Last few days

It’s the final day of my residency at Arteles in Finland. Following the show at Heiska I have been torn between  trying to get some more work done and having tourist-type fun. Initially the fun won. I went to Sastamala which has some really interesting churches, including one which was rebuilt in 2000 after a fire completely destroyed it. They took the decision to have 2 contemporary artists paint the internal woodwork rather than trying to recreate the original designs. If memory serves me correctly, this was the oldest church in Finland and we had some discussion about whether this would happen in the UK or America. We thought probably rebuilding with like-for-like materials would be more likely (like the Mary Rose). Later the same day I went rasberry picking and then the following day for a gorgeous vegetarian buffet in Hämeenkyrö.

Then I had a final push of trying to make some work. I have written 2 final little pieces for the set of postcards. ‘Afterward’ will replace ‘Tomorrow’ and I will also add ‘Whenever’ to the set.  In August I will be showing some work in an exhibition simultaneously in Leeds and Ghent. Yesterday I suddenly decided to try and do another word video, but in Dutch. This is possibly slightly foolish as I don’t speak Dutch. This morning I have sent a transcript for it to the curator to find out if it kind of makes sense (a strange question as the videos don’t really make sense anyway). So depending on his response it may or may not turn into a video based around the phrase ‘af en toe’ which I think translates as occasionally.

I have been reflecting on how much or little it is possible to achieve in a month of making art. There are many more things that I wanted to do, than I have actually achieved. Plus I have had several new ideas and pursued some of them instead of following my original plans. I will go home with lots of beginnings, ideas and possibilities which I suppose isn’t a bad thing, although I would have liked to finish a couple more things whilst here! It’s only now, at the end of the month, that I feel I am starting to get a bit of a grasp on the area and what is here in terms of the landscape and how I may make some work in response to that.

If you want to see photos of the work we exhibited at Heiska then Heather Sincivage has done a post about it here. Her blog is also a good place to get a general sense of the fun, frustrations and sometime absurdity of being at a residency like this (as well as a place to read about at her fantastic artwork).

One of the real joys about being here with lots of other artists has been seeing the process that they go through to make work. Although we all have very different work, it’s a reminder that making art can often involve a fervour of excitement and production often followed by getting stuck and self-doubting, then hopefully followed by some kind of resolution! Some artists here have worked more privately – only showing their work at the end – whilst with others I have seen their work in process but in all cases the chance to talk to other artists about what they do, to see the outcomes and to get some of their feedback on my work has been invaluable.

Stealing ideas from other artists

IMG_3479LowResAfter doing my last blog post one of the other artists here Addoley Dzegede showed me a video that she has been working on. It has some resonance with ‘In the Home’ by Ian Breakwell which I wrote about previously.

Addoley’s video, entitled ‘Failure to Communicate,’ uses some Finnish self-help/relationship books she picked up at the second hand shop. She made an animation using a series of still photographs showing her hands cutting out phrases from the self help books and then pasting them together into what becomes a kind of script for the video. The soundtrack is the google-translate computer voice intoning the phrases in English. It makes an incoherent but not entirely nonsensical set of statements about love, sex and marriage.

Addoley did not understand the Finnish sentences that she chose, her criteria for picking a sentence was simply that it only spanned a single line on the page layout (which was in 3 columns so it had to be a fairly short line of text, which limits things in Finnish). I liked the combination of chance/arbitrary rules and intention that the video involved. The stop-start nature of both the images and the text fits well with how intimate relationships and communication can feel. The weird authoritative, un-human voice telling you about the meaning of relationships conveys the dynamic of this kind of self-help book and of reading something generic to try and help you with a personal situation. The cut and pasting of the text made me think about how our lives and relationships and how we perceive them are a composite of ideas and advice that we have taken from others.

The way Addoley made her video has also given me a few ideas for things to try with the video I am trying to make using the ‘International Language Service’ book I found at the same shop. I have made a ‘script’ using chosen phrases from my book and have selected images from the book that relate to this. I took still images of each of the relevant pages and have been attempting to use motion software to move around the page and zoom in on relevant parts. However the result seems quite dead and uninspiring. It looses the original interest that I had in the book and doesn’t convey the book as an object combining wonderful but somewhat bizarre illustrations with some useful but also some bizarre and outdated phrases. Maybe I need to go for a slightly more lo-fi solution of a series of stills and also showing the entire book and including page turning.

Whilst I am on the theme of stealing ideas, I might also pillage from another art its here,  Emilie McDermott. For our event at Heiska Emilie did a performance piece involving her unwinding a reel of fishing wire. She sat between two windows, framed by two of the buildings at Heiska, wearing a life jacket and unwound for hours!  It was a really interesting work and I can’t quite believe her stamina on such a hot day. It also had a very beautiful title, in Finnish, which I cannot properly remember but the translation means something like ‘the place where the birds go.’ This apparently means a kind of heaven or a kind of utopia. During her time here (she is staying another month) Emilie will be making work that explores ideas of utopia and migration, perhaps of being in a place and being out of place too. I might be slightly misrepresenting this, but certainly the performance made me think of things like being adrift, of futile actions, of searching for a life-line. Because  the performance was viewed through/the view was interrupted by windows it also made me think about being separate form someone or somewhere and viewing it at a remove. I know Emilie is also researching migrant stories so couldn’t help reading the image of an individual engrossed in their own activity, present but separate, in relation to this.

But, anyway, on to the part of the performance that I might steal/ take inspiration from! The performance also had a soundtrack taken from a CD of Finnish bird calls (another second hand store find I think). For a while I have been trying to come up with an idea for a soundtrack for a video I made of two pairs of hands (male and female) pairing socks, putting them from a jumbled pile into two separate piles of male and female socks. You can see the video here, although it is a draft version with bits going out of focus (I think I need to hire a camera and lens with a short enough focal length to film it again). I had been thinking of an audio monologue about attraction, and looking into psychological and biological ideas about attraction. But as I mentioned in a previous post I am trying to get away form always deferring to a spoken soundtrack. Emilie’s performance made me think about using animal mating calls. So I will give it a try and see if it works. Watch this space. Both projects could still either succeed or fail!

Eyebath

I brought several DVDs and books to Finland with me, for research. Things I have been meaning to read or watch for a while but have not found or made the time. I am not doing so well with reading (apart from novels) but have been enjoying some of the DVDs.

Currently I am working my way through REWIND + PLAY, an anthology of early video art. Works that have stood out to me so far as being of interest include:

Eyebath, by Peter Anderson (1977):  I had seen this before but it’s good to have a reminder of how simple video can be really effective and also that it’s not necessary to plaster words over everything or over-explain it, for it to be finished. It’s a video of an eye blinking but then the surface of the image is broken and ripples move across the image. You realise that it is in fact a reflection of an eye in water. To me it really evokes the sensation of having fluid dropped in your eye which as a glasses/ former contact lens wearer I am quite familiar with!

In the Home by Ian Breakwell (1980): this is a video I had not seen before and concerns a couple in a domestic setting talking to each other but their statements slightly missing each other or not quite making sense. They slip between love/hate, dominance/submission and possibly different time frames. It reminded me of Bruce Nauman’s work Violent Incident which is exhibited as a bank a bank of screens where a couple interact around a dinner table, having a meal but then ending up arguing and with some slap-stick like activities, including stabbing each other with a fork. The scenario on each screen plays out  a slightly different way. In Breakwell’s video, the middle section of the video is the most abstract part of the video and I found this most interesting. The image on screen is the couple’s legs in bed under a blanket. Over this we hear a soundtrack of phrases that suggest (along with the image) possible sexual activity and power dynamics. What struck me about it was the collaging and overlaying of phrases in a semi-abstract way and the urge to search for meaning within this. It also reminded me of Samuel Beckett’s play ‘Not I‘  (well, at least the ‘Becket on Film‘ version of it that I have seen).

This particular sculpture

I am currently planning and designing an artists’ book, using content from/inspired by  interviews I did with people about the sculpture ‘Atom Body Was Light’ by Liliane Lijn.  In a way, I am using Lijn’s sculpture as a case study in reading an artwork, how do we make meaning from it? So I have been asking myself, could I have done the project with any art work? The answer is ‘possibly’, but Lijn’s sculpture was of interest to me because of it’s use of language and its direct reference to the body in its title and the words depicted on the sculpture. Within my work I am always returning to language and embodiment (people as both physical and symbolic beings).

To be straightforward about it, I think art is an example of an activity that encompasses and conveys the richness of human experience. It is somatic and it is intellectual. It is, in a direct utilitarian sense, sometimes pointless or its point is not obvious, but I don’t want to live in a world where everything is immediately functional (and this is a world that we are tending towards). So I suppose, without realising it initially, I did have an agenda for this project and I wanted to see whether other people felt the same as me. I also wanted to find out if people, like artworks, feel a pressure to be useful. Do we measure ourselves by what we ‘contribute’?

Related to the question of whether I could have used any artwork as a starting point, I have also been asking myself how tied to ‘Atom Body Was Light’ the content should be. Because of the nature of my questions, lot of the things I am writing reference the sculpture, it’s appearance or what it reminds people of. I like how some of the content might give a picture of the sculpture in its absence. But I also don’t want it to be a book ‘about’ that particular sculpture. I have other content which is more to do with people’s perceptions of their roles and am trying to find a way that the book doesn’t seem split in two, between content about the artwork on one side and content about the people’s lives on the other.

No Tomorrow: Artistic license vs. conceptual rigour

The trouble with doing projects quickly, is that you can make mistakes. My text pieces (previous post) are meant to be made up of letters from other, longer, words. One of those words is ‘tomorrow’. However I have somehow put a stray ‘n’ in there to make the words ‘torn’ and ‘morn.’ Oh dear!

Postcards

At first I wondered if I could get away with it. I really like that text and the words were just the starting point, right? Couldn’t I depart from them? But I don’t think this makes sense within the parameters of the piece. So then I made a joke that I could do another one called ‘no tomorrow.’ Now I am starting to think perhaps this doesn’t have to be a joke. The design would have to be different, much blanker with no nice nature photos, but maybe it could be the beginning of a new work (on pessimism and hedonism?!). I did already have a slight feeling that ‘tomorrow’ was a bit different than the other words. It is more specific than ‘meanwhile’ or ‘otherwise.’

On a positive note, going to the printer was really helpful. I had a test version of each card printed on a matt, textured cardboard and one with a silk coat. Actually neither are quite right because the texture was too pronounced and didn’t totally take the ink. The silk one is slightly too shiny. But the colours and designs look really good together and now I have a better idea of the card stock I want (something between the two!). The way the texts sit on the images is really nice and not too flat using the matt finish. So maybe I don’t need screen printing after all.

Meanwhile

This morning I am heading to the printer to get a copy of these printed. They are from a collection of 5 titled: ‘Elsewhere,’ ‘Otherwise,’ ‘Tomorrow,’ ‘Bygones’ and ‘Meanwhile.’ You can work out which ones these are! They are postcard sized and are a work in progress; we don’t have a colour printer here so this will be the first time I see them as hard copy rather than on a screen. Hopefully they will look okay to put in our end of residency exhibition that happens on Saturday alongside a local event at Heiska.

Postcards-05

Postcards-03

Postcards-02

I am starting to think that maybe I’d like to produce them as a multiple/artist book as a collection of postcards. I would like to screen print the text onto the background (might need to re-think colours a bit). However this could take a while to sort out. I have only done screen printing a couple of times before before and wasn’t especially good at it…

Conversations on a sculpture

MeetingRoomAt the end of April I spent some time at Leeds Art Gallery interviewing people, using the sculpture ‘Atom Body Was Light’ by Lilliane Lijn as a starting point. This was an incredibly interesting and enjoyable process. I spoke to 16 people in all from a range of backgrounds. They included a masseur, an RE teacher, a theoretical physicist, a designer, an artist, a museum assistant, a lawyer and people with no single profession or easily definable role. I am very grateful for the time that everyone gave to talk to me.

Now the question I am wrestling with is, what did I do the interviews for and how am I going to turn the conversations into some form of outcome? My plan is to make an artists’ book and the form of this is starting to take shape but it is quite different from what I initially imagined.

The way that I articulated the project initially was that it is to do with value (something which is of course incredibly pertinent at the moment at a time of cuts). Do we/how do we/why do we value art? Do people from different backgrounds value it in different ways? Also how do people value their own roles in life? Does what they choose to do as a career or otherwise represent more generally what they think is meaningful? I asked people a rage of questions, starting with asking for their initial response to the sculpture and asking them what it reminded them of. Then I asked about whether they were able to use the sculpture as a metaphor to describe their own role or profession. Following this we talked about what they value and find meaningful within their work/role and lastly some discussion about whether they thought that art, in general, was of value.

Some time has passed since I conducted the interviews, partially because it took longer than expected to listen back to the interviews and review what was pertinent and partially because in the life of a freelancer it’s easy to get sidetracked by more time-bound projects and applications for things that need to be done NOW! Anyway, I am now getting back on track with the project and am starting to realise that saying it’s about ‘value’ is slightly the wrong framing. Having said that I haven’t quite found what the right framing is! Words that keep coming into my mind at the moment are: utility, meaning, language, embodiment, play, participation. Can it be about all of those things?!

Over the coming days I will post some more reflections on the project thus far and updates on what I am doing with it now.

Text-ures

I have been thinking about the short text/poem pieces I have been writing using letters from longer words (tomorrow, otherwise, meanwhile, elsewhere, bygones). I could just keep them as printed text pieces and I was initially planning to do this, maybe in a book format.

Now I am wondering about printing them on pictorial backdrops, so they are slightly less dry conceptual pieces and they could also be read in relation to the image. I am hoping to display them at our end of residency event and am also mindful that they might work better in a non-English speaking country with an additional element to them.

(Filmed in) Tallinn

Some of us from the residency went on a very quick day trip to Tallinn at the end of last week. The old town is really beautiful, as Violet Shum (another artist here) said: “It looks like a painting.” So, today I found myself wondering whether many films have been shot in Tallinn. Also how different did the town look during the Soviet era? Less colourfully painted perhaps? This travel blog suggests that one third of the old town was destroyed during WWII and that Soviet plans would have been to tear down the old town, which was seen as a relic of merchant Capitalism. However they ran out of money to do so.

A bit of internet searching reveals that Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky was shot there, but in abandoned buildings, a chemical plant and a power station, so rather a counterpoint to the old town setting.

I am sure many other films, Estonian and otherwise, have been shot there. If you know any that use the old town setting, or other parts of Tallinn, in a visually interesting way then let me know.

Avoidance tactics

RockabyeSnoringI am finding, whilst in Finland, that I am being very good at avoiding doing the projects that I was intending to focus on during my residency. These are 1) the Canada footage with new additional footage of Finland and 2) writing up some interviews I did with people in Leeds before I left about a sculpture by the artist Lilliane Lijn and turning them into an artists’ book. Instead I have been playing with words!

During my first week here I made two short text animations based around the words ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ and ‘If’ and ‘But.’ Here are a couple of still images. I am not posting the video yet because I think maybe I still have some work to do with the rhythm/timing of how the words appear on screen. Also I am probably going to include them in an upcoming exhibition in Leeds/Ghent in August and would maybe like to wait and post them with some images of the work as installed.
DifferentDistribute

I am also writing some little text pieces using letters from longer words. For example, from the word ‘OTHERWISE’:

These terse
shores
either RISE or REST
wits we tore
their worst wish

I am trying to persuade myself that these works are actually a form of practical research for the book I will make based on the Lijn interviews….but really I am doing them because I am finding focusing on that work really hard! Actually I am progressing the book work but S>>L>>O>>W>>L>>Y. So more about that another time.