My essay on films by William English and William Raban is now published on Senses of Cinema: http://sensesofcinema.com/issues/issue-78/
Another short piece made from a single jpeg of Manglewurzels in which three overlapping crops of the image are looped and repeated. What’s interesting to me is the way the image continues to appear to develop or change (the distinction between change and develop in itself raises interesting questions) for as long as one watches it. It seems to offer an experience that’s quite different from that of looking at a painting for a long time or a film in which ‘nothing happens’, such as Warhol’s Empire. On the one hand I feel a certain amount of self-doubt about the value of making repeated works that follow the same procedure as previous examples I’ve made, especially since they’re about effects and feel therefore under-conceptualised, however this feeling is offset by the realisation that there is something interesting going on in terms of how the brain continues to see differing patterns within the same rigidly repeating loop. I like the instability that’s involved, that the brain can’t settle or nail something down, and that one can change the experience simply by fixating on parts of the screen. So on the one hand the work does things to the viewer while at the same time the viewer can partially control or direct the experience.
The cultivation of Manglewurzels was developed in the C18 by farmers for feeding cattle and pigs, though they can be eaten by humans. They were also used for the rustic sport of ‘Mangold Hurling’, for brewing beer and as a cure for constipation, for which the scored seeds are taken per anum.
Raw White (2022) is another short piece in a series of occasional works that uses a three-frame loop structure to generate a kinetic experience. I don’t know what these works mean or what value they have since in a way they’re not about much more than an open-ended exploration of optical phenomena that are no doubt well understood by visual psychologists. Mind you, the same could be said for Ken Jacobs’ apparent-movement works that utilise the 4-stroke illusion: http://www.georgemather.com/MotionDemos/FourstrokeMP4.html
I am increasingly attracted to making work from ever more reduced means. A previous piece, Concentrics (2016), was generated from a single static image of concentric circles, downloaded from the internet, printed out on a single sheet of A3 paper and filmed with a hand-held Bolex camera. (Two copies of the loop, one of 249 frames, the other of 250, are projected simultaneously in the same projector. It takes the ten second cycle about 41.66 minutes to complete a cycle of all the permutations).
Raw White goes a step further. The image is generated from an initial Jpeg of a sheet of blank A4 paper. Three closely overlapping close-up crops are rendered as three Jpegs, which are then made into a loop in Premiere Pro and rendered out as an interlaced file. Interlacing seems to result in smoother movement, but it’s hard to tell as the image judders anyway. To ‘complete’ the work the viewer should fixate on part of the screen so that spurious rotating and other movements can been seen. The experience shifts depending on where on the screen one fixates. This seems to reduce the artist’s role to that of facilitator or enabler of an experience. He cannot claim fully to be the author of the work since the core experience is something out of his control, inside the spectator’s head. The spectator really is the generator of the work which, in itself, is nothing but a repeating sequence of three more or less randomly chosen static images. In a wider context I want to ask if there’s any value in this kind of work. Does it consist of mere effects, which makes it seem antithetical to the idea of properly authored or constituted art, or does it say something a bit more interesting about what artworks need to be to count as such? Why am I assuming that effects are not enough on their own? While there is evidence of conceptual activity in terms of certain procedures and values at the level of the work’s making, can these be said to constitute something more, something that says something interesting not just about the art making process, i.e., a form of meta-thinking, but that it generates more interesting conceptual issues around the experience per se?
These Brillo boxes sit on a top shelf in the bookshop in the Bozar, Brussels’ contemporary art museum. They’re not made of cardboard, like the originals, nor plywood, like Warhol’s faithful copies, but of what looks like a fine-grained foam. They appear to be smaller than their predecessors. They made me wonder what it is one is buying. Not a Warhol, but something that looks like it from a distance. The philosophical issues raised by the boxes that occupied Arthur Danto in his essay on them in his book on Warhol (Yale University Press, 2009), are here absent. They have been displaced by something domesticated, both in terms of scale and meaning, since the conundrums embodied by the originals at the time when they were shown in 1964 have long since been accommodated by art theorists, however, Danto says he does find the boxes beautiful -he has one at home- so the Bozar boxes share this with the originals but they are impoverished, one could say, in that they have been reduced to aesthetic objects. This seems strange since art objects are typically supposed to be aesthetic objects. (The boxes were designed by an artist, James Harvey, who was amazed to see Warhol’s copies selling for large sums of money). Danto says: ‘nothing that the Brillo box and Andy’s Brillo Boxes have in common can be part of the definition of art, since they look—or could look—absolutely alike. What makes something art must accordingly be invisible to the eye’. The Bozar boxes are surely not art, but are rather distinct copies of an original artwork. They’re not examples of appropriation art because they lack the right context and authorial claim to be seen as such. The question of context relates directly to Danto’s remark about what makes them art being ‘invisible to the eye’. However, whereas Warhol’s original boxes were made by craftsmen and meticulously hand-painted and screen printed by his assistants to resemble the originals as closely as possible, the Bozar ones are, in terms of fabrication, are more like the originals, in that they would presumably also have been made on a mechanised production line. As such they complete a circle by returning the boxes to an industrial context that they share with the originals, deprived, however, of both functionality and artistic meaning.
For the last few months I feel I have done little creative work, apart from two sets of 35mm slides and some ideas for 16mm film loops. The latter were conceived some time ago but it’s now so long since I had the idea that I wonder if it’s worth actually making the work. Because thinking wasn’t followed immediately by making, the latter now seems all but pointless. The momentum that drives the thinking-making dynamic that the creative process thrives on has been broken, so that making now seems perfunctory, as if carrying something out to a set of instructions, without the urgency of testing and making the mistakes that drive things forward.
To fill the void I have decided to make a (video) diary, something I have often recommended to students who get blocked but which I have never done myself. Where to start? As I walked home from the Bozar in Brussels, having failed to get into the sold-out last day of the Laurie Anderson show, I passed an abandoned homeless person’s pitch, the abject remains of which exude, literally, the misery of homelessness. I often rehearse in my head politicians’ entreaties -I’m thinking of Tony Blair, but there are others- not to give money to beggars because it only ‘encourages’ them. I want to ask them: if you think it’s easy to sit all day on a pavement in all weathers, not knowing how much you will be given, you should try it for a day. Brussels has a serious homelessness problem, a lot of which arises from inefficiencies in processing migrants.
The Best Books on Artists’ Film and Video
I was recently invited by Shephard to create a list of five books on artists’ film and video for a new readers’ guide. There are, of course, numerous omissions, but I have tried to create a list that includes introductions, histories and works that explore theoretical issues around artists’ film, video, installation. The link is here: https://shepherd.com/best-books/artists-film-and-video
I’ve been doing the ten album covers in ten days thing on Facebook, and thought I would put the last, short text, on here, bearing in mind the FB readers aren’t all au fait with Snow’s oeuvre. Imgae below.
Michael Snow (1931) is a Canadian artist who works in a full range of media; painting, sculpture, photography, video, book-works, writing, music and film, for which he is most well-known. He’s the opposite of a multi-media artist, however, since he has always insisted on the specificity of the various media he uses, and these specificities are often what the work is directly about. To this end he has never allowed his most famous film Wavelength (1967), to be seen other than in its original medium of 16mm. His work is invariably and explicitly concerned with its relationship with the spectator, or listener in the case of Musics for Piano, Whistling, Microphone and Tape Recorder (1975). Thus the last of the three tracks on this double LP: ‘W in the D’ is about microphones and how they work, in which he whistles into the microphone whilst moving it slightly in relation to the airstream issuing from his mouth. Consistent with his artistic approach is the album cover. The normal distinction between front and back, image and ‘liner notes’, is effaced. Instead the gatefold sleeve is conceived like a four-page book or booklet, though it is unlike either of these on account of its size and weight. The text addresses the reader directly asking her/him, for example, please to not read the notes -really a rambling essay- while listening to the records. The first of the four ‘pages’ reproduced here in place of the ‘cover image’, gives a flavour of the text. There’s a connection to his 16mm film So is This (1982), which is composed entirely of a long text presented word by word, which similarly addresses the condition of the viewer, among other things. His tone is jocular, he likes puns and word play, but there’s always a serious question lurking just behind, in this case relating to the way attention is divided by sound and image when one is watching a film, for example, or the nature of the different modalities of reading and listening. This double LP, which doubles as a fine conceptual artwork, is a facsimile (necessarily) reissue on the Song Cycle label of the original Chatham Square release. Didn’t make the cut: Snow Solo Piano Solo Snow. (3 CD survey of Snow’s piano music. Before he became an artist, he worked professionally as a graphic designer and a pianist, and he continues to play piano and trumpet in his band CCMC, which also features John Oswald of Plunderphonics fame. Their album Volume 3 was re-released in 2013).
New DVD of Vicky Smith’s beautiful hand-made animations, including scratched work and photogrammes. With essays by David Curtis and myself. Published by TBC Editions.
Rough documentation of a new 16mm film loop installation at the Herbert Read Gallery, UCA, Canterbury, 9th – 19th October, 2019.
Extract from a new Video work: Ferrel, 10 mnutes, sound, 2019.