Fellow OCA student, Catherine, asked me a question the other day – which amounted to, “what is this work about” – which I was unable to answer. I may never be able to fully answer. But I am reminded of some of the criticism I received in A1 feedback – overly convoluted, too many strands, essentially chuck out some of it and make up your mind what you want to say and then say it. The words Wendy used were :
- Keep it simple
- Be clear
- Be economical
However, the other thing Wendy said to me in A3 feedback which seemed critical and something to hold on to was
- continue being as experimental as you can
- take risks
- dare to fail
(I have to yet to return to A1 and will do – I’m busy thinking about just how conceptual I dare to go with it. And just how simple. I wish to be very, very simple with that work – using the data I gathered and one single image. But I need to get this A5 work to a place where I can forward it as work in progress first.)
The following reflection is an attempt to be very clear about what I’m doing, to extract each strand of the work, then work out what fits together/or are different projects entirely (even though the underlying theme may be linked.) I have a deep sense that they all do ultimately belong together. However, knowing what each strand is aiming to do may help clarify for me and anyone else.
- i will have call you (working title)
Digital video (aiming for 10 minutes) – ideally shown in a dark room with space for one audience member, perhaps projected on to a wall rather than a device (for assessment purposes available online)
A working edit without any sound can be seen here:
Synopsis: A short video which includes footage and images made with a mobile phone camera, using proprietary filters, in honour and celebration of my friend who recently passed away after a degenerative illness. Before having children my friend taught film studies and during her final months, we spoke on our phones via a messenger app. She had lost the ability to speak in the usual way; her phone and later an iPad, which she used by blinking at it, were immensely important to her. Technology extended the time she was able to use her ‘voice’ and indeed the reach of her self. i will have call you incorporates some of the ideas which emerged from our digital chats.
The last thing my friend was able to say to me, using her phone 6 weeks before she died, was “I will have call you maya deren” (sic). This prompted me to find out about Deren’s work and I have included ideas and motifs from Deren’s first film Meshes of the Afternoon, although I have developed the notion of the mirror, which Deren explored extensively in her work, and introduced selfies and propriety filters, used ubiquitously by people nowadays.
Digital technology is an immensely powerful development in the human story which has both positive and negative consequences, and this short video, as well the making of it, along with its origins explore inevitable contradictions and tensions.
I have included my middle son in the film as it is thanks to his presence that I was lucky enough to have been part of my friend’s life for just under ten years.
For Jenny B – February 1972 – February 2018
- I used proprietary filters because they are traditionally viewed as ‘less than’ – film and unfiltered, non-commodified aesthetics seem to be vastly privileged over mere app filters in photography circles. Pippilotti Rist argues that extreme colour aversion is embedded in a patriarchal class system, which is also David Batchelor‘s overriding view in his work Cinematic Chromophobia, explored by Jenny in her masters – and then by me in the A3 project. I suggest that filters are seen as less than for similar reasons to so-called gaudy colour. Artists which provoke this sensibility are Rist and also Sandy Skoglund (in terms of colour)
- I wrote about using filters before putting together A3 here which might shed some light on how I’ve arrived here: “Jill Walker Rattberg, author of Seeing Ourselves Through Technology, is quoted (2014:27) – “seeing ourselves through a filter allows us to see ourselves anew. Selfies can be raw and revealing. They can feel too authentic, too honest. Perhaps running them through a filter to boost the colours, overexpose the skin to hide imperfections or give them a retro tinge is sometimes the only way we can bear to share these images of ourselves”. There is great deal more in the post worth thinking about.
- As explored in Over Her Dead Body (Bronfern, 1992), dealing with grief, loss, death is potentially fraught with questions of ethics, taste and exploitation of other. I have no desire to ‘bask in the spotlight of tragedy’ to borrow a friend’s phrase by making much of Jenny’s situation, advertising her own struggles which were not mine. Instead, I wanted to explore my own grief, my loss, my process of coming to terms with her death – because in doing so I continue what I knew of her, I absorb some of her and she is forever part of me. And I have felt compelled to continue where I left off with A3 and to explore something of Jenny’s legacy to me, her ideas, her gentle push in a certain direction. We shared these ideas and it seems a useful way for me to process my grief. I was not as remotely as connected to Jenny as Hodler and Gode-Dorel were, discussed in Bronfern’s book, but the final sentence of my post is relevant…”…it’s the relationship between the two which involves her dreadful death and her pain, his loss, her loss, their togetherness, that is the real subject.” I think there are problems which arise when we impose too much of ourselves into other people’s stories as it risks becoming self-indulgent, (and I am quite sure i will have call you will be considered as such by many) – but it seems to me we need to consider the medium, the context, the aim with separate events and judge accordingly.
- I pushed the boundaries of taste in subject matter (a visual letter to my recently dead friend), filters, colours, and hopefully the soundtrack (to come) in honour of ideas from Deren (ideas, rather than aesthetics – she was working in mono film), Joan Jonas and Pippilotti Rist – via and of course, from Jenny with whom I discussed much of this, including Richard Dyer‘s White
- I also think the extreme aesthetic is reflective of the way in which our digital social culture operates. It encourages extreme reactions. Communication is not tempered. Social media brings out the worst in people; cruelty, meanness, quick and easy judgment, over-simplification, pettiness, and sanctimony. We are all guilty of it to a greater or lesser degree. That landscape seems to be without brakes or buffers, or faulty ones at any rate. Yet, it also allows for powerful positive movements to travel around the world relatively quickly. It’s an environment where events, interactions, happenings appear grotesquely heightened; and that seems to have spilled over into the non-digital world too. There is an argument to say there is no real difference between the two realms.
- I have tried a few things, including not using the negative filter which is used throughout the short video and am still contemplating the use of that filter. (I should describe why I am drawn to it in the next section when I explore the subject of death, but for now, I can’t find the quote I need to back up my idea). What I do recall is Deren used negatives extensively – The Very Eye of Night is all in negative. Elsewhere she uses it more sparingly. Here is an example of an image without the negative filter:
- I need to decide if I insert slides with text on – things Jenny and I said perhaps, things I would like to say to her?
In addition to the names in bold above other influences include Berthold Brecht, Robert Wilson, Robert Le Page, Dada, and Benedict Drew.
I have been focused on how we might explore grief and loss, difficult situations in other since the beginning of the module, notably after reading some of the essays in Over Her Dead Body (here and here. ) Much of what I have been looking at in this module is how to express something about another person’s awful story? Especially when that story is upsetting. We are all connected and I wish to see the world that way but to appropriate someone else’s suffering and make it one’s own drama seems wrong and potentially immoral. There is a source of tension between those two positions.
But I am more and more convinced that the fetishisation of Other only serves to further alienate ourselves from each other. My thinking is likely backed up by philosophical and scientific theorising about how we are connected rather than separated, the illusion of self and therefore of other, the fallacy of separate, discrete entities in our universe – notably in Carlo Rovelli’s writings (who I have mentioned in the following posts) and also Julian Baggini (The Ego Trick, 2012). It is discussed by Sunil Shah in an article, Nan Goldin: The Other Becomes One (2018) As I have said in an earlier post – the ultimate other, the truest other might be a person facing imminent death when we ourselves are not, and/or someone who is dead.
The other strand of this work is very much about death. As well as making the film I took several sets of photographs of mirrors in the fields of my mother’s house in Ferentillo. You can see a digital contact sheet here. I am not sure at the moment if this work is part of the same project but my reasoning for believing it might be is as follows:
This location is not some random spot I simply happened to use, although it is of course very photogenic and if I went further with this element I would think about doing some images at different times of the day, going on long walks and photographing it over a longer time frame. (I would be limited though since it is in Italy and I am not visiting again until Xmas).
I have a collection of such images from my previous visit and of course many other images from other holidays there. I submitted a book in TAOP which was photographed there too. Last year before I began this module, I drew together a collection of images which I combined with some random sentences from my mind (all of which represented something actual but that weren’t embedded in any formal narrative). See here.
In my notes I say;
Ferentillo is one of two places in Italy with a strange and unusual history relating to mummification. Beneath the church, Santo Stefano, in Precept, one of two sides to Ferentillo, there is a crypt where 20 mummies are displayed. The bodies become mummified due an unusual micro-orgamism in the soil. You can read a little more here. After reading a paper via a fellow student’s blog which links the mummies to photography I decided to explore this further since I had already made work for an early module in the photography degree I am doing while visiting Ferentillo about my family called This Family. In the previous project, I documented my family and combined words in a short book. You can read the full paper which has inspired this continuation of that work, titled, The interphototextual dimension of Annie Ernaux and Marc Marie’s L’usage de la photo‘ by Ari J. Blatt here. What caught my eye was the following:
“If Bazin offers a compelling theorization of the photograph as mummified presence, in his wistful recent book Mummy, mummies Alain Fleischer plays with that paradigm and examines the mummy itself as evocative of the photographic process. In this combination of essay and fiction that focuses upon a group of mummified bodies housed for eternity in the museum crypts at Ferentillo and Palermo in Italy, Fleischer conceptualizes the relationship between mummified and photographic traces: ‘Mummification and photography are united against the disappearance of appearances: they are alike in their materiality, their techniques, and their codes of resemblance.’27
The idea of the mummification seems incredibly important to what I was doing there in Ferentillo – placing mirrors, historically thought of as magical objects which provide a doorway into the world of spirits – into a netherworld – in order to visit the dead.
And of course the maternal connection is very important – I met Jenny when our boys were babies. We had a connection due to our belief in the maternal, our eschewing of what some might term detached mothering, promoted by the over-production of ‘stuff’/perhaps the patriarchal system. In the same document as the quotes above come from (The interphototextual dimension of Annie Ernaux and Marc Marie’s L’usage de la photo) :
“Of course, Fleischer also makes a point of noting that the term mummy in French (une momie), as in Italian (una mummia), is in the feminine, and, for him, resonates with the maternal qualities of the English word ‘Mummy’. Curiously, in a number of works that comprise the canon of phototextuality that I have been establishing here, the mother figures prominently. Moreover, many of these phototexts mobilize photography as the vehicle through which to mourn the mother’s absence.”(Blatt, 2009)
Ostensibly I placed doorways to another realm in the Ferentillo land and then made a film to honour my recently deceased friend (a visit to that place perhaps). There are those who might look at that film and interpret it as some sort of hellish otherworld. (Not to mention the ones who will say, that’s not art! Maybe they are right, I am not concerned whether it is or not – at any rate, I am trying hard not to care. As always, I do feel a fool and/or in trouble at times!) I also photographed my ten-year-old son in these fields.
There is a very important element which I have not mentioned because I can’t get my head around it and perhaps it is just beyond me for now – the move from absence/presence to randomness/pattern in art through the use of digital technology, and what that means for our concept of life and death. I am not sure whether to go into this in study related context – certainly, it seems beyond the scope of the synopsis that might accompany exhibited work.
So I think the still images of mirrors and my son are relevant.
Finally – I was very taken with some aspects but not all of a photography book based on Lars Von Trier’s film, Nymphomaniac, called Belongs To Joe, A Book of Comfort for a Nymphomaniac by Casper Sejersen which I wrote about here. Although I have made a short film I can imagine both these strands and perhaps even some other conversations people I know who have died being in a book like this. I can also imagine having a set of stills focused on Ferntillo with the mummy/microbe/mirror doorway to a spiritual realm details for context, and small rooms off each space with work dedicated to people who have died – a bit like Tacita Dean’s set up at the NPG recently (very grand, I know!)
I have been putting together layered images which may or may not be in the film – but at the moment I’m thinking perhaps shown as individual pieces on a loop which can be seen here.
- I have made a working edit of a short video using propriety filters, which is heavily influenced by Maya Deren’s Meshes of the Afternoon after my late friend told me she would have to call me Maya Deren. This was in response to me letting her know via a messenger app I had received positive feedback for A3. Mobile technology was her best and only way to communicate verbally towards the end of a degenerative illness which took away her speech along with all muscle control.
- Music is yet to be added and I have asked a musician to create something suitable.
- I have also taken photographs of mirrors, as possible doorways to another realm, in the field around my mother’s house in Ferentillo. I often make work there and was struck over a year ago by a comment I read in a colleague’s blog about Ferentillo and the mummies it is known for – “Fleischer conceptualizes the relationship between mummified and photographic traces: ‘Mummification and photography are united against the disappearance of appearances: they are alike in their materiality, their techniques, and their codes of resemblance.”27 (There is much to excavate from this article in relation to death and the link to photography) I am trying to work out how/these still external images (some of which appear in the video as it is edited now) can be part of the assignment but outside the video – as stills.
Dyer, R. (1999). White. In: J. Evans and S. Hall, ed., Visual Culture: A reader, 1st ed. London: SAGE Publications, pp.457-467.
Blatt, Ari J.(2009) ‘The interphototextual dimension of Annie Ernaux and Marc Marie’s L’usage de la photo‘, Word & Image, 25: 1, 46 — 55, 27 – Alain Fleischer, Mummy, mummies (Lagrasse: E ́ ditions Verdier, 2002), pp. 15–16. Translations mine. (Blatt) Available at: https://www.tcd.ie/French/assets/doc/BlattOnErnauxMarie.pdf [Accessed: 24.May.2017]
Mummy Museum of Ferentillo Available here: https://www.umbriatourism.it/en/-/cimitero-museo-le-mummie-di-ferentillo- [Accessed 24.May.2017]