Create a series of six images of ‘you’ that show different selves
“…we are creating an improvised character and trying to stay within our role…” Nick Chater, The Mind is Flat, 2018
vOice and speeCh lesSons foR tHe tHeatrE is a 4-minute film about creating and recreating a self
Background to the project below – please visit A3 Reflection and Research for ongoing discoveries and experiments.
Language & Colour
A year ago a friend of mine, Jenny, was diagnosed with Motor Neuron Disease. Recently I visited her in a hospice where she was staying for a period of respite, and the technology that allows her to visit Facebook, WhatsApp or Netflix by blinking at the screen was not working. She was only able to communicate by moving her face and looking in the direction of an alphabet grouped in coloured blocks on an A4 sheet of paper. Needless to say, this system is painstakingly slow and deeply frustrating for Jenny. Technology has been amazingly positive for her and others like her when it is available.
Two contributions to this project come out of watching Jenny’s disease take hold of her and destroy her life and family; one is the result of reading her thesis where she received a 1st, which she gave me early in 2017 titled Cinematic Chromophobia; The Case Against Colour (2001) in which Jenny discusses the ‘predjudice against and fear of colour both in traditional film theory and throughout the industry” (p1). Jenny ends by suggesting colour in film theory and the industry suffers from being trivalised, or seen as ‘deceitful and uncivilised’ (p39) and is even seen as leading to the destruction of art (p29). Although contemporary photography today seems on the surface to have advanced beyond this mindset, colour is still contentious and must be the right sort of colour. Fetishisation and social value linked to certain types of colour persist.* It continues to need to be controlled (perhaps much like women, working classes, or anyone else outside the pinnacle of western civil society). (p25)
Another response as I’ve watched my friend become sicker over the months is, of course, to do with language, with not having access to the exterior communal system of signs which most of us take for granted. Grotowski’s Towards a Poor Theatre is another text I have visited whilst doing this project and in Peter Brook’s introduction we are told about exercises Grotowski introduced to Brook’s company during a workshop. “Essentially the work was non-verbal…To verbalise is to complicate and even destroy exercises that are clear and simple when indicated by a gesture and when executed by the mind and body as one.” (1968; p10) Whilst language gives us access to an exterior world, it also reminds us of our civility and distances us from our animal origins, as do black and white print or controlled colour schemes.
I did not reach a place for verbalising in this project. Attempting to did not work even when (or perhaps because) in an earlier version, I used one of Grotowski’s exercises where words are broken down into sounds and repeated (see drafts on Vimeo**). However, I aimed to dismantle the relationship we have with written signs by using capitals in the wrong place in scene headings perhaps to signify that this work is in some way about being forced to look harder at what we take for granted in the sign system and our relationship to it.
Grotowski also suggests “we compose a role as a system of signs which demonstrate what is behind the mask of common vision”. Again, I have composed this work in such a way that it might prompt questions about how we relate to our sign system through the use of colour, repetition, familiar filters, and the lack of verbalisation but the inclusion of sounds which cannot be easily identified.
Throughout this course and prior to it I have been looking at contemporary theory of self and had hoped that the course, titled as it is, Self & Other, would mainly be focused in that direction since it would seem the most fundamental ideas about who and what we are, are fast evolving. (I’m not sure where much of the latest research and modeling leaves critical theory as the idea of conscious depth is being rewritten). I interpret the science I read as being a model borne of rationalism, and perhaps, therefore, one that is more relevant to modern existentialism than historic concepts, steeped as they were in religious ideology (superstition).
Carlo Rovelli in “Reality is Not What It Seems” (2016; p227) reinforces the ideas I have been exploring throughout this course. He says, “The nature of man is not his internal structure but the network of personal, familial and social interaction with which he exists. It is these which ‘make’ us, which guard us. As humans, we are that which others know of us, that which we know of ourselves, and that which others know about our knowledge. We are complex nodes in a rich web of reciprocal information”.
One of Grotowski’s key philosophies was that the audience could be as small as you wanted or even non-existent. In the short video the central character, me if you will, watches herself and is her own audience. If someone else happens to watch that is fine, if not, that is fine too. Many of the tropes here recollect the performative nature of social media where audiences can be vast. For the sake of ‘meaning’, in terms of what is being ‘said’, there are several possibilities. Not wanting to stipulate, I leave it to whoever watches but the audience or lack of audience is integral to the piece.
There is a lot of deliberate repetition in A3. This echoes the current trend of gifs and memes and is therefore recognisable as a comment on contemporary culture, where technology makes it easy, and perhaps also a reflection of something about who we are. Hal Foster talks at length about repetition and trauma in “The Return of the Real” (1996). “…repetition serves to screen the real understood as traumatic. But this very need also points to the real, and at this point the real ruptures the screen of repetition…Lacan calls this traumatic point ‘tuche’; in Camera Lucida (1980) Barthes calls it the punctum.” (p132) Foster goes on to explain this discussion is essentially about where in the world trauma exists – inside or outside?
The following from Derrida’s Grammatology is relevant but my head is still trying to come to terms with what this all means: “…, one thinks as if the represented were nothing more than the shadow or reflection of the represented. …what is reflected is duplicated in itself not only as an addition to itself of its image. The reflection, the image, the double duplicates what it doubles….what can look at itself is not one… (1974; p39)
For me this project is as much as about time as it is about anything else, and how our relationship with time like everything else I’ve discussed here is constructed in our minds. Wherever you are in the universe, time might vary (and indeed does, even in the same room depending on your height when measured accurately enough). Questions being raised about our perception of reality, of memory – supported by photographs in the modern world, are intrinsically linked to time and seem critical to our modern minds.
As I discussed in a reflection (https://ocasjf.wordpress.com/2017/12/12/a3-screens-and-filters-digital/) the idea of filters are very important to this work.
Language is used in an online environment in such a way that we become completely distanced from ourselves, and several hundreds or even thousands of years’ of cultural development fly out the window. Suddenly it’s ok to say exactly what you think. There is little subtext and hardly any nuance in some online arenas. Thoughts are no longer filtered just as the world becomes visually more and more filtered.
We were asked to make 6 images that represented us. When discussing this early on with fellow students, Gesa Helms said something about finding our voice and it made me think of creating work that was essentially about that very thing. I wasn’t sure if I would follow the idea but as I experimented I continued to return to the idea of voice, and that combined with my interest in language seemed to make the most sense in terms of what I was exploring through my experiments – available on my either via this blog or directly on the my Vimeo page.
My six or so images are made up found objects – literally in one case a vocal box at work, as well as my own archive material – old photos from a family album and clips from two videos I am in, as well as some new material made with this project in mind. I used a ‘real’ camera and my phone to make moving images, including one with a SnapChat filter as I’d explored this in earlier exercises. The main archival material is from a video of a performance I was in in 1994 called A New Order: An Evening at the Cabaret Voltaire. Once again repetition comes into play, and repetition involving the Dada movement will I hope add to the resonance. What’s more, (and I’m not sure how this will fly with the History of Art Department at Manchester Metropolitan University) I have appropriated myself here since the video is copyrighted to MMU. I could, of course, get official permission but I have not and have been in two minds about doing so. They may say no (although I’d be surprised) which would scupper me but the act of having had to ‘steal’ a younger version of myself back is pertinent in some way. Barthes’ famous quote “The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture” might be relied upon to indicate I myself am a quotation – refer back to Derrida above. I also used text from a book I had at university about speech and voice (Turner, 1950). I have included an audio clip from a very famous early colour film which signified female/male relations. It is unrecognisable here as I have slowed it down (like Jenny’s speech although I was not consciously aware of this when doing it). I have also included an audio clip that gives a sense of rhythm. I might have found other archival footage and considered historical footage from South Africa where I grew up but in the end, I have stopped where I am with it for now as it seemed an appropriate place within the structure of the module.
Jenny’s thesis draws on feminist theory, quoting, in particular, Julia Kristeva’s Desire in Language: A Semiotic Approach to Literature and Art, and this work continues in that tradition. This work is inherently feminist in that it explores the way I have watched myself become and continue to be a commonly signified ‘woman’.
This short film is a testament to my friend, Jenny and the ideas she shared with me because that seems like a better way to explore my relationship with her than photographing her distress. It celebrates her love of study, knowledge and feminist ideals as well as her impact on me. It is about language, not having access to it literally, or in less obvious ways (silences others). It is about how the self is created and re-created.
Demonstration of technical and visual Skills
I was asked to play, to take risks, to dare to fail, to leave behind the ‘studio’ like imagery. I hope I have done that, although it is always difficult to know how others view one’s own risk-taking. Too much, too little, too far from photography? I don’t know. I was tempted all the way through this process to abandon it or at least to present two submissions, one like this and another, a beautifully shot set of portraits of people and things from my life which I initially considered. I have deliberately opted for an anti-commodified video aesthetic by cropping in, degrading already degraded visual quality and pushing filters and colours beyond what is considered ‘tasteful’. It won’t be to everybody’s liking but having viewed some of the comments below Rist’s work, I am not going to worry too much about that. I would have more choices over what is possible if only I could get my head around Premier Pro but my ability with iMovie has improved enormously since last year when I first ventured into it. I think sometimes keeping things simple is also preferable. There are many aspects which would probably be better achieved with more experience but I’ll get there.
Quality of Outcome
I probably won’t be able to tell for certain until I have watched this in months to come. I feel torn between feeling it is absolutely and appalling nonsense, drivel in fact, and perhaps potentially something quite effective. There are bits that work better than others. Some bits are just too clunky and some indicate they might have potential. If I had a choice I would control the sound – it should be reasonably loud – and make sure everyone watched it on a big enough screen. Or in a large, dark room – perhaps overly grand, I know… It is clearly derivative of work I have been looking at but I hope I am not wrong in thinking it is also highly personal. I am lucky to have the archival material I do have. Not many people can make a repeat that was already a repeat of Dada.
The work seems to me like it might just a good enough place to move forwards from – how far forwards is the question…perhaps it’s too short and flimsy at the moment?
It has too many strings as always with me. What are the main themes? Colour, Jenny, language, technology, the relationship between self and other in a modern world. All interrelated but this is undoubtedly not clear enough. I did not realise how much it related to Jenny until yesterday (11/1/18) really.
Demonstration of Creativity
This is either highly creative or not at all, depending on one’s viewpoint I would imagine. I am quite bored of the same old photographs, making and seeing them, and it was a relief to veer away from that.
I hope I have covered the course material sufficiently and I know I have introduced ideas from outside, in particular with reference to articles and books about reality and consciousness – i.e. what makes us who we are, selves and others. I referenced fewer resources than previously but I think that might be a helpful thing in terms of others managing my material.
I was not able to settle on a 100 word or so statement because I was not clear what the work is about. As time passes that is becoming more evident to me and I will return to this when I am able.
*David Batchelor’s Chromophobia is a key text in Jenny’s thesis and delves deeply into the way in which colour ‘needs to be controlled’ in order to avoid the ‘destruction of art’
** My 9 year old’s response, “Cringe! That one sounds like someone trying way too hard to make ‘Art’!! Get rid of the Ma, Ma, Ma bit!!” Perhaps Grotwoski would have liked the ‘shock’ and discomfort it engendered though.
Baylis, J. 2001, Cinematic Chromophobia: The Case Against Colour, University of Westminster, London
Derrida, J. 2016 On Grammatology, translated by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, John Hopkins University Press, Baltimore
Chater, N, The Mind is Flat, Future Learn, Warwick University, Available At: https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/the-mind-is-flat#section-overview (Accessed 9/1/2018)
Foster, H. 1996, The Return of the Real, MIT, Massachusetts
Rovelli, C. 2016 Reality is Not What It Seems, Kindle Edition, Penguin, London
Tuner, J. C. 1976, Voice & Speech in the Theatre, Revised by Morrison, M, The Bath Press, Avon