Fig 1. The Practice Exchange 4: Leap into the Unknown
Present: Sonia Boyce | Jennet Thomas | Gerard Choi | Ana Laura Lopez de la Torre | Scott Schwager | Angela Hodgson | Ope Lori | Maria Christoforatou | Keira Green | Sam Nicholson | Chris Hopkins | TK Roberts | Lucinda Evans | Simon Cunningham | Tanya Morozova | Ana Aguiar
Apologies: Samantha Epps | Aaron McPeake | Marsha Bradfield | Caroline Rabourdin | Charlotte Webb
Ana Laura introduced the session by explaining briefly the history of TPE and summarising some of the key ideas discussed in our previous seminar. (You can read the summary notes by clicking here).
Fig 2. The Purple Preacher - All suffering soon to end by Jennet Thomas
The film was inspired by an evangelical pamphlet put through Jennet’s door. She’s very interested in religion though she’s an atheist. Jennet is fascinated by the schizophrenia of Jehovah Witness texts. Working from the impossibility of improving such “cultural artefacts,” she developed a story mixing mythologies from religion and popular culture, around the idea of the stranger that calls at your door. She created a character that is a hybrid of an evangelical creature and a super hero (Purple Man from Marvel Comics whose superpower is that of persuasion). A close friend of Jennet’s plays this role in the film. Shot at her parents’ house, the film tells the story of an innocent couple whom the strange visitor drags into a strange world. Contemporary hip hop/dance music overlay’s the protagonist’s (purple preacher’s) monologue; he proselytises on inclusive global values, hunger, earthquakes and terrorism. Jennet’s film connects the idea of the stranger coming into your house “to instruct you” with the trope of the reality-TV expert telling you how to decorate / improve / organise your home and life. Two Adam and Eve-like dolls evolve into life-size living figures over the course of the film. As they transform, the preacher chants: “Who has the right to rule, whose rule is right?”.
Fig 3. Parents as actors - All suffering soon to end by Jennet Thomas
You can find out more about Jennet Thomas work in the following websites:
Video Data bank - Go to Artists index and look under T for Thomas
Fig 4. Ope Lori,Maria Christoforatou, Scott Schwager.
Sonia’s work often happens in response to an invitation or commission from an institution. Her ability to engage with specific communities has been an important basis for being commissioned in the past. She frequently works in collaboration, as was the case of Oh Adelaide, which was created with sound artist Ain Bailey. (We had an opportunity to view the Oh Adelaide exhibition before the seminar).
Sonia thinks about participation and collaboration in an expanded sense: her work involves draws on other people’s knowledge and expertise. She provides a framework for people to share their knowledge with the view of feeding her projects with new information and understanding. In this way, she is a kind of conduit knowledge sharing and transfer. How does knowledge find expression in a document / a collection / an archive? As cultural artefacts, expressions of knowledge can be put into circulation for the benefit of others.
Sonia showed us part of Documenting a project by Sonia Boyce, where she discusses her process of working with collaborators in For you, you only, a project made in Oxford. For this project, Sonia collaborated with an early renaissance choir and a contemporary sound artist. She is interviewed about her practice and explains that she likes inviting people to do something they already know how to do. Collaboration often entails working with differences. As the artist facilitating the collaboration, bringing others in and asking / letting them get on with it creates tension around Sonia’s role. What role, for instance, does she play as a non-musician in a film about music? There is a dual-position of being a director and not being a director at the same time. Her role was not clear until the end of the film, when she struggles with the final outcome and eventually makes a decision. Someone in the TPE seminar observed the following about the film: The physical layout of the film set, the position of the performers and of Sonia as the director – these aspects intimated and/or reproducing the dynamics of the collaboration process in a provocative way.
Sonia introduced a very recent film she made in Cordoba, Argentina, during a one month residency that was part of AFUERA, a large art in public spaces project, curated by Gerardo Mosquera. Her original proposal was to work with a choir in a busy public space, the central bus station. Singers would start singing in different spaces / times for an unaware audience. Once in Cordoba, however, she realised it would be really difficult to organise this kind of performance in such short time. Deciding to conduct further research, Sonia visited the Museo de la Memoria (Museum of Memory) located in a former clandestine detention centre and learned more about Cordoba. In this relatively small city, 45,000 people had been killed or disappeared during ten years of military dictatorship. Sonia was gripped by this horror and felt compelled to produce an artwork that responded to the legacy of this disappearance. She proposed to a local choirmaster that he bring his choir to the Museum to sing to the building, to the photographs of the dead and disappeared. Sonia also invited the public to come along on the day of filming and take part. It was a risky proposition; she had no idea who would turn up or how they would react to the situation she had set up. She had to work very quickly, and make decisions on the spot. The film was edited in just a few days and was shown as part of the festival.
Sonia’s unscripted film relies on improvisation, with the narrative taking shape through post-production editing. If storyboarding helped the artist anticipate some of the demands of filming on site, clear instructions to the film crew made the shoot more cohesive.
Themes and questions to take forward:
Different types of collaboration. Collaborating as realising your vision alongside someone with a similar investment in art practice versus collaborating with someone who shares your world-view but a very different skill set. What cultural capital is generated in collaboration and how do the different people involved access and use it? Crediting, authorship and ownership are all complex issues that reflect on who benefits from collaboration, and how.
Artists making films without having trained as filmmakers. Should they train, or is there some value in that lack of “expertise”? Using the medium in a different way, perhaps in a more material way, more visual than narrative, with more work done in postproduction than in early stages of scripting.
The discomfort in the power relationships the camera produces, who is looking and who is being looked at. The importance of trust among collaborators / participants. An interest in “affective” practice, where people are in the film because they want to be there, and because they are doing something they are comfortable with or they are good at doing.