Artist: Naomi Uman

Naomi Uman is a filmmaker who explores the male gaze, feminism and existing as other within our patriarchal capitalist structure. She has made several well-known experimental films and graduated from CalArt in 1998 with an MFA. I first saw a clip of  Removed in Amazon’s I Love Dick and it stuck with me because of how powerful the symbolism is. Uman found the footage in a projection booth at CalArt and used nail polish remover to obliterate the women from the physical film isolating the male gaze (Frank, 2017). Watching it gave me the familiar feeling of weird sickness I have felt plenty of times in my life when I’ve sensed or seen myself reduced to an object for fucking and not much more or else something to be lorded over directly or in the reflection someone else’s gaze. I think it’s ‘up there’ in my own list of work worth holding on to forever for its brilliance and accurate betrayal of our society alongside Jemima Stehli’s Strip.

Other films by Uman added here as I find them:


Feedback Recommendations

1. Benedict Drew:
2. Pipilotti Rist – showing in A Minute Ago in London shortly:

(‘A Minute Ago considers the idea of ‘a moment’ through artistic practice: how do we experience a single moment in time, and how do we process, communicate, and reconstruct it. Including performances by live art practitioners and moving image work selected from the Zabludowicz Collection, the exhibition investigates the ways in which a moment can be interrogated through different art forms’.)

  1. Look at Tony Oursler’s work (thinking particularly about his experiments with the voice and with sound; of-my-voice-sound-in-the-work-of-tony-oursler/
  2. Mark Wallinger’s Sleeper (‘performing’ the self):

I have been looking at the various recommendations Wendy gave me in the A3 feedback.

Benedict Drew – I have written about Drew elsewhere after seeing his work at the Whitechapel last year

Tony Ousler –

I couldn’t find the link I was given as it appears to be broken according to Ousler’s website but had a look at various other works by him and feel I must come back to it as there is so much. I was drawn to the above and the following words which were on an MIT site that came up when I searched for the words in the link.

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Mark Wallinger – Wallinger dresses up as a bear and wanders through a German gallery at night. Passer-bys ignore him or stare at him to see what’s going on, or are frightened by him as he lunges at them as they walk by outside.

I loved listening to Wallinger speak about his experience on the Tate website. But the critical point for me in this is his statement about performing for no-one which echoed what I was saying about Growtwoski’s assertion that a performance can be for as many or few as you like – (page 32 Kindle) – he talks about what a performance needs for something to be rendered a ‘performance’ and Growtoski says only one audience member is needed. Wallinger however, talks about having no audience at all other than himself which is just as valid in a discourse about boundaries between the idea of self and other (we are all part of the fabric of reality and therefore self and other are linguistically created illusions). However, is it not slightly disingenuous of him to say there was no audience since he filmed his performance, interacted with people staring into the gallery or who ignored him (even though they did, there was still meeting of consciousness’ caught up in the ‘performance’ of ignoring) – and then showed his dressed up isolation to another audience? Since the work was entered for the Turner prize the end result-audience was large indeed.

Pipilotti Rist – I have written about Rist several times but in particular here. I went to the Zabludowicz Collection last week and was very pleased to be able to spend time with her work in a gallery and with the soundtrack there (At that time, I had not managed to find it online with sound as there are some copyright issues on the Youtube version which means it is only shown silently in some versions – I have found it now. Apple Music  – not iMusic but the Beatle’s company are notoriously tricky about protecting copyright so wonder how this all played out….)  A while ago, I realised that I respond to aural effects, but that verbalisatised speech often irks me. For instance, I don’t recall song lyrics but at the risk of sounding horribly pretentious, I feel like I somehow kinesthetically ’embrace’ the melody, or it embraces me. That isn’t to say I don’t like or am not interested in language. I very much am and most of my inquiry here is about how language shapes our reality – but I find the human voice can quite often break a magical moment when it has been created with the use of light, sound, place, movement, rather than add to it and perhaps that is something for me to think about. I’ve digressed somehow – I am very drawn by aural aspects of Rist’s video, I’m not the Girl Who Misses Much – a dismantled version, in fact just one-line from a Beatles song, Happiness is a Warm Gun, which Rist adapts by changing the lyrics so it is about her female-self rather than a song about a female-other sung by a male-primary subject. The song is a terrific choice not only because of the words, but the combination of whimsical minor chords and its regular beat, already broken up with musical slides and somersaults, which Rist speeds up and slows down, as well as interrupts with other audio. It is accompanied by visuals of her dancing which are out of focus, with effects and editing tricks that further dismantle and disrupt the narrative. It’s the sort of work that makes me very, very excited!

I didn’t manage to see A Minute Ago by Rachel Rose, which the exhibition was named after (the upper level was closed in preparation for a performance) but have seen a clip on Vimeo here This work made me think about fellow OCA student Catherine her Second Life investigation – and how reality in our hyperreal world has been usurped by technically made visual reality, and corporeal existence is rendered out of focus


Artist: Richard Mosse & Supreme

Since writing this afew days ago, my son has discovered the following:









Written as the rumours emerged:


Richard Mosse, an award-winning photographer well-known for his pink infrared images of the Congo is currently being discussed by boys of various size and age all over the internet, as they celebrate the rumoured release of a collaboration between Moss and Supreme. For anyone disassociated entirely from urban teen culture, Supreme is a clothing brand which specialises in streetwear, linked intrinsically to skateboarding. And as such, is imbued with signifiers that say ‘America’, ‘youth’, ‘freedom’, borrowing from various counter-cultures, such as punk, grunge, porn and hells angels. (Firestarter, 2017; p4)

Several things mark a Supreme hoodie out as different and ‘better’ in the eyes of its client base compared to a similar item which one might buy in any high street store. They have a brilliant marketing ‘ploy’. They do not release or sell in high quantity. It’s not possible to buy everything they do sell online. They have an extremely limited number of stores. Then there is the ritualised way in which customers may enter and buy from a Supreme shop, which further helps to fetishize their stock. Until recently, days before a release, mostly boys, but not exclusively, would queue for hours at secret locations, the whereabouts of which were revealed at the last moment, carrying some form of identification just to get a sequence number. If they were lucky enough to receive a low digit they were able to visit a store several days later with access to limited sales of T-shirts and other one-off goods. The system recently went online but it is still as complex and odd as before. This sales strategy has resulted in a black market, which might on the surface look economically self-defeating, and is officially frowned upon, however, the caché it produces offsets any loss as it exponentially increases the commodity value of a mundane and low use-value T-shirt.


Crucially, in addition to the ritualised selling, Supreme collaborate with other high-profile brands, as well as artists and celebrity figures who radiate cultural capital. The relationship is often symbiotic, expanding an artist’s fame into the minds of future art buyers as well as giving Supreme an air of established anti-establishment. The habit reflects a growing trend between the skateboarding and high art worlds. Anya Firestone writes in an enlightening article, “Rolling on skateboards and across hip-hop, at streetwear pop-ups and in sneaker drops, contemporary branding has been cast under a creative spell, or perhaps curse, of the C-word. Just as “curation” has become a trendy term, decontextualized from its museological origin and misused across street culture (mostly as a poser-synonym for “arrangement”), so too has “collaboration” acquired powerful new impact in the space where curating first began: the art world. Today, the phenomenon marks a historic moment for both domains: in a dangerous liaison between low and high culture, we find the skateboard hooking up with artwork, and as a result, being curated on a wall as if it is one.” (Firestone, 2017: p2)

Recent collaborators have included Cindy Sherman, along with, “contemporary artist Takashi Murakami (decks estimated for sale at $3,000-$5,000)…Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, George Condo, Larry Clark and Jeff Koons, amongst others,” (Firestone, 2018; pg 4)


Mosse is the latest in this high-profile list. None of the names above, however, have been as attached to the subject matter of conflict, along with all it entails, as Mosse. Images he took over a period of years in the Congo using infrared film, no longer produced by Kodak, renders the landscape violent pink. The dark-skinned people he photographs made all the more exotic by the complimentary palette in his frame. Mosse is well-known for using unusual photographic methods to capture narratives about violence and tragedy, rendering his imagery extraordinarily beautiful. Indeed, he says that beauty is the sharpest tool in the box (2017) and suggests that traditional documentary has failed.  The contrast between the base ugliness of war and the aesthetic glory of his images is his clever USP. Does it seem unfair to use a marketing term such as USP in this way, connected as it is to an artist whose work is all about narratives which often involve the systematic killing of vast numbers of people, and if not at the very least the West’s neglect and dehumanization of them? Perhaps not, given his decision to collaborate with Supreme. His latest work, Incoming, is a video installation documenting migrants’ journeys, which he made by using a heat-seeking camera to film refugees from afar, up to 18miles away, literally zooming in on and amplifying questions related to photography voyeurism, and ethics. The result is a phenomenally beautiful, non-linear film, and one where Mosse has not shied away from adding further constructed elements such as slowing down the video or adding sound to enhance eerie strangeness. Bosch’s vision of hell in The Garden of Earthly Delights or perhaps his Ship of Fools (1500) is brought to life in this postmodern moving-image representation of humanity’s struggle with itself to be good and decent, or else its resignation to violence. Although it is not these he uses in the collaboration, they are worth mentioning as they demonstrate a willingness on his part to push boundaries, for which Mosse should be and is revered. He won the 2017 Prix Pictet for this work in which, like the Congo images, the tragic world we live in is rendered hauntingly beautiful.

Soon, if the rumours are true, you can buy Mosse’s work on a T-Shirt or a skateboard. The ‘leaked’ images show proud but exotically ‘othered’ men in the pink Savannah. And people, little boys, in fact, are very excited as Mosse or more likely one of his representatives guards his copyright, ensuring unofficial social media accounts delete their leaked reports – I suspect this as my son has noticed several Instagram pictures on fashion feeds were taken down shortly after posting. Nevertheless, as anyone knows nowadays, it is not possible to stop copies and reiterations from being illegally produced almost overnight. The most empty and sadly nihilistic of which is a selection of T-shirts where the colour pink has been ‘borrowed’, along with the Supreme box-logo (itself a Barbara Kruger emulation). On the front are printed words, rendered hollow signifiers by their process, relating to the subject of war, such as ‘terror’, ‘dying’, ‘violent’, ‘dead’. If this were a scenario in a film, perhaps called something along the lines of Zoolander, we would laugh hysterically at the grotesque marketing of suffering, at the ludicrous nonsense our world has become. But for now, I cannot see any criticism online, although it is early days.

“Sublimination of the gun…”

Roy Ascott writes in an essay titled, “The Grand Convergence: art, technology, consciousness in a planetary perspective, “Our decision collectively to forget , marginalize or ignore so many people and cultures in the world , in many cases actively to impede their communication, to silence their voices, often through sheer indifference as much as greed or malice, plays a large part in the situation we find ourselves in today.” (2002:p6). He also says, “The emphasis by the artist moves from content to context, from object to process, from representation of the world as a given, to the construction of worlds in emergence, from certainty to contingency, from composition and resolution to complexity and emergence. In short our focus has shifted from the behaviour of forms to forms of behaviour.” (2002:p2)

Mosse states his use of the camera, an instrument designed for war, not to harm people but to render their situation bizarrely but conflicting beautiful is a political act. For him, representation is not a given, as he captures the world so unusually hoping to make us look at it differently and perhaps catch a glimpse of the real. One might argue at length about the semantics and truth of Sontag’s well-known and often repeated quote; “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have; it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed. Just as a camera is a sublimation of the gun, to photograph someone is a subliminal murder – a soft murder, appropriate to a sad, frightened time.” In this case, Sontag seems on point and the work’s success dwells inside this dichotomy. Mosse himself quotes this same collection of words in his interviews. However, if we as artists are looking at process and behaviour being at the forefront of art as society finds ways to explore and come to terms with the newest version of reality, (and I think we should be) then it behooves us, and it is valid, to treat the economic life as part of the process of this work, as its primary subject rather than the aesthetics. Even if this appears consciously unintentional on behalf of the artist. Not to say we should ignore aesthetics since it is clearly integral to the primary subject and has undoubtedly led to it its latest incarnation, but that when analysing the process, we need to be aware of where these elements are prioritised.

My son, Supreme, and art

E’s interest in T-shirts and artistic collaboration has given us a common interest. He asks me if I like Cindy Sherman. I ask him how he knows about her. He replies her work is printed on limited edition skateboards in Supreme. Through his use of the internet and his obsessive interest in streetwear he has developed a knowledge and appreciation of Basquiat, Kruger, Banksy, Picasso, Warhol and more.  And all of that is great. However, my 13-year-old son is growing up in a very noisy world where anyone can yell at strangers on the internet about Muslims, rape, and supposed ‘man-hating feminists’, amongst all the rest of it. He exists in a world where dismissing and diminishing complex narratives has become the norm.

And he laughs at notions of integrity when he learns about artists who are known to espouse left or anti-authority ideology but who have teamed up with companies which he believes are positive capitalist machines successfully tapping into markets. Perhaps he’s relatively forgiving of Supreme and its collaborators whom he views as having a modicum of integrity for the most part. But while he has no issue with the company, he has less belief in the integrity of artists who collaborate with another high fashion brand where the history of the said store includes rumours of having sold high street T’s at vastly inflated designer prices. So any ideological art-world collaborators they may have worked with it, including someone (I’m choosing not to name) whose ideology is stridently anti-establishment, seems utterly ‘fake’ to him. In a world where it feels increasingly difficult to engender value that isn’t related to cash, and meaning outside the material, these types of collaborations are at risk of making art and artists seem disingenuous, self-serving and superficial, and perhaps as profit focused as anything you might come across in Disneyland.

Does it matter if the complexity of post-modernism is missed by teenaged boys queuing for a t-shirt? Mosse isn’t the first artist to make suffering beautiful. Nor is he the first to make money out of images linked to conflict. Even if, as many collaborators have done, he injects financial return from the Supreme collaboration into charitable causes, he has increased his reach dramatically by entering a new and youthful market, and therefore his work detailing the Congolese struggle has effectively been rendered an advert. Is this any better or worse than a small charity using an image of suffering to try and raise awareness and funds to operate? (The projection of paternalistic, western psychobabble involved in arguments surrounding this subject are seemingly endless and backed up by academia so difficult to unpick.) Has Mosse genuinely given voice to the Congolese he photographed, as he claims, telling an untold story that needs to be told? Has it had a positive effect? Has it changed the lives of those people? He claims in an interview his work, although not the same as a volunteer actively working on the ground, does have the ability to seep into public consciousness and change attitudes.  Yet, if so, isn’t it undermined by such a collaboration in some or many ways which risks being registered as little more than naked ambition? Or does it allow the ‘message’ to spread further? Will owning the pictures illuminate the privileged wearers in some way?

It would be depressing to think the continued democratisation of art isn’t immensely positive, even though, as, with everything, it comes with costs and benefits. But at the risk of sounding scathing and dangerously wrong about imagery which has a striking quality one can appreciate regardless of liking it or not, I am left wondering if Mosse’s work is indeed art as described by Ascott in his essay, now that it’s likely to be on a T-shirt. Where would Ascott place this work? Or, like so much photography seems to be, has he rendered it advertising by putting it on a hoodie. And what is the difference between the two in a changing world, facing an entirely new reality especially in light of technology? (The habit of being pejorative about advertising might need to be addressed in light of any answers we could reach.) Firestone ends her article by asking if we should just hop on board and roll with it….which seems fine when it’s a picture of a probable penis covered in food by Cindy Sherman but a lot less so when it’s a person in an African war zone.


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Images of war categorised as entertainment on an online fashion and cultural website


Edited with E. Field’s help and advice

Refs – all accessed 22 January 2018

Ascott, R, 2002. The Grand Convergence: art, technology, consciousness in a planetary perspective, Ecole normale supérieure, Paris

Firestone, A. 2017 Deck the Walls: The Rise of the Skateboard x Art Collaboration, HIGHSNOBIETY

Sontag, S. 1973 On Photography, Penguin, London


Photobook: Belongs to Joe, Book of Comfort for a Nymphomaniac, Casper Sejersen

Belongs to Joe came about after Sejersen was employed as the publicity photographer for Lars Von Triers’ film Nymphomaniac (2014). After being sent the script, Sejersen asked if he could make the work, separate from the publicity for which he was paid, as a personal response to the film. He was given permission. The book contains the same actors and props and in just a few cases, some images. Sejersen has included references from the film such as the game Canasta, Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu XI, Isaak Walton’s The Compleat Angler, Fibonacci numbers, Bach’s principles of composition, as well as the central character’s relationship with trees and nature vs. urban living, which she absorbed from her father. The text in the book comes from the script or else is provided by Cecilie Høgsbro, who receives equal credit on the © information page but not the cover.

After reading a positive review of Belongs to Joe I decided to buy it because I was interested in the way a photographer used someone else’s script to create a body of work. (I have, perhaps since TAOP, been thinking about the possibility of doing this in some way, either making work based on all the characters I played or using a single script.)

I had not seen the film although am familiar with Von Triers’ work, in particular Breaking the Waves. However, it seemed imperative to do so, because despite Sejersen’s insistence the book was made to stand on its own, I found it hard to make any sense of. Here I will summarise the film and discuss some of the most relevant (for me) themes, as well as referring to the book as I go.

 Nymphomaniac – the film

 The film is broken up into two parts, and each of those into several chapters which are titled by the narrator Joe, who tells the story of her life to Seligman in his spare bedroom/study after he finds her injured, beaten in an alley outside his apartment. Joe has been addicted to sex since her teenage years, and during each of the chapters she relates, we hear how she has lived a life, which according to her has made her an extremely bad person. She has cheated on everyone, abandoned her son, earned money by hurting others, and by her own account thoroughly deserves the awful situation Seligman found her in. As mentioned above there are numerous references to cultural, philosophical/theoretical objects and texts from our collective history, which have contributed to the way in which stories are told today.

Seligman invariably likens a scenario he’s heard about from Joe to topics he is interested in, such as The Compleat Angler or Proust, and Joe takes the reference and uses it to create a heading and form a subsequent narrative container. For instance, after mentioning the wrangler book, Joe begins with Chapter One and titles it the same name. Thereafter, metaphors from fishing are used to describe how Joe caught men, such as linking a small beginner’s fly called a nymph, which Seligman has pinned to his wall, to her narrative. And so each chapter emerges in this way from their conversation. Constructing the narrative like this is helped along by episodic editing conventions allowing Joe to travel back and forth in time as parts of the story unfold. And it also makes for a tightly woven set of interlinked conceptual containers into which Von Triers pours a plethora of ideas.

The book relies on Von Triers symbolic references (although I notice it does not include the beautiful images of the angling flies) but until you have seen the film, it is hard to understand how all these elements, such as canasta, dead insects, trees, sexuality, sex, a cat-o-nine tails, a car exploding, a young girl fit together.

How reliable is Joe the narrator?

The story unfolds, however, in such a way as to leave some viewers wondering how much of it is true, in the world of the fiction that is, and how much Joe is making up, or at least re-telling through her own lens, or through the filter of an unreliable memory (as it is with all memory). At times, one wonders, would the title Pathological Liar be more appropriate because some scenarios are extremely difficult to trust – perhaps it is not unreasonable to imagine viewers feeling compelled to try and work out whether it is the character who is unreliable or the writer who might be writing from a warped perspective. The first of these very difficult-to believe-tales is about Joe and her childhood friend who are on a train competing to see how many men they can each have sex with during the journey. Not only are the numbers unbelievable, but the split second, unspoken agreements that lead in most cases to sex in compartment toilets, demand a high level of ‘suspended belief’ in order to swallow. I didn’t completely trust my own response, which was “this has to be male fantasy, and possibly a homo-erotic one” and talked about my thoughts with several other women, one of whom has a history of addiction, having been through two separate addictive episodes in her life, as well as having supported people with addiction in her work, and who I shall refer to here as Emily since some of what she told me is sensitive. Emily, who spoke candidly to me about managing multiple relationships as well as selling sex for money, felt that the number of men Joe was supposedly meant to have slept with was not always believable, and the train scenario might have been plausible had it not been for the way in which sex was negotiated. She didn’t think it was impossible but said, even during her most active moments, she could not have imagined sleeping as many men as Joe. Her own addiction took over her life to the point where she was not feeding her children properly and was only focused on maintaining contact with the men she was seeing at the time. Over a period of 18 months, Emily had sex with nearly 40 men and was sleeping with up to four a week at the peak of her addiction. At no point did she sleep with more than two in one 24-hour period, not even when selling sex some years ago. Joe, on the other hand, talks about seeing several men each night, opening her door to a new visitor still naked because there is no time to get dressed shortly after another had left. I found Emily’s thoughts about addiction useful to think about in relation to the film and most of our conversation ended up being about that. We also discussed feminine sexuality as a commodity, how women are sometimes bought up to believe it is the most valuable thing about them, something or the only thing to rely on in order to survive. And of course, what that does to a female psyche.


I have not read any of Proust and so had to do a bit of research as it is heavily referenced in the film. Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu XI is an important aspect; so much so, some critics have suggested the film is, in fact, a reworking of the book. It is well known for being exceptionally long and is presented in several books, perhaps a bit like Joe’s story which is conveyed in chapters and the film split into two parts. The central character in the book is apparently extremely similar to Proust, both in action and temperament, and Proust was an early and key example of working this way, relying on one’s own life for material, which has become so much more familiar to readers of texts today: “Proust shifted the light a little to alter the slant; or used a basket of characteristics drawn from various friends and acquaintances to create a new fictional person; or matched a steeple from here to an apse from there in order to build a church, set in a landscape elsewhere.” (Barton,1999). The book is also an example of 19th century literature, which demonstrates an understanding of the world using similar concepts found in Freudian analysis, another cultural object in the film.

As I listened to the scenes included in a BBC documentary on YouTube (1990), I was struck by the cadence of the narrator, which sounded remarkably like Joe’s.

Additionally, Proust is known for writing with exceptional clarity about nature, trees, leaves, and the landscape. All of which match up with a main theme in the film; nature, both literally and figuratively, i.e. how we manage our own nature in a constructed world which we witness as a shared interest, and therefore link, between Joe and her father, and alter Joe’s protégé.

Once again, because of Proust’s influence in the film, a viewer might be prompted to ask herself how much blurring of self and other has occurred in the making? And are we in fact meant to be asking ourselves this question as we watch? And if so, why?

A comparative text: The Deep Blue Sea, Terrence Rattigan, c1955

It might be useful to briefly compare the film with Terence Rattigan’s Deep Blue Sea, another text which looks at the conflict between human nature and contemporary social norms. The play, written in the 50s just before social mores changed so dramatically during the subsequent decade, is viewed by many as old-fashioned and staid, albeit included in a list of the best-written plays from the 20th century (Rebelatto, 1999). Unlike the episodic Nymphomaniac, it is written in three strict Aristotelian acts so subsequently feels more formal, but it is also about a woman whose actions and choices are out of step with social convention, and begins with her failed suicide attempt. Here too, a male writer created the female role of Hester, reportedly based on one of Rattigan’s male lovers who had ‘successfully’ committed suicide a few years earlier. He denied this link. The play asks audiences to question the way it might judge Hester’s attempted suicide and is rich with subtle and not so subtle references to the restrictive atmosphere in 50s Britain, along with examining the structural apparatus which serve to maintain social order. The play includes characters that represent frailty, passion, various examples from the British class system, church, and the law. These all circle the protagonist, Hester, as she navigates her depression, along with a passionless but loving husband (in the 2011 film version – characterised as most probably gay, albeit suppressed) whom she has deserted and the irresponsible Freddie, who will undoubtedly desert her in turn. It is hard not to interpret both her relationships as emotionally masochistic, arrived at via a deeply repressed society which threatens to punish, delegitimise, and criminalise even the most private aspects of humanity, from sex to depression, to making choices about the time of one’s death. Rattigan is arguably suggesting the repressive nature of the society he is exploring, whoever it pertains to, male or female, gay or straight, in fact, creates a world where one’s life might feel utterly without value. It is interesting to note that Peggy Ashcroft who was the first person to play Hester had very little sympathy for her, interpreting her suicide attempt, and abandonment of a husband who could not love her as she’d hoped to be loved, as selfish rather than the result of depression, anxiety, repression – and a woman in need of treatment. Rattigan’s actors may not have been as forgiving as he, not as modern – thinking as his story. (Perhaps something about this analysis links to Ferdinand Hodler & Valentine Godé-Darel)

Nymphomaniac might at first glance seem a million miles from the play. It is deliberately shocking, uses porn actors as stand-ins for all the sex scenes because they are so gratuitous*, and the play, from our point of view, might appear like the era it was written in, overly uptight, restrictive and formal. However, both texts are exploring similar themes, masochism, the way we define or don’t define mental illness and judge behaviour. Both were written by people who may or may not be drawing heavily on their own lives for material, subject matter, and characters.

Nymphomaniac – the word

There is something odd about the use of the title word. The advertising poster, which Sejersen would been employed to shoot, looks a little like ‘click-bait’ as it shows all the actors in the midst of orgasmic ecstasy. This is incredibly misleading; in actual fact, we see very few of those characters having sex in the film, let alone yelling out in ecstasy, and the focus is very much on Joe not enjoying sex but instead using it as a weapon against herself. The look on her face usually tells a story of bewilderment, pain, misery, and dissatisfaction. Of course, one cannot say for sure where the concept for the poster came from but perhaps it is a sign of the strange relationship between the book, Belongs to Joe, and the film. There are several recent art projects that show women and men mid-orgasm, but the poster lacks the non-commoditised quality of some of these, such as work by Linda Troeller and Marion Schneider. It also contrasts with a scene in Jill Soloway’s Afternoon Delight (2013) where a late 30 something housewife/mum character (Rachel played by Katherine Hahn) invites a stripper/prostitute (McKenner played by Juno Temple) into her family and eventually visits a client with her, only to feel repelled by the stranger as he ejaculates. Soloway exposes the reality of the situation and we get the impression there is a significant contrast between it, and any fantasies Rachel may have harboured.

The film, unlike the poster, is gritty and dirty. The acting is not always highly polished. At times it is astonishingly believable, at others it is fragmented and alienating. The mis-en-scene gives an impression of dirtiness, sordidness; there is a clinical distance from beauty, and certainly from any ideal or romantic notion. And perhaps this disconnect is one of the issues with Sejersen’s book. It is shot in the style of a highly polished commercial. It is exceptionally beautiful but without the tight-layered structure that exists in the film, and none of the underlying pain Joe is evidently living with.

Academic, Carol Groneman (nd) writes in the Journal of Women and Culture in Society, Vol.19, “In the nineteenth century…[ ]…nymphomania was believed to be a specific organic disease, classifiable, with an assumed set of symptoms, causes, and treatments. Like alcoholism, kleptomania, and pyromania – diseases that were identified in the mid-nineteenth century – a diagnosis of nymphomania was based on exhibited behaviour. “Excessive” female sexual desire is, however, a much more ambiguous concept than habitual drunkenness, shoplifting, or setting fires. Consider the following cases of nymphomania diagnosed in the second half of the nineteenth century….” Groneman goes on to describe women who merely liked sex, simply wanted to have sex with their husbands occasionally, or were indeed suffering from forms of schizophrenia (itself a word that may one day lose its value as doctors find more accurate ways to describe mental illnesses).

At one point in the film, Joe insists to members of a therapy group, she is not a sex addict, she is a nymphomaniac and proud to own the word. I just can’t work out what Von Triers’ is saying in this scene or with his chosen title. Why is he using a word that is out-dated, was constructed by men to imply female sexuality is an illness and used ultimately referring to any woman who engaged in more sex than was seemingly the correct amount for the societies in which it has been used?

The film is complex and engaging and asks some valid questions of society and humanity, but one is left at the end with a vision of a battered, bruised and diseased vagina that overrides everything else. It is really difficult not to assign an armchair analysis to Von Triers, and perhaps his view of society, and his relationship to the origin of (wo)man.

Belongs to Joe

The book is stunningly pretty. The photography is expertly shot, the aesthetic choices superbly beautiful, everything about it is sublime although for anyone not expecting extremely graphic images perhaps quite shocking. They do make sex seem remarkably clean and shiny, however. I hope to be influenced by some aspects, namely putting together a very lovely object. A review on Gup by Daniel Meads gives a clear overview: “Rich with symbolism, the book begins with an image of a stack of cards from a game of solitaire, a game connected with loneliness, isolation and Joes mother. It also doubles as an index to the rest of her life story. The loneliness connected with her mother is counterpointed by Joe’s love of her father, as shown through the inclusion of a photographic herbarium, a possession that he gave to her. The herbarium takes a symbolic break from the aesthetic of the rest of the book as though it is separate object inserted into the book’s narrative. This makes this moment of connection and love feel odd and alien to the rest of her story. Joes’ is an emotional story, which Sejersen’s images balance with their lack of visual emotion, though the book is not without a sense of humour, especially when viewed in the context of having seen the films. (Who can forget the humour of the silent duck?) A few light points ease up what is otherwise a dark descent into degradation, violence, and destruction.” (Meads, 2017)

Nevertheless, it seems that the photographer’s obvious link to some aspects of fashion photography heavily influences the work. I don’t think fashion should be looked down on as it seems to be in some quarters. Viviane Sassen is one example who seems to do a decent job of creating images for both, and bridging any divide one imagines exists. But in Belongs to Joe the actors don’t look even remotely real, they look like models. In the film, we see their vulnerability, flaws, ugliness. In the book, they are flawless and so impossible to forgive or empathise with. Young Joe (Stacy Martin) looks absolutely nothing like the gangly, uncomfortable character she plays in the film but rather more like a film star paid to entice viewers in a designer perfume commercial. In one particular image she looks out at us, perhaps narcissistically, aware of us looking back, apparently mid-coitus; the broken fourth wall does indeed add another layer to the original text, but given the make-up, lighting, and commoditised styling, I’m simply not sure it’s a layer worth adding. And so, I wonder if these images will last the course, like Horst’s of the male form. Perhaps they will, as Sejersen has received plenty of positive validation about the work. The darkness, degradation, the questions we are forced to ask even though we may receive no answers in the film are part of what saves it from being merely a pornographic fantasy. Sejersen seems to have stripped the narrative of much of that and turned the forms into empty vessels that look somewhat like products.  Art which succeeds in allowing the real to poke through is the kind of art I want to look at and maybe even one day make. I didn’t see it in Belongs to Joe but I have spent a lot of time thinking about the book anyway. I believe there are potentially moments in the film, particularly in the last scene where we are confronted with it. Looking at these two texts has been an interesting exercise for me as I think about the differences between photography and moving image formats.

*Additional notes

“Though the current, shorter edit (the two volumes come in at about 4 hours, though the director’s cut reportedly runs 5.5 hours) contains only a few explicit sex scenes, these were all performed by porn doubles. “They’ve done a lot of post-production,” the actress explains. “In the 5.5 hours version, anyway, everything is mixed, with the porn actors having actual sex but with our faces, it’s very well done. But we didn’t do any of it. SPOILER — In the S&M scenes with Jamie Bell it’s not a fake bum, it’s a real woman who was willing to be hit, not with a real whip but still… END SPOILER.””(Hoeij, 2014)

References – accessed 5 December 2017

Rebellato, D. 1999 Introduction to Deep Blue Sea (in Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea 1953)

Artists: Pipilotti Rist

One of the artists I was recommended to look at in my feedback notes was Pipilotti Rist who uses images and refers to herself as a video artist – but in work I’ve looked at she used still and moving image, lights, sounds, and installation. In the video below, she talks about her 2011 Hayward Gallery show Eyeball Massage which I would so loved to have seen/experienced. The chandelier we see in the video, for instance, made of underpants is such a clever, charming and hilarious idea. Hayward is known for commissioning genuinely exciting, remarkable and inspirational art where visitors are often invited to be a part of the work. The result is usually refreshing in its anti-authoritarianism and seems in many ways far more generous than the more ubiquitous  ‘look but don’t touch’ – worship from afar – from a position of inferiority – paradigm, which we are more accustomed to when visiting galleries. Obviously, it would be challenging to get the balance right between maintaining work that has taken time to produce and must last the full show, plus possibly a tour thereafter, and allowing visitors to get involved, but Hayward seem to accept that challenge and I love it for that reason*. Rist’s work seems to embody some of the motivation behind the Hayward programme/aims, and the video Wendy recommended, Ever is Over All, has that written all over it. She walks down the street breaking car windshields with what looks like a long-stemmed flower, smiling at the complicit authority figure, a female police person, as she goes, who smiles approvingly back. The screen is split and presented across the corner of a wall, ignoring conventions of architecture and presentation, and shown alongside the woman walking, we see flowers blurring in and out of focus. On MOMA’s website, we are told,  “The fluidity of both scenes is disrupted when the woman violently smashes a row of car windshields with the long-stemmed flower she carries. As the vandal gains momentum with each gleeful strike of her wand” (2007)

What I liked particularly about what we glimpsed in the Hayward video was the use of light to conjure up sensations that were so reminiscent of my own childhood, and presumably many others’. I had a very strong sense memory which entails being in a room – I don’t think it was mine, orange curtains (it was the early 70s after all) which were partly closed keeping the strong sunlight out, and of shadows, the coolness of being indoors. A girl, a little older than me, perhaps with others were in that room playing – I have no other recollection, no story, merely the sensation of having been there. Perhaps my memory and cinema are merged in some ways, and such scenes are referenced in Transparent by Jil Soloway. Rist’s are less structurally narrated but art’s freedom allows the constructions she makes to somehow ‘feel’ more powerful. What I like so much about this work is the lack of angst in it. It suggests a powerful statement or rather an inquiry into the structures and strictures of existence but there is so much joy and humour. Wonderful!

A super artist to learn about. More below….

*One way around this to make that art that purposely disintegrates and perhaps needs to be ‘topped up’ such as sweets being replaced etc. Or else providing conditions that are unlikely to be experienced elsewhere and requires constant refreshing, such as wandering through a  room filled from ceiling to floor with balloons, which would need to be replaced as they pop each day, also at the Hayward in another exhibition.

More here



Another great video about Rist inc. an interview with some incredibly relevant comments about colour which I was going to discuss at some point (I have read a friend’s thesis titled, Cinematic Chromophobia and wanted to explore some of her ideas for reasons I will discuss elsewhere)

 I was very pleased to be prompted by fellow student, Stefan Schaffeld, to read his assignment which looks a the difference between cinema and moving image art in. He also references Rist’s Pickelporno. It was watching that which took me to the link above, in which Rist discusses two things that really stood out for me. One was about making work that is joyful rather than reliving trauma, the other about colour as mentioned above.

Reflection: Moving Image course with Photofusion

I was pleased to be accepted by Photofusion onto a free video making course designed for photographers who want to extend their skills. The course was financed by the European Union. There was a range of different sorts of photographers there, such as journalists, both freelance and contracted employees with well-known publications, fashion photographers, jobbing portrait photographers, and artists. I was pleased to be included in the group if not a little daunted too.

The course was split into 4 days;

Day 1 – preproduction, storyboarding

Day 2 & 3 – filming days

Day 4 – editing, (yet to take place)


We spent the day discussing the sort of planning which ideally needs to take place, prior to making a film or video – or rather, learned how this stage is an integral part of the making. Yesterday when I spoke with Wendy, one of the things she said to me about moving image, is that I will be forced to plan beforehand, which will be good for me. Planning, I must admit, feels daunting because it requires thinking through hundred of details before you’ve even shot a single frame. (Saying that one of my jobs used to be all about planning and I did it well  – but it didn’t entail exposing my creative ideas at the same time, so it was far less scary. And it was also before I had three children to think about it, which seems to have dismantled my brain entirely).  I can see, however, even after doing a small number of potential cutaway shots for a tiny five-minute film I’m attempting to make, how having some kind of vision and practical outline will save time in the long run. But I feel like I am faced with a dialectical problem here; on one hand, I need to ‘let go’, learn to play more (as I always did need to, and the cause of much distress at drama school) but I also need to start with a vision which requires actions to bring it into being. Combining those two aims feels rather difficult to me.  Starting with a vision is something I have tried to avoid in creative work, even when such visions come thick and fast at times. A director who worked with me a long time ago told me it was good to be an intelligent actor but I that I needed to let go of my intellect in rehearsal and allow instinct and ‘un-thinking’ to take over. My head was getting in the way. A director has the vision, he implied. An actor is a puppet in that vision in many cases (but not all). A photographer recently asked me if I’d started the Oxford House work with an overall vision and I said, no. Phew, she said, as she also didn’t begin with a vision of what she hoped to achieve, and instead felt her way through. I think with me it depends on what I am working on, and the more commercial, the more of a fixed vision I might allow myself.

As well as having an overall plan, we discussed all the many, many technical, legal, budgeting, and staffing issues, amongst many others we might need to consider. After day 1 I had a stab at a storyboard: Storyboard Photofusion (minus pictures though) for a two-minute narrative. I’m not intending to make this film but it was a start.

Day 2 & 3

We spent the first of these days listening to a presentation and being shown various clips to illustrate points. One of the most memorable and pertinent to what I’ve been thinking about was how film is ‘impressionistic’, even though we might not always recognise it as such. This is because we are used to seeing 25 fps (frames per second) since that is how film has been recorded since its early days when it became the standard due to limited technology. Modern technology can easily cope with more fps and the industry is trying to move us towards accepting it, but our eyes/perception miss the slight albeit imperceptible jumps in time as the image is relayed back to us. When we see 35 or 40 fps we perceive it to be ‘cheap’ because it looks like video rather than film. We have a choice how many fps we use on our SLR but must be aware of how our choices affect the final look. We also need to set the video system appropriately for UK or US use and I think this may have had an impact on YouTube but I need to recall or look into it further to fully comprehend what is required here. I will definitely need to play around with all of this to make sure I take it on board.

Must remember – shutter speed needs to be set at double the fps rate for a smooth recording. And 1/4 ss will give you the effect of CCTV.


We went through the various camera moves available as well as discussing all the equipment one might able to use, plus the realistic ideals we might aim for, to begin with.

Pan; POV, subjective POV = fast, unstable, a more objective POV – slow, steady; Tilt – on a vertical axis; Zoom – this does not replicate a human action; Trombone effect – zoom in and dolly out at the same time, not fashionable at the moment; Static shot; Pedestal (I think – can’t read my writing, and have no idea what I mean by it other than it says close-up nearby); Tracking/dollying; Handheld.


A list of vaguely expensive items was recommended as part of a basic kit if planning to provide video services regularly, although everything can be hired.

In addition to a decent SLR which offers video capture, the following would be useful; a sound-recording device, a contraption to help steady the camera when moving – there are several available; a monitor such as a Black Magic Video Assistant, and lots of battery packs. Reflectors and boards are always useful and, of course, continuous lighting.


We have been asked to take some footage and recorded sound in for the editing day in December, where we will learn how to use Premiere Pro. I wanted to try and do something that ties in with the work I’m attempting to head for here on this course but felt overwhelmed. So I’m beginning with something a bit more manageable. I will interview a couple of people and edit a short informative film for someone I work with. Then I will have had a bit of a practice and will begin to put together some work I’m hoping to do for A3. I’ve planned to shoot very short clips for that in January and will hopefully be able to edit that together with relative ease, having had some practice first!


I did the course because I really want to take my previous experience in acting, also teaching drama, and my love of writing and combine it with my photography in some way.  I ended Day 3 wishing I were younger and could go to film school.