Art

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In The Bleak Midwinter: Nick Duffy chooses five books to counteract the ghastly bonhomie

Christ but it’s awful.  Between the more-inappropriate-then-ever exhortations to excessive consumption (“Battery turkey?  You tasteless plebeian fiend, simply everyone’s having rare-breed Guinea Fowl with Nigella’s gingerbread-and-rollmop stuffing this year,” fuck off why don’t you, don’t you know there’s a recession on?) and the terrible music everywhere (and how much must it suck to be Jona Lewie?  11 months of the year, nobody knows who you are, then for one month EVERYONE knows EXACTLY who you are, and they all think you’re a cunt), and the pubs being full of godamned amateurs (“Oooh, is it that much for a gin and tonic?” Yes, yes it is, as you’d be well aware if you’d BEEN IN SINCE FUCKING BUDGET NIGHT, and by the way, I’ve been keeping this place going and wearing my own personal arse-groove into that barstool these past 11 months, get out of my FUCKING way and take your novelty waistcoat with you, you nebbish) and…well, you need something to counteract it all.  Literature is, as always, your friend, and what you specifically need is some good, bleak stuff you can get morose and gloomy over.  And that’s what I plan to give you, good and hard.

1. Martin Amis, Night TrainMartin Amis

An unlikely source, Amis Jnr., as he normally leavens even the weightiest subjects with dextrous, scabrous comedy in a perfect mix of the broad-brush and the filigree (some other time, try Money, London Fields and Success for some of the finest comic writing of the 20th century), but this brief yet absorbing novella (partially inspired by David Simon’s Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets, The Wire fans) abjures laughs for terse, cold, hard boiled meditations on murder and suicide as responses to being alone in a godless universe.

KEY QUOTE: “You key the mike and you get the squawk that no one wants: Check suspicious odor. I have checked suspicious odors. Suspicious? No. This is blazing crime. Fulminant chemistry of death, on the planet of retards. I’ve seen bodies, dead bodies, in tiled morgues, in cell-blocks, in district lockups, in trunks of cars, in project stairwells, in loading-dock doorways, in tractor-trailer turnarounds, in torched rowhouses, in corner carryouts, in cross alleys, in crawlspaces, and I’ve never seen one that sat with me like the body of Jennifer Rockwell, propped there naked after the act of love and life, saying even this, all this, I leave behind.”

2. Neville Shute, On The Beach

Being Shute’s second most famous novel after the heart-warming, life-affirming A Town Like Alice, it gives me a schadenfreudegasm to think of all the people who followed that work with this one, and what a slap in the psyche they must have experienced.  OK, from the outset it’s clear this isn’t going to be a barrel of laughs – the whole premise is that a nuclear war has destroyed the northern hemisphere, and backwoods, distant, late-50s Australia, with it’s colonial, repressed, provincial natives and a few accidental refugees, is the only habitable place left, and that only until the weather brings the poison south – but the sheer relentlessness of it, the way Shute refuses to offer any salvation or escape, just calmly narrates a group of basically decent people’s journey to a horrible, inescapable fate, adds up to one of the most despairing books ever, which will reduce even hardened cynics to tears.

KEY QUOTE: “He undid the little carton and took out the vial. “This is a dummy,” he said. “these aren’t real. Goldie gave it me to show you what to do.  You just take one of them with a drink – any kind of drink.  Whatever you like best. And then you just lie back, and that’s the end.”
“You mean, you die?” The cigarette was dead between her fingers.
He nodded. “When it gets too bad – it’s the way out.”
“What’s the other pill for?” she whispered.
“That’s a spare,” he said. “I suppose they give it you in case you lose one of them, or funk it.””

3. Grant Morrison, Doom PatrolDoom Patrol Jane never painted again Grant Morrison

You wouldn’t think that a comic book about robot men, psychic superheroes, alien invasions and so forth would fit into this kind of list.  You’d be wrong.  Grant Morrison’s run on Doom Patrol is full of self-aware post-modern fun with the conventions of the spandex-and-fighting genre, but is bookended by two issues which redefine grim, bleak and pitiless.

Cliff From Doom Patrol by Grant Morrison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

4. Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go

Slow, elegaic, fatalistic…a lot of people seemed to miss the point of this book – a quasi-sci-fi tale of clones, bred to provide organs for donation, and doomed to an early and grisly death – asking “why didn’t they rebel and run away?”  To me, it’s an extended meditation on the fact that the defining characteristic of humanity is that we don’t run away from our fate, or scream in alarm; whether in Srebrenica, Sobibor or Surbiton, we accept the hand we’re given and make the best we can of it, and support each other down the long, cold, final road.

KEY QUOTE: “Perhaps we’d have been happy if things had stayed that way for a lot longer; if we could have whiled away more afternoons chatting, having sex, reading aloud and drawing.  But with the summer drawing to an end, with Tommy getting stronger, and the possibility of notice for his fourth donation growing ever more distinct, we knew we couldn’t keep putting things off indefinitely.”

5. Derek Raymond, I Was Dora Suarez

Any of Raymond’s works would have filled this slot, especially those from the Factory series, pitiless police procedurals that make Ian Rankin at his gloomiest look like an episode of Midsomer Murders.  This one edges it (beyond He Died With His Eyes Open and How The Dead Live – yeah, he didn’t mess about disguising the bleakness, old DR) just for the endlessly grim, hopeless, despairing tone, they way even our nameless cop anti-hero can’t kid himself he’s saving the world, he just wants to save some last vestige of his own belief in truth, if it’s – and it probably is – the last thing he does.  If you want a thoroughly depressing musical accompaniment for all this, hunt down the author and Gallon Drunk’s part-audiobook, part-soundtrack-to-a-film-that-could-never-be-made album.  But don’t say I didn’t warn you.

KEY QUOTE: “Writing Suarez broke me; I see that now. I don’t mean that it broke me physically or mentally, although it came near to doing both. But it changed me; it separated out for ever what was living and what was dead. I realised it was doing so at the time, but not fully, and not how, and not at once…I asked for it, though. If you go down into the darkness, you must expect it to leave traces on you coming up” – Derek Raymond, The Hidden Files

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Art of the Poster

As a teen, I’d presume like most teens, my bedroom walls were covered by posters. Blue-tacked images of my sporting, musical and motion picture heroes festooned my sleeping quarters, long before I had any understanding of art as decoration. They were badges, rather than aesthetic tokens – a display of my favour for certain cultural markers. As an adult, I’ve gained an appreciation for an art form that could adorn the home of both my adolescent and mature self: the gig poster.

The playbill isn’t a new concept by any means. Think of the Victorian printed sheets, with lists of acts in varying type and sizes depending on their prominence in the running order. By the punk rock era, home-made posters appeared that reflected the pathos of the movement. Out of necessity, they were cheaply made, utilizing newly available methods like Letraset, to promote smaller gigs, rather than large, professional concerts.

Today, there is a rich, growing community of artists, carving their own niche in the world as gig poster designers. Posters, as a creative endeavour, have advanced to a point where they no longer only fulfil their original role as entirely promotional material, but are now desirable works of art in their own right. Although not quite at the level of T-shirts or hoodies as gig merchandise, increasingly, well designed, limited edition prints have become collectable. “I think people are becoming more aware of the art form,” Drew Millward, a prominent gig poster figure, told us.

Glyn Smyth, professionally known as Scrawled, agrees it is emerging from its underground roots, but not quite yet in the wider public consciousness, in the UK at least. “It’s still very much a niche concern,” he said, “and still only of passing interest to the average music fan. I think it’s still more of a Stateside thing.”

'Wolves In The Throne Room' by Glyn Smyth

At this point, I must confess a degree of self interest. For those that don’t know me or haven’t read the blurb, I am an experienced graphic designer who, in the course of his career, has created the occasional gig poster. Let me be clear, I’m in no way putting myself on the same pedestal as some of the other artists I here mention, because apart from being great art what sells a poster is the name. I could spend hours name dropping recognized bands, but suffice to say from Beck to The Beastie Boys, and from Sonic Youth to Scissor Sisters, which might give you some idea of their cultural significance. My success so far has been limited to the smaller end of the scale, although I count a few recognizable names, such as Grandaddy front man Jason Lytle and emerging British band Pulled Apart By Horses.

What inspired this article was a browse around a trendy Edinburgh clothes shop – the type that also sells over priced sweets and coffee table books. On display were copies of Gigposters Volume 2 – an A3 collection of prints and artist profiles, gathered from the best talent on gigposters.com. I am a member of the site, and although my work does not feature in this book or its predecessor many artists of my acquaintance do. I stood in slight awe and marvelled that this was the level it had reached.

This attractive tome aside, at their peak, venues like Madison Square Garden may commission a beautiful, not merely functional piece of poster design, but its roots are firmly planted in local pubs, bars and clubs. “Putting on shows got me into poster design,” said Drew. “We needed posters, so I doodled some. They sucked, but it got me interested in drawing.” This home-made approach is a nod back to the DIY origins of the movement, and it’s how most established poster artists started. From small acorns, as they say. In Drew’s career he has worked for the likes of The Black Keys and Flight of the Conchords. Great oaks indeed.

'The Black Keys' by Drew Millward

The community is large and widespread, with literally thousands of artists on gigposters alone. But thousands of gigs occur every week, and the promotion for most is merely functional. The number that utilize this art form is tiny. There are certain venues and certainly a number of bands who encourage gig poster artists. American artist Rob Jones famously created a series of posters for the White Stripes, accompanying their Under Great White Northern Lights box set, for which he received a Grammy Award for best packaging design. He has also worked extensively for singer Jack White’s other band, The Raconteurs. Satisfied customers always come back.

Partially this close relationship is out of practical considerations – the band need to promote their gig – but a large part is due to a real appreciation for the art form: that’s the explanation as to why many of the same band names crop up often. “Some bands will commission them because they are passionate about art,” said Drew. ‘They strive to have a visual identity to the music they create; others will do it as a way of getting some extra merchandise and subsidising their dwindling income from record sales.’

For the artist it is also a means to an end, although, as most would agree, by no means a cash cow. “More than seeing them as particularly lucrative themselves,” Glyn summarized, ‘I see gig posters as oversized business cards.” As Drew Millward more directly put it “When people question you for selling a hand drawn, hand printed, limited edition, screen printed poster for £10, you know it’s not something that has fully seeped into the public consciousness just yet.”

They’re a beautiful, collectable piece of advertising, for both the band and the artist. The culture hasn’t yet reached a stage where a decent living can be made by aspiring designers. It is just another tool at their disposal.

Aside from the prestige, promotion and minor financial reasons, many artists create merely for the love of it, and to be part of a supportive and sympathetic collective. In addition to Gigposters, Flatstock – a regular international expo of poster work – and Poster Roast for example, offer a structure to their exploits. With this kind of networking, and their continuing emergence, it can’t be long before the art form is regarded as highly as the music it accompanies.

Other than the artists featured, also check out the work of Luke Drozd, We Three Club, Graham D. Pilling, and my own, humble efforts here.

Mums vs Business

I belong to an online group for photographers, and recently the conversation turned to starting to charge . The comments were supportive and fun until somebody decided to butt in and tell us what he really thinks of people who suddenly decide to become a photographer while on maternity leave. He claimed that stay-at-home mums steal the clients from him (and the other ‘professionals’).Child using a toy camera

So what is so annoying about a woman deciding to change her career path and give her talents a chance, to bring in some extra money and to spend some time in the world outside nappies and projectile vomiting?

One of the arguments is that it’s not really possible to change career and skills overnight. I changed from teaching to photography, and it took long evenings of reading tons of tutorials, lots of patience, even more practice, expensive gear, and even more expensive computer programmes.

I would never claim I’m a photographer without all the preparation and confidence that I can provide my clients with the quality photos that they paid for. And all my preparation, learning and shooting takes place next to cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, shopping,  and taking care of my 3.5 yr old daughter.

I’m not complaining about life and my responsibilities, I’m just stating the fact that being a Mum doesn’t mean women can’t achieve success on a new career path. When a mum goes back to her previous work after having a baby and continues to gain experience and climbs up the business ladder not many people will claim she is rubbish, purely because she is now a mother.

But when a stay-at-home mum starts a new career, making the effort to learn a new skill from scratch, devoting all her free time (there’s not much of it, trust me) on practice and spends some savings to get needed equipment, then this mum is considered a time-waster and unqualified person.

I’ve seen thousands of photos, thousands of photography related websites and designs, and it just so happens that the ones I liked the most were those of women who became photographers/digital designers alongside their maternity status.

One of the things I love the most about their work is the difference between their first photo they took of their baby and the one they took just 5 months later on someone’s wedding as a booked photographer. The transition and development is so outstanding in many cases that I don’t understand why there is any doubt about their skills.

Does it really matter how many years that person was in the business or how many degrees that person can flash in front of our eyes? When we pay for a service isn’t it the end product that we want? And if it happens to satisfy a group of clients, stands out from the crowd and is done by a mum, is that a problem?

We have to give mums more credit for trying to go out there and make a difference in their life. Most of us find our true talents, hobbies and business ideas during those long sleepless nights nursing our babies. Mums starting something new are not trying to take shortcuts and pretend they know stuff. They will put double amount of energy into everything they do. Because that’s what mothers do in life, whatever they do.

The Right to Create

We hear a lot about rights. And rightly so, in most cases. Human rights, equal rights, the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to work, the right to a living wage, the right to a free education, the right to bear arms, the right to party, the right to take a dump in public and such like. Much is written about these rights (well, most of them), so I’m going to write about another right, one which you may not have heard of, because I’ve just it made it up: the right to create. Right, so moving on (with no more crappy plays on the word right I promise)…

I do some creative things. I’ve hosted a few art exhibitions and displayed my stuff in public and all that kind of arty crap, so I like to consider myself an artist. (No, please don’t stop reading. It makes me feel better  to consider myself an artist when I’m at work stacking shelves in a supermarket at 3 in the morning). But because I need to earn a living I have to go to work full time, so I can only be a part time artist. And this pisses me off. And gets me thinking.Artist Studio, with paintbrushes, illustrating the right to create.  Photo: See-ming Lee

I’m faced with two choices. One, produce commercially viable art which makes me enough money as a full time artist that I don’t have to work but which compromises my art. Or two, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which compromises my ability to make money and therefore means I have to work as well. (Don’t anyone dare mention three, produce art which satisfies my artistic integrity but which is also commercially viable, because rather like a relationship with Laura-Mary Carter of Blood Red Shoes, this is The Impossible Dream).

I choose the second route, because I feel that my art is something I should do to make me happy, not to make me money. Though I have even been a full time artist in the past. An actual arty artist too, doing the art I wanted to do and not the art I had to do to make money. But then I ran out of money and had to go on Jobseekers Allowance. And this meant that I had to find a real job. It didn’t matter what job I wanted to do or what job I could do well because those jobs weren’t available. I was obliged to get a job as soon as possible. Any job. I got a job in a call centre. It was very,very, shit. I was working shit hours for a shit wage in a shit job. It was a shit life.

But that’s fine, because at least I’m working huh? At least I have a job. At least I am paying my taxes. I am paying my way. I am not a burden to the working man. I am not a turd-encrusted pube on the asshole of society. I am not some scruffy arty tosser sponging off the state (I am just a scruffy arty tosser). No, I work. I am a good and useful citizen. Well if that’s all true, why was I miserable as fuck?

Because I was just existing.  I wasn’t creating.  I was a walking National Insurance Number. And I’m not the only one. I know countless artists, musicians, actors and actresses, dancers, writers, photographers, film makers, designers, performers and poets who work not in artistic fields but in call centres, shops, garages, offices, care homes etc etc. I don’t mean to demean those jobs and the people who do them, but my point is on the issue of choice . Many people want to work in those jobs, but many need to because they don’t have a choice. Shouldn’t a person be free to try and pursue the career they want? How many thousands of creative and talented people across the country are stuck in their non-creative jobs, compelled to waste their creativity and talent and ultimately their life by the conventions of society and the pressure to earn money? How many people are compelled to go through their life miserable as fuck, just so they can work and contribute and pay their rent and pay their taxes and therefore be a good and useful citizen?

Too many, I say. There is however, a solution to this sad state of affairs. It is based upon the idea that a person’s value to society is not based upon their monetary value. It’s not about the amount of taxes they contribute weighed against the amount of benefits they receive. It’s about the non-monetary value they can provide to society. Imagine if a person had the right to do the kind of work they enjoy and are good at. Imagine if they had the right not have to work in any shit job just because they have to. Imagine if  a person was allowed to use their skills, their personality, their talent and their passion to benefit others. Imagine being helped by that person. Imagine being that person. Imagine there’s no countries. It isn’t hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for. And no religion too. Man, wouldn’t everyone be much happier?

And to help create that happiness? I propose that artistic and creative people are given the right to create.

I propose an Artists Allowance. This would allow an artist to pursue their artistic activities without the need to work and without the resulting financial worries. Instead of being forced to work in shit jobs they are allowed to do what they want to do and do what they are good at doing. They are given the right to create.

What is this idealistic tosh? How could this possibly work? Naive? Ridiculous? Do-gooder lefty hippy bollocks? In these times of austerity, a whole load of people are going to get paid by the state to sit around on their arses so long as they call themselves an artist? I have got to be kidding, right?

No, because it’s not as simple as that. Firstly, the allowance should only be the equivalent of what the artist would receive if they were not an artist – i.e on Jobseekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance or Housing Benefit – no more. A person would clearly be better off financially if they were working, thus ensuring that the Artists Allowance was not pursued just for the money. Who would give up a full time well paid job to receive a subsistence poverty income? Certainly not everyone. Those whose heart isn’t in it, wouldn’t. But I would, if I could do my art.

Secondly, the artist would have to prove they are an artist. They would have to attend the Jobcentre regularly to prove that they are pursuing artistic activities. Rather like filling in the oh-so-impervious-to fraudsters little Jobseekers Diary. Except the artist could prove they are pursuing artistic activities. A film maker would have to show their films. A painter would have to show their paintings. You couldn’t make it up.

Thirdly, and this for me is at the heart of the point I am driving at, the artist would have to contribute to society with their art. This is where we see the value of a person not just in monetary terms. Isn’t it right that a person is judged for what they can do for others rather than for how much money they earn? Yes, the state pays this person, but this person pays back society. There are many, many ways an artist can use their skills and create art to benefit their community. If the artist can’t think of a way, they won’t get the Artists Allowance and they can sell their shite and their soul to Ikea instead. This is a mutually beneficial allowance. Give and take. Not something for nothing.

And here we also have the state creating work. Not taking it away. We all know there are not enough jobs to go round at the moment. So let’s enable people to create their own. Let’s give people the work of their choice. Working for the state, for themselves, and for the community. Give an artist some money to spend on art materials and arts activities and arts events and their increased spending stimulates the economy. We would move away from the perception of art as a luxury for those who can afford it, but towards art as a more accessible, more local, more essential, part of the community. Furthermore, thousands of community or state artists who would now be working within the arts would mean that thousands of other people would be able to do the other jobs the artist would otherwise have been pushed into. Damn, we could even get the good old private sector involved too so they quit their tedious whinging about the bloated public sector and privileged public servants. Companies could sponsor an artist on the Artists Allowance. The artist could work for them on joint projects. The company could even get a tax break in return for their support (that should get them onside)…

So will there ever be a right to create? Will there shite. Our esteemed politicians go on about “progressive government”  and “Big Society” but they’re about as progressive as a brown Ford Cortina with a flat tyre stuck in reverse gear and as for the Big Society, well something else with the initials BS springs to mind instead. Should we have this right though? Bring on the debate…

‘Alternating Currents: Japanese Art after March 2011’ review

The sheer scale of Taro Izumi’s ‘Skunk Tunnel’, dominating the ground floor gallery of PICA, took my breath away.

Children (no doubt forced along for educational purposes) were frolicking in the giant board game theatre- its various masks and activites scattered about like the aftermath of an earthquake. The accompanying adults picked their way through chaos more carefully. Either for the fear of tripping or struck, as I was, by the post-Fukushima metaphor.

It took 3 weeks to construct and is based on a Japanese board game called E-sugoroku which is like Snakes and Ladders where the winner is the first to get to Buddhist paradise. The feelings evoked by Skunk Tunnel are far from Zen though. There is projected footage of Izumi performing/playing the game and the rules seem to be made up as they go along. This exhibition was commissioned in 2010 but the art changed in response to the disasters in Japan earlier this year.

Works by the other artists, such as the pop-up cafe “Yellow Cake” and the various video installations, deal with the effects of Fukushima and attempts at grass roots responses to rebuilding Japanese society.
Another of Izumi’s pieces involves a lot of wooden tables. They look washed ashore until you realise that there are small wooden figures holding them up.

The idea of the familiar made unfamiliar is also present in Yukio Fujimoto’s work. On the walls outside the Westend gallery are Vinyl LPs by The Sex Pistols and Kraftwerk. On closer inspection, the grooves have been polished out making them completely unusable.

On entering the Westend gallery I was again taken aback by the scale of a piece, Fujimoto’s ‘Broom’, an 8 meter circle of coal with a hollow centre. Like Skunk Tunnel it is there to be interacted with, and walking over the coal you make your own music like the pop and hiss of a vinyl record.


The piece I connected with the most was Fujimoto’s ‘Time’.
Listening against a cavity wall filled with 400 ticking clocks is like a rushing stream over pebbles, taking on strange rhythms.
The very helpful gallery assistant, Frankie, told me I could stand in the cavity wall too. In there, the sound was more like rain on a rooftop. Apparently some people find it a bit overwhelming.

A great show and highly recommended.

Please note, the venue did not allow pictures to be taken, so the pictures in this post have been borrowed from the Japan Foundation website.

Alternating Currents: Japanese Art after March 2011 runs at PICA in Western Australia until December 31st 2011

Shooting Stitchthread

My best friend Lex says I’m the most pretentious person she knows. Let that be a warning if you’re not yet aware of just how pretentious an artist writing about their work can appear.

I once read a defence of Béla Tarr’s work that went something along the lines of ‘either all art is pretentious or none of it is’. I think the trouble comes from the fact that what the artist says about their work might not match how we’ve experienced it. However, if we’re to treat art work as texts and are struggling to ‘read’ the piece then the artist’s view of their work can at least offer us away in.

So here’s me, offering you a way in to the music video ‘Last Days’ which I directed (produced, shot and edited) for Preston Doom Metallers ‘Stitchthread’.

There’s a repeating trick throughout the video, so if you’ve not yet watched it, here it is. Otherwise, *SPOILERS (& PRETENTIOUSNESS) AHEAD*

Prior to an art exhibition I did in January 2011, Ian (Stitchthread’s mandibly hirsute drum beast) had created the branding for my production company. During the process we got into discussions on Béla Tarr and this led to Ian asking me whether I’d ever considered shooting a music video.

It’s not something I’d spent too much time considering given that a large amount of them are the video equivalent of fast food and an horrendous waste of talent. Added to this is that I repeatedly see videos for Metal songs with the same lazy horror film tropes- Band performing in a cellar/ woods/ wasteland intercut with some form of chase/ torture/ murder sequence, a lot of lens flare and shaky-cam during the solos. Often a vanity project and masturbatory aid for bands who know just how cool they are.

Ian assured me that this wasn’t the sort of thing they were after, and while I can’t vouch that the video has been safe from Jim the bassist’s onanism, I asked which songs they were considering having a video for. They forwarded an 8 minute song and the 18 minute ‘Last Days’. I was veering towards Last Days, not only because most people don’t make 18 minute music videos, but also because I felt closer to the apocalyptic themes of Last Days given the reading I was doing at the time just after the 2nd Black Metal Theory Symposium.

I’d wanted to start doing long camera takes since discovering Béla Tarr and the look I’ve gone for is lifted straight from ‘Sátántangó’ (the most intense 7 hours you’ll ever spend in front of a screen). SPOLIER- Because of the non-linear story in Sátántangó, there’s a certain scene where for a moment I thought I watching a ghost and this was the most prominent scene in my mind in addition to the overall look of Tarr’s films.

With having the band disappear from the screen, my intention was to have the viewer think about the space the camera is moving through and realising how the band must be moving about out of shot, opening the 2D screen into a 3D perception. This echoes Fontana’s Spatial Concept pieces (currently at Liverpool*spit* Tate)-

and also a sequence from Solyaris by Tarkovsky (who Tarr can be seen as a disciple of).

The video for Velouria by The Pixies was another big influence in terms of intent. At the time of it’s making, bands couldn’t get on Top Of The Pops without having a music video. In order to appear the Pixies shot a 23 second clip of themselves running down a quarry and then slowed the footage to the length of the song. This sort of playing with time strikes me as something quite Deleuzian (see Cinema 2) but was also the playful kind of subversion of form I was aiming for- The Last Days video isn’t a typical representation of a metal band, they keep disappearing from view but are always present, not only in the music, but in the space of the screen world.

As for the repeated disappearing, I’ve been fascinated with illusions and magic tricks since I was very young. The bloke who used to clean our windows showed me that trick where it looks like you’re pulling your thumb off once and I used to ask him to show me it over and over every week. I was totally baffled and it took years for me to work out but led me into learning magic tricks (I only know one decent card trick though). That kind of childhood experience of appearances and absences is covered by Paul Virilio in ‘The Aesthetics of Disappearance’, a book which has become important to my understanding of media.

We shot in early March and green shoots were beginning to show on the trees, a week later they would have been in blossom, so it was really the last possible weekend for a few months to get the video to look bleak. Although it certainly doesn’t come across, it was a glorious spring day and while we started early to minimise the amount of public about, by the last take I was nearly tripping over strangers to keep them out of the shot. Ian and I had rehearsed a few times the week before and on the day I rehearsed once with the band, who’d brought their running shoes.

There are no camera tricks or cuts in the video. The black and white, high contrast image is due to the camera used- a Fisher Price PXL 2000. This was a child’s toy in the 1980s and used to record to audio cassette tape (7 minutes of video on a C90 tape). Mine is circuit bent to allow recording to a digital device.

The use of this camera is another subversion in a world of glossy HD, not attempting to perfectly reflect reality but creating its own image world.

Gerry Fialka, champion of the PXL 2000 and organiser and LA’s annual PXL THIS film festival said this of the camera minimalism- “Giving the viewer less information might mean more involvement by the viewer…” This is something I go along with, not trying to spoon feed the meaning of the image (that’s what ‘making of’ blogs are for) but asking to viewer to bring themselves to the piece and opening up tmie and space in the piece to allow this. I was delighted when a viewer said they’d had an apophenic experience of it, seeing faces in the trees, their mind trying to create meaning from chaos.

Enough from me, what do you think?

Last Days by Stitchthread screened at Sync 4, Preston, March 2011 and will screen at PXL THIS 21, California, December 12th 2011

R2 Photography

Born in Arklow, Co Wicklow, Ireland in 1975, Roweena Russell has lived in the North East of England since 2004. She is involved in the “hi” project, helping those who have been affected by drugs, and is a committed political activist, who  addresses the issues she sees through photography that immerses the viewer in the image, often creating an almost eerie atmosphere.  Somehow luxurious whilst being everyday, her work brings a film like sheen to the subject. Here she shares some of her work.

Roweena Russell Photograph

Comfort by Roweena Russell

Wistful by Water by Roweena RussellAmsterdam Reflections by Roweena RussellAmsterdam thawing by Roween Russell

Slut Walk Newcastle Activist by Roweena Russell

Skye Image, Roweena Russell

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