Still Life Moving Fragments

Still life | Moving fragments: conversations

February 26th, 2012

On Sunday February 26th, an artist’s talk is scheduled at the Belconnen Art Centre, ACT for the Still life | Moving fragments exhibition. Louise will be present at the exhibition space and we will talk via Skype. We structured our talk in the general form of interviews. Following are our prepration notes we worked on in Googldocs:

A. Brief introductions:
What are our backgrounds and how did we come to work together?

Louise: VCA film school, dance films, collaborative projects with musicians in performance settings…..?

Jo: I gradated from the University of Western Australia in Fine Arts; when I was doing my masters there, I was quite prolific and started having film and video works showed at national and international screenings, competitions and festivals (mainly in the experimental category). I see myself as an artist, besides screenworks I also make installation works and online interactive works that have exhibited in Australia and overseas.

When we met probably about 5 – 6 years ago through a project Louise and Lucas Ihlein were doing through Sydney Moving Image Coalition (at the time). Louise and Lucas organised a screening of my (and Redmond Bridgeman’s) works through the Teaching and Learning Cinema. I organised for Louise to come and do an Artist-in-residence at the University of Wollongong  where I teach. We got to know each other works better and generally respect each other in the way we maintain our practices. We frequently discussed approaches to experimental screen works and contemporary contexts of such works (e.g. screenings, exhibition, reception, relevance).I think we decided to work together when we had Ollie and Holllis (they were born within 6 months of each other). It might have been that having babies gave both our practices a push. More accurately, I think, it was that shortage of time we  experienced gave us an impetus, a drive to make new works.

B. Louise asks Jo questions regarding her working processes in producing the piece.

Louise: I am curious about the shimmer of the shade in the window work. Did you animate this?

Jo: The light is in the recorded footage. It was captured in the late afternoon when the light was about to fade. I have always wanted to capture the transience of light in the house: when the sun rises in the morning moving through trees, window frames, glass, and fly screens, creating the most delicate and beautiful shadows; when the sun lowers behind structures in the late afternoon tentatively lighting up different parts of the house. For some reasons, it has always been hard to just whip out the camera and record them, or perhaps the experience is not reproducible. So in the works, I tried to capture some of these natural light changes in the studio space.

Louise: I really enjoy the way the big kite is a diagonal ‘cut’ across the screen when it appears.

Jo: Me too. I really like how the kites take on lives of their own in both sets of footage. I am intrigued about kite-flying as an activity: what kind of joy and pleasures is derived from putting a paper structure up in the air? Kite-flying was chosen deliberately for this quality as was ice-skating. I’d like to explore the idea of amateur sports and hobbies.

Louise: It is intriguing how satisfying the window works are in this windowless room. It is also supported by the way that when I sit in the original bench position, I can see out the door of the gallery through a small ‘cut’. This mirrors the oblique piece of window in the ice skater.

Jo: Yes, this aspect is very interesting and perhaps more curious is that given the space we have (the Art Lounge), my choice of subjects and compositions of each screen was not a deliberate compensation for the lack of windows.

Louise: Also intriguing is the changing opacity of the front-on window.

Jo: I chose the three compositions from a number of recordings I did. The front-on view was recorded with the outdoor window blinds down. Some previous footage with the blind up showed too much information out the window (you can see the long grass, the chickens, the almond tree etc.). The beige-coloured blind cuts out some of this information and make the footage a little bit more monochromatic (although the green is still quite prominent).

Louise: What decisions did you have to make Jo to put your work together?

Jo: Compositions/ framing of the space is the first thing I worked on. It was a toss up between interesting compositions and structural planes with minimal events. The idea is to allow focus on the quality of the materials that make up the window, the wall e.g. the textures of the peeling paint, the paint on the bricks etc.; avoiding narrative elements (such as the view out out the window) enables focus to be channelled to these more ‘mundane’ qualities of domestic interiors.

Louise: Can you talk about the slowness, the lack of event in these works? I have been trying to achieve lack of event for a long time. This comes from my work with improvising musicians where it’s my observation that the way they structure this work is by event.

Jo: One of the most difficult things I encountered in the making of the work is how many interventions/ imaginary/ memory events to put in and when. It had to be a real balance – not too many for them to become the main attraction, but not too sparse so that they are missed. In the end, I used the wind in the footage as an editing structure, starting with the front-on window view: when there is wind, there is no interventions, when the wind drops then something may happen. I also worked with the oblique-door-window view the same way. The wall piece was timed to the other two views: when something is happening in the other two, nothing happens, when nothing is happening in the other two, something might happen here.

C. Jo asks Louise questions about her working process in producing the works.

Louise: In my own works I am intrigued by what my eye sees – I made the decision not to edit these loops at all. I also made the decision to keep the loop short and to keep the ends discernible (you actually can’t really see where the loops end when the works are all running side by side) and to keep the footage very dark. Hardest for me was to decide which footage to use.

I edited out the bear because he gave too much narrative information. In the second lot of footage I shot, the pace was very successful (slower) but the content was too home movie and too experimental film – it didn’t create a single tone, it was more narrative. I also had the challenge of the two versions of the footage I did use in the end – the earlier iteration had a soft edge and a softer image overall. It looked very very ancient. In the end I liked the simplicity, darkness and sharpness of the image in this iteration.

Jo: The portrayal of domestic settings can be generic or intensely personal. I guess by editing out the narrative information, as you put it, you are making the works less identifiable with a specific experience (e.g. bear = child rearing) and consequently appeal more to a general or universal experience. I think all three loops successfully portray a domesticity that is universal. I am interested to discuss more about this – what is too much, what is not enough?

Louise: For me I want to keep the works unresolved, open to multiple interpretations. I always come back to this which I guess is why the fragment form is very important. That was a critical starting place for this project, along with the decision to make living paintings. I have more to say about this but can’t grab it right now.

Jo: I like how your works present the definition of moving still lifes that are not literally still. I like the pacing of the existing screens, but you say you like the slower pace of your second lot of footage. What is the ideal speed for you and how would you achieve that?

Louise: Not sure, but it has to do with event/lack of event and wanting to strike the balance. And controlling the narrative impulse of film – when you put one thing after another as you inevitably do in media that is time based, you immediately have narrative because ‘this happened and then this’, so to make that work how you want to in this kind of metaphoric space we’re working in where we want things to resonate all around the image not just string images together forwards and backwards.

Jo: In regard to your comment of the content of the second lot of footage, what makes them more ‘home movie’ and ‘too experimental film’ that are not in the first lot footage? Exactly what creates the tone? And what is the tone?

Louise: Tricky! I know it, I can feel it. I will have to think about it more before I can give you more here.

Jo: In relation to your comment about choosing soft edge/ softer image versus a sharp image: How do you find the transition from projecting your filmworks to showing them on small screens? Has it at all changed the relationship you have with the film materials? I know that initially you wanted to try using a low-resolution video camera (Canon G1) but you decided to go back to film. Can you talk about your relationship with the film material?

D. Comments and discussion on working together

Jo: Both of us have works screened/ exhibited in different settings: cinema, gallery, performance (solely you), public event projections. It may be relevant to talk to some of the issues we look at in terms of the very deliberate decision to choose a gallery for these works, or more accurately, to make the screen works for gallery. In the broader contexts of showing screen works in gallery settings, it has become common for artists to employ big screen projections in exhibiting moving image works. Conversely for this exhibition, we chose to use small screens to draw focus to the image.

Louise: I am very satisfied with the quietness in the room. I am very satisfied with the way that they hide their labour which I think is absolutely aligned with our theme – our works support our exegesis (or the other way round!). The paired rhythms work well, similar but different. Initially I felt my works moved too fast but actually I think they work well with yours.

Jo: Yes, I agree with all that. In terms of working process, I am a little surprised how easily everything seemed when coming to putting it altogether. Of course, you did most of that work – so may be as a consequence it seemed easy to me. Nevertheless on the whole, as far as exhibition goes, this was very smooth, which I am very pleased about.

I think it may be worthwhile for us to reflect on our working process – particularly living in different places (and with small children + work). I was talking about the exhibition with my master student and she asked me how we went working while living in different cities. I think the initial discussion was very important. The application process to different places also helped us clarify our concept (googledocs really helped I feel).

Louise: I think our visits ‘face time’ was critical. We were able to complete the tasks on googledocs but actually making the decisions and understanding how each other was responding to the ideas etc in the flesh was critical for me. The other key factor was keeping expectations low and the paradigm clear and simple. Maybe we’re both guilty of making things overly complex in the past, I know I am. Much of my past work has involved me trying too hard and putting in more resources in every sense than what I can actually manage. There is a confidence that working together has given me that is critical to the success of this project to me. I have not felt that I have to work very very hard to make up for my insecurities. I have felt very comfortable promoting the work and supporting it because of my respect for you and your work which gives me a way in to feel much more relaxed about it overall than I usually do. I also find that many of the positive comments and statements I make about your work I can actually apply in some form to my own work which is making me view my work differently, if that makes any sense. I’m seeing it through a different lens because I’m doing this with you.

Jo: I also think that on deciding the exhibition format (i.e. using the small screens and hang them as one would paintings) beforehand was key. Even though some may say that was a little back-to-front, I would say the exhibition format was absolutely integral to our conceptual approach. What are your thoughts?

Louise: I agree. I think this is tied up with wanting to free our works from some of the limitations moving image in a gallery setting traditionally brings. I think these limitations are in the expectation of the viewer – the darkened room, quasi-cinema. I think with this approach an audience can’t help but be frustrated by slowness and incomprehension because their point of departure is cinema. I think this is still true even though audiences have all experienced enough video art now to expect slow pacing and some trouble understanding what’s going on. While you could say these works conform to that profile, I actually think we were trying to approach them from the other side altogether. The painting reference in our original notes was quite critical to me. My mantra is still video art I can live with – what does that look like? I have never seen a video art work displayed in a private home.

E. Questions and answers with audience

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