Thursday, 27 September 2012

The Practice Exchange 11: Dr Nerma Cridge, Professor Jane Collins and Lorrice Douglas

Date: Wednesday 4th July 2012, 4-6pm
Venue: Green Room, Chelsea

Present: Deniz Acka, Sonya Boyce, Jane Collins, Nerma Cridge, Lorrice Douglas, Maria Kheirkhah, Catherine Long, Robert Luzar, and others (17 in total)

Choreography for Blackboards, Dr. Nerma Cridge

Dr Nerma Cridge: Drawing the Sky

Nerma presented four projects to The Practice Exchange. She began with her degree project – The Sniper House – that she completed at the Birmingham School of Architecture. Nerma talked about the views of the sniper inside and outside the building, the crafting of lined drawings and the shaping of the emerging screens, the window and the wall cutouts. Afterwards, in the section called The Cloud, Nerma discussed her PhD dissertation, which dealt with architectural projects from the Soviet era, focusing in particular on those that depicted the sky and clouds. It was initiated by the premise that ‘architects are not supposed to draw the sky’, as the sky ought to remain in the domain of the artists; architects should stick with drawing buildings, confined to only what can be measured accurately and precisely drawn. The drawings ranged from projects that excluded the sky completely, showing the buildings literally and in a ‘painterly’ manner, to those with the cloud in the centre, where the subject and the focus of the drawing had become the sky itself. The ensuing debate included those projects that used the elements of the sky imagery as part of the building and those in which the building became the cloud itself. In this presentation, just as in her thesis, Nerma speculated, moving from ‘what if’, to ‘let’s assume’. One of the important suggestions included the assertion that some of the buildings were not simply unbuildable but were actually built, only in fragments, and in different scales. Comments from the audience included remarks about how attractive the idea was that a building may exist in two different places at the same time, because, rather than despite, not having materialised.

After this Nerma moved onto describing the project she worked on in collaboration with Oliver Klimpel and Sophie Ungerer for an international ideas competition Shrinking Cities. Their entry entitled Cropped Cities proposed literally to crop the disused sections of derelict buildings in city centres of Liverpool, Manchester, Detroit and Berlin. By cutting the structures down to the height of 1 meter, new activities could be introduced based upon an existing trace. This would enable cropped buildings and urban blocks to ‘grow’ better. Importantly, new horizons would be created and opened up. There was a comment made of how interesting it would be if buildings were only meter high, with large part of their structure buried underground.

The concluding discussion focused on the project entitled 5xHandrail that Nerma completed in 2010, in the Drawing Space in Melbourne. Here, a real handrail of a five-storey staircase was echoed five times in five different shades of grey, ranging from dark to almost white. Made in this way, drawing fragments migrated, stopped and continued over the surfaces of the three-dimensional space: on the ceiling, the floor and finally ending on the window pane, visually in-between the inside and the outside. Curiously, the project ended up exactly where it started, with the ‘literal’ sky.

A number of the artists present were fascinated by the discussion on architectural training, in which architectural students are constantly confronted by rules and don’t have the same kind of freedom that artists experience throughout their practice. Also, the ways in which drawings and other visuals can be used very effectively and powerfully to create a strong impression of buildings that do not have an actual physical presence. This is how such buildings were made present and more active in people’s lives than many real built structures. They also continue to influence real buildings and architecture, acting as a constant point of reference. Nerma’s final remarks emphasised the importance of pushing the limits and drawing what can be visualised and not materialised, or perhaps not materialised yet. The kind of practice in both art and architecture that crosses boundaries and rules, or the one that borrows rules from a different discipline, often comes out with the most promising solutions.

Professor Jane Collins and Lorrice Douglas: Staging the site specific between fine art and theatre

Bureau, 2007 - Lorrice Douglas
Jane Collins and Lorrice Douglas presented a discussion with the aim of seeing where the performances they both make fit in relation to each other.

Jane referenced Henri Lefebvre's writing on space: e.g. The Production of Space 1974 (English translation 1991) and Miwon Kwon’s One place after Another: Site-specific Art and Locational Identity 2004.

Lorrice presented a work she made in her first art residency at Grizedale Arts in 2001. PAGEANT - A Lakeland Variety Show was an event made in response to the foot & mouth crises, staged at Water Yeat Village Hall and organised in collaboration with Audrey Steeley, a playwright and member of staff at Grizedale Arts. The work involved blurring the distinctions between fact and fiction.  

The poster that she used to advertise the event was made during the early stage of her residency when the countryside felt very quiet and isolated; the footpaths were closed. There was much driving around, and many encounters. Lorrice sited her hand-made posters in obscure shop windows and forest locations, and made tickets from local playing cards. For the event, a mystery guest from London appeared as the headline act.

Lorrice referred to the making of the project as 'creeping in through the back door' (ie. negotiating amongst established institutions and relationships). During the event, heavy rain and a very intense atmosphere emphasised the distinctions between out and in. Lorrice showed images from the PAGEANT publication, especially images about staging and taking things down - props and scenery from the event.  She raised the issues of how you leave (finish) a project that is so much about encounters, and how you leave a place.

The following year during the Grizedale Live exhibition, she constructed a billboard in the forest depicting an interior of Water Yeat Village hall. It was installed without signage, a title, or name. The idea was that people would chance upon it whilst walking in the forest and that it would naturally fade away as the PAGEANT poster had. Lorrice is interested in how people respond to work when it is unclear who made it and what its function is. She questions what the role of the audience is and acknowledges the many people who contributed to the project.

A member of the audience asked: Can it be recreated somewhere else? Lorrice responded that it cannot be moved or toured, however the book circulates. The book is not the event, it is the way she chose to portray the making of the event. For her, the process, the ephemera, and the making of the event were the artwork.

Sonia Boyce commented on the value of conversations and ephemeral material. Lorrice responded that in her work, there is always more than one location.  In PAGEANT - A Lakeland Variety Show she embodied that other location. There were many different roles and everyone played a part.

Jane presented a project she undertook in Bali, working with the local women and other members of the local community – such as health workers - to make a play. After the play was presented she was told words to the effect of: ‘Thank you very much that was wonderful, but please don't come to our village because you will be stoned’. For Jane this brought up the issues of the varying layers of local knowledge, emphasizing that knowledge is only partial.

Hyderabad, 2011 - Professor Jane Collins
She then presented a staging of The Duchess of Malfi, a Jacobean Revenge tragedy, at the Nightingale Theatre, in Brighton. In this dark and brutal but very charismatic and seductive play, the actors and audience moved through various rooms of a pub, and at the same time the actors moved in and out of roles. For Jane, the theatrical authenticity in this event occurred as the actors moved outside the theatre space. The narrative was going on in the moment. Actors make jokes to charm the audience, then the tone changes as they begin to torture the heroine psychologically. The audience found themselves trapped in the situation. The issue of how the audience position themselves was crucial here – this was shared by Lorrice’s project, as was a blurring between the fictional and the real.

Lorrice commented that as PAGEANT took place in a small village hall, there were different layers of participation and familiarity with the play. Everyone was playing.

Jane added that performance can get beneath surfaces in a particular way. This developed into a wider conversation around the question: at what point do the audience say stop?

Jane described The Duchess of Malfi production as moving and responding to the moment and the audience. But it was clearly a play. There is freedom because it is not real. The audience want to know what's going to happen next.

Lorrice referred to Music Hall where the audience were 'active' responding audibly and physically to the performers and their performance.  

Jane referred to the performance artist Marina Abramovic who hates theatre because it is fake. For her, performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real. It’s about reality.

But surely audiences understand the nature of theatrical illusion? Jane responded that there is a lot you can do within that fakery.

Lorrice presented her time-based installation, Bureau, exhibited at RSVP: Contemporary artists at the Foundling in 2007.  The show was curated by Gill Hedley and produced by Commissions East.

The Foundling Museum was founded by Thomas Coram in 1741. The downstairs of the museum houses the social history gallery. Handel was a patron of the Foundling Hospital. Lorrice chose to stage her installation within the Gerald Coke Handel Collection. Her intention was that her installation should look like furniture and blend in. It comprised a gentleman's writing desk, a chair and a Bakelite telephone. There was a small flashing red light on the telephone instead of a ringing bell. She was concerned with the visitors’ perception of what they can or can't do - what they can or cannot touch - in a museum or heritage setting. She left clues on the writing desk - an invitation - but it was completely up to the visitor how much they engaged.

Lorrice played a one-minute audio recording of the sounds that the visitor would have heard on picking up the telephone receiver. By sitting at the desk and picking up the receiver the visitor became implicated.

Jane described this as bringing the theatrical into the museum context. The object then becomes part of a play which the visitor becomes a participant in. There is a temporal element and a spatial dislocation through a particular type of voice.

Sonia commented that there was a certain amount of time-traveling going on in this piece.

Lorrice spoke about the Foundling Museum context – it was London's first home for abandoned babies. For her, it evoked an awkwardness of making contact, an awkwardness of communication, time, discomfort. If the visitor puts the receiver down the circuit is broken.  

Jane commented on the differences between her and Lorrice’s practice – Jane’s work is very directive, while Lorrice’s is less controlling.

Lorrice added that the flashing red light on the telephone is very subtle but it's all about that - the moment of finding something and almost having missed it. She spoke of the challenge of documenting work about the audience encounter.

Jane presented an event she staged in Hyderabad, India, in 2011 that was about site-specificity and site mobility. She started with no script - responding to the place - the Drama and Dance Departments of the University.  Having been impressed by the incredible presence of the security guards, she decided to use Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet as the narrative drive. The audience were shown around the site by a security guard.  Homeless people thought the set was a potential place to stay.  They got moved on. As the play progressed, the security guard's story took over: the local took over from the colonial narrative. At the end, he took the audience right out into the forest. The set was a site of cardboard effigies - a tradition in India. The security guard claimed the story and told his story.

The question was asked: can you take this production to Deli? In this case, the context was moveable as it is about relationships. 
Jane referenced Doreen Massey: openness, trajectory and relationship. However the heavy rain and the journey into the forest were so specific they could not be recreated live. 

In Delhi there are security guards everywhere and many homeless people. Here Jane used backstage areas, placing the story there. In future performances she will consider giving the audience the option of either watching a spectacle or journeying behind the scenes with a security guard.

Lorrice’s closing thoughts: People seem to be dressing up but are they actually dressing up as themselves?  What is theatrical authenticity?

Jane’s closing thoughts: What are the nuances of and differences between working with people and working with actors?

Saturday, 16 June 2012

The Practice Exchange: Retelling the city

Keith Piper and William Raban
Date: Wednesday 20th June 2012, 5-7pm
MLG06, London College of Communications, Elephant and Castle.

Present: Sonya Boyce, Nerma Cridge, Lorrice Douglas, Maria Kheirkhah, Elizabeth Manchester, Keith Piper, William Raban, Charlotte Webb and five others.

Keith Piper showed his 12 minute 50 second video The Perfect City with a minimal introduction. The Perfect City is a single channel video work funded by Film London. It was originally presented as a dual screen video installation for the exhibition ‘The Perfect City’ at the PM Gallery in 2007. It begins with the narrator leaning over a ruler, craft knife and pencil as he slips on a pair of cotton gloves and announces what he must do: ‘My task is to design a city, an archetypal city, a city which embodies the memory of all cities before it.’ The video then unfolds through 5 sections or chapters relating to the history of the city - of drowning, contamination, amputation, cleansing and burning. The work montages images, narrative and sound, creating a complex picture of the city – both imagining its historical past and its future potential.

William Raban introduced his film The Houseless Shadow that he made and exhibited earlier this year. He explained that the film was commissioned by the Museum of London and was a long time in its gestation. Its origins were the Canary Wharf Film Festival a few years ago where William showed his films of east London. After seeing these, a curator from the Museum of London suggested that William did something for them to commemorate Charles Dickens 200 years after his birth. William hated Victorian things and found it all terrifying, having grown up with heavy ecclesiastical architecture (his father was a vicar). Nonetheless, he read some biographies of Dickens. Peter Ackroyd had discovered that Dickens had done a lot of night walks and William started to think that it would be great to put Dickens’s writings about his walks in juxtaposition with images of London today. Most appropriately, William found that Dickens had written an essay in 1859 entitled ‘Night Walks’. The Museum of London needed a film no longer than twenty minutes but Dickens’s essay is 4,000 words, so William realized he would have to halve it in order to make a film the right length. He thought that with a very careful edit he would be able to stay true to Dickens’s language.

In December 2010 there was a meeting of Museum of London Dickens experts, including Professor Ian Christie, and they found some money to pay for William’s film. David Cunningham did the sound track and one of last year’s graduates from LCC did the editing. William used his own voice (reading Dickens’s essay) to save money.


There was a rich discussion following both films, and it was noted that there were several common themes and an interesting relationship between the works, particularly in relation to the artists’ positions as narrators, and in the psycho-geographical treatment of cities: 

Charlotte Webb asked William how he felt about using language from Dickens’s world which is so very different from the contemporary one – this stood out as particularly relevant in relation to Dickens’s reference to a young man as a pitiful object. This question stimulated a discussion about the problems of using/transferring outdated worlds and attitudes.

Keith Piper commented on the striking links between the two films. Maria Kheirkhah developed this in relation to the imagery of water in the city. Both films deal with the problems and politics of constructing histories, and of the culturally embedded nature of the narrator.

Sonya Boyce commented that she found the subtitles difficult and estranging – that she had had to jump over them because she felt she didn’t know the other that William was speaking about. She stayed with the voice because it felt more known.

Lorrice Douglas commented that the camera seemed to be invisible. William/his voice was the shadow. People shown in the film seemed to be unaware of the camera, utterly unaware of being filmed. William explained that he had learnt how not to draw attention to himself while he is filming. For example people don’t look at people in wheelchairs, so it is a good place to be if you want to do some undercover filming. In this position, he never holds his camera up to his face but has it on his lap.

Sonya commented that to hear Dickens talking in twentieth century London is very powerful, drawing parallels between the city as it was then and how it is now. For example, Waterloo used to be a cardboard city, not so very long ago. She had a question for both Keith and William about making work from the social context that they come from. Both speakers began their presentations with comments about their childhood. Both have evangelical backgrounds of a sort. She asked: can you abstract yourself from your social context?

Maria also commented on the connections between Keith’s and William’s films and suggested that their coincidentally similar Christian upbringing may have influenced the way that both artist-filmmakers had decided to narrate the city and the people within it.

William responded that he is fascinated by life on the street, the amazing scenes that you find. He loves working, spends a lot of time doing it, but never ever looks through the viewfinder while he is filming but rather looks the other way (this is another one of his strategies for filming invisibly under people’s noses). He often gets wonderful things without knowing or meaning to – by happy accident.

Keith commented that we all have access to an ever-expanding archive – there is always more we can tap into. At the same time personal memory is important as an active chosen material.

Maria suggested that it would be interesting if artists were to make work about the 2011 summer riots in relation to the Olympics. Keith replied that a lot has already been done and we can find the examples on Youtube.

The issue of cleansing – purifying fire – was discussed. Sonya mentioned that everyone is filming everything on their mobile phones and there is no way of monitoring it. An erasure of class, culture and identity is taking place [not quite sure how?]

Maria commented on the position of William’s camera, saying that it is amazing that he never got stopped by the police although he was filming in sensitive places. But his gaze is not in any way confrontational or judgmental – it feels as if William is on the same level as the people he is filming as his camera is below eye-level.

Sonya agreed that this is also because people are not looking at the camera. She referred to Walter Benjamin’s notion of the optical unconscious – the things that are happening within the frame that you’re not actually looking at – this is why for her the subtitles were in the way. This led to a conversation about the problem with the subtitles – having text on the screen – getting in the way of the visual elements/image.

Keith said that for him, they worked well together. Sonya replied that maybe she has a problem with Dickens – he was a kind of gatekeeper. 

Charlotte brought up a BBC series about London in which people were recounting their memories about what it was like living in different bits of London. William responded that for him tv is formulaic and he’s not interested in formulas.

Keith Piper is an artist and academic living and working in London. He has contributed to numerous national and international projects, specialising in issues around race, historical narrative, technology and post-colonialism. He is currently Reader and Programme Leader for the MA in Fine Art at Middlesex University.
Using his video 'The Perfect City' as a starting point, Keith will continue his examination of urban space through methods of mapping, coding and mythologisation.

William Raban is a British artist and an experimental filmmaker, known primarily for his landscape, performance and multi-screen based films. He is currently Reader in film at the London College of Communication (University of the Arts London). His most recent film The Houseless Shadow was commissioned by the Museum of London for their exhibition Dickens and London commemorating the 200th anniversary of the writer’s birth in February 2012.

‘It's a good idea to begin the new Dickens and London exhibition right at the end, where William Raban's short film The Houseless Shadow runs on a 20-minute loop. To the accompaniment of Dickens' haunting essay "Night Walks", we see shots of modern London at night. There's no Dickensian kitsch here, no gas lamps, carol singers or jolly fat men, just drunks and homeless people sheltering from the rain, with the shops' mannequins looking cosy inside and the security cameras staring down. They are familiar enough images and yet made unfamiliar by the meditative, noticing gaze of Raban's camera, which matches the solicitude of Dickens' text, where sympathy is pushed to the point of identification with London's poor and homeless.’(Professor John Bowen, Times Higher Education, 8/12/11)

Sunday, 20 May 2012

The Practice Exchange: Imaging Experience

Date: Wednesday 6th June 2012, 14:00-17:00
Venue: The Green Room, Chelsea College of Art and Design, Millbank

Present: 42 MA students and PhD researchers including Deniz Akca, Sam Burford, Lee Campbell, Angela Hodgson-Teall, Catherine Long, Robert Luzar, Elizabeth Manchester, Sarah Rhodes, Pratap Rugani and Scott Schwager.

Robert Luzar introduced his presentation ‘Working with the Body under a Post-Phenomenological Methodology and Documentation of Performance’. The title of his thesis is ‘Drawing Upon Multiplicity: Body, Mark and a Trace of Thought’. It is about conceptual mark-making and he is presenting his methodology. The aim of this area is to describe the approach and outcomes of his research. It includes both a performance-based presentation of the body and notational mark-making. Through his mark-making performances, he is citing the body generally and he is also situating his physicality in specific places. His research does not take place within his normal drawing practice, but within his performances. It critically investigates the performer’s subjective state. He works with a video camera to explore the parameters of the performance with its documentation, and to question its meaning.

Using himself as the subject of his investigation into performing drawing he is also challenging a purely phenomenological approach to his research. He explores with his body while focusing on it as a problem. This raises the issue of individual experience versus a description of a universal essence. What might be universal states of being?  Is this a necessary question that guides the performance? Every experience he has performing a drawing goes through theoretical analysis. Research through action requires explicit reflection on that action. This might involve initiating actions as performance, recording the performance, analyzing the recording – at this point it becomes self-reflecting notes. Robert is considering how far it is possible to use the body as an irreducible entity.

Robert outlined the different factors that affect the nature of the drawing performance. He attempts to work with elements in the space – he improvises – he is not concerned with any kind of engendering. He is focused on the speculative quality generated by working attentively until he is unable to do so, at which point video recording and notational diagrams (notes, sketches, and images) are used. The body becomes present when it loses sensory sensitivity. He is exploring the boundaries between the body and the mind which non-sense might articulate. As Anthony Howell wrote: ‘a space and a time are ground as tangible as any caves’. Whereas Anthony is interested in an existential gap, Robert proposes that there does not need to be a way to theorize or to express an integral void from which to perform. This difference is crucial: Robert does not only perform but also mediates the live act to see what other ways of working can become possible. In other words, and with no contradiction, he starts working with the body but does not try to keep it as a primary tool.

Through changing poses/postures Robert causes effects in materials. He then uses the materials to help him find the next direction of the work. Sequences of actions tend to bring the work back to where it started. Employing video is essential to analyzing his actions. Some of the questions he is attempting to answer in dismantling his experiential actions are: how far are they spontaneous? How much do they need to be researched? What might he need to be doing differently?

For him the camera creates a mental view of the studio – it doubles the box of the studio space. As the body repeats movements it mimics the rhythm of machinery. The performer is integral to the scene by being abstracted from it.  The abstraction of his postures allows him to select and combine forms of marks.  He is interested in the ways that spaces can be setup with marks and postures to display the body that is immediate and thing-like – the opposite of being live and viscerally incorporeal. He selects frames from the video footage to repeat and develop these combinations. Robert showed a working drawing with video stills, diagrams and text describing the action that he had written on it. He uses marks like asterisks, periods and brackets as a private code. Drawings down the side of his images explain what the action was – how it developed over the course of the images. Most performances by Robert describe a task. Like an action, a task is significant because it cannot be described as expressing an idea or concept. Documentation helps to rectify this.

Robert’s main question is how it might be possible to put the phenomenological and the intellectual together. If the agency of corporeal gesture has been done away with, the body is in itself irreducible to a higher theoretical schema. Phenomenology demands immediacy of experience for results. For Robert, the artist-researcher is inherently dislocated.

Elizabeth Manchester asked about how Robert negotiates body memory when he is trying to be spontaneous. Also, how does he think about the divide between the conscious and the unconscious in relation to his performances? How can he be conscious but not purposeful?

Sam Burford asked Robert how the research is going forward. Robert answered that is currently writing up and has been talking about the work he has been developing since he began his PhD in 2009. Sam asked if his reflections have been changing since he began? RL replied no, he’s stuck! He feels that his contribution to knowledge through his PhD is like a slight detail in a field – but tiny changes make all the difference – slight nuance details have enormous impact.

Sam commented that RL’s research/practice are very internalized – will RL use his drawings as a way of getting outside his self-reflection? Does he have to keep drawing? Or does he need to stop? RL said that his method of working with mark-making will make him feel he’s drawing differently. He is looking for critical intensity – theoretical sensitivity and intensity and fragility. Can thinking and doing at the same time work?  (Robert referenced a quotation from Alain Badiou, saying that drawing can show a kind of “intensity of fragility”; which for Robert is how thinking is ‘indicated’ as a question in the work – rather than a something ‘sensed’ within the mark or the performer.)

Lee Campbell asked about remembering as a phenomenology – because our bodies are trapped between past and present. He asked RL what the difference between performance and entertainment is for him. RL replied that entertainment provides a heightened experience for the audience. The most successful performance has an effect that is almost unnoticeable but provocational – a downplay of the visceral talk-based fluidity. This only works by removing experiential elements of initial performance – by paring it down.

Angela Hodgson-Teall asked about nonsense. RL replied that he is looking for intelligibility and nonsense simultaneously.

Robert Luzar
is in the 3rd year of a practice-based PhD at Central Saint Martins College of Art. Entitled Drawing Upon Multiplicity... his research combines live-art and conceptual forms of drawing, and attempts to assess the role of a philosophical mode of critical reflection inherent in drawing. Multiplicity is a condition of thought implicit in working, particularly with bodily gestures and marks. It is a term that Robert is articulating artistically to locate the role of (re)-evaluating conditional elements that inform how gesture invokes an act of thought.
Robert’s artworks have been presented through a series of live art events and exhibitions in the UK and Europe, includingThe Open West (2009), and The Creekside Open (2011). Robert has been commissioned to create a durational performance-drawing at the Making Sense conference supported by Jean Luc Nancy (2009), and has participated in group exhibitions such as Can You Here It, curated by Franko B, Nunnery Gallery (2010), and London International, 2011 curated by Edward Lucie Smith (2011).

For the Practice Exchange, Pratap presented The Dance of Ethics in Documentary-Art, a paper exploring the unique power of actuality - what might be called the ‘lightning charge' of documentary and its indexical relationship to life, which raises practice-based ethical questions for the sometimes separate tribes of artists and documentarists. He addressed a vexed question: how to create documentary work where subjects are not physically able to give consent in a form that’s usually understood in academic and documentary contexts? 

Part 1 "The dance of ethics in documentary art"

Pratap is interested in bringing together artists and documentary film makers, who he referred to as separated 'tribes'. In framing his questions about the ethical responsibilities of both artists and documentary filmmakers, he pointed to a wariness amongst documentary film makers to refer to themselves as artists, and a correlative wariness amongst artists, who may worry about the label of documentary film making undermining their artistic freedom and authorship. For him this wariness is instructive - he noted that artistic techniques and framing conventions can be just as mannered as those present in documentary film making.
This tussle offers a way into some of the structural tensions between the 2 'tribes', but this division is eroding. Pratap referred to the film 'Man With a Movie Camera', 1928 which has an ambiguous status as both an art work and a documentary film.

One way the tribes do define themselves, however, is by their respective ethical norms - in some cases, the primacy of aesthetics can be seen as depoliticising. For Pratap, the strongest work inhabits a place where politics & art, ethics & aesthetics meet. He referred to Jacques Ranciere here, whose work speaks to the tension between and possibilities for politics and aesthetics.

Pratap gave several examples of artists such as Mona Hatoum who don't treat their subjects as 'objects'. He noted Isaac Julien's film 'Ten Thousand Waves', shown at Hayward Gallery, in which he displayed thermal imaging footage of cockle picking Chinese immigrant workers who drowned at Morecombe Bay. In this work, the raw records of a tragedy preface highly stylised sequences. He also referred to Amar Kanwar's 'The Lightning Testimonies', 2007, which reflects on a history of conflict in the Indian subcontinent through experiences of sexual violence. These works all raise ethical considerations about how to document the unspeakable.

Susan Sontag's treatment of holocaust imagery raises a question about how much of the work risks re-victimising the victims, and Pratap noted her term'spectators of calamity'.
Some artists have interpreted the gallery as site to rethink the ethics of documentary film. For example, Phil Collins' work 'Shady Lane Productions', 2006, included in the Turner Prize was an installation which included a working film studio. He foregrounded the invisibility of production ethics and recast the ethics of documentary production as exhibition material in its own right.

Part 2 "Documentary and disability; a troubled history"
Pratap is currently working in collaboration with Gideon Koppel on a film whose subject who has an advanced neurological disorder, and is unable to give consent. He has not been able to find many artistic or documentary films engaging with this subject. He showed a clip from Luis Bunuel's 1933 film "Land without bread", the late sequences of which feature a community of people with mental disorders. The film demonstrates an acute alienation from its subjects, particularly in moments when they are referred to as 'village idiots' - hostile shots are calculated to distance audiences from any empathy with the subjects. Pratap asked whether the films' ridicule or contempt undercuts documentary conventions? Although at the time it was made it was banned by both left and right wing authorities, the approach was relatively conventional, and it was common for a lack of empathy to characterise early doc films. It would perhaps have been more shocking to find out how the land actually looked to the subjects. Films such as "Land Without Bread" have become documents of geographical and physical empire - revealing the colonialism of the able bodied aver the disabled. In Post War documentary there are more sympathetic examples, such as in the films of Werner Herzog.

Pratap continued to discuss this issue of consent, quoting the BBC guidelines, which state that consent giving is a 2 stage process, which should be followed both at the recording and the transmission phases of the making of a film.

Pratap introduced Project Artworks, described on their website as follows: 'Through responsive and collaborative practice, Project Art Works conducts a wide range of visual art based projects with people who have profound intellectual disability and multiple impairments. Its work is national, regional and local in its scope and reach.' The organization is artist led, and its programmes embrace and address the social, cultural and political forces that both enable and disable individuals affected by neurological impairment. It plays a leading role in driving forward inclusive collaborative practice, initiating exploratory approaches to diversity and excellence in mainstream visual arts.
Project Artworks' production process refines ideas of the ethics of consent by including notions of 'assent' and 'dissent'. Their films understand that a significant encounter means preparing the grounds for empathic communication. Kate Adams encourages engaging in a realm of 'not knowing' - exploring ethics frame by frame, and letting go of the idea of the omniscient authorial author. For her the 'other' may never be fully deciphered, but some responses may be approximated. Who is the artist here? How does art emerge through relationship?

Pratap finished by showing an excerpt from Gideon Koppel's 2011 short film "A Portrait of Eden". His approach was developed through being with Eden rather than adhering to pre-determined ethical principles. He is cautious about the way Academia approaches ethics - for him its about listening to 'transference dynamics' in the process. He was touched by Eden's sense of being alone in amongst the people helping her or telling her what to do. In response to this he filmed her putting on her slippers alone. 

Key ethical questions:
  • Is there a problem if the potency of actuality becomes just another colour on the artists palette?
  • What is the makers relationship and responsibility to their subjects?
  • What rights and duties obtain as an artwork circulates or becomes a film?
  • When there's a tension between artistic freedom and a subject's response to it, how is this resolved?
The group had a lively discussion following the presentation, with some of the main points outlined below:
Victoria Salmon commented that she had made a film which demanded a similar ethical rigour - in her case the subjects loved film she made, but their carers wanted it to be edited. It comes down to informed consent. Pratap noted that informed consent originates in Nuremberg trials. The BBC and other broadcasting organisations rely on consent forms, but when you move beyond norms to areas which are typically excluded, you have to ask whether a consent form as a tool is too blunt. Can we move to notions of assent and dissent?

Pratap was asked what the difference is between assent, consent, dissent. He said that this was his next paper! But, assent is about configuring relationships - developing a sense of what is ethical via spending time with the subjects.

Scott Schwager commented that the effects of the film may go beyond the immediate release, and asked if this is something Pratap has considered. Pratap noted that he would like to see more broadcast organisations taking a lead and training people to make films using assent and dissent. Scott asked how Pratap thinks the work will impact the subject in the long term - P isn't sure! He needs to stay in relationship and see, but be mindful of key impacts.

The ethical responsibility is to not know - both for the institution and the filmmaker.

Lee Campbell asked about the politics of form and questioned whether Pratap is privileging film, or if he feels there are any particular ethical imperatives which follow from the form? Pratap noted that actuality is a 'lightening rod to reality' - perhaps responsibility and connection flow from that? Lee mentioned Gill Gibbons' "Radical Witness", as a possible reference for Pratap.

Pratap Rughani
is a documentary film director/producer whose work straddles artists' film practice and broadcast contexts, with commissions for the British Council,  Channel 4 and the BBC. His work is wide-ranging, from investigative to observational documentary film and photographic practices. He is interested in developing newer forms of inter-cultural documentary film and cultivating pluralized spaces through which deeper understandings of the relationship between 'self' and 'other' - of ethics and aesthetics - can evolve.  He is course director of MA Documentary Film at LCC. 

Saturday, 5 May 2012

Screening Memories

Deniz Akca: Practice Re-constructed
Dr. Mark Ingham: 120 Days and Nights of STAGGERING + STAMMERING
Date: Wednesday 2nd May 2012, 2-4pm
Venue: Green Room, Chelsea College of Art and Design, Millbank

Present: Deniz Acka, Lee Campbell, Lorrice Douglas, Mark Ingham, Maria Kheirkah,Ope Lori,  Elizabeth Manchester, Charlotte Webb

Deniz Acka, Night Map 2012

Deniz Akca is a full-time research student at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Her practice-led research uses cinematic and animated film to map representations of female identity. She draws on film and architectural space as representations for cultural and sexual identity. Her case study is Istiklal Avenue, one of Istanbul's most famous avenues, surrounded by majestic Ottoman buildings in a range of architectural styles. It is also the historic home to Istanbul's most important cinemas. For the case study she investigates and analyses the photographic and filmic representations of women in this place. Her practice involves transforming her case study into animated image. For this presentation she will talk about how this particular urban space shaped the beginnings of her research practice during her initial training as an architect in Istanbul.

For the Practice Exchange Deniz introduced her research project which entails the mapping of female identity through Turkish film and architecture. The practice of mapping has been influenced by Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film, by Giuliana Bruno as well as the psycho-geographical mapping present in the work of Peter Greenaway.

The site for Deniz's research is Istiklal Avenue, a street in the historic Pera region of Istanbul. Deniz gave some historical background about the development of the regions of Pera & Gerata where Istiklal avenue resides, and which form the borders of her research. She described the development of Ottoman social relations to non-Muslim people living the area, and noted that different social and cultural conventions were played out amongst different social groups. 

The foundations of Turkish cinema were formed close to Istiklal Avenue, and cinema was culturally significant in this area, with the first cinema opening there in 1938. Although Turkish cinema became prominent during the 1950s, Deniz is focusing on films from 1990 to the present. She showed a key photograph from the 1970s, depicting a group of actresses, actors and directors who took to the streets to celebrate the birth of Turkish cinema. 

Deniz is particularly interested in the representation of Istiklal Avenue in the 1993 film Whistle If You Come Back by Orhan Oğuz, which she first saw when she was 9 years old. Whistle if you come back is about the painful lives and struggles of two nameless protagonists - a transvestite and a dwarf who are referred to as 'This and That'. Scenes of exchange between them are shot inside a flat on Istiklal Avenue, the landlady of which is 'Madame Lena', a rich Greek lady from a non-Muslim community. Madame Lena's character is important with regard to the representation of the female identity of Istiklal Avenue. She is isolated from society in the film, and in a real-life reflection of this, Deniz noted that the actresses name was never listed in the cast list of the film. The rights of film belong to ministry of culture of Turkey. 

Madame Lena's identity is unexplored in the film, which provided a space for Deniz to interpret her identity imaginatively in her first animation, a reconstruction of the interior of Madame Lena's flat. Deniz thought of Madame Lena's bedroom as a museum where memories are collected. The architectural space and her objects are used as a representation of her cultural identity.

Films provide the main source material for her research, but Deniz also goes to Istanbul as much as possible to gather images from second-hand book shops and to take her own photographs. She noted that this is not archival research. 

Deniz showed her latest animation, 'Night Map', which she referred to as documentation of 'memory spaces' in Istiklal Avenue. Certain details of the architecture were reconstructed from Deniz's own materials and photographic collections. The animation depicts a fragmented architectural space in which the streets' inhabitants appear and disappear. There is an evocative sound track which comprises sounds of the comings and goings of people and traffic on Istiklal Avenue.


In relation to the Night Map work, Mark was reminded of Deleuze's concept of the crystal image because of how it deals with time and space. As in Deniz's animation, in the crystal image time, space and sound become something we don't expect…

Maria noted that, going back and forth from Iran, she is always struck by sounds and how different they are from sounds in the UK. She commented that the sound performs an important function in Deniz's work. 

Maria asked if there a sense in which Deniz's work represents her own feelings of isolation from Turkey. Deniz doesn't see herself as an outsider, having lived in Istanbul from 2001 - 2007. She described her presence there in the past as an almost disappeared architectural layer - now she is here in the UK, removed from the city, she can look at the city as a research object.

Maria also noted that there seemed to be an element of voyeurism or exoticisation present in the work, though it was noted that it might not be possible to avoid an element of voyeurism.

There was a discussion of the question of absence in Deniz's work - in her first animation she wanted to refer to the absence of the non-Muslim women in Istiklal Avenue, and the absence of Madame Lena's character in the film. In the later work, images of women are used. There was a discussion about how images of women might be utilised by Deniz and what the potential problems are with this - particularly ethical issues surrounding the use of found images of women whose relatives may still be alive. Charlotte noted that the floating ghostly quality of the figures in the Night Map work underlined this sense of disembodiment - of separation from the representation of women from the reality of their lives?

Dr. Mark Ingham, Marilyn Henry and Me 1956-2011

Dr. Mark Ingham is PhD Director of Studies/Supervisor at Wimbledon College of Art, and Principal Lecturer (Masters Programme Leader) in the Communication Media for Design Department at the School of Architecture & Construction, University of Greenwich. For the Practice Exchange, Mark will begin by presenting a short film:

"The young man at the beginning of Andrei Tarkovsky's ‘The Mirror’ stammers and stutters, and then learns not to. My grandmother, Rose-Marie, staggers out of The China Hall Public House, The White Horse Tavern, The Crystal Tavern, The Eagle and never learns. In the icy wastes of the French Alps she dives into freezing lakes. Followed by my grandfather, without a St. Bernard dog for company. ‘Ice, No Brandy’. The very, very, late night Troy Bar in Soho always clings. However far I try and get away from ‘Grey Gardens’ it still tugs me back to 'Tea for Two'. ‘Just tea for two and two for tea Just me for you Just tea for two and two for tea Just me for you.’ Our lives are smeared throughout the world, recalled through disparate, dissolute, fragmentary images, sounds and memories. This becoming can be a start of a conversation."

For the Practice Exchange, Mark began by showing a slideshow of images in order to introduce himself to the audience. This comprised images of his own work in relation to fragments of text from A Thousand Plateaus, by Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari. Mark became enamoured with Deleuze & Guattari when doing his PhD at Goldsmiths. In his work, he is trying to unravel the idea of the rhizome. For TPE he wanted to unpick the first passage in A Thousand Plateaus where the rhizome is described. 

One of the things that appeals to Mark about Deleuze is that he tries to question what thinking is. (Deleuze's PhD included a chapter called 'The Image of Thought'). Deleuze and Guattari want to go against the idea that knowledge is rooted or fixed. They want everything to be connected - they don't want us to be separated - Mark is attempting to reflect on whether he can or has become rhizomatic in his work. It was noted that an attempt to engage an audience by way of metaphor (such as the rhizome) is problematic, because it's easy to start focusing on the images being which can, paradoxically, fix or obstruct the broader conceptual terrain…

Mark showed a series of early works from his BA and MA ranging from large scale wooden structures, to an installation of hanging chairs which he saw as ghosts, to a bin full of garlic, shown at Camberwell college, which made a gallery visitor vomit several times. He mentioned that at this time, he took up contemporary ballet.

He talked about a Henry Moore fellowship undertaken from 1985-1986, during which he was putting objects in trees, and described a desire to escape his own 'artschoolness'. He wanted to avoid making things that looked too conspicuously like 'art', and to resist art's imperative for signification.
In a later series of work, he started to trace his genealogy through his grandfather's slide collection, tracing over many overlayered slides to create densely layered drawings.

Mark's presentation can be seen in full here:
Mark then showed a more recent work: '120 days and nights of STAGGERING and STAMMERING', a video work which can be seen here: 

Mark said he feels trapped by making art - though this is not necessarily a bad thing, as making art can be truly liberating. There was a connection between Deleuze's desire to resist signification and Mark's desire to resist the conventions of art production.

Deniz was interested that Mark talked about education - she is from an architectural background, and expected that art would be a 'free space'! That it is seen as so bound by conventions and aesthetic boundaries was a surprise to her.

Charlotte felt that her life as an artist is also characterised by the feeling of being trapped - again, she does not feel this is necessarily completely negative, but rather provides something to push away from in developing her practice. 

There was significant discussion of the computer generated voiceover in the film, which is created using a read out loud text to speech tool in Adobe Acrobat. The voice had a quality of chanting or incantation, and it was sometimes difficult or impossible to understand what was being said. Mark said that he wanted to avoid having a conventional narrative, using his own voice. There was a simultaneous desire to articulate a practice and be voiceless…

Lorrice was struck by the performative nature of the work, and saw Mark's practice as trying to perform Deleuze, or embody a Deleuzian approach.

Charlotte enjoyed the fact that the temporal status of 120 days and nights of STAGGERING and STAMMERING was difficult to pin down - was it documentation of a show, was it a proposal for a show, did it look into the past or future? There were seen to be similarities between Mark and Deniz's work in this regard.

Elizabeth liked the fact that in the first part of the presentation, there were some linguistic slippages between the texts on the screen and the way Mark read them - this was pertinent to the idea of stammering...

Saturday, 21 April 2012

The Practice Exchange: Feminine narratives – Pink and red

Gill Addison, Maria Kheirkhah and Alia Syed 
Date: Wednesday 25th April 2012, 2-5pm
Venue: Centre Space, London College of Fashion, John Princes St.

Present: Gill Addison, Deniz Akca, Donna Barnett, Lee Campbell, Leonie Cronin, Emma Doubell, Lorrice Douglas, Caroline Halliday, Kiera James, Maria Kheirkhah, Catherine Long, Ope Lori, Elizabeth Manchester, Sarah Rhodes, Alia Syed and Mo Throp.

The session began with the screening of three films: a 20-minute section of Alia’s double-screen work Wallpaper, Maria’s animated triptych In Love with a Red Wall (2012), and Gill’s 35min film Talked about Pink (2011). Each artist then gave a short talk on their film, before discussing the films together in a more general way and responding to questions from the audience. 

Alia Syed’s film Wallpaper shows four generations of women in Alia’s family taking turns in painting around the outlines of a shadow cast by a leaf held up next to a red wall using gold paint. As one person paints, another directs, filming the activity using a 16mm camera. The person filming is also visible because the event was being documented by video. This results in the double screen format. During the process the dynamics of family relationships emerge as mothers and daughters exchange the role of director and painter. Everybody contributes. Fragments of narrative emerge through conversations between the family members whilst negotiating the filmic process. The section that we saw highlighted issues of what can be seen through a focus on reflections in a mirror and Alia’s grandmother’s interest in the way the camera worked.

Alia explained that Wallpaper came out of a commission the Glynn Vivian Art Gallery in Swansea who asked her to make a film about Swansea. Alia was born there and her grandmother still lives there. She first planned to make a film about her grandmother twenty years ago when she interviewed her and recorded their conversation. These interviews concentrated on her grandmother’s migration from a small mining village to the big metropolis of Swansea before the Second World War. She also had many memories of what happened there during the war. Alia had thought that the film would stimulate her grandmother’s memories but her grandmother become more involved in the film-making process. In her late forties Alia’s grandmother had painted her front room a deep intense pink with gold leaf designs. This ‘wall painting’ became part of the family mythology. Alia had always imagined her using a candle to cast the shadow and gold paint but in fact she had used yellow paint. When Alia’s daughter was about six, her grandmother painted over her wallpaper with pale blue. Alia intended the film to allow the different memories within the family to emerge, She initially intended only to use the 16mm footage – but had decided that the combination of two different technologies and their different ways looking made the film more interesting.

Maria Kheirkhah’s In Love with a Red Wall is made up three photographs of the artist interacting with a red wall – touching it and appearing to address it, reading from text on paper that she is holding in front of it. Maria is wearing black and her head is covered by a black shawl. The wall is so intensely red that her bare flesh is coloured by it. Maria explained that her photographs are about her attempt to communicate with the wall in the absence of a voice and a dialogue. The piece is multilayered and the wall represents many things – her desire for it reflects an illusion about what the wall might be and her position in response to it.
She was using this as an argument in relation to her PhD research into the Muslim diasporic female figure. As an Iranian woman, Maria was thinking about the absence of her own voice within a Western context. She read out an interview which was conducted by Rachel Garfield about Maria’s work and about the double influence in her work – both that of Iran and the UK – thinking about whether narratives are translatable as they move back and forth. RG had asked how an audience can understand the images as a direct commentary. MK replied that the colours red and black were important in their symbolism – for love, passion, death. But they are multilayered – they do not have universal cultural significance.
Gill Addison’s film Talked about Pink documents the artist’s mother and two sisters talking about their makeup habits and history. Gill films them and asks them questions off camera, probing their memories of how they first learned to apply makeup and how much her sisters might have learned from their mother. Gill explained the origins of her film – the difference between her expectation of the work and what actually happens. She felt that what came out most strongly was an exposure of class issues and the complexity of perceptions of femininity and how it is expressed and projected. The viewer is given access to a private ritual exposing how the three women in Gill’s family use makeup. She filmed them in natural light, in the place where they normally apply their makeup, because it was important that they should be at ease. She felt that the film challenged perceptions of femininity showing a troubled relationship to class aspirations. It also revealed aspects of the relations between members of the family, in particular their resistance to Gill’s attempts to direct their responses to her questions – their willfulness. 

The three presenters then discussed the issues around using their family in their work – the responsibilities they have to their family and making them vulnerable, and the impossibility of avoiding this. Gill commented on the significance of looking and using different technologies in Alia’s film. Alia said that her family was used to her and her sister making films. An audience member asked Alia how she prepared her family for five days’ filming.

Alia expected her grandmother to tell her stories during the film, as she tells them frequently – but it turned out that this was the one time she didn’t. Alia was anxious about how the tensions in the family were going to come out – there were so many stories to narrate about family trauma – she didn’t want to stage anything but to allow things to emerge.
Maria asked her how democratic the process was – Alia replied that it was empowering – her eleven year old daughter films too.

Mo Throp asked how much the viewer becomes a voyeur in all three films – in relation to films by Chantal Ackerman and Mona Hatoum. AS replied that for her there are three presences in documentary/film-making – the subject of the documentary, the audience and what is outside of both. In her film there is a hall of mirrors effect as each generation mirrors the previous one.
MK commented that for her voyeurism is related to the naked body. Mo explained that she was thinking of reality tv – allowing the camera into one’s own home.

Sarah Rhodes asked Gill whether she is going to develop the many questions that her film opens up. Gill responded that it is part of an ongoing study of troubled femininity, her own attempts to find out where she is in relation to femininity, perceptions of class and knowledge about that. She finds the issues of subjectivity and class very difficult. Significantly perhaps she could only make the film after her father died.

Alia was asked about the significance of the camera’s presence in her film. She replied that the film documents the process of the family members learning how to deal with the situation. The video footage was brought in afterwards. How each person chose to film her mother/daughter is important in the play between subject and object.

EM asked MK about the significance of the pieces of text in her film. MK replied that they symbolize the impossibility of language to communicate. GA commented that the red silences narratives – it colours everything except the body shrouded by black. Red as resistance – demanding us not to go there. The issue of the impossibility of language to communicate makes reference to an intellectual component which is problematic in relation to the near Eastern female body.

A question was asked in relation to the shifting intention of the films and how they were transformed during the editing processes. GA responded that from her film she had ended up with social documentary material that she had put on one side. AS responded that she first hated the footage after it had been developed. She put it on one side for two years before making the film. It was very important that she allowed the material to speak to her rather than contriving in her usual way with set constructs. She made the work in order to deal with issues of the gaze – she was thinking about how the gaze is directed and what tactics she should use for dealing with this openness to look/listen beyond the constructed context.

Mo commented that there are texts by Judith Butler and Toni Morrison that suggest that it is language itself that resolves this. 

Gill Addison is an artist-filmmaker and academic. Her research and practice negotiate memory, the archive and event in the context of the auto-ethnographic. Central to her video work has been a critical and formal examination of the filmic essay. The film she will present, Talked about Pink (2011 UK  35mins), examines ways in which the feminine is viewed and understood in the context of familial relations. ‘I was about 12 years old when Rimmel stopped production of the lipstick Talked about Pink. This was the lipstick my mother had worn all my life. It had a distinctive perfume, taste and vivid colour, it was more than just a lipstick, it was a key to becoming your own woman.’

Addison’s films and collaborations have been screened national and internationally at film festivals and screening centers. She was commissioning editor of Art in Sight/Filmwaves 2003-08, and is a Senior Lecturer in Fine Art at Chelsea College of Art and Design. Gill is a member of the Subjectivity and Feminisms Research group

Maria Kheirkhah is an artist and second year part-time PhD student at Chelsea College of Art and design. Her practice-led research looks into subjective feminine spaces specific to the Middle Eastern diasporic woman through the particularities of her characterization, image and voice in fiction, and the subsequent emergence of her representation within the context of contemporary popular culture.

Kheirkhah was born and raised in the North of Iran and first traveled to the UK in 1979 where she pursued her art education. She subsequently returned to Iran in 1988, teaching at two major universities in Tehran, Alzahra University and The Academy of Arts. Since her relocation to the UK in the early 1990s she has exhibited extensively both in the UK and internationally. She is currently Assistant Professor at Richmond The American International University in London and a board member of the 198 Gallery in London. In this presentation Kheirkhah will be looking at the different possibilities of an emerging voice.

Alia Syed is an experimental filmmaker exploring issues of identity and representation. Her work investigates the ways in which language and form both define cultural borders and extend beyond them. Interrogating story telling, time and memory, her practice incorporates ways in which various orthodoxies of experimental filmmaking expand the contemporary arena of the gallery; in particular she looks at the means by which narrative and notions of the edit translate through various viewing contexts.

Syed will present Wallpaper, a performative documentary spanning four generations of women. It explores the emergence of intergenerational relationships through the recreation of a wall painting that the artist’s grandmother made. The film was commissioned by Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, with financial assistance from Arts Council Wales.

Syed is currently an Associate Lecturer at Southampton Solent University. Her most recent film Priya was included in On Line: Drawing Through the Twentieth Century at MoMA, Museum of Modern Art in New York in 2010-11. She had a solo exhibition at the Reina Sophia Museum of Contemporary Art, Madrid, entitled Imagine your own history in 2009.