lights camera sound actions | time-based contemporary art

Untitled for Across Oceans

In Uncategorized on August 2, 2013 at 1:00 pm

I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a Creative Residency at Department of Dramatic Arts at Brock University by Maxine Hepper, Artistic Director of visiting company, Across Oceans. You can read the notice about the resulting performance and the work of all the artists (Brad McDonald, Lo Bil, Gayle Young and Sashar Zarif) as well as Maxine and myself) by clicking here: Performance notice.

I do not have a studio practice and it was an amazing opportunity to have time in a studio PLUS the equipment I wanted to work with, amazing.  It felt luxurious and abundant and I thank not only Maxine for this invitation but also David Vivian and tech staff, Brian. My participation was significantly impacted, however, by the death of my mother the Friday before the residency started. I put in only a fraction of the hours available and I thank Maxine and the other artists for their understanding and support. During the time, I did manage to be present for Gayle Young’s development of a new recipe piece and contributed the harmonica to the mix.

I began work with a device I came up with during the Niagara She-bang, a collaborative project led by Dreamwalker Dance at Centre for the Arts, Brock University in April of this year, which is a video projector on a mobile cart with a live video feed from a camera on a very long cable. I can’t remember how I came up with this idea but it is in keeping with my longstanding interest in breaking up the rectangularity and 2-dimensionality of the projected image. I first worked on this in Lap (1976) by placing monitors on chairs amongst the audience as well as in the performing area and worked on it big-time in collaboration with David Hlynsky on Moral/Passion (1986). (I have yet to create the Moral/Passion page on this website as it is rather daunting. It featured David’s extraordinary photography and varying shaped masks projected with 13 slide projectors.) In this short piece, I used 3 different wall surface areas and briefly the ceiling while moving the projector.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the Niagara She-bang residency was allowing myself to experience the freedom of moving and shooting at the same time. I have memories from the time in the late 70s and early 80s when I frequently shot documentation video (at 15 Dance Lab and Western Front) of wanting to throw my body into the camera movement but feeling constrained by the need to be invisible as a cameraperson, and I wanted to fully use my body in this work. However, I feel false performing dancer-ly movement (although I am happy to work with dancers in my dance-based work), and was primarily guided simply by the necessities of camerawork and the narrative actions I developed, except for an arm and hand sequence.

I started by wanting to explore an idea of invisibility and/or feeling visible, an idea which I had been thinking about as an older woman artist. Because of the nature of the tech and the beautiful studio I worked in, the work quickly became based in dualities of inside/outside, interior/exterior, felt/visible. The exterior wall of the studio is all windows, centering on an exquisite tree, and it faces the beautiful wooded back end of the Brock campus.

At the beginning, I established the options for the camera position which were static placement on the floor, tripod, being moved by me and moving on the cart. The first thing I did was a kind of “towards and away from study”, with the camera on the floor focused on my walking feet. A certain amount of my time was taken up with the logistics of my tech set-up. I’d like to find a way to remotely connect the camera to the projector so there is no long cord to deal with.

I wanted to introduce a static image source and used my iPhone. One of the pleasing visual features of this tech set-up in April was re-discovering feedback, and one’s own body is the obvious subject/object with which to do so. However, I was troubled by the lurking danger of imagery that reads as narcissism. I used the feedback device in an extended arm sequence which you can see here –

I would describe these concerns as formal and conceptual (i.e. concerned with form and the nature of the media, like my early work), however, in the end the greatest influence on this short piece was my desire to not ignore the recent personal content of my life. The “towards and away” feet section turned into swaddling my feet in a piece of cloth. Later in the work, I lay down on the cloth and then covered myself. Both of these actions referred to shrouding my mother just days before. I took photos of the studio on my iPhone, but it seemed just too dry to use these for the desired static image. So, after reflection, I decided to use one of the photos I had taken of my mother’s body, after the remarkable experience of watching 5 hours of changes to her face after death. I had taken a photo of the big window by which she lay. She died in her room on the top floor of the wonderful Albright Manor which is on the Niagara Escarpment in Beamsville, and the view was of expansive blue sky and Lake Ontario in the distance. Because I am sure she would not have liked her image used, I leaned the phone against the video camera lens so that only the pixelated sky was visible, again referencing the visible and invisible. I ended the piece by closing the vertical blinds in the studio, closing the view to the outside and the light which made sense on the formal level and I also intended it as a metaphor for death.

As an aside and in keeping with this theme of re-connecting with early work, Maxine and I go back a long way although we do not know one another well. We were at York University around the same time and Maxine performed in my second ever show, Mover, which was at A Space, Toronto in 1975.

On another aside, here’s a little kevetching. This spring, I was a participating artist in 2 residencies at Brock University by visiting companies from Toronto.  During my 38-year career, I have never been invited to work or perform at Brock (I am a Niagara native and returned here to live in 1988) and have been asked to deliver 1 workshop and 1 artist talk ever. I am very happy to have the recent opportunities, don’t get me wrong, but it’s ironic I am invited to Brock only through companies visiting from Toronto.


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