Monday, 20 February 2012

What... is... Art...?

Recently went to the Moving Pictures panel discussion at the Jerwood Space, London. Moving Pictures is an online Dance Animation exhibition presented by Animate Projects and Portland Green Cultural Projects.

The panel consisted of a combination of film makers, producers, and writers, and the conversation covered some interesting topics. We discussed the difficulty of capturing 3 dimensional dance in 2 dimensions, the difficulty of capturing the 'weight' of  dancer in (drawn) animation, the tension between Dance and Animation, was the animation disrupting or creating the dance, what part does music (or the absence of music) play.

Perhaps inevitably, the question was asked 'what is Dance Animation', to which the clear headed and pertinent audience member behind me replied 'We could spent all day discussing this question, and the outcome probably wouldn't be very interesting, so how about we move on?'

This may sound a bit strong, but words cannot express my gratitude, and this is a phrase I shall remember from here on out as a guard against the 'but what is art?' question, and all it's variants. At certain moments and in certain scenarios this type of question can be fine, but it was fantastic to see someone being less concerned with being right or clever, and more concerned with whether or not the discussion was interesting.

Monday, 16 January 2012

The Art of Awe

January: Thought I'd skip the new year resolutions (while secretly promising myself to spend more time at exhibitions - particularly relevant ones).

Yesterday I went to see Anselm Kiefer's Il Mistero delle Cattedrali at White Cube,  Bermondsey. This exhibition is vast, it's scale befitting its title; Great big paintings and sculptures, both weathered and worn, that made me feel like someone from the future staring back at our civilization today, and finding it's massive municipal buildings and constructions weird and wonderfull (in much the same way that we stare back at the ancient Egyptians). I spent the first 20 mins wandering around awestruck. I then spent the following 20 mins feeling depressed about my own work - so less grand, so less awe inspiring.

It's an interesting thing coming across artwork that impresses. At first it can be enigmatic - amazing, yet impenetrable. And bit by bit, as you grow accustomed to it's cracks and crevices (quite literally with the exhibition above), the work begins to loose it's luster. Still impressive. No less of an acheivement. But not so magical. I think it's always worth bearing in mind that while what can inspire you is important, it can also bring you low. I am still a little bewitched by Kiefer's Il mistero delle cattedrali painting (with a rock hung before it on a large measuring device of some description), and long may this feeling last.

As the author of a work I think it's always worth keeping in mind that you know it's ins and outs, and while it may be lost on you, that magic may not be lost on others. There, I've made art sound like a card trick, and why the hell not?

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

The romanticism of craft

Recently I was discussing video art with a painter, and they commented on how painters get to really immerse themselves in the process of painting, adding that it seemed a shame that something similar didn't exist in the field of video art (although it was more of a question than a statement).

At the heart of this question is the romantic image of the painter in their studio experimenting with colours, textures and compositions. Is the painter immersing themselves more in the craft of their object of art, obsessing, nurturing, and coaxing it to it's final conclusion?

Video art does have it's processes. It does have it's techniques. The art work should/could develop along the way. So on the surface video art seems just as immersive in its process as any other art form. And yet in some ways the statement above still seems to ring true.

Is it to do with the amount of time we spend being conceptual or reflective? Painting does require concepts, but much time is spent standing back from the work, reflecting, and thinking about where next to take it. It has certainly been true thus far that the initial concept of my own video art has been paramount. Most reflection is spent judging how best to achieve this initial concept, and my initial instinct is that video art does not lend itself so readily to this reflective process of development.

Firstly, in painting you are concentrating on a single object (or single scene at least). This allows the artist to meditate more thoroughly on the subject. But this is not true of the Sistine Chapel, or similar large scale works. Secondly, in painting it is a more direct process to adjust what has been made. A brush stroke can be altered, a colour blended there and then. It does not require the re-shooting and re-editing of an entire scene. Having said this, painters have been known to scrap paintings, and start again from scratch.

This all seems to be going round in circles, but essentially I am coming to the conclusion (temporarily perhaps), that there is no reason why making video can't be just as reflective and immersive in its process as painting. Perhaps there is a lot of re-organisation involved. Re-setting and re-shooting scenes, re-editing. But the processes of framing, recording, reviewing, editing and compiling video are all potentially increadibly reflective activities. Particularly in this era of digital technology, it seems that the substance of video art, the video itself, is more and more manipulable, and at less and less expense. Maybe it comes down getting rid of the illusion of time-based art. It may be time-based but much like painting or sculpture, it is still a kind of object.

Perhaps the real question lies right back at the beginning, with the romantic notion of the artist in their studio, crafting and obsessing away. This romantic image may even lend value to the art object itself. Perhaps public awareness of the craft involved raises it's value and it's artistic status. If so would public awareness of the craft involved in video art do exactly the same?

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Talking video art

Recently I've been looking around for a regular film/video screening in East London - something with artists showcasing their new works, and something with a critical discussion. Perhaps more importantly, I'm looking for something that doesn't make my head feel like it's been put through a meat grinder. It's not penance. This all probably sounds a bit pretentious, but really I suppose I'm looking for something a bit balanced.

Ranting aside, I'm looking to introduce a bit more perspective and opportunity into my own art practice, coupled with a good debate, and the possibility of showing my own work for a bit of feed back.

Last week I went to Rotoreliefs at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. A warm welcome from the organisers at the door, and a well programmed series of films, each introduced with a bit of background info; Nothing too heavy either: 'this is the film - this is who made it - this is roughly what it's about - let's see what you think'.

Three music videos, three dramas on this occasion. The Result, a 2/3 minute work by Anthony Wilcox built up a moody comical atmosphere that left me wanting to see more. Bring me sunshine, directed by Rachael Hastings, was the band Jive Aces first full tilted venture into the world of music video, and was infectuously uplifting. Random Strangers, a romance by Alex Dos Santos is a compelling exploration of the world of Chat Roulette and that blurry-line between social media and the 'real world', and this one really caught my attention. It is soon to be developed into a feature length film, and I really feel the ground work is already there as this short film unassumingly develops the characters, and I'm already looking forward to the end result, so long as they steer clear of cliches (or perhaps more specifically, caricatures). The whole thing is framed as if the audience is watching everything unfold on Chat Roulette, sometimes single screens, sometimes multiples, but the thing that really stuck in my mind was that they had to simulate the distance between the two main characters, one upstairs pretending to be in Berlin, the other downstairs pretending Buenos Aires (if I remember correctly).

The open discussion that followed was neither too bogged down in the world of practicalities, nor completely floating on a theoretical cloud. There was a bit of both in fact, and plenty of the stuff in between, which made it a useful and interesting discussion, even to the extent that film makers felt comfortable asking the audience's advice on creative decisions they had made.

Not much 'video art' though, and that is where my main interest lies. Still, their website says 'Networking spiral for independent film makers and video artists', and you can only play what you've been dealt, so I'll have to see what the next event brings...

I have this notion that screening events with lots of 'video art', tend to spend less time considering their audience - not enough space in between films, not enough open discussion. I understand the importance of platforms for works that are challenging, but it also seems important to nurture a varied audience - people who are new to video art, as well as the converted. Apart from anything else it's an opportunity for video artists to say 'I realise this may all seem a bit baffling - let me try and unpick it a little bit for you'. I'm not saying video artist's should offer everything on a plate, but Video Art is a relatively new language, and the more video artists engage with audiences about their work, and the more people discuss video art, the wider that audience will become.

Sunday, 13 November 2011

The I and We

Recently I came across an article about a recent publication titled Soon all your neighbours will be artists, which sound's like a really interesting publication (a collaboration between Aid & Abet, Extra Special People, Spike Associates and Wales Artist Resource). Having said that, the title itself made me question how people talk about art.

I often find people writing about art, or talking about art purely in terms of it's social significance or impact. This is obviously an element of what art is, it does not exist in a vacuum, it does not have an ivory tower, etc - it exists in society. But there is another side to art, and that is the actual artwork itself. What does it do? What are it's devises? What are it's predecessors? Where is it's literature? What is it an analogy of?

I am not saying we should ignore an artwork's social significance. There is, and always will be, a place for this kind of social critique. But what about the personal and individual aspects of these art works? What about the aspects that make it different from any other? I'm not even sure I agree with what I'm writing, but I often feel there might be too much attention paid to art's social impact, as if it were a tool for manicuring the social landscape, as if it weren't allowed to be completely pointless and selfish. I often hear about art projects designed to be of benefit to communities, but some of the art most beneficial to communities have no consideration for communities at all.

Some of the most important art is not about building communities, but about tearing them down. Love him or hate him, who can deny the impact of Banksy? Is he about building communities, or is he more about tearing them down so that they can be reinvented? I am not denying the importance that community or socially attentive art can have.

I have had first hand experience of 'community art' being a lifeline to individuals, and as far as I am concerned it needs no further justification. But in amongst all the community building and society building there has to be a little of the other, a little destruction, a little re-invention, and this is where the individual, selfish, unsocially agenda-ed art comes in. I'm starting to feel that this individualism needs to be celebrated more, and that art criticism needs to spend more time stepping out bravely from underneath the umbrella of social impact analysis, and really get to grips with the individual mechanisms and interests of works of art.

But then again, perhaps this is the most hypocritical art critique ever written.

Friday, 11 November 2011

A while ago I went to see Woyzeck on the Highveld (based on Georg Buchner's working class tradgedy Woyzeck but set in the South African mines of Apartheid) directed by William Kentridge, and performed by the Handspring Puppet Company at the Silk Street Theatre, in London.

The performance was a combination of actors, puppets, and video animation. To be honest, as a piece of theatre it didn't seem to hang together. A narrator (actor) in the foreground gives everything a political tilt, despite doing his best to be a salesman of culture, and his brusque bombastic manner jarred with the subtle movements of the puppetry. The puppetry its self often seemed out of kilter with video sceneries and backgrounds.

The funny thing is this didn't matter. I never expected there to be harmony between the different mediums, and the more remarkable thing is that sometimes there was; A puppet staring up at a night sky watching animated video images appear to him amongst the stars; A puppet walking away from the audience through an video animated shanty town of drawn shacks, rushing past on either side; the narrator demonstrating how the rhinoceros (a puppet) can be re-educated to be of use in modern society, despite being a cumbersome beast.

Nothing about the play was to do with perfection, but there truly were some perfect moments that a more perfect staging might never have achieved. There is a sense that some intricate moments were lost amongst these various elements struggling to exist side by side on stage. Even the narrative seems disrupted. But the playfulness of the piece makes otherwise difficult subjects approachable and debatable. That's not to say that it is unemotional - just that you don't necessarily have to cry or laugh with the characters. Perhaps it creates a question of whether great theatre has to 'move' us - perhaps disrupting the way we think is just as good. As I walked out of the theatre I heard a member of the audience say 'interesting, I don't really know what to think'. Is there any better praise.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Recently I've been trying to make my arts practice more practical. I've been trying to get away from planning projects that would be fantastic if I only had the right resources. I've been trying to approach art from the angle of 'what resources have I got', 'what resources can I easily get my hands on', 'what can I do with these resources'.

Surprisingly, this approach is very liberating. With a recent project I whittled down my resources to myself (performing), a video camera, charcoal, paper and a white space (hired space at the Rag Factory just off Brick Lane - well worth a look with cheap deals on weekend eves if your budget's tight). But the most refreshing part of this project was re-discovering how creative a blank white space can be. With nothing but the resources above, I just wanted to sit, and play, and think - which is exactly what I did.

Artist's often spend a lot of time seeking out inspiration - galleries, theatres, books, talks, films. Perhaps there's so much of it out there that it is more important to find the right space to reflect on what we have seen - the doctor's waiting room, that cafe with a particular vista, the front seat of the top deck of a bus...