Contextualising my practice within experimental film and traditional video art

I read the book ‘Film and video art’ by Tate publishing in order to find more moving image artists who share my themes and concerns. The book surveys moving image art from early cinema to today’s digital moving image, which enabled me to isolate certain themes and genres that creep back in different cultural and technological contexts.

The book surveys avant guarde cinema close to Surrealism, for example the films of Germaine Dulaine and Man Rays’s Le mystère du chateau de Dé, where the camera tracks at low level through the empty rooms of a modernist house, anticipating contemporary works dealing with space and emptiness. I have already written about these artists when I surveyed photography and cinema within Surrealism.

In the 1940s, a new wave of avant garde cinema reappropriated the Surrealist idea of the importance of subjective vision in film. Filmmakers in this tradition are Maya Deren, Kenneth Anger, Stan Brakhage, Hollis Frampton. Critic A.L. Rees coins the term ‘psychodrama’ to describe their works that deal with inner life and conflict, and suggest their air of menace and obsssession may be linked to the cold war climate of paranoia which also influenced the film noir genre.

In Maya Deren Meshes of the Afternoon (1943), a woman chases a cloaked figure that may or may not represent the temptation of suicide in successive sequences that blur chronology and geography.

Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947) is one the first films ever to have an explicit gay theme: a sleeper awakes to be tormented and and torn apart by mocking sailors, but is reborn in a flow of light and balm to find himself back in bed but no longer alone. The theme reminds me of the old myths of the vegetation Gods (Dyonisos) who suffered ritual sacrifice to be reborn.

(Warning: the following short film contains nudity. Click the embedded player at your own risk.)

Kenneth Anger later made another film dealing with ritual sacrifice: Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954-6).

‘Fireworks’ and other films depicting dreams are sometimes referred to as ‘trance films’. The term “trance-film” is taken from P. Adams Sitney, whose book ‘Visionary Film: The American Avant-Garde’ (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002) has become the bible of American avant-garde film history.

Sidney Peterson’s The lead shoes (1949) deals with Oedipal themes.

http://www.dailymotion.com/embed/video/xe7579
The Lead Shoes (1949) by Lost_Shangri_La_Horizon

Stan Brakhage, a young student of Maya Deren, investigated wish-dreams vs. reality in his films. I liked the light play in ‘Cat’s Cradle’ (1959)

Bruce Baillie’s ‘Castro Street’ (1966) is a non narrative film made of footage of urban landscape and industrial spaces.

During the 60’s, experimental cinema moved towards formal abstraction. In the late 1970’s however, some film makers moved back to exploring the subjective. The best known are Patrick Keiller (now famous for dealing with psychogeography in his films), and Derek Jarman and the ‘new romantics filmmakers’ (including Cerith Wyn-Evans and John Maybury).

The 70’s marked the beginning of a stronger separation between experimental film makers and gallery based video artists. The two traditions of work became very distinct, with gallery based video art tending back then to be non narrative.

However, some works explore the boundary between the real and the dreamlike, for example Robert Whitman ‘Prune flat’ where two performers merge with the images projected onto them and the background.

still from Prune flat

The ‘Psychodrama’ genre in experimental moving image picked up in the 90s.

The works of Canadian artist Stan Douglas deals with the uncanny, the urban space and memory.

‘The Sandman’ (1995) shows two loops filmed at allotments in Potsdam in former East Berlin, while on the soundtrack, someone reads an adapted version of E.T.A. Hoffman’s ‘The Sandmann’ that inspired Freud’s essay ‘The Uncanny’.

‘Le Detroit’ also uses 2 loops, one projected in negative, the other in positive. It shows a black woman wandering through an abandoned house, looking at abandoned possessions. ‘Le detroit’ makes references to Shirley Jackson’s 1959 horror novel ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ and Marie Hamlin’s 1883 chronicle ‘Legends of Le Détroit’ (Le detroit being a French name for the city of Detroit, MI). The video uses the conventions of the horror film to comment on the decline of urban neighbourhoods in Detroit, and the problems of racial tensions in this city.

still from 'Le detroit'

Isaac Julien and Sunil Gupta ‘Looking for Langston: Homage Noir’ (1989) mixes archive footage, dream sequences and staged photographs to talk about American Black Gay poet Langston Hughes and the cultural renaissance of Harlem.

Matthew Buckingham’s film installation ‘A Man of the Crowd’ (2003) is based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe that influenced Baudelaire’s concept of the Flâneur. The camera follows a man wandering through the streets of Vienna, and shows reflections in cafes and store windows while the viewer themselves is reflected on the glass used to make the installation, thus questioning reality and illusion in everyday life.

still from 'Man of the Crowd'

Catherine Sullivan explores theatricality and social conventions. Her work is insprired by film noir and avant-garde cinema. In ‘The Chittendens’ (2005), a six screen video installation, actors in period costumes perform gestures that symbolise different social attitudes or psychological mindsets. Most of the video was shot in an abandoned Post Office in Chicago. The work reflects on property, insecurity, the act of performance in everyday life and hysteria.

still from chittendens

Judith Barry’s ‘Ars Memoriae Carnegiensis’ reinvents the Renaissance concept of ‘memory theatre’, that is, a mental process where a person maps memories to the physical space of a building filled with symbolic objects (and also the drawing or painting of the resulting imaginary space).

In Doug Aitken’s video installation ‘Electric Earth’ (1999) shows a black man wandering the streets and parking lots of Los Angeles by night. The installation is immersive: the viewer is invited to physically moves through the spaces delimited by the several screens, while the sound design gives a unity to the different visuals. The immersive quality invites the viewer to share the protagonist’s feeling of urban alienation.

In 2006, Aitken produced ‘Broken Screen: 26 Conversations with Doug Aitken’ (Distributed Art Publishers, 2006), a book of interviews with twenty-six artists who aim to explore and challenge the conventions of linear narrative. Interviews included Robert Altman, Claire Denis, Werner Herzog, Rem Koolhaas, Kenneth Anger and others. It seems this book cross references both artists that I found while doing this research, and filmmakers that I like such as Herzog, so it may be worth checking it out.

Irish artist Willie Doherty also uses installations to create feelings of physical unease and psychological paranoia. Ghost Story (2007) shows how the landscape of the North of Ireland is haunted by the traumatic events that took place there. The camera moves down a road, never reaching any destination, while a man (actor Stephen Rea) narrates in voice-over horrible events that he witnessed. However, no pshysical trace of these events are visible on the onscreen visuals, it is just an empty landscape. The land is scarred psychologically, but not visibly.

Kutlug Ataman’s five-screen video installation ‘Stefan’s Room’ (2004) is a psychological study of obssession and an individual’s relation to their private space. On one screen, a young German man, Stephan, discusses in detail his passion for moths which he both breeds and collects. The other screens show close-ups of insects, either live specimen crawling quietly on Stephan’s arms and hands, or his collection of dead specimen on display in his appartment.

Stephan's Room still

Douglas Gordon uses the screen and formal cinematic conventions to explore psychological instability. In a show ‘what have i done’ at the Hayward Gallery in 2003, he used mirrors reflecting his screen based work to create illusions of spatial confusion in the viewer. Because he is is interested in the formal conventions of cinema, he often uses found footage, most notably in ’24 hour psycho’ (about which I had already talked in a previous blog post) where he slows down Hitchcock’s ‘Psycho’ to last 24 hours. However, a newer piece ‘Fog’ (2002) uses original footage. Inspired by a 19th-century Scottish novel by James Hogg, ‘The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ (1824) where a man meets his double, who really is the Devil and convinces him to commit crimes, ‘Fog’ shows a man looking at his own shadow. The image is repeated on the other side of the screen, deliberately out of synch, so that at times the man is looking at himself looking at his shadow. The theme of the double is also present in ‘Self-portrait’ (1994) where the artist confronts his reflection. The video is shown as a negative image so as to question issues of reality and illusions. In Douglas Gordon’s own words, ‘The negative image indicates a flip-side of our reality, and so everything we know is turned upside down / inside out. What is the reverse side of self-reflection? What is the opposite of truth?’

I found my own video work to be very close to these works which use the aesthetic conventions of fiction, such as horror, noir or other genre movies or dream sequences, to talk about social concerns without formally resorting to the traditional documentary style. I like the aura of moral and philosophical ambiguity that blurring the lines of documentary and fiction gives to a moving image work.

Contextualising my practice within digital moving image

In Digital Art, Christiane Paul writes about a type of Digital Art that uses Digital technologies as a tool, without necessarily ‘reflecting on those technologies’ aesthetics [nor] making a statement about them’.

Among the works of this types, Craig Kalpakjian’s digital video Corridor (1997) follows a computer generated seemingly endless hallway that causes in the viewer feelings emptiness and alienation by way of its cold formal perfection.

She makes a difference with Digital Art using digital technologies as a medium. She says that such art ‘exclusively uses the digital platform from production to presentation’ and ‘exhibits and explores that platform’s inherent possibilities’. In consequence, such art is ‘interactive, participatory, dynamic, and customizable’ but it ‘has multiple manifestations and is extremely hybrid’ and its theme is not necessarily technology-related. She classifies interactive installations within this category of art, and I feel this is the direction I could take to use more cutting edge technologies within my work. I am particularly interested in installation that use digital technology to go beyond traditional video installation by enhancing the feeling of immersion, or by making them react to the viewer. Christiane Paul extends her survey of such art in her essay ‘Expanding cinema: the moving image in Digital Art’, published in ‘Film and video art’ by Tate publishing.

Some immersive video installations experiment with the spatialisation of moving image in a physical environment, for example Michael Naimark’s Be Here Now (1995) and Jeffrey Shaw’s Place, a user manual (1995). Both works are descriptive and documentary like, but I would like to use spatialisation together with the next type of work which explores narrative.

Other video works explore the possibility of ‘abandoning control over an image sequence’ (in Grahame Weinbren’s words), constructing a digital cinema based on interactive visual narratives.

One of the earliest interactive narrative films is Lynn Hershman’s Lorna (1979-84) made for television. The viewer navigates the narrative with a remote control. The minimal control technology is similar to a favourite piece of mine, Markus Schinwald’s Dictio Pii, where the viewer switches between characters’ point of views using a remote control. Lorna tells the story of a woman who lives a completely isolated life in her appartment, her TV being her only interaction with the outside world. The disruption in the non-linear narrative caused by the viewer’s using the remote mirror Lorna’s unstable psychological state. The story has three possible endings: escape from the apartment, suicide or the end of mediation by shooting the television.

Weinbren’s own work Sonata (1991-3) blends two classical works, allowing the viewer to modify the steam of the narrative. The 2 story lines share the themes of seduction and murder: the Biblical story of Judith who pretended to seduce and decapitated the general Holofernes, and Tolstoy’s The Kreuzer Sonata in which a man’s suspicion that his wife has an affair with a violinist leads him to kill her.

weinbren - sonata (still from)

Toni Dove made a trilogy of digital video installations that address the unconscious of consumer economies.

In Artificial Changelings (1998) (on Toni doves’s website and on , the viewer controls the narrative by stepping into four sensor-controlled zones on the floor. Zone 1 steps into a character’s mind, Zone 2 prompts a character to address the viewer directly and Zone 3 induces a trance or dream state. The last zone causes the story to travel into the past.

still from toni Dove's Artificial Changelings

Spectropia (1999-2002) uses the metaphor of time travel and supernatural possession to connect two narratives, one taking place in the future and the other in 1931. The interface employs sensors, speech recognition and vocal triggers in order to enable viewers to navigate the spaces, speak to characters and have them respond, move a characters’s body and alter or create a sound.

I found those works very interesting and relevant to my practice because they explore dark psychological themes. It’s almost as though they use the possibility of random choices afforded by digital technologies to simulate the often erratic and irrational way human beings make decisions and choices.

I might look for further information on the subject in a book she recommends: Expanded Cinema (1970) by Gene Youngblood.

I found Christiane Paul’s book an interesting read because it helped me contextualise my own practice within digital art, while I often feel I share little concern with the more technology-centric hardcore digital art. It gave me ideas about how I could use more cutting edge technology within my practice while still keeping my non-technology minded themes.

‘Last Address’ by Ira Sachs

‘Last address’ is a 9 minute HD video by director Ira Sachs, cinematographer Michael Simmonds and editor Brian A. Kates showing the exterior of houses where NYC artists who died of AIDS formerly lived. The video is mostly made of carefully composed static shots, most of them bathed in an eerie light that appears to be this unique late afternoon light. This aesthetic choice contrasts interestingly with the harshness of both the subject matter and the typical NYC architecture of brick blocks of flats with external metal staircases, giving the video a haunting yet serene atmosphere.

Follow the link to watch the video.

Robert Polidori on his work

In a book surveying his career ‘Points between… up till now’, Robert Polidori discusses interesting issues in the introduction.

His interest in interiors started in 1987 when he photographed several New York flats whose owners had recently died and that had been looted. He says ‘On one hand, I came to consider the remaining objects as exteriorizing the personal identity and ideals of the dead individuals, yet on the other hand, these same objects, carefully accumulated over a lifetime, had now become a valueless heap of trace detritus for all the rest of us to wilfully discard (or vandalize). […] I perceived the rooms and their objects as some sort of sociological/psychological Rorschach test. I was convinced that there was something intrinsically historic and psychic about the subject matter that should be captured for posterity. Upon further reflection I came to regard the implications of the scene as being evocative of the human condition in general.’

In 1994, he photographed buildings destroyed by the Lebanese Civil War. An old lady guided him through ruins and asked him ‘Do you feel able to take beautiful and pretty pictures of all this?’ He places this lady’s ‘dare’ (his own word) at the heart of the controversy surrounding his work. ‘My work has often been criticized as somehow lacking integrity because I transgress ethical principles by rendering tragic or violent situations as artificially “beautiful”. This “aestheticizing” is considered to be conceptually disturbing since, some argue, it brings a viewer to an experience by which realities and their causes are ultimately trivialised and misrepresented.’ On the particular reproach that his New Orleans pictures did not capture explicitly enough the government’s failure to properly maintain the levees, he says ‘a photographer cannot, after-the-fact, visually capture the long expired preceding moments, causal links or the far remote spatial tangent of a scene.’

He states his favourite subject is ‘the psychological implications of the human habitat (the room)’ and links this to his ‘phenomenological interest in wanting to know what makes something or somebody tick’. He explains: ‘though most of my photographs are devoid of the human form, I have actively sought out rooms where the interiors were substantially and meaningfully filled with traces of human interventions. I consider these traces as being imbued with iconic references to what Carl Jung called the human psyche’s Super-Ego.How one wants to be perceived by oneself and others is infinitely more interesting to me than how one might happen to look.’

He explains that, while he had long ago abandoned the ‘intellectual notion of the existence of God’, the experience of photographing Chernobyl caused him to contemplate ‘the futility of Hope as a certainty’, and ‘the eventuality of foregoing the emotional crutch of brighter possibilities was infinitely more painful’.

About his feelings while photographing painful places, he explains ‘whenever the question comes up, I always answer that I feel nothing when I make these types of photographs. I feel before and after, but while executing them it is my belief there is only time to accurately act and react. I try to preload my emotions ahead of time but I don’t readily call upon them when I shoot. I want them to be instinctual yet non-conscious. Like surgeons in the operating room, the technical imperatives of photography demand complete mental acuity and a concentration that should not be disrupted by any background noise.’ I found this statement fascinating because it perfectly describes how I feel when I take my own photographs: you have to be completely focused on the act of seeing things, and you have to do the work not only well but quick because there is only a limited amount of time during which you can sustain the required depth of concentration.

Markus Schinwald

I realised I had no post about Austrian Video artist Markus Schinwald despite him being my very first video art influence. In 2005, I saw “Dictio Pii” (2001) at the Tate modern and I was immeditely spellbound by it. The video shows strange, stoic looking characters wandering aimlessly though a drab, dark hotel that would not look out of place in a David Lynch or Roy Andersson movie, or a Kafka novel. The characters perform odd, seemingly pointless actions and seem utterly lost in the labyrinth of the hotel. Apparently, the journey of each character is on a separate channel and the viewer is invited to switch between them with a remote. However I did not know that when I saw it at the Tate as I did not get access to the remote. I thought the switch of point of view was pre-ordained by the artist. This turned out irrelevant to my enjoyment of the piece though.

I copy here the haunting voice over monologue that accompanies the characters’s meanderings:

We are the perfume of corridors
Unfamiliarised with isolated activity
Traitors of privacy.

We are Utopian craftsmen
Scope heeled diplomats, pretty beggars
Not the product of poverty
We don’t take from anyone.

We are pillared by mild sadness and polymorphic history
Eternally skeptical,

But We Believe.

We are immortal volunteers
Living in the sensation of being everything
And the certitude of being nothing.
We are just an outline.

We disband prompted paths of movement
Extend our bodies,
Become abysmal dancers.
We are illiterate of perfection, following the curves of belief.
Interested only in the gestures of bending.
Scaffold-ed postures,
obscene geometry.
Frozen irony.

We are derranged.

Other works with the same atmosphere of claustrophobia and isolation seem to be “1st Part conditionnal” (2004) and
“Ten in Love” but I could only see excerpts from it on youtube.

Sarah Turner – Perestroika

In Perestroika, filmmaker Sarah Turner uses documentary footage shot during a trip made on a Transiberian as an Art School student in December 1987-january 1988, and footage shot on the same trip repeated 20 years later. The film explores psychogeography, the unreliable nature of memory and the ambiguity between truth and fiction. The film contains a voice over spoken by a fictional character called Sarah Turner who both is and isn’t the film maker and addressed to ‘you’, who is Sarah’s friend who accompanied her on the first trip but is now dead. However, the use of ‘you’ gives the audience the ambiguous feeling that they are being addressed directly.

As the voice over monologue becomes increasingly hallucinated, psychic reality increasingly replaces documentary reality, culminating in an apocalyptic hallucination where Sarah believes the lake Baikal is on fire. In an interview with Sight and Sound, Sarah Turner explains: “I wanted the indexical and the uncanny to change places by the end of the film. I needed to believe in my stomach that that fictional character ‘Sarah Turner’ believed that the water was on fire. There are real facts of life within a fictional structure, but what is evidence, fact, and what is affect?”

I went to see the film at Cambridge Film Festival and she answered audience questions and commented further on her film. She considers that ‘memory is as much fiction as it is fact’ and the film was a ‘conscious decision to play with the space of fact and fiction’. ‘Everyone that makes some kind of artwork uses their emotional experiences and connects them to the real world.’

About the use of autobiographical material, she considers that the 1987-1988 footage has a quality of ‘unknowing naïvete’: in 1987-88, Sarah Turner realised only after a day that the camera captured sound. So when the students talk among themselves on the recording, they don’t know they are being recorded. Today we are used to the constant presence of cameras, we constantly perform for them. Turner calls our attitudes resulting from our constant expectation to be watched a ‘register of performativity’.

Sarah Turner also seems interested in cinema as a social phenomenon. She considers that, nowadays, ‘our experience of the world is mediated by lenses’. Cinema is ‘a social experience that we have anonymously’, ‘a collective emotional experience, that actually also occurs in public transport’, which she links to her interest in trains. ‘The only two places where people sleep in public are trains and cinemas’.

This idea of constant surveillance is echoed in the sound design where the recurring sound of a shutter clicking symbolises ‘the violence of photography’. Sarah Turner worked on the sound design herself and ‘all the sound in the film is recorded by the tape in situ, including the music’ (people were actually singing in the Church).

Commenting on audience engagement with artworks, Turner considers that ‘the most active experience is reading a novel where people project their own canvas on the frame provided by the author’.

She also gave a technical about how to shoot landscape from a train: one needs to ‘focus beyond the dirt on the window’.

I was interested in this film because of the themes of psychogeography and truth/fiction ambiguity which echo my own concerns, but also because it is an ‘artist film’ almost entirely made by one person with just a bit of technical help from others. It made me wonder how I could introduce some form of narrative in my video art while still continuing to shoot documentary/unstaged footage.

http://www.bfi.org.uk/sightandsound/images/issue/420/perestroika-5_420.jpg

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Robert Polidori: photographing interiors as ‘metaphors for states of being’

Via 2010 MA graduate Esmeralda Munoz Torrero, I was introduced to the concept of ‘late photography’ as coined by David Campany in his book ‘Safety in Numbness: Some Remarks on the Problems of “Late Photography”’ (2003). ‘Late photography’ record the consequences of events after they have happened, their aftermath.

Of particular interest to me was the work of Canadian photographer Robert Polidori who photographed houses devastated by flood waters in his series ‘New Orleans after the flood’.He also took photographs of the abandoned buildings in the no man’s land around Chernobyl/Pripyat, the Chateau de Versailles under renovation and grand buildings of La Havana left to slowly decay.

I was first drawn to his visual style, with very vivid yet slightly faded colours, with a kind of ‘technicolor’ feel to them, not the type of strong colours you get in commercial photography. His pictures are both very sharp and detailed, yet they contained ambiguous shadows. This is exactly the type of visual feel I try to achieve myself, a feel I describe as cinematic. Indeed, Polidori works exclusively with natural light and long exposures, the way I do. He says that ‘the grammar of [his] pictorialism comes from pre-Renaissance and Renaissance perspective’. As a joke, Polidori compares his use of long exposure to spirit photography because he too aims to ‘reveal an inner truth’.

In an interview with artinfo, Polidori explains how the visual style of his images, including their high level of details, is crafted to emotionally involve the viewer:

‘ When images are soft, they just remain evocative, or in your imagination. You get a mood, and it remains on the emotional level. The viewer has to put more of him or herself into it. When there is more detail, it’s like that old expression: There’s no fiction stranger than reality. Reality will compose the most extreme paradoxes and contradictions and adjacencies, which can’t be understood.
So detail gives you more mental work to do. There are more things to look at, which suggest more and more questions. All that mood is still there anyway, so it’s like the double-punch effect. It’s a question of keeping the mind occupied while the emotions are being silently manipulated on the back burner.’

I absolutely loved this concept of camouflaging emotional manipulation aimed at the viewer behind an apparently straightforward, documentary style, making it all the more efficient that it is surreptitious.

Polidori also explains his interest in photographing interiors:

‘I’m interested in interiors, and I have been for a long time, simply because they’re indices of individuals’ personal values. They tell you a lot about the individual. Like I’ve said before, to me interiors are both metaphors and catalysts for states of being. You can take a portrait of somebody, and you might have a feeling looking at their face, but you know less things about them by looking at their face than you do when you look at the way that they compose their own interior space. What interests me are their values.’ He compares his work to that of ‘collecting evidence, like a detective looking to solve a case’.

That’s exactly how I feel about my Ghost House series: what fascinates me is trying to put back together the lives of their former inhabitants, gues who they were based on the belongings they left behind.

In an interview with Bombsite Polidori explains that he first became interested in rooms after reading a book about the Pythagorean School, where students would memorize empty rooms as a mnemonic aid to memorize events: rooms were turned into ‘a locus for memory’. Polidori himself views rooms as ‘ metaphors for states of being’.

He is particularly interested in derelict buildings because they hold more memories: ‘the rooms that are devastated by time are the ones that have the most traces. The brand-new, fabricated rooms only have graphic qualities. They don’t really have any soul to them.’

What interested him in his photographs of Versailles under restoration was the concept of ‘historical revisionism’: ‘when you choose to restore a certain room as it was in a certain period, the period you choose is based on your contemporary worldview. Each point of view of the present has its harmonics in the past.’ The Palace told as much about France of the Mitterrand years as it did about the times when it was built. He explains ‘what we are looking at in these museum restorations is the society’s superego, what a society thinks of itself, and how it thinks it should be seen by itself’.

He then widens the concept to relate it to the rest of his work: ‘this is what individuals do to a room. Again this same theme. It’s the exteriorization of the soul life or of personal values. What we have affixed on these walls is the superego, in the Jungian sense.’

I found this idea that a room reflects the philosophical values of its inhabitants fascinating. I think this is a similar concern that draws me to the religious imagery found in the Ghost Houses, what they say about the world-view of their former inhabitants. In the context of the Magdalene laundries, this religious imagery takes a darker undertone, when one contrasts the message of Jesus with the arbitrary imprisonment of innocent girls. Here indeed, we find society’s Superego, the values it claims to follow, clashing with the actual actions.

In an interview where he defends his New Orleans series, Polidori states in conclusion ‘it is an unforgiving fact that we are all born and die alone in this world. I consider it as the definition of the human condition.’

All in all, I think Robert Polidori is the photographer I feel closest to among all the artists I discovered in my research, both on the visual and philosophical levels.

Link to Photo Gallery: http://www.life.com/image/first/in-gallery/51801/robert-polidori-points-between

Versailles

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Velours Frappé, Salles Du XVIIème, Versailles 1985. All images courtesy of the artist.

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Marat De David, RDC, Aile Du Midi, Versailles 1985.

New Orleans: After the Flood

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Robert Polidori, “2732 Orleans Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2005”

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Robert Polidori, “5000 Cartier Avenue, New Orleans, Louisiana, September 2005”

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“Industrial Canal breach, Reynes Street, New Orleans, September 2005”

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“2520 Deslondes, New Orleans, March 2006”

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“1923 Lamanche Street, New Orleans, March 2006”

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“5417 Marigny Street, New Orleans, Louisiana, March 2006”

Cuba

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Calle Cardenas 27, Cantro Habana, Havana (2002)

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Sala Alejo Carpentier, Gran Teatro de la Habana, Habana Vieja, Havana (2000)

Chernobyl and Pripyat

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Unit 4 Control Room (June 6-9, 2001)

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Classroom in Kindergarten #7, “Golden Key.” Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Operating Room in Hospital #126, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Cafeteria in School #5, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Waiting room in hospital #126, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

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Hallway in School #5, Pripyat. (June 6-9, 2001)

Myth, Manners and Memory: Photographers of the American South

Myth, Manners and Memory: Photographers of the American South presented the work of several American photographers who photographed aspects of the American South, a place sometimes described as the ‘dark underbellyof a nation’.

Critic Richard Gray, referring to Faulkner’s ‘implacable and brooding image of the South’, considers that while the American West ‘is all about optimism, the future, mobility’, ‘the South is all about the opposite: shame and guilt, the burden of the past, the dreadful suspicion that you can never escape from where you came from and who your family were’, ‘a brooding sense of guilt or wrong – the burden of shame if you white or trauma if you are black.’

I present here my favourite photographs from the show. Once more, I realize I am drawn to photographs with a cinematic feel about them.

Walker Evans took many documentary photographs commissioned by official government organisations.

Walker Evans - Fish Market Near Birmingham, Ala. 1936

Walker Evans – Fish Market Near Birmingham, Ala. 1936

This image was not in the show but I like it.

Walker Evans, untitled, [Genesee Valley Gorge] n.d

Walker Evans, untitled, [Genesee Valley Gorge] n.d

I could not find this image on the internet: ‘Walker Evans, View taken from train between Memphis, Tennessee and Forest City, Arkansas.’ Though rather unspectacular, this photograph grabbed me because it evoked newspaper photographs of the Katrina floods when I first looked at it.

William Christenberry, who worked with Evans, takes interesting photographs of derelict buildings.

William Christenberry - Green Warehouse, 1978

William Christenberry – Green Warehouse, 1978.

William Christenberry - Palmist Building (Winter), Havana Junction, Alabama 1981

William Christenberry – Palmist Building (Winter), Havana Junction, Alabama 1981

Susan Lipper shot her ‘From the Grapevines’ series in the remote villages and rural communities of the Appalachian mountains. The people and places are real, but the scenes are stages, giving an ambiguous edge to the photographs: is it documentary or scornful stereotypes imported by the outsider visitor?

Susan Lipper - Untitled, from the Grapevine series, 1988-1992

Susan Lipper – Untitled, from the Grapevine series, 1988-1992

William Eggleston’s takes photographs while on long road trips. His photographs often look like outtakes from a road movies, and have a distinct ‘Southern Gothic’ edge about them.

William Eggleston, Red Ceiling, Greenwood, Mississippi.

William Eggleston, Red Ceiling, Greenwood, Mississippi.

William Eggleston, Untitled (Morton, Mississippi), 1970.

William Eggleston, Untitled (Morton, Mississippi), 1970.

Alec Soth also shoot his ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’ series on a road trip southwards along the Mississippi.

Alec Soth - Patrick, Palm Sunday, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2002

Alec Soth – Patrick, Palm Sunday, Baton Rouge, Louisiana, 2002

Alec Soth - Jimmie's Apartment , Memphis, Tennessee, 2002

Alec Soth – Jimmie’s Apartment , Memphis, Tennessee, 2002

Alec Soth - Bonnie (with a photograph of an angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2000

Alec Soth – Bonnie (with a photograph of an angel), Port Gibson, Mississippi, 2000

Alec Soth – Bible study book (Prophet in the Wilderness), Vicksburg, Mississipi, 2002

Alec Soth – Bible study book (Prophet in the Wilderness), Vicksburg, Mississipi, 2002.

Alec Soth - Johnny Cash's boyhood home, Dyess, Arkansas 2002

Alec Soth – Johnny Cash’s boyhood home, Dyess, Arkansas 2002

While looking for iconography, I found this brilliant website with many of my favourite American photographers: http://www.americansuburbx.com/

Surreal Friends – Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo, Kati Horna.

Surreal Friends , an exhibition at Sainsbury’s Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, presented the work of three Surrealist women artists who met in exile in Mexico after fleeing political persecution in WW2 Europe: British painter Leonora Carrington (b. 1917), Spanish painter Remedios Varo (1908-1963) and Hungarian photographer Kati Horna (1912-2000).

Leonora Carrington is one of my favourite painter. I love the way the often esoteric subject of her images is always counterbalanced by gentle irony, as though inviting the viewer not to take anything too literally. I also like the way the foreground and the background seem to merge in shadows in her paintings, giving an impression of a warped space where distances cannot be easily determinated.

leonora in 2000

A brilliant article from the independant about Carrington, now in her 90s and still kicking!

http://pessimesempio.files.wordpress.com/2007/01/leonora-carrington.jpg

http://www.galleryofsurrealism.com/images%5CmLCMX-1978AA.jpg

http://claudia.weblog.com.pt/arquivo/leonora_carrington.jpg

http://www.practicalpainting.com/images/Surrealist/Leonora_Carrington/Leonora_Carrington_003.JPG

http://www.freynorris.com/img/Leonora-Carrington_LeBonRoiCarrington_lg.JPG

http://bp2.blogger.com/_xQwP8MNj0EA/RcBTcZlb_xI/AAAAAAAAAOY/p4MWj1ip1ms/s400/carrington.jpg

http://www.thecityreview.com/s02slat4.gif

http://mysticmedusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/5.jpg

http://www.entropic-empire.com/journal/fisher_king_by_leonora_carrington.JPG

http://melaniemenardarts.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/leonora-carrington-1.jpg?w=257

http://images.artnet.com/artwork_images/423940866/316786.jpg

http://www.entropic-empire.com/journal/adelita_escapes_by_leonora_carrington.JPG

http://www.goddardcenter.org/Carrington-compressed.gif

http://www.thecityreview.com/s00latc9.gif

http://lh5.ggpht.com/_UdnAVKY1lQk/SWPYwyr67EI/AAAAAAAAUsU/O0DA2wgs5ss/Leonora%20Carrington_pastoral.jpg?imgmax=800

http://www.pallant.org.uk/images/carr_houseopp_crop_0.jpg

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3279/2851903055_6655975448.jpg

http://www.pallant.org.uk/images/carrington_darvault_0.jpg

http://www.pallant.org.uk/images/carrington_reallysyrious_le_0.jpg

Remedios Varo is even more influenced by Alchemy and esoteric belief in her work than Leonora Carrington. Although I do admire her precise drawing technique (she was trained in technical drawing by her father, an architect), I am not drawn to her work as much. I feel the very precise lines and perfectly delimited surfaces make the images too literal. I feel that the lack of dark corners deprives them of ambiguity. Critic Stefan van Raay says that ‘Carrington’s work is about tone and colour and Varo’s is about line and form’.

http://www.pallant.org.uk/images/varo_bonheurdames_0.jpg

http://www.labjor.unicamp.br/biotecnologias/calcadao/wp-content/uploads/2009/09/les-feuilles-mortes-remedios-varo.jpg

http://serandipity.50megs.com/rv02.jpg

http://endicottstudio.typepad.com/endicott_redux/images/2007/05/06/remedios_varo_1.jpg

creation of birds

http://mysticmedusa.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/la-despedida-remedios-varo.jpg

http://s005.radikal.ru/i210/1008/df/8b204a6d47fb.jpg

http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/images/mahy14/2009/04/01/yes.jpg?maxWidth=500

http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3083/2907365727_a58e86e1af.jpg

http://proton.ucting.udg.mx/galeria/arte/Remedios%20Varo/remedios%20varo.jpg

Kati Horna mostly make street and documentary photography in the Surrealist tradition, some photomontages and a few staged photographs.

horna - stairs to the cathedral

She took documentary photographs of the Spanish Civil War and made some political photomontages about it.

http://irmielin.org/nothere/wp-content/uploads/2010/07/horna_fot052.jpg

http://discursovisual.cenart.gob.mx/dvweb13/imagenes/fotos/ent_1-7.jpg

I was impressed by this series where she documents an asylum.

http://images.arcadja.com/kati_horna-bailando_la_casta%C3%B1eda~228~10260_20090827_528_113.jpg

I loved the uncanny feeling of her photographs of Paris flea markets and skull-shaped Mexican candy.

http://www.pallant.org.uk/images/sugarskulls_1.jpg

In her staged photographs, I loved this collaboration with Leonora Carrington (‘Ode to necrophilia’).

http://www.independent.co.uk/multimedia/archive/00392/Kati-Horna-6_392426s.jpg

And also her creepy photographs of interiors.

http://melaniemenardarts.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/museosad.gif?w=194

http://melaniemenardarts.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/katihorna.jpg?w=141

Video Art – Sylvia Martin

This books surveys 40 years of video-art.

P10: Andy Warhol 16mm film installation called “Outer and Inner Space” (1965), starring Edie Sedgwick.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/outer-and-inner-space/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DHz4yWx9MtE

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pB8lesKwf5Q

P16: Bruce Nauman, “Live/Taped Video Corridor” (1970): The visitor is filmed in the corridor, and their image is shown on a screen. The closer the viewer comes to the scree, the smaller their image appears (because the camera is located att he opposite end from the screen). “The viewers’s sense of orientation and mental security were equally challenged by this video installation” “visually [multiplying] the feeling of physical distress already caused by the confining space”.

P17: “Pipilotti Rist and Diana Thater play with mentally annexing the viewer in their video installations. With their monumental projections which, from various perspectives, overlay the real architecture and create their own, illusionistic space, they approach the strategies of feature films: that is, conventional narrative films aim at suspending cinema visitors’ belief and getting them to identify with the plot.”

Pipilotti Rist, “Homo Sapiens Sapiens”(2005), projections on the dome of the San Staë Church in Venice.

Diana Thater, “Delphine”(1999), underwater world into which visitors can walk, until they run into the video screens and are brought back to reality.

P18: “conventional narrative cinema works with a parallel film time not connected to reality. The ideal aim of this type of different time level is for the cinema audience to synchronize themselves with it, meaning that they should enter fully into the story and its temporal narrative.”

P24: Gitte Villesen: “I want the line between art and documentary, fiction and reality, to be blurred.”

P24: Eija-Liisa Ahtila «Talo (The House)» (2002) “tells the story of a woman whose connection to reality begins to dissolve. The woman hears voices that disrupt her everyday life and invalidate the “normal” structure of space and time. This work was based upon discussions with psychosis patients who had overcome their illness. Ahtila attempts to cinematically understand an altered spatial and temporal perception, and to audio-visually reproduce abnormal thought processes.” The video contains “perspectively distorted details from the house’s interior”.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/the-house/

Ahtila’s installation explores the mind of a young woman who undergoes episodes of psychosis, yet in the end somehow comes to term with her newly ordered world. Choosing unremarkable surroundings, objects, and activities, Ahtila depicts the everyday trials of mental illness as a rupture in the flow of images, placing on three screens alternate views.
Nuanced and subtle in her portrayal of mental illness, Ahtila avoids melodrama to present a narrative in which the brilliant light of the Finnish midsummer serves as a backdrop for a domestic drama in which, eventually, an unpredictable psyche adapts, however precariously, to the profound and sometimes marvelous distortions it is capable of producing.
(Source:http://www.dm-art.org/PastExhibitions/exhibition_ahtila.htm)

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4vwi5_the-house-eijaliisa-ahtila-1_creation

http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x4w98d_the-house-eija-liisa-ahtila-2_creation

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T-ZbvZY7o0Y

P32: Doug Aitken, “Electric Earth” (1999), 8 channel video, “walking through the deserted city at night”, “desolate landscapes, deserted towns, dilapidated industrial zones”.

http://www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/electric-earth/

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zdSMVhqOsQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LSziysd2Duk

P52: Douglas Gordon, “Twenty four Hour Psycho” (1993)
slowed down version of Hitchcock’s psycho, “cinematic ready-made”

P60: Pierre Huyghe
“Remake”(1994), remake of Hitchcock’s “Rear window”(1954) as a home movie
“Les Incivils”(1995), remake of Pasolini’s “Hawks and sparrows”(1966)

P94: Gillian Wearing, “strange mixture of documentation, theatrical production and everyday life”.