Earlier this evening I saw Bill Viola’s “Hatsu-Yume (First Dream)” in an intimate screening. The artist was present, along with faculty members and an audience of thirty to forty people. We sat in a small auditorium in a small, excellent liberal arts school.
“Hatsu-Yume (First Dream)” is about eighty-five minutes long. On the surface, it scanned like Chris Marker’s film, Sans Soleil. I say ‘on the surface’ because it was just a moment that inspired that connection – the moment ‘pachinko’ is on screen, and then, later, a man lighting a cigarette, one of the only completed human gestures in the piece. If Sans Soleil had been made on video and without the narrative, then they could be twins. Instead they are distant relatives, only connected by the fact that the audience is considering moving images that, scene by scene, unfold like a photo-roman . . . if each of the photos is a technically-perfect, gorgeous long moving-image shot. Oh, and both works were shot in Japan – Viola’s in its entirety, while Marker’s Sans Soleil was mostly filmed there.
What’s the distinction between video and film? As Christopher Zimmerman put it in the liner notes for the evening’s get together, “”Where film is a succession of individual still images … video consists of constantly vibrating signals.” That’s key. In each work’s case, the maker’s use of the form is perfectly mirrored in the expression of content presented by that form. Marker’s film is a series of shots, of images expanded. Marker uses mostly jump cuts as he provides a long sequence of images which become narrative, when paired with the voiceover.
Video, particularly analog video on tape, is about signal. Talking about his work this evening Viola repeatedly referred to signal. The technical metaphors for him, of signal being a way of accessing an inner world or imagined world, of signal’s liquidity, its nature as carrier of light ~ that’s the core of the medium for Bill Viola. The series of scenes transitioned by fade-to-black are usually slow-mo. Visual information shifts in a series of liminal perceptual spaces; the viewer can lose themselves in sensory input or decide to recognize the information displayed on the screen.
During Q&A I admitted to the artist that I was so tired I was closing my eyes in the middle of the opus. Viola interrupted me to reply, “That’s OK, I slept through parts myself.” About two-thirds of the way through the film there are shots of dying squid, on a Japanese fishing boat. They’re beautiful. Captured in the highest fidelity Sony cameras available at the time, glossy, a particular coral peach, they are just dying. We watched them die, in slow motion.
Squid death was discussed by the academics with some horror. Kira Perov, Viola’s creative partner, spoke to the difficulty she had when they were originally shooting the work on the fishing boat. She struggled with the question of putting the equipment down to rescue the animals. It horrified her to watch them die.
Today, I took a long trip to a small town in Wisconsin to meet the artist, to see the work. Bill Viola’s work has sustained me for a long time. I am a multiple near death experience survivor; Viola’s own NDE experience deeply informs his work. His work is oxygen for me.
On a Greyhound bus I split my time between Twitter and Facebook attempting to find out if my Boston friends were OK. What in Gods name happened there. I somehow kept my stomach firmly in my belly, not becoming nauseous even though the fragments of information did not piece together. Made me disoriented. The speed of (dis)information, insistant squabbles about authenticity, tweets that stated “quit just retweeting things”. The utter lack of clarity as major news outlets chose the wrong information to publish to those who still use TV, and then retracted, then asserted something else.
The long slow shots of dying squid made sense. Watching the beautiful, projected analog video – no, I couldn’t look away. It was slow. In its slowness my mind and heart were allowed to come into a shared rhythm of comprehension that respected my whole being. Horrifying, yes, but in a comprehensible way, an acceptable way.
Now I pick out the shrapnel from the fragmented “communication” about the bombings at the Boston Marathon out of me. I have a bit of skill witnessing difficulty like this, I’ve practiced with the ‘poetics of annihilation’ attention/artwork over the years. Yes, I say, once again, media’s doing it wrong. I think we already know that.
Chicago’s West Side School for the Desperate, a poetry collective living and working together in Logan Square for the last 2 years, hosted their final show Saturday April 13. Lease issues and the collective’s need to grow in new directions mean they’re closing up shop and moving on.
Its been amazing to watch the regularly-attending open-mic poets grow since I’ve been photographing (& occasionally reading) at the Bad News Bible Church monthly event … All performances at that show were energized by an audience willing to play ‘net’ for every new poetic acrobat – every poet, musician, lyricist, or other experiment here surfed the crowd, at least in spirit.
Creative community for the sake of community is a sacred space. WSSD gave Chicago this for 2 years. I don’t think anything’s gonna come along very soon to take its place.
Photo gallery for the last installment of Bad News Bible Church over here.
Artist statement : we are all doors (2013) 6:40 : digital video for gallery projection.
Meditation : The body as container for consciousness. The act of dreaming our compass as we navigate inner space. How do we occupy our bodies?
Source images for the work made available to the artist by creative commons copyright support, a language of consent for content-sharing on the internet. Crowdsourcing implies, how does the royal we support the individual? How do we dream together? How does sharing support the creative mind?
Video dedicated to Aaron Swartz (Nov 8, 1986 – Jan 11, 2013) who assisted in establishing the creative commons in spirit and legal reality. Links posted at http://drawclose.com/swartz.html connects source content provided by over a hundred and fifty photographers and videographers.
http://creativecommons.org explains what this artists statement (and work of art) cannot, about their approach to facilitating the movement and exchange of created content.
Poetry written and performed by the artist, recomposed and expanded slightly for the soundtrack. Audio mixed in Logic 9, video composited in FCP X, prepared for DVD with Compressor 4, authored for DVD in DVDSP.
Ultimately, the work will reside on the internet. Until then, I’ll be submitting it to screenings and gallery shows.
I’ve been making unguns. I steal pictures of guns and make something else with them. Yes I’m trafficking in stolen guns when I do this. Aesthetic vandalism. Wasn’t the Matrix trilogy founded on that image of ‘bullet time’, the old Native American ghost dance promise that we could stop bullets?
The act of aesthetic vandalism neuters the image of the gun. The images become ~ if they were actual objects, were they actually fired, they would misfire, fire into themselves, or not fire at all.
Humans can express a nourishing connection with each other using guns only by relinquishing them.
I started working with still images, which I ‘broke’ using databending techniques. Then I started making gifs.Then I decided to make a longer video, pushing the image into word-definition space. The dance of illusion, projection, metaphor. I sampled audio from popular entertainment that uses guns so much in their narratives that, as a friend once put it, the movie is really “gun goes on adventure, gun beats the bad guys, gun gets the girl, gun gets revenge” . . .
I’m witnessing illusions of “political ramifications of ideas about guns” shatter social relationships between otherwise reasonable people. Histrionic reactions to the object, in many directions, prevent people from having reasonable conversation. The object, and whether or not or how it is regulated, shatters our ability to discuss the thing sanely.
The digital era will overwhelm us, as it happened with the industrial revolution. And I am not talking about technological changes, such as the internet, Twitter or in art. The changes will hit all of life: from politics to science, from medicine to culture. Will change our way of life. The role of artists will be even more relevant. Our vision will communicate knowledge and compassion.
the poem that is a paper airplane
i pulled this sheet from the envelope of my bed
made this paper airplane of a love poem for you
it floats above heads
above the back rows of
vulnerable as I was
i tack a paper clip to its
snub – it falls
onto the open pages of the
book you’re reading
hands curled around the real words
nested inside the textbook
you startle out of that
i hide my giveaway blush by
studiously examining the
bulletin board away from you
which one did it
* * * * *
collected in spiritual side effects (2008, 6 gallery press)
Last night I got to surprise an artist-colleague, someone I haven’t seen since he left Pittsburgh in the oughts. In the 412, Tony did projected video work. Sometimes he edited together film-like things, sometimes he improvised with multiple 8 or 16mm projectors. Much of it, for me, was threshold-recognition work, immersive stuff playing with the viewers perceptual equipment (i.e. our eyesight & optical processing system). Yes, fear of seizure could be part of the experience, and fear of flashbacks, if acid or mushrooms were ever one’s particular trip. Always I found an engaging sense of wonder in Tony’s work, wonder at playing with the illusions underneath all projected film.
Balko packed the equipment for this installation into the pedestal supporting the piece. He created the software that manages the dilating, color-shifting projection using Processing.
I really enjoy watching Tony’s work make the shift to digital instrument creation. In Pittsburgh, I got to audience some of his collaborative video projection work. That content was created with existing video editing software, and was projected with live music performances with bands like Centipede Est. I also got to experience some of the pieces he made with analog projectors. Good stuff.
The leap to Processing deepens the instrumental improvisation. By building software, Tony creates the instrument projecting the work. His prior 8mm/16mm stuff worked, for me, as instrument/improvisation. The software made with Processing allows the art to respond to input during the show, a major departure from edited-together ‘finished films’ built on existing editing platforms.
Concerns with image flicker rate and abstraction unfolding over time certainly remain . . .
My frustration with guns managed by making art that neuters them, turns them into beautiful objects that if actually fired would fire into themselves, or metaphors for fabric ~ something that connects in a nourishing way, a property humans can express with guns only by relinquishing them.
Glitched the source image, an AR15 assault rifle. Then composited it into something that reminds me of a blanket pattern. Then discovered the reds in it by cutting into the jpeg code a little more.
Settling in to edit audio tonight, I realized I couldn’t find the project files. A few months ago I had [prematurely] retired this project. Did I archive the content to free up local hard drive space?
Futzing with the firewire cable and the next hard drive I thought, even if I start from scratch, I’m making in the way I want to make. And if I start from scratch, something interesting or new can evolve, right? Yeah.
Back when I was knitting to pay my bills, about once a week we [meaning the store staff] would necessarily teach a new knitter how to rip out their project. Maybe it was knitting up sized to fit a baby elephant, maybe irregular newbie stitches were making a sieve instead of a fabric.
The discussion went something like ~ “Yes, we’re taking out what wasn’t working.” The new knitter’s face would fall as they watched hours and hours of struggle pulled row by row from a ‘wrong’ fabric to a ball of yarn. ”Yeah, you spent hours knitting that. Now you get to knit it again!” Some version of puzzlement would replace the disappointment-face watching the knitting come undone. “I’m doing this because I enjoy it, right? So knitting it twice means more knitting, which I enjoy, on the same volume of yarn. Twice the enjoyment.”
(I found the project files on the third hard drive.)
In 2000 and 2001 I worked at a yarn store in Cambridge, Mass. I was in grad school for art. I needed the 15 hours a week to keep me sane, and to pay for the yarn my hands were working through riding the T all over Boston and up to Somerville for classes.
One of my first days working there I went to throw away a scrap of yarn. One of the other staff members, I don’t remember her name but I think it was Elisabeth, so I’ll call her that, picked it out of the wastepaper basket. She held one end in her outstretched hand, and ran the other end the length of her arm to her body.
“If it’s this long,” she said, “you put it in here.” A manila envelope was stuck within reach of the cash register, tucked behind for-sale yarn pattern leaflets. I looked at her quizzically.
“I take them home and crochet little medallions out of them. A medallion takes almost a yard of yarn.” She smiled. She had a crisp British accent, even though she moved to the US with her American husband in the fifties. “I let the medallions pile up in the basket next to the comfy chair I watch the telly in. When the basket gets full, I sew them up into a blanket.”
“What happens to the blanket?” I asked.
“Oh I donate it, either to the women’s shelter if I know where it is, or the homeless shelter,” she said, and shrugged.
A customer interrupted us. I didn’t ask about it again. I did save those long ends of yarn. I think she made a blanket like that once a month.
Last I saw her was after I’d quit, so I could just work on my thesis for the last six months of school. She was riding the bus into Cambridge. She was sitting, I was standing. She was crocheting a medallion from a scrap in her purse.
Woolcott closed permanently in the late aughts. I haven’t thought about Elisabeth until today. Today, also, I read about Dave Hickey leaving the art world. He talked about the categorization of “art objects” by an apparatus obsessed with status-creating investment objects. He talked about the lack of real community, the behaviors of art institutions working their asses off to perpetuate their own existence at the expense of real discourse.
Tonight I spent forty mintues untangling the last 300 feet of a skein of yarn. It was mostly cake, balling up the hank, but the last quarter volume of yarn was a hot mess. This question of worth, about scraps, was so present for me as I teased and pulled at this burgundy cotton. I thought about Elisabeth, what she did with those almost-yards. And I thought of Dave Hickey’s comment on how the art world conspires now to keep prices of crap art high. So much money’s gone into a Tracey Emin, they have to collude and keep the price up.
Tell me how much a Tracey Emin costs. Those almost-yards of yarn, they were priceless.