RESEARCH: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

“The distinguishing features if film lie not only in the way in which man presents himself to the camera, but in how using the camera, he presents his surroundings to himself.”

In both the work of Joseph an Viola, both touching on universal questions around the nature of the human condition, there is the sense that not only is each artist using the medium to search for answers, but that the

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Inspiration Session 2: Cinema of Transgression

The Cinema of Transgression Manifesto by Nick Zedd, 1985, ‘The Underground Film Bulletin’:

“We who have violated the laws, commands and duties of the avant-garde; i.e. to bore, tranquilize and obfuscate through a fluke process dictated by practical convenience stand guilty as charged. We openly renounce and reject the entrenched academic snobbery which erected a monument to laziness known as structuralism and proceeded to lock out those filmmakers who possesed the vision to see through this charade.

“We refuse to take their easy approach to cinematic creativity; an approach which ruined the underground of the sixties when the scourge of the film school took over. Legitimising every mindless manifestation of sloppy movie making undertaken by a generation of misled film students, the dreary media arts centres and geriatic cinema critics have totally ignored the exhilarating accomplishments of those in our rank – such underground invisibles as Zedd, Kern, Turner, Klemann, DeLanda, Eros and Mare, and DirectArt Ltd, a new generation of filmmakers daring to rip out of the stifling straight jackets of film theory in a direct attack on every value system known to man.

We propose that all film schools be blown up and all boring films never be made again. We propose that a sense of humour is an essential element discarded by the doddering academics and further, that any film which doesn’t shock isn’t worth looking at. All values must be challenged. Nothing is sacred. Everything must be questioned and reassessed in order to free our minds from the faith of tradition. Intellectual growth demands that risks be taken and changes occur in political, sexual and aesthetic alignments no matter who disapproves. We propose to go beyond all limits set or prescribed by taste, morality or any other traditional value system shackling the minds of men. We pass beyond and go over boundaries of millimeters, screens and projectors to a state of expanded cinema.

“We violate the command and law that we bore audiences to death in rituals of circumlocution and propose to break all the taboos of our age by sinning as much as possible. There will be blood, shame, pain and ecstasy, the likes of which no one has yet imagined. None shall emerge unscathed. Since there is no afterlife, the only hell is the hell of praying, obeying laws, and debasing yourself before authority figures, the only heaven is the heaven of sin, being rebellious, having fun, fucking, learning new things and breaking as many rules as you can. This act of courage is known as transgression. We propose transformation through transgression – to convert, transfigure and transmute into a higher plane of existence in order to approach freedom in a world full of unknowing slaves.”

Research: Aesthetics and Subjectivity from Kant to Nietzsche

New edition to take into consideration neo-hegelianism (the decline of an idealistic school of philosophers in the UK 1870 – 1920, who looked to Hegel for inspiration) – sought to give expression to a widely felt apathy to prevailing materialism (the idea that all facts are dependent on the physical) and utilitarianism (the idea that actions are deemed right if they promote happiness in the performer and those externally effected).

Aesthetics is a branch of philosophy that explores the nature of art, beauty, and taste, with the creation and appreciation of beauty.

Beginning in the middle of the 18th century, from the end of the 19th Century it saw a radical transformation between art and the rest of philosophy, related to the production and reception of music.

Before this, Decartes positions ‘I Think” at the centre of philosophical thought, though still relying on God.

At the end of the 18th century, Kant intends to say the only certainty  philosophy can provide is grounded in ourselves, but makes connection between that and the outside world through the study of what makes us as individuals appreciate and create beauty

Development in ‘aesthetic autonomy’, whereby works of art entail freely produced rules that do not apply to any other natural or human product.

‘Absolute music’, music without words, becomes important in musical praxis in philosophical reflection upon the significance of art as a means of understanding the self. The entire of our self-understanding cannot be understood fully my discursive articulation alone – “if all we are can be stated in words, why does our being also need to be articulated in music, as every known human culture seems to suggest.”

The importance attributed to art in the 18th century coincides with the decline of theology and disintegration of theologically legitimated social orders.

Even though artworks do become commodities, neither their use-value nor their value as commodity constitutes them as works of art.

 

Research: Kahlil Joseph (Texts)

I have decided upon a second artist whose work I can compare with Bill Viola’s. Initially I had thought to choose someone whose work is primarily made for online, using the language of the internet, but my personal interest in Kahlil Joseph and the relevance of where his work lies in relation to my own seemed more useful. Also, though it means there is less reference material to draw from, I thought it interesting to look to a relatively new artist whose was, until very recently, not as instantly recognised as an artist in the way Viola or other artists may have been, in that his entrance into the art world was through a side door of sorts.

Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play at New Museum

“In his absorbing short films Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Kahil Joseph (b. 1981 Seattle, WA) conjures the lush and impressionistic quality of dreams with particular reverence for quotidian moments and intimate scenes. Music always figures centrally in Joseph’s works, and sounds reverberate as vital powerful analogies for the play of images through which he chronicles the stores and rhythms of his subjects. As much as they plumb the history of cinema and moving images, Joseph’s films also find a parallel in the lyricism, complexity, and affective power of black musical traditions.

“In Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play, his first solo presentation in New York, Joseph debuts Fly Paper (2017), a new film installation that departs from his admiration of the work of Roy DeCarava (1919 – 2009), a photographer and artist known for his images of celebrated jass musicians and everyday life in Harlem. With Fly Paper, Joseph extends DeCarava’s virtuosity with chiaroscuro effects to the moving image and brings together a range of film and digital footage to contemplate the dimensions of past, present and future in Harlem and New York City. Joseph’s new film also touches on themes of filiation, influence, and legacy, marking a personal reckoning that intuitively calls upon his connections to the city through his family – and in particular, his late father, whom he cared for in Harlem at the end of hs life. Fly Paper’s dynamic yet contemplative mood also builds on Joseph’s sense that layers of lived experience – and stories – are sedimented in the places that have played host to the aspirations and daily lives of countless individuals as much as it engages Joseph’s relationship to an accomplished community of black artists, writers, actors, and musicians who call New York home. Through various references to literature and narration, Fly Paper also probes the ways in which the literary imagination parallels that of film and how the ordinary act of storytelling shapes larger histories and enduring myths.

“With its dexterous ambiguities in narrative and its heterogenous depictions of Harlem, Joseph’s film takes measure of depths and nuances that are often invisible or oversimplified. Fly Paper also moves beyond the visible by expanding Joseph’s practice into sound, unfolding a complex acoustic environment in which sonic textures and original compositions resonate throughout the exhibition space. As a rich and polyphonic portrait of black art and culture in New York City, Fly Paper invites meditation on the slippery nature of memory, reverie and the photographic image.”

Kahlil Joseph: Shadow Play is curated by Natalie Bell, [New Museum] Assistant Curator, and Massimiliano Gioni, Edlis Neeson Artistic Director. Fly Paper is produced in collaboration with the Vinyl Factory.


 

Like Viola’s work, Joseph’s taps into the viewers emotion in an almost primal way.

The organ music applied by Joseph throughout is reminiscentof religious ritual worship.

Where Viola uses mythic figures or those that seem without character, Joseph uses  faces of the everyday, anonymous but witha ense of familiarity, bodies the viewer is invites to project themselves onto. Joseph’s work also embody a sense of place, here New York City, where Viola’s almost always appear in a contextless, black infinity.

Rather than interesting into space, Joseph’s installation is immersive. Viewers sit on the floor or stand leaning against pillars, enveloped by nothing but darkness and the occasional flicker of light on the face of another viewer.

 

 

 

Research: Bill Viola (Texts)

I’ve decided to focus on the work of Bill Viola, since his work is of interest to me, but he exists as a fairly solid example of a video artist with a long and fairly consistent practice.

The Art of Bill Viola by Chris Townsend

“Viola’s work… is capable f grabbing its audience without platidunous explanation: it works on you at a visceral level. You have to see it.” 10

“Viola’s strategy is largely at odds with the dominant tenets of the institutional forces.” p11

“…one feature of the allure of modernity is a lessening of critical attentiveness and that this diminution of attention goes hand in hand with the emergence of spectacular technologies.”

“What all these (video) artists are doing is reinvesting the work of art with presence,  with what Walter Benjamin called ‘aura’.”

The Art of Bill Viola by Cynthia Freeland

(On Viola’s work and the sublime Burke and Kant) “A philosophical inquiry into the origin of our ideas of The Sublime and The Beautiful”  E. Burke 1990

SIDE: To appropriately question this requires comparison of the works of two artists, but also the comparison of several works of each artist in different contexts, and the same works seen in different contexts.

The Art of Bill Viola by Otto Neumaier

“It is impossible to grasp such a work of art in its temporal totality because its relationship to the exhibition of pictures induces us to assume that it can be grasped just by ‘glancing at it’.”

“It seems that we are more willing to take into account the temporal dimension of video works if we view them on a TV,” an idea which extends rather neatly to the internet, viewed on a small, and ever smaller, screen.

“In addition to attentiveness, we must be ready to let the work have an effect upon us… this takes time… it [may b] necessary to devote oneself to a work more than once, and to deal with its relation to other works.”

Video Black by Bill Viola

Making a comparison to art of the past – Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions – whereby the intended outcome is for a piece to become an icon, implies an immediacy of receptive understanding.

“The presence of art critics was not required since devotees knew immediately at first glance whether the work in question qualified [as iconic].”

SIDE: Look to Benjamin at the art object’s ‘aura’, Nietsche and replacing religion with art.

Wrecked: Online Edit

I’ve been asked to make a shorter version of my piece Wrecked to be able to show on an online platform. The instructions were simply to shorten the film, specifically make longer shots shorter to align with online viewing behaviours. It’s left me to consider, though, how I might differently tell the story, rethink the structure and content, at least a little, to incorporate some of the information that I’ve used other media in the gallery to communicate, notably the printed and redacted coastguard notes and photo Zine.

My first thought is to use the remaining text, i.e. that which wasn’t redacted, to create a card to introduce the ship – either placed at the beginning so viewers can immediately understand the context, or somehow include later on – or perhaps two cards. The first would introduce the ship and the latter, placed at the end, acting as a reveal: the ship poses no threat to life on the island, despite the opinion of those living there.

I also thought about other ways of communicating this information, perhaps a voiceover, though there’s he worry that might interfere with the tone of the first section.

Wrecked Installation

Having organised the space with the rest of the MA first year class I have a space in the corner of the room that includes an old Belfast sink – something I thought might be an interesting thing to throw in giving the nature of the work – that allows the square footage immediately around the sink and the two adjacent walls. After some experimenting with the space I’ve decided on a few things:
I am resting a projector on a plinth I have painted black that projects my video directly above the sink, the frame width matching the width of the sink base and splash back tiles. 
As it currently stands the projection is slightly too low meaning the image is interfered with by the taps. While considering how best to inject more context about the wreckage itself into the piece I had been trawling through all of the coastguard reports on the site, which it has occurred to me, printed, the combined documents provide just enough height when stacked to elevate the projector to the right height to miss the taps. I’m considering painting the edges of the paper black to match the plinth, a subtle nod to the colouring of the film. 
A large still from the film made of 9 xerox printed A3 pages that I was planning on showing alongside the work I am now considering omitting from the piece as the projector set up is beginning to feel like quite a nice self-contained installation of sorts, and the large size of the print is distracting and makes the corner seem unconsidered and unnecessarily busy. 
I’ve been thinking about a way to incorporate the sink into the whole piece, since it’s now an unmissable part of it. Similar to above, and to replace the missing reference to the blackness of the water in the print, I want to fill the sink with water blackened with the paint used to make the plinth so it mirrors, in the space, what’s seen throughout the video, a kind of ever-present reminder of both its literal subject and my feelings behind it. I also might experiment with layering the surface of the water with something – maybe black spray paint – to add another element to the visual.
On the floor between the projector and sink I’m also going to place a small round stool, painted the same colour as the plinth, where I’ll place around 50 (some may need to spill out onto the floor, maybe in messy knocked-over piles) of the A6 zine I’m making. I now see this being a mixture of stills from the video, my own photos and found images from the boat report, specifically the 3D images and sonar scans that have some of the same grit and darkness to them as the film, especially when printed out in xerox black and white. 
As I’m keen for the video to be seen. By as many people as possible and know the restrictions of access to the exhibition, but don’t want to waste any opportunity to premiere on an external platform, I am also going to make he video available to view on on the video page of a new website portfolio I am making for my work, but not during the hours the exhibition is open. After the show is over I will either take the video down completely or replace with stills. 

WRECKED WIP II

With a basic structure in place – Introductory landscape shots that give a sense of the space, ones that I’ve deiced to place as half mini DV, half SLR-shot diptychs, for a balance of beauty of photography and energy; rougher,  candid iPhone-shots of the community, again placed as a triptych so the result os more a barrage and overall view of island life; DV-shot interview footage telling the oral history of the wreckage; footage of a boat journey to the site of the wreckage – and a rough plan of how to best manipulate the footage to change the overall tone of the piece, namely dark, desaturated colouring and a booming drone soundtrack made of manipulated incidental sound, I am now unsure how to best communicate the narrative and purpose of the piece. I have been happy for previous work to exist as is, and for any meaning imbued remain unclear, but for some reason with this piece, the meaning seems so pertinent but easily missed or misunderstood.

I’ve considered the use of a voiceover, perhaps something taken from some further interviews I plan to do, perhaps to include interview via phone, skype, etc. or even a scripted voiceover, either could be included in the print zine, though I’d need to find the best way of doing this without ruining the look of the thing. A part of me, however, thinks this might be my experience of digital engagement with online video creeping in. Another option might be to include a short piece of text to give context and include this as a card on the film as well as in a print zine, perhaps very small and only at the beginning, end or both.

As for the overall exhibition/display of work I’ve decided to attempt to cover all bases I hope to explore through my final project: a physical piece that exists within the gallery space in the form of a wall print made of 9 xeroxed A3 sheets, a physical takeaway in the form of an 24-page A6 photo book, and a digital element, whereby for the hours that the exhibition doors are open, I will have the video playing on loop on a new website (that will also act as a new portfolio, since I still have to be a grown up and do that.)

The Stanford Prison Experiment

In the spirit of spontaneity, as below, I undertook an impulsive approach to research this morning. Visiting Camberwell to collect something briefly, I decided to look at the CD section of the charity shops on my way to college and select the first album that stood out to me: a self-titled album by California pop-punk band Stanford Prison Experiment, named after an experiment conducted by psychologist Philip Zimbardo in 1971 to investigate the psychological effects of perceived power, focusing on the struggle between prisoners and prison guards, and named as such after the band’s lead saw a video of the experiment while working in the audiovisual department of UCLA.

 

Immediate thought jumps to the strange, once-removed nature of namesake projects such as this, and the relationship between the experiment and the final product, and so continued the happenstance research into the original, leading first to this documentary video.

This short documentary shows Limbardo explaining the orchestration of a mock prisoner / guard situation in the basement of the university, and the construction of a strange, almost clichéd guard character — complete with mirrored aviators — that would seem ridiculous in even a narrative movie.

The video touches on the well-known Milgram experiment on obedience to authority, which saw participants willing to put others in pain when commanded — or have responsibility taken away from them — by a figure of authority. The Stanford experiment looked further into the acquisition of roles, an idea set up by the Milgram experiment’s teacher-pupil set up, whereby those in positions of power and authority — the guards— independently came to behave in ways that would humiliate and dehumanise those in the prisoner role. Interestingly it also touches on the separate but connected role of those involved AS participants, subjects with independent thought acknowledging their part in the system the experiment had fabricated, and indeed that it WAS a fabrication, and how they used this as a means of manipulating factors to achieve a desired, or perceived desired, outcome.

Obviously intended as a microcosm of wider societal power structures, the latter point — of participants knowledge and even acknowledgement of the existence and make up of particular structures, and the part they play in those structures — is vital when considering something like a catalyst for change. It reminds me of a point made in conversation between documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis and comedian Russell Brand in a podcast last week, that the mass population simply don’t have time outside of work, family commitments, to educate themselves as to the position they find themselves in. A similar point to one i highlighted recently by Susan Sontag about the philistinism of wider society. The message from Curtis, one mentioned numerous times during this and other conversations, was that it was the journalist or documentary filmmaker’s job to consume this information, and distil it into a digestible narrative. By doing so, and by making it entertaining, the audience would be more willing to watch, engage and even consider things much more complex or even horrific than they would any other way.