On September 26th, the British government voted to join in the airstrikes against ISIS, the immediate response from one twitter user (who will remain anonymous - image and name has been intentionally blurred above) was “Game-on”, a timely dose of inspiration for a useable piece of text for my Take 2. I’ve tried a number of simple diptych type layouts with pairs of images from those available and the following are possible options for discussion:
(images used for educational purposes)
OK, there’s an obvious danger here that the images start to look like some form of advertising campaign for a game, and part of me actually likes this idea but only if the images were to be seen blown up to huge dimensions and on the white walls of a gallery where I believe they would have the desired impact. Here though, viewed as small jpgs a few hundred pixels across, they do not have that aura. Low culture posing as low culture does not make a post-modern masterpiece, I suspect.
Different juxtapositions of images give me different reactions. It might be that the colours don’t feel as... complimentary or coherent, or just don’t “feel” right to me. Pilot on the top, or on the bottom has different impacts, perhaps depending on the way he is looking, perhaps because of the plane he has been juxtaposed with. Another example, with more images together, is shown below, this time with an excerpt from Churchill’s “Never in the field of human conflict” speech. This feels contrived, and a form of the propaganda I really want to avoid, the sort of thing that Some Unholy War is questioning - it’s not the truth, but is being presented as being such, backed up with the historical fact of the words of the famous speech.
(images used for educational purposes)
I suppose my favoured image as things stand right at this point would probably be the first of them, partially because of the fresh, young looking face of the pilot perhaps having some resemblance of the target audience of the game, boys and young adults. Some of the others really don’t work for me, the text struggles to add much when presented in that way, or at least doesn’t lend itself to being what I wanted. And yes, some of these feel like a graphic design exercise. The same might be true of that first image too; I’m certainly not saying this should be considered the finished image, but it’s a stake in the ground. Something to invite discussion about. I do however feel that this is moving away from something I would have necessarily sought to do, although I can also argue that it does feature elements of what I have indeed been doing recently. Perhaps It just lacks some of the thought that I might want to put into things, partially because this was a necessarily time limited exercise, partially because it is a construct to answer an outside brief when I prefer to work to my own. It’s possibly more to do with a general state of unease in my head about a number of things to do with the MA at the moment. Things that have left what is normally a quite logical mind in a state of turmoil.
Some Unholy War:
(images used for educational purposes)
(images used for educational purposes)
McCullin. 2012 [Blu-Ray] Jacqui Morris and David Morris. British Film Company
Hurricane Fighter Plane, by Alien Sex Fiend
Little Fluffy Clouds, by The Orb
White text tends to work better for me, personal choice really - more could be read into the use of the red text (blood for example). Use of lyrics... I don’t know. All these can have some relevance extrapolated from them, rather than being completely random - push the button could be the trigger, Hurricane is obvious (a British WWII fighter plane if you don’t know) and then the skies.
Maybe, we will see...
(images used for educational purposes)
Film credit: Battle of Britain. 1969. [Blu-Ray] Guy Hamilton. Spitfire Productions.
Game credit: Blazing Angels: Squadrons of WWII. 2006. [PS3] Ubisoft.
(used for educational purposes)
(images used for educational purposes)
The first photograph, from Saving Private Ryan, features the lyrics of the song Birds by Electralene. It has no relevance to war at all, but there is a narrative of someone left behind, maybe even widowed that can be construed - “Still I can’t stop thinking about you”. The second photograph is from the BBC series of mini-docudramas called Our World War, with this one being about the Pals regiments. Again, the words are the lyrics from a song, this time by PJ Harvey and called Let England Shake. The song is about war, as are all the songs on the album (with the same name). Whilst this one cannot easily be placed, others refer to the Anzac landings in Turkey; Battleship Hill and Bolton’s Ridge, so time-wise it is appropriate, although... does that make it a bit clichéd?
I actually think there’s too much text on these, and then there’s the danger that they’re directing the viewer too much in a certain direction, which is not necessarily what I was thinking for the series in the first place, but then these are just a quick “play” to see if it does anything for me. I’m not so sure if there is mileage just yet, but then I have a few hours to sit down with some work when I have found something relevant for the task. Less text is appropriate though.
I have started with the task in anger, working on the first portion of a possible idea. Hopefully I can add to that in the next few days and have something coming together in time for a chat with the others before it has to be submitted. I feel like I’m walking a bit of a high-wire with this one, so we will see.
Roger Fenton, Valley of the Shadow of Death (1855) - from The Getty website
Paul Nash, Wire (1918-1919) - from the Tate website.
Both images depict the aftermath of the battle, both images are devoid of people and both images give an indication of the trauma that will have been experienced there, Nash’s piece more so, perhaps due to the duration and the nature of the battle, perhaps because of the more figurative and interpretive nature of the media. Nash’s work bores deeper into the realms of nightmare in his representation of the wounded land, there are hints of the future Surrealism, whereas Fenton is much straighter, it’s documentary (although Errol Morris has something to say about his methods).
This work relates in many ways to my current thoughts on projects. True to say they’re not really progressing at the moment, but I see parallels in my mind’s eye; Some Unholy War ties itself to the surreal and nightmarish in some ways, while the landscape is something I intend to be returning to for a later project, for year 2 in all probability as it will take time to achieve it as I intend to be travelling all over the country to achieve it.
So, the documentary may not have told me everything there is to know about Nash, but it proved interesting and relevant. It was also a springboard into some other research that will likely follow as I work my way through the MA. There’s another couple in the series too, so who knows what they might inspire.
Paul Nash:The Ghosts of War. 2014 [Video Streaming] Patrick Dickinson. Danny Katz Productions.
located at http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b04j2ywv/british-art-at-war-bomberg-sickert-and-nash-1-paul-nash-the-ghosts-of-war (accessed 20/09/2014)
These rephotographs were purportedly to undermine the images and what they represented. It’s what I’m looking at doing with my own appropriation - make people look at a subject again, question what they think the image represents, what is real, what is make believe... There are others - Sherrie Levine is really quite audacious with After Walker Evans, and then the follow-on by Michael Mandiberg (After Sherrie Levine), there’s also those that move away from just photography such as Mike Bidlo (Prince does when he paints on images too).
There’s some mileage that can be had here, I just have to find a subject that I find relevant (I’m not thinking of using Some Unholy War for this), and to bring in another influence. Since I’ve produced Speak My Language, I have a growing interest in words and pictures working together. I don’t mean this in terms of captions, which I often find somewhat restrictive - if I use captions they will generally be quite open. I actually mean as something that will work together with the artwork, that exist within the same frame as the artwork. With Speak My Language, the snippets of song lyrics occupied an empty space within the image mosaic, and were not tied with the adjacent images in any obvious way, much as the images were not tied to each other. Other uses of words have been seen in the work of Barbara Kruger, William Klein or Martin Stobich.
from Art & Today, by Eleanor Heartney (p42)
from William Klein, Foam #37 2013 (p106)
As I’ve written this, I have no Internet (an “incident” in the local area requires a repair which will be done by the 23rd at the earliest), so I will not be able to upload this until I have at least started to work on something. I won’t change this before it’s uploaded, although I might well come back and add some more...
[note - since the Internet recovered from the incident, I’ve added links to better versions of the images]
© Daido Moriyama (from Menu, curated by Rob™)
The other one... I’m thinking of being vague in a grand way, picking on modern culture. I have an idea, something that has echoes from Langlands and Bell.
© Langlands & Bell
Yeah, all very vague but I have the beginnings of a cadre to work with. I’ll see how it goes as I play...
Oh, who am I trying to kid - I’ve got no idea what I’ll be doing yet.
This is followed up by another questionnaire, which is as follows. I’m not quite sure these answers are “correct” (if there is such a thing) as I don’t consider that I actually have a studio at all...
What do you do in your studio or the place where you usually make work?
Write down everything you do in your studio or the place where you usually work. Include drinking cups of tea, dreaming, reading the paper, phoning friends etc.
Video Lecture 1 : The Reflexive Practitioner
What’s it all about, being a “reflexive practitioner”? It’s all about thinking, with reflection being about looking at what you do, reviewing, pondering, etc. However, it’s also about forward thinking and the impact of that thinking on future thinking and how you do things. In essence I guess it’s about stepping back so that you can learn from thinking about what you do. There’s a quote in the video from Donald Schön stating that reflexivity is essential for independent learning. Some key elements coming from the lecture are:
Whilst I was there predominantly to see Roberts’ work Pierdom, the ground floor was taken over by Phillipson, so the entrance into her exhibition beckoned and seemed to be the logical place to start. Prior to the exhibition, I knew nothing about Phillipson. I still know little, other than she can be a bit risqué and works with video installations that are more welcoming than others I have seen. Now, in the past, video has been weak for me. As the art form itself, it has not been particularly captivating, and many have been what I would consider highly pretentious or just plain dull as yesterday’s dishwater. Here though, after being rebirthed from the dark and into the light of an odd new world, there is something that I found interesting. They weren’t slow and ponderous, if anything they were quite surreal which will always pique my interest a touch. And watching a video from the back seat of an old Peugeot or a speedboat on bottles of water is not something you do everyday.
It was A is to D what E is to H that I found most compelling, viewing the video projected on to the screen of the aforementioned car. Seemingly random images flowing together, narrated by a woman (I assume this to be the artist). I really don’t know why I liked this. Yes, it was different. No, I don’t know what it means or why... Well, just why in general I think. It’s left me confused but wanting more. The delivery of the audio is still in my head.
So, back into the real world and upstairs to Simon Roberts’ photographs of piers... an odd transition, but somehow also a strangely appropriate coupling - can a pier really have phallic connotations, or is that something that only comes to mind when married with Phillipson’s work? Will this be something that occurred to Roberts as he carried out his survey of Britain’s Victorian piers, recording them before they deteriorated into nothing but memory - I recall that on the day of the intended talk, Eastbourne pier was badly damaged by fire.
Physically, the 4 main prints were large and impressive. They’re packed with detail and clearly not taken with an iPhone on a family trip to the seaside - no, they’re slow, deliberate and considered. They’re also very “matter of fact”, objective; not hiding the fact that they’re deteriorating, not hiding the fact that there’s a certain unsavoury underbelly in the surroundings that may actually be lost on those that were not born in a seaside town. Maybe, as a “Blackpudlian”, I have a certain view on living in a seaside time for much of my life, a view that is not particularly favourable (can anyone look favourably on a town that was reported as heading upwards by a local councillor because a Nando’s was opening?). I see beyond the dazzle of a theme park, which I suppose I liken to put glitter on a skin cancer. But the theme park is also a subject in one of the photographs, representing an escape from reality that seaside towns can be to those that visit and leave before the gloss has had time to tarnish.
Is the theme park otherwise relevant to these images? I mention it because with it it became obvious that Roberts is not searching to show everything in the scene. Yes, the pier is there, but whilst it juts out into the sea, it’s also connected to its surroundings, and these surroundings go beyond the edge of the frame. We are allowed to explore the pier, but we are stopped from going too far from it. I guess it should be obvious that there needs to be an edge to the frame, but some might want to neatly encapsulate things - perhaps that would be the sign of a vernacular image? What I have done though is leave that frame and bring a lifetime of experience of seaside life to them, seeing beyond them. It’s a clear embodiment of Barthes’ theories that the images are different to us all because of who we are. I’ve never been to Weston-Super-Mare or Southend-on-Sea but still feel I know more through a shared experience. I may be well off the mark, but the photographs stir up feelings. I’m fairly sure these aren’t what Roberts was expecting, I suspect he would rather recall happy times, playing on the sands near the shadow of the pier or visiting the “amusements”, but there we go...
Despite what might come across as negativity for these images, I actually found them really interesting. They’re very relevant to my own approach to landscape, of how I am planning to approach my next significant project exploring what might be forgotten histories of conflict. They illustrate how a measured approach to the subject does not have to become a tightly controlled Becher-esque typology, although typology is clearly what this is.
Perhaps a “complaint” that I might raise about the exhibition is that it’s small; there are only 4 large photographs and 2 smaller ones. However, this weakness might also be considered a strength, the exhibitions USP. You see, it’s not just in Blackpool, but also in a range of other seaside towns at the same time. It’s not for people in the big cities with the fancy galleries, but it’s back with the places that it came from. It’s odd, but whilst it takes something away, I also think it’s given back something else and it’s strangely stronger for it.
My initial thoughts is that this really isn’t for me. I’ve become too used to the freewheeling independence experienced in the photography degree, whereas this “suffers” from too much structure and not moving at a pace that I want to. There’s also a fear that in doing the exercises planned I won’t be doing the work I want to do. I know this is a failing with my mindset though, and that it’s just a case of adjusting to a different way of learning, of operating. That in time, when the IT is behaving and the course has started in anger and people are engaging with each other, things will be much better. Maybe I’m just missing Clive’s peculiar way of providing feedback, together with a degree of uncertainty about the mixed media cohort and the way things are phrased (“studio” for example). It’s certainly a worry though, but with luck I’ll make it past the end of the month.
Something from Speak My Language although this wasn’t mentioned. It’s relevant to me as it shows my Union Flag cup (now sadly faded by the dishwasher) which represents my nationality within a multi-national relationship (I have a French wife) and a love of coffee, my computer keyboard (I’m a semi-geek) and a photobook which is perhaps my preferred method of absorbing photography... It also made a background appearance in the photograph Caroline uploaded, although I’m not going to suggest anything can be read into that!
© Caroline Wright
Pleasantries over, there was a brief breakaway into smaller groups to discuss three different links - two videos and a flash website:
© Nina Paley
The first of these, the video embedded above from Alexa // Sheila, was something I really enjoyed. The visuals were really striking, and reminded me of the rotoscoping technique employed in the making of A Scanner Darkly by Richard Linklater. The transient nature of the images was also interesting, the interplay with milk going off, the milk affecting the paint, the chalky nature of the photographs. There’s only a few finished images in there, but they do make me want to go and look at more. Ok, it’s photography so up my “street”, but it’s not my type of photography, but regardless, I liked it. I don’t know what it “meant”, but I liked it (and actually, does it need to “mean” anything?)
Sita Sings the Blues (Nina Paley) was intriguing... the contrast between cultures and the layers it created, between Indian religion/customs and the roaring twenties (of Annette Hanshaw’s vocals), this historical element with the computer game “platform-ness” and with the superhero kitsch of the “Chop!” that resonates with both the modern resurgence of the genre in the movies and the Batman series of the 60s. I’m not sure what I thought of it as “art”, but it was an enjoyable animation, a catchy tune... perhaps more entertaining than I was expecting.
And then there is the Flash (I assume) website of Man in the Dark by Miltos Manetas and Aaron Russ Clinger... I saw this an inwardly groaned. I’m not a fan of this sort of thing, I feel it’s very dated and not at all innovative nowadays. If I’d seen it a number of years ago (maybe in 2004 when it was created), yes it would have been quite something, but I can’t help but feel blasé about it, that it’s dated and outlived its appeal. I get more of a kick from simple animations on the iPhone now. Maybe that’s significant, and maybe it ties in with what I envisage my MA will be about; the representations of conflict in art/photography, and the saturation we may well have reached in what we see and then how we have to break from that tradition... Art has to innovate, adapt and re-innovate in order to keep fresh and interesting.
After that brief sojourn, Caroline gave an introduction into the MA-ness of the course. An interesting briefing that sparked something within me that we beginning to feel flat, feel nervous and doubtful. She touched on the research (process, looking, context), skill attainment, criticality, awareness, communication and independence. All buzz words I guess, but that’s not meant to be cynical, merely an observation. Whilst I still have some doubts, they’re more to do with the structure of where the course will take me and how that will impose itself on where I want it to take me (I have my ideas already). It’s something to discuss in my first one-on-one, unless it is relevant to the group discussion beforehand.
Battle for Haditha:
Full Metal Jacket:
This body of work though has gotten me in something of a muddle in my head at the moment. I watch films, which generally glorify the fantasy of conflict in some way or another, and take these strange motion blurred photographs which, in some ways reinforce that fantasy. However, in the background I am very aware of the footage coming out of places like Gaza, and the awful things happening there. It would be hard not to. Seeing what is happening is also playing somewhat on my professional choices outside of the art world. I’m an engineer working in the defence industry, what does this all mean to me? How are my politics changing? Are my politics changing, and if so, will it come out in the body of work I will produce? And does the passage of time affect how I see each conflict? After working with Battle for Haditha, based on events that took place during the Gulf War, my next mini-project was with Centurion and the battles in the north of England between the Romans and Picts. Perhaps that is an extreme, but what of differences to how I react to the Gulf War and the Vietnam War, or WWII, both of which are “before my time” (I know, strictly speaking, Vietnam wasn’t, but I was 5 when the Americans withdrew and do not have personal, contemporary memories of the dispute - everything has come later through history books and cinema).
So, that’s it in a somewhat untidy nutshell - what I’m currently thinking. Of course, once the MA actually starts and things begin to happen, it might all change. I’m sort of used to that happening. But yeah, this is my stake in the ground that I will currently be measuring myself from.
Credit information for Battle for Haditha, Full Metal Jacket and Centurion can be found here. (images used for educational purposes)