2015 January: Thoughts on My Recent Work

I have produced a few more Vernacular Spectacular videos, but I can feel from my performance that I am not quite giving myself over entirely to the improvisation. As I began to develop theories behind my practice, such as the notions of empathy, jealousy and shapeshifting, I have rather become too excited about the implications of my analysis and become almost intimidated from the task of living the characters. As I perform, I cannot get away from the idea that this will become a piece. And this is what I miss; when I started out doing these, I was doing it because I wanted to become the characters, not because I wanted to show that I can become the characters.

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“Rose”

I became constrained by my own presumptuous attitude about what the work should contain. But this is wrong; I can never satisfactorily execute a future performance, I can’t tell the future of something that will be new. So I produced a lot of half-hearted attempts. You can see in the development of the videos that my language becomes more fluent; I have learned to deal with improv. In the first videos, I would come up with a few sentences with long pauses of thinking in between. I’ve now become more skilled at telling stories off the bat. But I am concerned that this skill has come at the expense of forgetting who I am as the character, because of a silly will to appear more confident and hide the hesitations of improvisation.

I’ve long been a bit puzzled as to why the performances have become slightly mediocre, but I think I am beginning to realise it is a fault in my attitude. I need to do it for fun. To satisfy a “personal religion” as Merleau-Ponty once put it.

I shed recordings this way and that, it is becoming quite a task just keeping track of them all. Dozens of nameless audio files dispersed across desktops, phone, iPad, memory sticks and hard drives… and I even make an effort to compile and order everything. I make too many, and then I am not sure what to simply discard, what to keep, how to put a name on what I just did. My favourite format is speaking into a phone as if it were a microphone. I can dim down my voice to an intimate radio husk, and feel like I am speaking in a vacuum. So I have some interesting little snippets on there: a Scottish woman with a deep clear voice speaks of her distrust in the natural laws of physics. A Californian young lady is doing her grocery shopping when she puts down her bags and wonders why the myriad of strangers around her won’t stop to talk to her, but keep going about their business. These are issues that appear in my life, whether I find them important or not. The latter concern about the ‘loss of intimacy’ in urban and technologically advanced contemporary life, is for instance one I tire of, and one in which I find somewhat of a cliche. I am uneasy about all black and white, or nostalgic, criticisms of the modern age, the most annoying of which is the ‘people staring into screens’ argument. These nostalgic critics would have them go stare into books instead, and what is morally better about that? Books are also a technology. And to me the changes brought about by technological development are – none the more worthy – but rather slippery, grey and fuzzy. I despise both the technologically celibate, and those who go on about how modern technology is the key to “connecting people”, and solving the world’s problems. I am concerned about how large tech companies attribute to themselves a sense of high morality through their marketing that seems exempt from the ‘evils of capitalism’ that we associate with oil companies, car manufacturers and fashion industries.

So I do not raise the issue of the tech sceptic from myself. But my characters seem to have their own agenda. I can feel myself getting a little embarrassed of the things I say sometimes. The Scottish woman ends with quoting the cliché philosophical question: When a tree falls in the forest and nobody’s around, does it make a sound? with a meaningful tone to her voice. I cringed so much that I thought it was time to stop recording, and the clip ends there. Interesting though – how is this serving me? After all, I am actually uttering these things. Perhaps it is this very embarrassment I regret – my own pretentious rejection of the mediocre and the cliche. It’s jealousy all over again – I am jealous that somebody out there can make such arguments and feel fulfilled and thoughtful making them. It is a medium through which I can behave and speak as I normally wouldn’t allow myself because of my personal code and because of the way I want to be.

New videos include: Rose, the Yorkshire lass hopping about in a mini dress and white boots to house music. I was at my friend’s place (a glamour photographer with lots of costumes and wigs) helping her edit a video. After working some 12 hours I thought it was time for a break and asked to try on the wigs I had been eyeing the whole duration of my visit. I got dressed up and started dancing about on my own, and noticed my accent was changing as I was joking around with my friend and her assistant, T. Then I asked T to film me, and got him to ask me questions to which I responded in character. I had a roommate last year from Manchester who liked to get dolled up and go out. She was delightful and Rose is heavily based on her, as well as people I know from my hometown of Leeds. That’s how I know some of the lingo like “you div”. I did make some accent blunders. But I especially enjoyed being Rose. The remarkable thing about it is that I distinctly felt that a part of me was her, and that I wasn’t pretending. Unfortunately, T kept laughing and that made me laugh as well, but when I got back into it, I revelled in letting that part of myself loose! I plan to actually go out with my friends one day as Rose and spend the whole night behaving and speaking like that, both to friends and strangers, and hopefully get a friend of mine to catch some of it on tape.

I also made a video in which I kiss the partitioning wall between my parent’s bathroom and landing. In all honesty, I was waiting. Downstairs my grandfather had just called my father on Skype; we had a terrible row recently and are not speaking. So I hovered about there, waiting for them to finish talking. I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror and felt sad, avoiding my family like that. I hugged the partitioning wall and started kissing it. It is smooth and cold. It is huggable, with human-like dimensions. It is one of those odd things a person might do in utter privacy, for no reason, shielded from observation. But I decided to film it. I was surprised that I liked it, and that it didn’t look totally ridiculous. I put a track over it that I have long been wanting to use – Drugi ce me Voleti (others will love me) by Seka Kojadinovic (60s Serbian pop).

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Earlier in the year I also made Deluge, filmed in a park as possibly the same character from Amado Mio. Looking again at it, I am substantially dissatisfied by the way I edited it – it’s terrible. There are these incredibly amateurish shots of me from behind my shoulder that need taking out, as well as awkward blackouts and bad timing with the cuts. I must have been rushing the editing or something. However I am really pleased with the storytelling, especially improvised like that. It’s the story of a village that suffered monumental downpours, an environmental catastrophe that swept away their entire livelihood (so much so that the entire village, as if resting on a tablecloth, slid into the neighbouring village). After the expected pandemonium subsides however, the village turns to resourceful means of monetising their catastrophe, turning their mud bath of a village into a grand tourist attraction. My environmental concerns are surfacing here, I enjoy imagining these absurd tensions between Earth and the anthroposphere, and intend to write more speculative fiction. While I enjoy “writing orally”, which certainly has its interesting characteristics, I don’t want to neglect literacy as it endows me with a greater ability to reflect and consider and develop quickfire ideas. Watch the updated Deluge video here.

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Since I usually use less-than-optimal filming equipment, I decided to use the Observatory, an HD camera and studio lights for one of my performances. As usual, I had no idea what was going to come out of it, who I was going to be. But to help me settle into this lack of spontaneity that I was not used to, I went to a shop and bought a coat that was way out of my budget. I spent time looking for something that I would enjoy wearing, and that would make me feel markedly different. I came across such a coat and went to school with a variety of additional borrowed garments and some make up. I set up: a mirror behind the camera so I could check my appearance, and indeed, have somebody to talk to, and I placed a plinth in front of a white wall. I tried all kinds of things, music, dancing, talking, brooding silently, changing clothes.. I told various stories none of which I was entirely happy with and after hours of attempting to suss some collected sentiments out of myself I felt drained and a little bit ambivalent about my work. It was interesting to see myself in what looked like a more professional performative environment, and some of the stills were quite pleasing, but I wasn’t sure the stories I told were entirely interesting. There was one which seemed quite curious; I sat on the plinth talking about how my husband was split in two by a wave while we were holidaying at the seaside. He was then continually split at an exponential rate. The theme of “untrustworthy physics” seemed to have cropped up again. Then I go on to claim that I am “the first conscious atom”, and explain what it is like to be indivisible. “You see everything as a function. When you are an atom… (at atomic level)… you are part of a function. You are a cog in a system, but you don’t have cogs within you – you are indivisible. So ‘function’ doesn’t have a real meaning for us atoms. We are not consumed by this idea of function, of organs, of organisations, of things working together. This is to us a very abstract idea, our mathematics, that exists outside ourselves but also governs our truth in a certain way,” was one of the lines of thought here. After the performance I returned the coat to the shop, unscathed, and reunited myself with my funds.

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First Conversations

A couple of months ago I had an idea for a radio program. I love listening to people’s conversations on the bus, in cafes, etc around me, and thought how it might be refreshing, in between radio programs, to have 30 minutes of pure conversation between two people. Even better if these people didn’t know one another and had met for the first time. That way, the home listeners would get to know the speakers, as the speakers got to know one another. I love the music of conversation. Each episode would be a new pair conversing. This idea seems simple to arrange, and yet quite precious. You get an insight into the first point of contact between two strangers.

My idea is then to make a series of these episodes, by linking up friends in my circles who do not know one another. I tell them about and invite them to join the project, and treat the two of them at a cafe to a coffee and a cake. I want them to have a good time. I then leave them with a sound recorder, and go do something else for an hour, after which I return and thank them. They know about my intention to publicise the recordings, and why I am doing it. But they don’t know anything about each other prior to meeting. I tell them that they can pick a new name if they wish to remain anonymous, and that how much truth is disclosed in their conversation is entirely up to them, as it is in any conversation. They are allowed to talk about anything whatsoever, even the project itself, even me, their mutual friend. I don’t want them to feel inhibited. It is not important to me to conceal the nature of a ‘social experiment’ behind the conversation.

I have a long list of names of diverse people who have accepted to partake in this project (in fact none of those whom I asked have rejected the idea, and on the contrary seem interested). But somehow it took a lot longer for me to find the right pair. They don’t need to have everything in common to make a good match, but I do want there to be a spark, a sense that the two of them will interest one another, if not agree on everything. I finally came across a combination: a Croatian animation student (20) living in my building, and an English musician/pub owner (27). It then took a while to arrange a date the suited all three of us. But finally, we met. I wanted to ensure that the very first words exchanged between the two of them would be caught on record without me being there. So I arranged for one of them to come earlier. Having spoken with the cafe staff, I was given the quietest corner of the cafe and the refreshments were arranged to be served only when both guests had arrived, so they wouldn’t get cold in the wait. The musician arrived first, and I tested my sound recorder on him, and entertained him until the animation student showed up. I saw her out of the window, and took leave of the man with the recorder turned on. I could see both of them were a bit nervous, but I knew from earlier conversations with each of them that they were intrigued by this idea. I met the animator in the doorway, directed her to the table and went on my way! I was so excited during the hour I went on a walk in the surrounding streets, wondering how it was going between them. Then I got a text from one of them that the battery on the recorder had run out! How terrible! I had to run back, move them to another table close to a socket and have the recorder plugged into the mains. It was a really awkward interruption. But I went again on my way and left them for another 45 minutes. Happily, there were no further mishaps and I returned to find both in bright spirits, and even willing to stay longer and chat! I took the audio file home and with a little research into noise reduction I managed to make the clip quite clean and ready for listening. I was able to discreetly edit out the mishap. So far I have only made one episode, and do not intend to publicise them until I have a few more stored up. Listen to the clip here (link added long after this post was written).

Two questions remain: How shall I publicise this material? If the answer is Youtube, where I already have followers, then I should include some visuals too. I could turn it into an iTunes podcast supposedly, but I would need to learn about that medium and start from scratch. Maybe I could post them on Youtube, and include a long visual of one shot: of a beach, of a railway, of a view somewhere in London. Something relaxing and thoughtful. Perhaps simply subtitles of the speech on a black background? Maybe I could post them on both Youtube and iTunes, and refer my Youtube followers to iTunes. Ideally however, I imagine this as a segment between radio shows, and it would be nice if a radio station could take my idea and continue it for me on a scale that goes beyond my social circles. Perhaps if I first make a body of broadcasts of my own, and if they are successful, I could later pitch it to a more established broadcaster.

Finally, bordering between my academic pursuits (my budding theories on jealousy/empathy, my aspiration to write an essay on Yayoi Kusama) is a continually growing archive of videos/pictures documenting my Working Space. I have always been fascinated by that atmosphere in which art is created, which is thick with concentration and curiosity. Sometimes, in those happy moments in which I find myself immersed in drawing, painting, sewing, I stop to take stock of my environment. The table, the light, the music – I feel lucky in these moments, and I start filming or photographing the environment. Examples:

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I have many of these. Videos of me working, or of my colleagues working. I interview others while they work sometimes. They could comprise a nice documentary some day of what the making of art is like! But in this process I have discovered that as I work, for instance, on a drawing, I say things to myself, ideas appear about the various values that concern me in my practice. In response to the ongoing endeavour, by a host of contemporary artists, to find a language for what they do, I decided to record myself talking while drawing. It was challenging, because as I say right from the start in the video, it’s hard to report your thoughts as you’re thinking them. It made me a bit nervous but I settled into it. I drew on the floor in the Observatory, using the tripod there to film what I was doing from a bird’s eye perspective. I gave it a shot, talking about what I am doing, the decisions I am making, as I am doing them, and as I talked I thought it was all a mess up. But later listening and watching I thought there was something potentially insightful in it, and that it might be a good idea to record these fleeting ideas as they appear. I edited it into a video called Talking Drawing and it has received a few views and nice comments on Youtube (view here). I intend to make more Talking Drawings.

Another thing to note is that I am interested in transcribing that “online tutorial” format to this project. I pretend to be explaining something that is known, as if I am teaching. But I am actually coming up with “what is to be taught” in the act of drawing. Which is interesting, because although in one sense I am pretending, in another sense I am after all an experienced “drawer of Katarina’s drawings”. I am not so old, but drawing is my oldest occupation, and if I have any knowledge to give, it is probably the knowledge of how I draw and what I think when I draw (NOT drawing itself – I stress – but drawing as an activity in my own practice). This kind of knowledge has been acquired in a mute world however, and mute it has remained. This was the reason I wanted to experiment with making my drawings talk.

 


 

The text above covers in fact the works and experiments I am most happy with from my recent work, and therefore also what I will show for the Assessment exhibition. I’ve decided to take the opportunity of assessment to try and configure various aspects of my practice in new ways. I am continually interested in how my writing works with my drawings, how my drawings work with my videos, how my social experiments are implicated.

I appreciate a multimedia experience in an exhibition, when the different elements seem to talk with one another.

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The sketch above is of the project space where I will project 1) a “character carousel” of video performances (the girl in the expensive coat, (interlude), a singer talking about writing lyrics, Rose, (interlude), Deluge, a piece about a deranged mapmaker attempting to seduce a traveller, and the kissing video). The interludes are short, borderline ironic pauses where I dance or entertain in some way. The first interlude will be a little dance to Django Reinhardt’s Avalon I did, inspired by scenes from Arroz Amargo (Bitter Rice), by Giuseppe De Santis (1949). I am still unsure about the second interlude.

Also in my exhibition will be 2) an empathy drawing (A1) I made this year (although I never decided it was finished). It combines two ‘competing inks’ and splashes of purple/blue/yellow colour (Faber Castell felts). It will be lit up by a spotlight due to the darkness necessitated for projection. Beside this will be 3) Talking Drawing (video) played on loop in a box I made to encase an iPad, accompanied by headphones.

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Diagonally from 1) & 2) will be placed an armchair for comfort, beside which will be 4) a text I wrote entitled “CV”. It is about the accomplishment of day to day reality, and it will be printed into six paragraphs distributed into six A4 frames and gridded on the wall between the armchair and 1). 5) Is a space for my supporting material, whereas opposite to that will be where the projector is stationed, along with the cables (gathered in one place to minimise tripping hazard). The mains are outside the project space but with an extension cable under the projector, I will only need to tape down one cable (leading from the mains to the space) to eliminate the risk of tripping. The films I intend to play from a laptop, form a looping Youtube playlist. I want to allow people to either watch in the order I intended, or simply click on the video they’d like to see (I will provide signage for this). I even have a backup plan if internet at college is down, by playing the videos on a Windows Media Player playlist (although this would mean visitors cannot click on videos themselves). Hopefully the internet will be fine, because I have no way as of yet to play Talking Drawing on loop on iPad without Youtube (the problem lies in the size of the movie file, as it is longer than my usual films).

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