, in effect not unlike some of these paintings. A voice on its soundtrack offers a clue describing “… a symbolic conquest of some kind of room’s regular boundaries”. Scrammy and the Blowflies (1995), made for the Bush Studies project of super 8 film based on Barbara Baynton’s short stories, is perhaps the closest Maeve comes to conventional ‘narrative’, expressing claustrophobia born out of containment, wherein, given a voice, Scrammy plots escape from his imprisoning hut. Then the film Out of Place (1991) is alive with non-human subjectivity occupying a carefully defined macro world. At 52 minutes the film is long by most super 8 standards, but doesn’t conform to the familiar avant-garde durational mode of the heroic internalised temporal subjectivity; rather it presents spatially related subjectivities, coexisting in some interstitial place ‘out there’.


And now we are here, larger paintings with cinematic titles like Rear Window and Andalusian Slit (recalling Hitchcock and Buñuel, both of course occasional collaborators with Salvador Dali); feature-length with bold shapes and dissected space, like a floor plan of wheelchair-imprisoned voyeur James Stewart’s apartment, but the window here seems less suited to voyeurism, more a sinister opaque dark barrier threatening to block the view. In Maeve’s ‘Andalusian’ painting the cinematic icon of the dissected eye has been transformed into something like a danger sign through an abstraction of composition, or a diagram in which the razor has become a stake or a rod. I am reminded that surrealism thrives in that most dangerously mundane zone of the uncanny in the quotidian.


The relationship between titles with quite specific references and formally quite abstract paintings, is deliberate and carefully considered, not an after thought but as a way of complementing the works. The title of Firs on Stage, with Locked Doors comes from Maeve’s interest in Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard: the central round ‘stage’ of the painting seems deserted and deforested, a bleak greyness hemmed in, taunted perhaps, by the bustling world beyond its boundary. The titles suggest that abstract painting is not just some kind of ineffable expression, but part of a complex visual vocabulary, a spatial narrative extending in many directions.

Here We Are Then recent paintings and works on paper by Maeve Woods is at Watters Gallery, Sydney, Australia, 5 February to 1 March, 2008

images top to bottom:
Andalusian Slit
- 2006, oil on cotton duck, 122 x 122cm
Rear Window - 2006, oil on cotton duck, 152 x 122cm
Firs On Stage, With Doors Locked
- 2007, oil on cotton duck, 122 x 122cm

Thursday, 17 January 2008

The Three Rs

This is the three “R”s… Repetition, repetition, repetition
– Mark E Smith



This weekend Tate Modern hosts a season of ‘classic’ artists’ films with ICO Essentials an Independent Cinema Office touring programme. The six programme season (themes include ‘Dreams’, ‘Modernity’, ‘Play’, etc) consists mostly of historical avant-garde perennials with which most students of the form should be quite familiar, with the possible exception of The Otolith Group’s Protest programme on Sunday and one remarkable film in particular screening in Monday’s Pop programme curated by Tanya Leighton: Film Montage I an all too rarely screened film made in 1965 by Frankfurt artist Peter Roehr who died of cancer at the young age of 23 in 1968.

video

In his short life Roehr produced a prodigious amount of work incorporating a wide range of media including visual poetry (Typomontagen and Textmontagen), found objects (Objektmontagen), sound (Tonmontagen), photography (Fotomontagen) and of course Filmmontagen. He was concerned with serial accumulation and repetition, often using ‘found’ images and material, but whatever media he worked in he followed the same strict principles. To Roehr, the montages represent a kind of self-realisation, freeing him from aesthetic problems like form, composition, and artistic innovation.


I change material by repeating it unchanged. The message is the behaviour of the material in response to the frequency of its repetition. I assemble available things of the same kind together. These might, for example, be objects, photographs, freestanding forms such as letters, texts, tones and sounds, film material, etc., the results I call ‘montages'. – Peter Roehr

Roehr used material from popular and mass media, advertisements, quotidian objects and structures from urban architecture, familiar but often anonymous material which became abstracted and de-familiarised through repetition while nonetheless maintaining, sometimes intensifying the dynamics of its source. His films repeat short extracts of both carefully appropriated and specially filmed material which, while perhaps related to structuralism and serial music, partly anticipates more current practices, as Rudolf Frieling has observed:

It could be possible to call Roehr a forerunner of current sampling in music and in VJing, but unlike the current contemporary artists who conceive a potentially endless loop to ensure constant presence in the exhibition space, he insists on a specific dramaturgy with a beginning and an end. The whole thing had its inherent logic, its quasi mathematical aesthetics…


While his aesthetic processes might have much in common with Minimalism, Pop Art, Serialism, etc, Roehr’s work remains quite unique; as repetition determinedly and obsessively abstracts meaning there is something faintly absurd, a dry humour that distinguishes his work from the detached coolness typical of Minimalism while more concerned with structure than most Pop. No more is this evident than in his repetitive use of advertising jingles in his Tonmontagen such as Take a Look (click for mp3). Alas Roehr didn't live long enough to fulfill his ambition of showing all the film sequences simultaneously on a gigantic screen as a tribute to the film Lawrence of Arabia.


Tuesday, 15 January 2008

The Horizontal Rule (for Sam)

Sam Renseiw recently picked up on a reference I made to the Horizontal Rule. This is a formal compositional device that Martin Blažíček and I identified last year in Lucca. Lucca is an Italian medieval city, one of the few with its city wall still intact (see our circumnavigation of the city around the wall here) and contains some fine examples of medieval architecture intact after several hundreds of years. It is also a very rich city, so devastatingly well-preserved and picturesque that more or less where ever one points a camera produces an image that could easily pass for a tourist postcard view. In order to overcome this and produce video sequences that might provide some new insights into the city space and its architecture, we proposed the use of strict compositional rules. So in capturing images around the city we started to deploy the Horizontal Rule and its close relative the Vertical Rule. This determines that any straight line within the image composition, whether it be a moving or static shot, should as far as possible, depending upon ones ability to keep the camera straight while moving smoothly, remain horizontal and central, or vertical and central. This then traces a line that acts as a ‘rule’ bisecting the image plane as precisely in half as possible.

video

video

From the above it is clear that my own hand is not as steady as it might need to be - no matter, it’s always possible to straighten things up in editing software. The Horizontal/Vertical Rules can ensure a compositional consistency from one image to the next, and one can start to achieve interesting results by combining two sections using a strict 50% divide from two different images:

video

And also to further layer and multiply these:

video

video

A project concerned primarily with space suggests that attention can be firmly concentrated on spatial organisation. The videos above are as far as I have got in experimenting with the possibilities of the Horizontal Rule to date. It might seem contradictory that an investigation of place should benefit from the imposition of a formal compositional rule, rather than a more 'open' exploration, the more 'intuitive' approach, but there would seem to be great potential for constriction to reveal new perspectives from the peripheral spaces of corners, between spaces of shadows. The spatial is the realm of the chance meeting, continuously accidental collision of sounds, voices, people, traffic and architecture, its character and identity can reveal hitherto unforeseen connection through the imposition of a strict organising principle.


I acknowledged of course that formal strategies applied to the production of images of particular places are not uncommon in experimental film, however these have typically concentrated upon elucidating structure and process, their ostensible subject matter mostly secondary to issues of temporal structure, the relationship between the camera/viewer and the visual reproduction of images and other more didactic intent, often through a practice of heroic endurance in both the production and reception of the images.

The challenge perhaps is to make formal experimental processes responsive and porous to the particularities of space and place; to excavate new local phenomena through form, where, in the words of Doreen Massey "...the complex resonances of place, the constitutive interrelatedness of social space, the radical contemporaneity of an ongoing multiplicity of others, human and non-human..." become integral to the exploratory representative process, rather than space and place simply being reduced to the status of arbitrary material for formal experimentation.

Monday, 14 January 2008

Off Off On


Off Off On, 4:08, 1992

Sorting through some tapes I came across a video copy of a super 8 film I made in 1992 when I was living in Melbourne, Australia. I'm taken aback to realise not only that the film was made nearly 16 years ago, but also that it is now nearly 20 years since I accidentally migrated to Australia.

But the text seems to concern a situation in a past more distant past:
after the crash, Easter 1979, in the flat, travelling, going nowhere fast…
from 13 years earlier, and then
the lapse begins at breakfast, the cup overturned on the table…

References to, or reproductions of the past are often the present in disguise, such as is the case in historical dramas and allegory.

Images from distorted photocopies of limbs, night-light streets shot on grainy fast black and white super 8, full of claustrophobia resonant with the melancholy and depression of the time it was made.

At the time however, it wa s a remix of Paul Virilio, (‘speed’, which is actually a reference to velocity, not amphetamines, give the game away), I am riffing on ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance

From this distance and time it is possible to view the film with both familiarity and detachment, not so much as though it were made by someone else, more that when I made it I was someone else, which of course I was. So now it seems to be an odd mix of the personal, claustrophobia and their relationship to speed, history, distance and the production of appearances.

1979, 1992, 2008

video
Off Off On, 4:08, 1992

Sorting through some tapes I came across a video copy of a super 8 film I made in 1992 when I was living in Melbourne, Australia. I'm taken aback to realise not only that the film was made nearly 16 years ago, but also that it is now nearly 20 years since I accidentally migrated to Australia.

But the text seems to concern a situation in a past more distant than 1992:
...after the crash, Easter 1979, in the flat, travelling, going nowhere fast…
13 years earlier then, perhaps a domestic situation:
...the lapse occurs at breakfast, the cup dropped and overturned on the table…

References to, or reproductions of the past are often the present in disguise, such as is the case in historical dramas and allegory. Images from distorted photocopies of limbs, night-light streets shot on grainy fast black and white super 8, full of claustrophobia resonant with the melancholy and depression of the time it was made. This film is more about 1992 than 1979.

At the time however, it was a remix of Paul Virilio, (‘speed’, which is actually a reference to velocity, not amphetamines, gives the game away), I am riffing on ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance’.

From this distance and time it is possible for me to view the film with both familiarity and detachment, not so much as though it were made by someone else, more that when I made it I was someone else, of course I was. So now it seems to be a cryptic mix of the personal, claustrophobia and their relationship to speed, history, distance and the production of appearances.

Sunday, 13 January 2008

Aroundabout


Aroundabout