Psychogeography in popular culture – rural space

A short post today. I am reading different things and need to leave the information rest before I can really write about it.

To Andy’s suggestion, I am reading about Psychogeography. There is not much reliable source about it. Guy Debord wrote an article in 1955 Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography and made a psychogreographic map of Paris. Then the situationnists seemed to have got disinterested in the idea and did not elaborate on it any further. Later on, different people took the concept of psychogeography and made their own thing with it. The closest to a reference is the book Psychogeography by Merlin Coverley (2006). This book has the merit to study earlier practionners of psychogeography, such as William Blake, who reinvented their cities long before Guy Debord invented the word, and to give an introduction to contemporary psychogeographers such as Iain Sinclair. This book is mostly interesting in giving the reader directions for further research. In itself it is quite flawed: city-centric and intellectual-centric, ignoring the long folk tradition of “spirit of the place”. The author only talks about exploring London and Paris as though psychogeography could only be done in the urban landscape. He makes a reference to the term “genus loci” (guardian spirit of a place in roman mytology, that turned into the contemporary concept of “spirit of the place”) but links the origin of the concept to neo-romanticism (late 19th century). No reference to the obvious roman origin of the word, nor to the fact that the same concept is very strong in Celtic mythology, and in folk culture from various places generally.

In “Lud Heat and Suicide Bridge”, Iain Sinclair plays with an esoteric interpretation of how the 6 London Churches of Architect Nicholas Hawksmoor are disposed on a map. This amused me as it reminded me of popular film Hypnotic whose plot was based about churches by a fictional architect forming a pentagram on a London map and being used for some dark purpose … I am wondering whether they ripped off Sinclair’s book, or both took inspiration from similar London urban legends.

I found another reference to psychogeography in one of my favourite book Den amerikanska flickan by Monika Fagerholm (The American girl, no yet translated in English). In the French translation, a reference is made of a teenage character being “à la derive” (going wild) with in brackets the playful comment “(il avait lu un livre)” = “(he had read a book)” which is obviously a reference to Debord’s theory of the “dérive” (wandering, aimless roaming, drifting). The idea behind the pun of wild teenage lifestyle finding justification in obscure avant-garde theories amused me a lot … The whole book itself is concerned with psychogeography. It is set in the early 70’s in a sleepy small town on the south coast of Finland, and observes the slow process by which the remote, boring location is invaded by rich people from the capital (Helsinki) who build summer homes there, and by urban feminist intellectuals and artists living in a commune there during the summer months. In summer, the city invaders clash with the locals. The clash is aggressive and literally an invasion: the whole coast is built up with private posh summer residences, so that the shore becomes private property and the locals loose access to the sea (this really happened on most of the south coast of France, the cote d’Azur). At the same time, it is liberating: local teens seduce the rich invaders into giving them an escape to the big city, or go off by themselves after discovering avant-guarde theories from hanging on with the commune residents. Yet in winter, when the city invaders depart to more hospitable climates, the place reverts to its former self of a harsh self-contained world where time moves slowly. The place identity is strongly infused by the memory of the mysterious disapperance in 1969 of a visitor (the American girl of the title). This local tabloid-type news item takes the scale of local mythology. Bengt, the boy “à la dérive” obssessively draws maps of the place containing obscure symbols referring to his own theories about the American girl’s mysterious fate. During the winter, local teens invade the deserted posh summer house and wreck havoc in them, as a form of radical reappropriation of their stolen territory. I myself grew up in a backward, remote and boring village and recognised the situations described by the author. Teens from backward places develop an instinctive talent for psychogeography, as weapon against boredom. While in cities, places usually have a set purpose (the cinema, the ice rink, the bowling …), teens from dormitory suburban areas and backward villages need to claim their territory and assign a purpose to them: the bus shelter, the supermarket car park become centres of sociability. At the same times, streets rarely have names in small French villages. Common names are assigned to them by the locals, often referring to names of old residents or local landmarks. Getting about in those villages requires to be coopted in the community and educated in the local lore. In small French villages, people tend to stay in place 20 years or a whole lifetime. It gives enough time for local gossip and news to be transformed and reinterpreted into some sort of informal local mythology.

How to pitch my project ? – Space and consciousness – the unpremeditated – Surrealim is dead anyway

This post won’t be a well thought-out well organised dissertation on some subject but rather a list of issues/uncertainties I have about how to pitch my research project according to the structure given to us last week. In particular, how to phrase the research question and how to pitch it within the contextual categories: history, contemporary, critical theory, parallel theory, projective or generative theory.

The main problem I have is I know what types of artwork I want to make but am unsure about how to pitch it within a coherent research project. It’s like there are a couple of different threads I want to explore, and they are all somehow related to the big soup of things I may call “interests, obsessions and inspiration” which share lots of similar themes but I’m not fully sure how I may knot these threads into a bullet-proof research question.

Bluntly, this is how I came up with my initial research proposal: I have been doing the ghost houses for 3 years because I like exploring them, I find them fascinating. I had been doing (and went on doing) other things I personally found equally interesting before doing the ghost houses (photographs of woods where light was very fairy tale-like, random wood sculptures, dream paintings, found objects assemblage) but those were constantly rejected from exhibitions. Then out of nowhere, the ghost houses started being accepted to about a third of the exhibitions I offered them to, with on top of that quite a few of “sincere” (i.e. personalised rejection letter with comments, not standard letter) sorry-we-think-they’re-great-but-don’t-quite-fit-the-subject refusals. To me it was an amazing success rate. It seemed when I started the ghost houses, I had unknowingly started making fashionable artworks !!! Indeed, when you look in AN, there are quite a lot of events going on about space, urban, the built environment and such. These is obviously a fashion going on about that. I was completely unaware of it when I started the ghost houses, I did them because I found them fascinating. But, hey, I’m not suicidal either, if one of the things I do is fashionable by sheer luck, it has to be in my research project !

So exploring derelict places became part of the research project. It could not, however, be the complete research project for several reasons:
1) I don’t live near the ghost houses and can only explore them in summer (derelict places in England are heavily guarded old public institutions that require a lot of jackass skills to get in). Even if I lived near them, I’m not sure I would like to spend all my week ends in places where there might me asbestos, pigeon droppings and such. A couple of times per year wearing a good dust mask won’t kill me, but I would not like to spend my life in there.
2) You cannot predict the productivity of a ghost house. It may be locked up, wrecked, empty, too dark or without anything interesting in it. It is not only in the Art world that space/the built environment has become fashionable over the last 2 years, urban exploration as a hobby has become hype, with dedicated websites flourishing. Some urban explorers seek fame and glory from it, advertising their explorations with exact location name as trophies. The consequence being that the place owner just has to google the name of their property to learn about the unwanted visitor, and heavily lock up the place, making it inaccessible to others (I have even been wondering whether this consequence was not intentional. After all, the rarer the trophy, the more valuable). The best places I had planned to visit this summer were heavily locked up after some high visibility reports were put online about them … Thankfully, this type of behaviour is not too common and most urban explorers are relatively discreet and helpfully share tips about access to places. While I’m at it, I just would like to state than the urban exploration moto is “take nothing but photographs, leave nothing but footprints”, so it is a peaceful, non destructive activity.
3) I might get bored of the ghost houses, in which case I’ll stop, however fashionable they might be.

So the research project had to have other things in it. I had been making paintings of dreams, and love cinema exploring consciousness, so the obvious was to make videos inspired by dreams and inner worlds.

Then came the issue of how to knot those 2 apparently unrelated threads. This is the main issue I am researching in books at the moment. Instinctively, I know space and consciousness are related, but I do not have a couple of smart quotations to prove it (tough luck). Why do I know it instinctively ? One of my favourite paintings is Birthday by Dorothea Tanning. The corridor seems to go on indefinitely, there is a mirror on the left but the real space does not seem any more real than the reflection. It seems this beautiful strange house is not the outer world but the (infinite) inner world of the artist.

Dorothea Tanning - Birthday

I’ve always seen my house as a shelter: I can make it look the way I like (since a teenager, I have skimmed bric a brac shops and garage sales, lovingly doing up old fashioned objects in the colors and patterns I like), and in it I can do whatever (harmless thing) I like without the fear of being marked as odd. To me a house is a private place where people are free to be themselves away from the judgemental looks of others. See also Virginia Woolf’s essay “A room of one’s own”: people need a private space to be able to think independently. When I am invited in other people’s houses, I look at the colours they chose, the objects they like and I feel I know the host more intimately thanks to those. I see their house as the closest approximation to a physical projection of somebody’s inner world. Many Raw artists actually takes this statement literally, and turn their whole house into a huge artwork, creating their own self contained universe with a unique mythology.

A recurrent theme in films and books set in the former Soviet Union (Dr Zhivago, The Master and Margarita) are the dreadful communal housing, and the nosiness, gossips, mutual spying that came with them. What was probably started as an emergency war-time measure to give decent housing to everyone was soon turned into a control instrument to make people conform by encouraging neighbours to spy on and denounce each other. The recurrence of the theme shows how traumatising it must have been for people to be suddenly deprived of their private space like this. One of the selling point of Capitalism was that, within Capitalism, contrary to the Eastern Bloc, people were granted the right to individuality and privacy. Yet, today, many young adults with decent, steady jobs cannot afford a private space and are forced to live with perfect strangers met through the small ads well into their late 30s. Flatshare are contemporary Communal housing. It is not greed but flatshare-phobia that made me take a boring but reasonably lucrative engineer job in the first place. Open space offices are another contemporary example of the use of space as an instrument of mind control. In contemporary UK, people do not talk of “houses” anymore but of “property”. What used to be an intimate space where people were free to be themselves is now a commodity passed from hand to hand every 3 years in order to reap the profit from speculation on it.

In many movies, madness manifests itself as a distortion of space and time. In David Lynch’s films, there a recurring image of a corridor with drapes whenever a character goes insane, looses grip on reality or feels a menace. In many of his films, the inside architecture of the houses where the character live do not make sense (at least not within Euclidian geometry …): the inside seems far too big compared to the outside, there seem to be doors and corridors leading from everywhere to everywhere, characters walk around the house and they seem to go through the whole of it as though the house was built as an endless circle. In many interviews, Lynch confesses an obsession with houses: he sees them as self contained worlds were dreadful things happen, unknowingly of the outside world. So his vision of houses is tainted with menace and claustrophobia. Strange architecture is also present in German expressionist movies. In Last Year in Marienbad, the characters seem trapped in the immense hotel, going round in endless spatio-temporal circles, unable to leave the space until their mind makes sense of what is happening. In Polanski’s Repulsion, Catherine Deneuve, alone with her hallucinations, traps herself in her flat, a refuge turned menacing prison. Generally, in movies, people often drive themselves mad in close spaces (Kubrick’s Shining). In popular culture, the haunted houses and poltergeist phenomenon suggest a strong link between people’s minds and the places they used to inhabit.

So a house, a shelter, place and freedom and projection of one’s inner world may very quickly turns into a prison, a projection of one’s anxieties and obsessions. Where/when is the turning point or the trigger, or are both aspects constantly present ? Are they the same thing ? This question is definitely one of my obsessions.

Yet, I don’t think I want to call my research project “space and consciousness” or something like that, because this is not all I see in the ghost houses. Another important aspect of them is the unpremeditated compositions and putting my own meaning on something that already exists by itself. I feel it is an important part of my art process as I was already exploring something similar when I made the random wood sculpture. So I don’t want to leave this aspect out of the research project.

When I said “madness manifests itself as a distortion of space and time”, there is also the time factor that I could not explore in photography and paintings, but that I will use in moving image.

So in the end, the only common thing I could find in my obsessions and interests is subjectivity. The subjectivity of one individual’s vision. The problem is, this does not make a research question ! So I decided that the best solution was to call the project Digital Surrealism, since the surrealists were themselves interested in many of the things I am want to explore (dreams, consciousness, randomness). That will do the trick, I thought happily …

But then I’m reading “Surrealism and Cinema” by Michael Richardson, where he says that David Lynch’s work has nothing to do with Surrealism because Lynch has no desire to change the world, and his interviews show he has a bad understanding of what Surrealism was. Indeed Lynch is no revolutionary (though I have no clue what his political leanings are, and I don’t care). The interviews in question, I don’t remember them if I read them so I cannot comment on the level of expertise in Lynch’s understanding of Surrealism within Art History until I read them again. However, my humble opinion is that, even if David Lynch was a trotskyist and held a Phd in Art History about Surrealism, he could not be a Surrealist anyway because Surrealism as an Art movement died in the 60s at latest. In passing, Richardson does not comment about Lynch’s use of images he does not know the meaning of (the blue box in Mulholland Drive) and his use of altered states of consciousness (namely transcendental meditation) in order to find ideas for artworks without being censored by his “Conscious”: he dismisses Lynch as a neo/post-surrealist purely on the ground of intent, ignoring method or process.

Anyway, even when Surrealism was alive, there was no clear definition of who was or was not a Surrealist. Breton and the hardcore wrote theoretical texts about the principles of Surrealism. Some of these texts are better forgotten for Surrealism’s sake, especially homophobic rants and ludicrous dogma about women’s say in the practical organisation of sexual intercourse. But many artists gravitated around Surrealism without being formally part of the movement, which did not prevent them from being invited to take part in surrealist exhibitions. They were attracted mostly by its aura of freedom. This included many women artists without formal training, who were not bothered by Breton’s outdated views on female sexuality, or simply granted them the amount of attention they deserved … Some of these artists did not want to join to preserve their independence, because the authoritarian personality of Breton annoyed them (Leonor Fini), or simply because they could not be bothered (especially Belgian painters who were away from Paris). Later on, Breton became more dogmatic and starting “excluding” lots of artists for all kinds of dubious reasons. This did not prevent those excluded dissidents from going on making their work, with or without Breton’s approval.

Even if the theoretical writings about Surrealism were completely free of rubbish, no contemporary artists could be expected to follow them literally nowadays. They were written in the 20s and 30s and the social conditions in which the artwork are produced have drastically changed.

All this to say that what at first seemed a convenient title now seems like a needlessly dangerous magnet for criticism by hair splitters who think they have the authority to decide who is or is not influenced by Surrealism in 2009. There was a hint in the chat that in the “contemporary context” part of our project proposal, we could give names of current academic research. So this seems to imply that the way we pitch our research proposal could influence academic opportunities we have at the end of the MA. With that in view, it seems suicidal to choose a title that is like a criticism magnet, however convenient it might have sounded at first.

So it’s now 00.01, I have written 2352 words and I still don’t know how to call my research project …

The Ghost House Project (Genesis)

The Ghost House project started in summer 2007 when I found by chance an abandoned house near our rented holiday cottage, and decided to explore it. Inside I found personal belongings left behind by the previous occupants (household items, clothes, many religious objects and even drawers full of letters). I did not touch or read the letters, I felt it would be indecent, but read the stamping dates and sender’s address on the exposed envelopes. From those and also from the design of the clothes and items, I deducted that the last occupants either died in the 70’s or left to join family in America. I began to wonder why those houses were never cleared after their last occupants died. It seems those people either had no descendants (I later heard of a tradition of “bachelor-farmers” in Ireland) or their descendants had emigrated (mostly in the USA) and had no desire for a small old fashioned house in the middle of nowhere in Ireland (in the 70s, Ireland was not yet fashionable as a get-away-from-it-all holiday destination … ) Then I wondered why the local authorities did not clear away those houses to make something useful out of them, or at least keep them in shape for future use.

A dear friend is the son of Irish economical migrants and studied the history and heritage of Ireland. From discussions with him, I started to understand that the locals did not see the “Ghost Houses” the same way the outsiders did. They were all but invisible to them. During the Famine of 1845-1850, out the 8 million Irish, 1 million died of starvation and another million emigrated to escape Death. The population was abruptly reduced by 25%. During the Famine itself, the living (or rather surviving) were so underfed they were too weak to bury the dead, therefore the dead were lined on the shore to be washed away by the sea. One can only imagine what a trauma it was to see those Ireland beaches filled with rows of corpses, and to abandoned your loved ones to be washed away. Yet the surviving could not afford any weakness if they wanted to try and survive a little longer themselves. Then the Famine ended and empty houses scattered the landscape, reminding the survivors of the people they knew who died or emigrated. Yet, even after the Famine, conditions were still harsh and people could not afford any weakness. The death of 1/8 of a country’s population in 5 years is such a major trauma it could not be “dealt with”. To go on with their daily business and ensure their own subsistence, the survivors both during and after the Famine learnt to ignore the dead lined up on the beach and then the empty houses. It is as though the country had developed a form of collective amnesia as a form of self protection. Like the way victims sometimes wipe out from their conscious thoughts the memory of a traumatic event, but at the unprecedented scale of a whole country. Today still, it is considered impolite to mention the Famine in daily conversations. It is just Not Done. The Famine may be discussed in political and academic circles, and artworks made about it, but it is never discussed by ordinary people, despite the fact that all families were affected by it. The Famine may be present in the conscious thought as an abstraction belonging to the realms of Politics, History and National Identity but on the human and emotional levels, its consequences are so huge that it was never “dealt with” and the collective amnesia is as strong as ever.

The Ghost Houses I’ve visited may not date from the Famine, but they are reminders of a recent past where, economically, Ireland was mostly rural, poor and lagging behind the rest of Europe and where many people still emigrated to the UK and America to find work. Today’s Irish people see themselves as citizens of a modern, booming “Celtic Tiger” and do not want to be reminded of this recent past. So their eyes scan over the landscape without registering the Ghost Houses who become all but invisible to them. The Ghost Houses are not even “eyesores” like abandoned buildings might be in Britain, they are invisible. The contemporary Irish people deliberately ignore the Ghost Houses and build themselves brand new houses right next to them that project the right image of success and modernity with which they identify. The Ghost Houses stay lying there, waiting to be explored by artists or bought by rich foreigners in quest of picturesque.

My Project

Research Question

I am interested in researching the relevance of the concepts of surrealism to contemporary art using the new possibilities offered by digital media. In the tradition of Surrealism, I do not see my research as a rigid question resolved using a linear, predetermined methodology, but rather as free experimentation guided by a set of philosophical principles.

Important above all to me is the refusal to tell people what my Art is “about”. Most of the time, I do not know myself what the work is “about” anyway, all I know is the mental process that lead me to produce it. This mental process, I have no objection to discuss it in a academic context. It is an interesting and enjoyable intellectual game. I will also discuss some interpretations that occurred to me when I looked at the finished piece but these interpretations will be just this: interpretations from an external viewer and none the truer because this external looker happens to be the artist. They will be aimed at starting dialogue and discussion with the audience, not forcefuly imposing a meaning on them. If there is a “right interpretation” attached to a work of Art, the consequence is that only those people from the audience with “the right educationnal background” that can lead them to this “right interpretation” can enjoy the work “the right way”. The others are left out. I do not want my Art to be discriminatory. I want the audience to enjoy (or hate, or get bored by) my work in their very own way, the way that allows my work to strike a chord in their mind and, because my work is the very product of my mind, that creates a very unique connection between my mind and their mind. I believe that, once I decide that a particular piece is “finished”, stop working on it and show it, it aquires an independent life as a concept. I no longer have the right to claim sole understanding of it, anyone has the right to make it a part of their intellectual and inner life. Whether that process involves finding a political interpretation of my work or gazing at the shapes and color is equally fine by me.

Some of the concepts I wish to explore in my research are: the use of randomness and unpremeditated compositions, the study of the way our subconscious reinvents and transforms our surroundings and experiences, the study of dreams as worlds of their own independently of the interpretation of the symbols present in them.

Context

My research is inspired by Surrealism in the wide sense. This includes previous Art movements which inspired or were liked by the Surrealists (Symbolism, German Expressionist cinema, Dada …) and later Art movements born from or inspired by Surrealism (Situationnism, contemporary cinema experimenting with non linear narrative or concerned with subjective visions of events).

For example, my interest in abandoned buildings refers to Urban Exploration, a contemporary subculture influenced by the Situationnists (although most contemporary Urban explorers are unaware of this parentage), the Surrealist’s interest in discarded and outmoded objects and places as highlighted by Walter Benjamin, along with the Celtic concept that places have a spirit. I am inspired by dreamscapes and strange scenes as pictured in the paintings of Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux and Dorothea Tanning. I am inspired by the films of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman (Hour of the Wolf, Through a glass darkly), “Last year in Marienbad” and also by short experimental films such as “Meshes of the afternoon” by Maya Deren and “Dictio Pii” by Markus Schinwald. I am interested in Raw Art is it offers a raw (unprocessed, unfiltered, void of theorisation) glimpse into another person’s mind.

Generally, I am interested in the discrepancy between physical reality and the individual’s perception of it and the mental processes by which individuals reinvent reality. This could be pictured through fictional scenarios in literature and movies or studied within psychoanalysis or sociology.

Methodology

I will continue the Ghost House project using photography and video. My process is about looking for compositions made out of discarded objects. However tempting, I never move anything to create an artificial composition myself. I look for beauty, harmonious and balanced compositions and cultural meaning into what, to most eyes, would be no more than heaps of rubbish. As the Surrealists would put it, this is about moving beyond the “manifest” reality of things to enter the infinite realm of the “latent”.

Here are some of the ghost house pictures with some examples of possible “latent” meanings:

The position of the chair, fallen pillow and the paint scaling looking as though nightmarish creatures are crawling down from the ceiling strangely evocate a scene of death by hanging to me, which oddly contrast with the peaceful eerie light and the childish apple green tone.

The “immaculate conception” icon discarded on an unmade bed is a very striking example of random occurrences producing a highly composed scene with heavy socio-cultural connotations. But can we be assured of randomness ? Could another visitor before me have composed the scene on purpose ? If so, did I unknowingly take part in some kind of Land-Art Cadavre Exquis when I took my picture ? Does randomness exist ? Or do we call random the events on which our limited perception was not able to impose a external logic ?

Death, crucifixion, nails. A box of pills: are they medicine to delay death or “opium” to forget it ? As soon as I stepped into the windblown white washed deserted cottage, I was overwhelmed by peace and contemplation. This particular scene irresistibly evocates an Ingmar Bergman movie to me.

I simply like this picture as it seems straight out of a David Lynch movie: the red curtains he uses everywhere (on stage in Blue Velvet, draping the corridor in Fred and Rene’s House in Lost Highway, in the red room and log cabin in Twin peaks) and the menacing stairs straight from Twin Peaks.

A picture of Jesus and a piece of paper bearing the word “ejaculation” ! If this had been done on purpose, it would be such a teenage cliché but happening randomly, it is rather fascinating, at least to me. I find the concept of a “randomly generated Cliché” highly entertaining !

Still within my practice of Urban Exploration, I have started a new photo/video/installation project exploring places of imprisonment, especially “unofficial” ones used to make undesirable and/or helpless people disappear discretely. Last summer, I have photographed and filmed inside abandoned and derelict Magdalene convents (used to imprison women), mental asylums and workhouses. Rather than purely documenting the buildings, I am interested in showing how the long gone inmates might have reinvented their surroundings and experience in order to make their pain bearable (fugue state), and how their presence keeps imprinting those buildings long after they are dead. I hope to gain access to more buildings in order to get more footage and images.

I will start sorting and editing the footage shortly, starting with the Magdalene asylums. I will start by making a video showing the inside of 2 abandoned Magdalene asylums in Ireland. Most of the video will be documentary-like, showing the derelict buildings and objects left behind in them. However, shorter flashes will disturb the documentary, as though a poltergeist phenomenon was manifesting itself on screen. These flashes may include: photographs and names of Magdalene inmates, newspaper clippings or official documents about them, historical documents concerning witch hunts and short dream-like sequences recreating the Magdalenes’ dream of escape and freedom. I may also use occult references to the figure of Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic tradition .

I am interested in using digital media to document my dreams, thus moving beyond the technical limitations of painting. I could introduce narrative through traditional video, and use animation if I need to represent a setting or character I cannot find/make in real scale due to budget limit. Still compositions using digital collage and photo manipulation would be appropriate for those dreams that are a vision without narrative. For this part of my work, I keep a Dream Book where I keep record of the dreams when I am awake enough to do so. The records take the from of a written description with subjective comments and very primitive sketches. The process of writing those down enable me to keep a rather clear mental picture, much clearer than any sketch that I could make in the limited amount of time available before I either go back to sleep or tend to daily business. I can then retrieve the mental picture later to work from it. If the mental picture is fading with time, I can revive it by reading the notes. I have discovered that if I do not keep notes, I either completely forget the dream, however vivid, if I go back to sleep, or keep the mental picture for a couple of hours only if I get up straight away.

Installation wise, I would like to create immersive experience inviting the viewer to experience a situation. The way David Lynch uses visuals, loops of events and rhythm to “simulate” the mental state of fugue and invite the viewer to experience it along with the character (in Lost Highway, mostly, but also in Mulholland Drive). I have 2 ideas so far, but am yet unsure about the technical feasibility of either. The first one would be some kind of corridor delimitated by drapes. The viewer would step into it and moving images projected on the drapes would give them the illusion to explore something, while remaining stationary. The visual could create the illusion of getting lost, thus causing disquiet to the viewer. The other idea is some sort of large box in which the viewer would be invited to sit. Visuals would be projected on the walls of the box, and sound played in it. The idea stems from the traditional child game of creating imaginary houses, castles, or other places inside packing boxes. It is also a reference to a (probably fictional) story heard in a movie or TV series, about a high-functioning autist who had created a machine in which they sat and that provided them with everything they need. I found the idea of such a self contained world fascinating. By stepping into the box of the installation, the viewer would be invited to experience a self-contained and self sufficient inner world.

Resources

Hardware: Canon EOS 500D digital camera, Canon HV30 HDV Camera, HP Pavillion laptop.

Software: Gimp for image editing, Serif Movieplus for video editing, Goldwave and Audacity for sound.

Output

Definite: Photographs, Videos, Video installation

And possibly: Still compositions using digital collage and photo manipulation, animation (Flash ?), interactive elements.

My background

I am French but have been living in England for 4 years. Like Andre Breton and Louise Bourgeois, I first succumbed to the French reverence for Rationality and Science, and studied Mathematics before turning to Art

I originally trained as a software engineer specialising in audio applications, such as audio effects. In that field, I developed a special interest in physical modellisation and synthetic generation of sound, which means artificially copying the physical way the sound is produced in order to synthesize realistic sounds. In particular, I programmed a seascape sound of crashing waves and shrieking seagulls randomly generated from filtered white noise and variable frequency sine waves. It was shown at FILE electronic arts festivals in Sao Paulo (Brazil) last summer. I have been learning classical singing for years, and try and use the techniques in cabaret and folk singing. I hope to be able to use these skills to make video soundtracks.

In parallel, I have been making Art since 2006 using both traditional and digital media. I am interested in Surrealism, Raw Art, Symbolism, Romanticism, German Expressionism, generally any kind of art that deals with the unconscious, madness, death, alienation and the strange. Although some of my work is directly linked to Traditional Surrealism, such as documenting my dreams in paintings, my interest also lies in exploring the relevance of Surrealism to Contemporary Culture, and experimenting with its principles in the context of new Art Forms such as Ecological Art and Urban Exploration. While modern culture is obsessed with efficiency and control, I explore the random and the unpremeditated which, contrary to the controlled images produced by our culture, can spark questioning and reverie in the mind of the observer. Weary of any kind of control, I usually do not tell the audience what my Art is about or what they should see in a particular piece. I like Art that is open to interpretation, and hope the viewer will see some of their own experiences and obsessions resonate in my work, or will enjoy it as a purely aesthetic product if they wish.

In the tradition of Surrealism, I document my dreams in drawings and paintings. It is a process of archivism: the form is purely serving the clarity and accuracy of the subject. Formalisation is used to piece together imperfect fragments of memories into a coherent picture, but any other kind of post-processing or aesthetisation is rejected.

Dream in a Red Room, 2009

Because I had no formal art training before starting this MA, I got very interested in Raw Art. I used some of the concept of Raw Art in my own practice such as working with found objects (Objets Trouvés) and a fascination with the workings of children’s mind when they are free to express themselves without the layer of sugariness artificially imposed on them by adults. In particular I have been making mixed media assemblage called “twisted toys”.

Fantasmagoria - Toy Theatre, 2006

In my 3D practice, I mainly make “random natural sculpture” with wood: I bring back dead wood with interesting shapes, and at first spend up to several months (depending on the degree of decay) alternatively letting the outer layer dry, then scrapping out the rotten bits, until what is left is healthy enough to make a durable artwork. By then, the selection dictated by the law of biology has most of the time led to the embryo of a meaningful shape, and I add my own input to enhance its features. Since visiting Ireland, I have developed an interest in bogwood (very old wood kept from rotting because it has been buried in acidic soil) which can also be found in the Fens where I live, and I am experimenting with the possibilities of this new material. I call these sculptures “Nature Morte” which is the French word for “Still Life” but the literal translation is “dead life”. The name hints to the process of decay I use in my “random natural sculptures”, and also ironically refers to a classic highly aesthesized Art Genre traditionally used to display wealth and luxury. I am fascinated with finding harmonious proportions and balanced composition in object usually dismissed as rubbish.

Nature Morte I, 2007

I am involved in a collaborative project with Bill Cox, exploring the darker side of ‘Cabaret’ and playing with German Expressionnism in a multimedia context. It is an ongoing project and we plan to use video, photography, music and performance in various context. So far, we have projected German expressionists movies on a homemade Cabaret stage with a performer (me) doing various acts in front of the screen. The performer was present at the same time on stage outside of the film reality but also on screen in the form of a shadow fully part of the movie’s self contained world. One could read into it a reference to the Doppelgänger (the Double).

My lens-based work is about documenting the irruption of the imaginary in the physical world, an observation of the ambiguous, fluctuating line between the mainstream, accepted vision of things and the individual’s perception of it. Photography and video, media traditionally considered “objective”, always at the crossroads between art and documentary, are ironically adapted to this mindset of systematic questioning.

The ghost house series, a work in progress since 2007, was shot at several abandoned houses in Kerry and Connemara, Ireland, whose last occupants probably left 10 to 30 years ago. Traces of their lives and aspirations, and of the disillusions and hardships that made them leave their homeland, remained in the form of scattered personal belongings. These abandoned houses are the only museums to document the social changes that took place in Ireland during the last 30 years, as the country itself tends to sacrifice the memory of its tumultuous past for the Cult of “Progress” and “Dynamism”.