Monday, 29 November 2010

Contact Sheet for Images So Far

This is a really helpful way of seeing clearly the changes I need to make in order to make this work as a more cohesive project. Colour corrections aside there are clearly issues of framing and composition that need to be tweaked. I must become more specific in my method.

The Erotic Mirror: Four Female Photographers Turn Their Naked Eyes on Themselves

There are some incredible images in here, and I think it is a great concept.

Zero Degrees

Just watched the whole recording of this via a friend at the Uni here who is really interested in dance. I was spellbound the whole way. I can't say what relevance this has to any of my current projects in particular, more perhaps that is has relevance to everything I like to think about in terms of making work. A beautiful collaboration between two incredible dancers Akram Khan and Sidi Larbi, the musician Nitin Sawhney who I adore and Turner Prize winner Anthony Gormley has contributed the staging - two life-size casts of the dancers. Mesmerising. Would have given a lot to have seen this live. It explores the idea of boundaries, between cultures and countries, most importantly between life and death. My friend who introduced me to this described a review which summarises the whole thing perfectly, saying it "expresses the chaos of the human soul".

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Project two - Dan

The Portrait and The Sublime

What follows is some musings about the relevance of the principles of my portraiture project to the concept of the sublime, as described by Lyotard in The Lyotard Reader, Blackwell Pulblishers, 1993 and based on my own engagement with the ideas of presence and awareness which form the basis of how I engage with each subject in the studio in creating this work.

Barnett Baruch Newman was one of the first artists to re-engage with the concept of the sublime in the early sixties when he produced three sculptures entitled Here I, Here II and Here III. He also painted canvases called Vir Herocious Sublimis and 'Not over there, Here', 'Now' and 'Be' and wrote an essay entitled The Sublime is Now. Art critic and commentator Thomas Hess wrote that the 'Now' Newman was concerned with was that of the Hebraic tradition, the there, the site, the unknowable. Lyotard in 'The Sublime and the Avant Garde' writes;

"Newman's now which is no more than now, is a stranger to consciousness and cannot be constituted by it. Rather, it is what dismantles consciousness, what deposes consciousness, it is what consciousness cannot formulate, and even what consciousness forgets in order to constitute itself. What we do not manage to formulate is that something happens."

This thing that happens or occurrence which the philosopher Marin Heidegger called ein Ereignis, is a difficult term to define in practice. A recent translation of the word by Kenneth Maly and Parvis Emad renders the word as "enowning"; in connection with things that arise and appear, that they are arising 'into their own'. Thought is an obstacle to experiencing this now, this arising 'into their own' and must be disarmed. It is a barrier between the pure subjective experience and the event itself. If thinking is dominant, if the occurrence is being analysed as it is experienced, it is not being experienced in it's entirety. Kant takes this idea further when he claims that this agitation of the mind, referring to the activity of judgement by the cognitive facilities, is only possible if something remains to be determined. As a relationship to time it presupposes that after each event, each theory, each work of art, each sentence; another follows. There is more to know, to develop, to create. But what about the possibility of nothing happening? With this concept the first link to Sunyata, or emptiness is seen, which forms the origin of this project.

The possibility of nothing happening, of suspense and waiting has been given a predominantly negative value in modern discourse and is associated with feelings of anxiety. But as Lyotard points out it can also be associated with pleasure in welcoming the unknown and joy in the intensification of being that the event brings with it. It is a contradictory feeling in which the event or occurrence discussed above, the 'it happens' becomes a question, 'is it happening?'. The mark of the question according to Lyotard is "the 'Now', now like the feeling that nothing might happen: the nothingness now". It is the basic fundamental boredom and familiar anxiety that anyone who has sat a Vispassana retreat knows only too well, as the habitually agitated mind settles into a more alert and present state. We have arrived at the Sublime, the name given to this pleasure/pain, joy/anxiety dichotomy in the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe.

When Newman therefore sought sublimity in the here and now he was seeking to bear pictorial or otherwise expressive witness to the inexpressible. Quoting Lyotard again, "the inexpressible does not reside in an over there, in another words, or another time, but in this; in that (something) happens." Longinus, quoted in Lyotard has attempted to analyse the sublime in terms of rhetoric. He claims that "there is a sublimity of thought sometimes recognizable in speech by it's extreme simplicity or turn of sometimes even takes the form of outright silence". Boileau writes, "The sublime is not strictly speaking something which is proven or demonstrated, but a marvel, which seizes one, strikes one and makes one feel'. Therefore imperfections, distortions of taste and even ugliness as Lyotard argues have their share in the shock-effect. It strikes me that this is where Pierre Gonnord's work succeeds so brilliantly; in taking those who live on the margins, who are often considered ugly via defiguring illness, scars, deformity, homelessness etc and yet depicting them in such a way as to reveal their majesty, the majesty of the human condition per se in it's rawest form. The viewer is torn between awe and revulsion, socially conditioned prejudices and unexpected admiration. In other words the contradictory feelings of the sublime.

Lyotard also references the work of Burke published in 1757 entitled Philosophical Inquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime, in particular his assertion that the sublime is kindled by the threat of nothing else happening. Beauty gives one kind of pleasure, a positive kind but he believes there is a pleasure bound to a passion stronger than satisfaction, and that is pain and impending death. To call this a pleasure is problematic to my mind but the associated terror he goes on to describe is relevant, terrors linked to privation; of light, of language, the terror of silence, of objects, of emptiness, of life and ultimately death. Burke believed the sublime is achieved when this terror and pleasure intermingle but it is also essential that the terror causing threat be suspended and in this lessening of a threat or danger there is the pleasure of relief. The sublime therefore can be characterised according to Lyotard as;

"a very big, very powerful object threatens to deprive the soul of any 'it happens', strikes it with powerful astonishment (at lower intensities the soul is seized with admiration, veneration, respect). the soul is thus dumb, immobilized, as good as dead. Art, by distancing this menace, produces a pleasure of relief, of delight. Thanks to art, the soul is returned to the agitated zone between life and death, and this agitation is its health and its life. For Burke, the sublime was no longer a matter of elevation, but intensification".

Contemplating the sublime is particularly interesting with respect to the information age we now live in, and the capitalist ideologies which permeate all facets of modern existence. The potential richness of the human experience becomes delineated across ever narrowing parameters; profitability, self affirmation through success and satisfaction via acquisition. Our relationship to time is not what it was even a generation ago; we are always 'on' and connected. The private and public sphere demarcation is dissolving. We live in an age where the mantra is speed and the information society perpetuates the myth that all things can be known and are at the tip of our fingertips. The contradictory feelings of the sublime are hinted at in vernacular discourse. We describe wanting to 'get away from it all, to slow down' yet many people find themselves ill at ease with silence. We want space but feel lost if we are without our mobile phone for twenty four hours! We want to plug ourselves out of the matrix and yet there is an underlying discomfort at the thought of doing so, because it is in the 'nothing happens' that existential anxiety is encountered. It is my sincere belief that this dichotomy, as described above and which is at the heart of the sublime, is most readily experienced in our postmodern society when things are stripped away to their essence, when silence is encountered amidst the usual bombardment of noise and particularly in disarming simplicity.

With relation to this current project, the techniques I work with ask subjects to be partially naked in order to strip away a layer of protection, amongst other rationales. They are in a dark studio, there is silence, I talk them through techniques to come out of their heads and into their bodies. Focus on the breath. Centre themselves, empty their minds as much as possible of the ceaseless agitation. To be in what Vispassana circles is described as "here, now". When they are 'Here' they let me know by turning to look into the lens, mindful not to project outwards but remain fully located within themselves. The image is just that moment, framed against a black background. I am now starting to also work with this same process in video, although there are a few teething problems. The subject is seen focusing, relaxing, breathing, coming into themselves and then, turning and simply looking at the camera. The only thing that should be audible is the breath, unfortunately the only thing that is in fact currently audible is the air conditioning. It plays with the tension described above, the anxiety of nothing happening, it is just an ordinary person, silently looking at you via the medium of a screen. I hope that it is disconcerting because of this, we are not used to seeing people doing nothing in this way but also, that there is a beauty within it which is the inherent beauty of each human being that is part of the inexpressable; they are alive, they have consciousness, and we do not, despite the greatest efforts, know what that is! Ideally the 'is it happening' question which might arise, even subconsciously would lead to a recognition of 'being', which is what I sense in the work of Pierre Gonnord and is why it continues to speak to me. The silence takes us out of our comfort zone and is an intensifying experience in this regard. I did not set out to frame this project in the discourse of the sublime but I think there is certainly elements of it here.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Project two - more

Had a fantastic experience working with this subject today in the studio. Pleased to get another female into the mix and have three more ladies lined up for next week with a good range of ages, which I am delighted about. There are small variations in the processing involved with all of these, which as Mike pointed out recently will need to be standardised for the exhibition to give a better sense of continuity, but I can do this closer to the time once I get some feedback as to which is most effective.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Just for fun/portfolio

Trying to build up a strong portraiture portfolio while I have access to the studio and all the lovely toys in there. Here is one from yesterday I like. I was trying to get quite hard lighting to bring out the character in the face and I think it worked pretty well.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Another one

Also here is one from a few weeks ago that I hadn't put up but I really like. You may recognise the subject!

Project two- delving into moving portraits.

What a fun time I have had with this most recent character who was generous enough to come in to the studio on his day off work and get fully into the whole process behind making these images. I am delighted with the results.

Also begun to experiment with video today with a view to making moving portraits. Had to balance the camera on the tripod without connecting it properly as the connector plate was missing but Graham and Mike tell me the resulting shakes can be rectified. Once I figure out how to open it on my computer I will post it. Just did a minute clip for now to get a sense of the thing and also hard to do much longer without the actual attachment.

Monday, 8 November 2010

photo-eye | BLOG: On Carla van de Puttelaar

Thanks to Mike for this link to a dutch photographer working along very similar lines to myself, although she works exclusively with women and predominantly with nude forms.

photo-eye | BLOG: On Carla van de Puttelaar:


This is a very simple, very nice short film that is part of a series I found on a site called 'Soul Biographies'. Each film is 5-10 minutes of recording of a person speaking about some aspect of the human condition, meaning, life, consciousness etc. The format is very different to what I am doing for either of my next two projects (at this point anyway!) but some of the themes resonate. Phenomenologically they are similar. This is not academic discourse, so if you want to watch then turn off that part of your brain and put on your humanist hat (it's probably the one with a feather in it!).

Click on the link below...


Friday, 5 November 2010

Some Inspiration for Project Three

Butoh practitioner Maureen Fleming. This is the kind of feel I hope the piece will have. Obviously it's quite useful if you have Philip Glass available to do some original compositions but that is only a minor detail really. Suitable music will be found.

Project 3 - The Ikebana dance sculptures are go.

Last night I met up with a dancer and choreographer to discuss the idea of a collaboration for project three and I am happy to say that it went brilliantly and it's now definitely going ahead. He is studying an MA in theatre and consciousness here and we are entirely on the same page with the ideas I had for this project, I cannot in fact believe how much so. We are now both going to use this idea as our final MA pieces and he is someone who is 100% dedicated and driven to produce something fantastic so I think we will be both be able to work well together.

The idea now stands that we will use Ikebana principles, which he is already aware of, to produce some site specific sculptural dance pieces using both natural and non-natural locations. We will work together to fine tune the concepts I have developed already. He will then work on the choreography and finding dancers and I will create the visual aesthetics and produce a slow motion video piece, which has the capacity to be both an installation and work as a live performance.

He is also familiar with and a great admirer of butoh, which we both agree should be drawn on to inform the choreography as well as some of the principles of contact improvisation which we have both practiced, though obviously he has done this to a far greater extent than I. We share a very similar visual aesthetic as it turns out so I think this will work out well. Although ideally we would work with a total of eight dancers, he felt this might not be achievable in terms of practitioners who work in this way in Lincoln so we are looking to work with a smaller group and use some natural forms, for example driftwood, as part of the sculptural form. He felt this would also be more cohesive for this kind of work in terms of the dynamic between the dancers. We both want to have as wide a palette as possible in terms of the look of the dancers, so age, gender and ethnicity variations is something we hope to be able to incorporate.

The research will be informed by current trends in consciousness theories as well as heavily drawing on the contemplative traditions of japanese artforms. I am very excited by this. I always intended to produce one project as part of this MA that was based on these kind of principles so I am very pleased that it can go ahead.

Another Portrait

I thought this one didn't work but actually now I think I was wrong! Also have reached a new limit that needs to be crossed in my photoshop efforts, how to remove a piece of material and replace it with realistic looking skin. My efforts so far have created results that look like skin disorders! Yes, I should have made the subject hold the cloth lower down to begin with and saved myself this trouble, I realise that now. Hindsight eh!

Tuesday, 2 November 2010

QUick Update about nothing particularly sensible.

Quick update; I have had one no show and one postponement in the last few days so not much to upload from the past week. Also I found a fabulous older woman with a brilliantly majestic face but alas she was not comfortable with the naked shoulders aspect! This is all fine though.

I was in the studio this evening and while I don't think I got the results I need for my project shots, the subject was loads of fun for a more laid back type of portraiture and I have finally got high key lighting figured out. It is not high art but it is useful to know how to do properly. I am pleased. Hopefully taking the flash set up out on Thursday if it is not raining, otherwise in the studio again then and at the weekend, so let's hope I have something of a project related nature to upload by the end of the weekend. All in all though I am enjoying myself. Really need to start bringing people in from the amazing universe outside the uni campus now. A bit of stalking around town is on the cards over the next few days. In the meantime, here are some photos from today, just for fun. Have another friend coming in next week who is willing to cover herself in jam and has cats. Good times.