Visual art exhibitions and events with a platform for critical writing
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By: Tamarin Norwood
Developing from an art writing residency at Modern Art Oxford, establishing a visual vocabulary of choreography, instruction and transcription. The residency has seen the creation of a new artist book and video installation as part of my ongoing investigation of the gaps between words and things, rules and games, intentions and accidents.
# 11 [28 January 2012]
On Monday I'm moving into the Project Space at Modern Art Oxford. At that point I'll have two weeks to prepare new work for an exhibition that opens in the third week. This calls for a list.
- all the tripods
- all the pens
- light tent
- wire & pliers
- matchstick camera, fabric tape
- matchstick batteries
- stills camera
- laptop bracket
- projector cable
- tracing paper
- glass (A3?)
- glass supports
- tape, scissors, knife, etc
- the drawings
- folding paper
As is customary before I project I don't want to get ill for, I've got ill. There's a fever going round. So today and tomorrow I am staying strategically horizontal.
# 12 [29 January 2012]
Still mainly horizontal. Almost forgot:
- audio recorder
- all the cables
# 13 [30 January 2012]
I moved my equipment into the project space today: four bags, some packaged paper, a rucksack and a wrapped-up sheet of glass I labelled GLASS in a moment of undue clarity last night.
The gallery's closed to the public on Mondays, which has made for a relaxed start to the residency. Today has been mainly for setting things up and checking things work, and I think I got through everything I wanted to get done: the projectors work, we've figured out how to show different but synchronized videos from a single computer onto two projectors (no mean feat), the light tent is all set up, and I've made progress on the text itself. I'd hoped to have finished the text completely, but no.
Some things I mustn't forget for tomorrow:
- AV cable (amp to speakers)
- support for glass (but WHAT can I use?)
- Tate Britain 'Musica Practica' photos
- Bodleian map
- Tate Britain map
and, in parentheses,
- our friends at the HMRC.
Tomorrow begins with a second site visit to the outdoor quads of the Bodleian Library, where we've programmed a performance of 'Musica Practica' on March 11. N made an initial site visit this morning to agree on our ideal format for the event, and tomorrow we're meeting with a Bodleian representative to discuss it.
I got a friendly email in the afternoon inviting me to lunch at my old university to talk to them about the residency. A similar email came from another organisation who are visiting on Wednesday, in case we might find ways of collaborating on the basis of the kind of work I'm doing here. AND, tomorrow the local press are visiting to find out about the project and take photos, so I hear. Three days a week the studio is open to the public for two hours too, and I'm sure this dialogue and feedback will be immensely valuable. I'm looking forward to these conversations a great deal.
Meanwhile I can see it'll be important to work VERY concentratedly during the dedicated private studio hours, to make sure I actually get everything done. From here, two weeks feels like a manageably long stretch, but I'm sure it'll go by in no time.
Oh And! Come and visit!
Modern Art Oxford, 30 Pembroke Street
Oxford OX1 1BP
Project Space Residency: 31.01.2012 — 09.02.2012. Drop in any time during the Open Studio: Tuesday - Thursday, 1 - 3pm. Free admission.
# 14 [31 January 2012]
Several hours of the morning were spent grappling in ever-decreasing circles with the limbs of a curly-legged tripod. Late into the afternoon I discovered cable ties and we are now best friends.
I was doing all this because I've realised I won't be able to get the video quality of the matchstick camera high enough to project onto my big screens, so I'm reverting to an ordinary camera to make all the films. The curly-legged tripod is an attempt at a more heavy duty version of the matchstick camera clamp I made out of wire the other week.
Some success with the new setup. I'll post a video soon. I had some of today's experiments playing on the big screen during today's Open Studio, and here are some of the visitor comments I particularly liked:
- "like liquorice"
- "like stitching, going through the page"
- "like a black hole swallowing up the lines"
Interesting that most people's first responses were similes.
Walking over to the art shop to pick up some materials this afternoon, I think I settled on a form for the final work. But I don't want to write it here yet, it needs more thought.
# 15 [1 February 2012]
I’m writing this in the Project Space, waiting for today’s videos to render.
It is so luxurious, having all this time to dedicate to a single project with no distractions from elsewhere. It means I can develop my equipment and my method gradually over days, fixing imperfections one by one until I’m looking at exactly what I want to see. And as I get to grips with the practicalities, the ideas have been developing smoothly in the background, as happens sometimes when I’m cooking or gardening or (ha! says Anton) doing housework.
Today’s main achievement has been getting a deliciously clear picture out of the camera. It’s been a process of further grappling with the curly-legged tripod, replacing yesterday’s cable ties with new ones that position the pen at right angles to the camera lens, rearranging the lights around the light tent until there is almost no shadow, and eliminating the remaining scrap of shadow on the computer.
The matchstick camera couldn’t pick up the grain of the paper, but in this proper camera it’s everywhere. Though I like the look of the grain, the problem is that it moves around with the nib of the pen, so the ink always looks grounded rather than skidding through space. So I’ve eliminated the grain of the page by adjusting the exposure in Final Cut. Here's a video of what I’ve got so far.
Now I’m happy with the image quality, I’ll have a go at making the ACTUAL videos. That’s tomorrow’s job. I’d like to produce two videos that run in conversation with one another, replying and replying and replying. Not often words, usually just lines and shapes. I’ve had a go today and I can see it’ll take a lot of practice.
Next thing will be to try out the videos with the exact projectors I’ll be using for the exhibition, to make sure the colour turns out as I’m expecting.
And I’m thinking about showing the finished conversations too: the scribbles of pen left over on the paper. I like how insignificant they look, and how insignificant they are. They’re just what’s left behind after the dance, not meant to be looked at at all.
(I’m writing during the day because this evening I’m going to my second etching class. I started last week and I love it. You draw a line, and there it is in metal.)
# 16 [2 February 2012]
Best thing of the day: grappling limply with lamps when a member of the public stops by to see what's going on in the Project Space. The lamps have been giving me trouble all morning. A shadow has been ruining all the video. We say hello. I grapple a bit more. I laugh and say,
'Argh. I don't suppose you're some kind of lighting technician are you?'
'Um, yes, I am.'
And this unexpected stranger put down his bag and systematically settled my lamps until the shadow below the pen was almost invisible. He showed me what you have to do, and the shadow we ended up with he described as 'friendly'. And so stranger, wherever you are, THANK YOU.
Combine this with another trip upstairs to see the Graham Sutherland exhibition this evening, the delicious ink of last night's etching lesson two, and a flick through the catalogue of David Hockney's RA exhibition at the hands of the etching teacher, and I'm left with a change of mind.
I've been fighting and fighting against the grain of the page, trying to elimitate it by increasing the exposure level of the videos in Final Cut. When you do this you get images like the one I made yesterday: clear white backgrounds and lines zooming around in the space. But because the image is overexposed, you lose some of the crunchiness of the ink as it blots into the paper, bleeds outwards, settles and is absorbed. This is what I love about the line and the ink.
So I'm thinking about keeping the grain. Working with the light tent this week - and the advice from today's lighting technician - I've been able to get much a much more regular grade of light across the surface of the paper. I'm also using a better camera that's capable of focussing neatly on the surface of the page, and I've started drawing much more slowly too, which means there's very little blurring. I'm starting to wonder why I was so intent on letting the lines float free in space in the first place, I mean, who was I trying to kid? I'm not trying to pretend it isn't real ink. On the contrary, I'm trying to keep the ink inky.
So that's the plan for tomorrow. A pair of drawings (and maybe some words) with grain, ink, line, time, and no trickery.
ps. I think I've used the word GRAPPLING in every single post since the residency began. This must be significant.
pps. A short article about my residency appeared in the Oxford Mail this morning. Headline: "ARTIST'S WORK IS ON WRITE LINES". Ha!
# 17 [3 February 2012]
I was having trouble with the projectors this morning and stood there for a minute wondering what on earth I was doing, and whether it was actually all nonsense after all. Sometimes I spend too long fixed on the technicalities of a project at the exclusion of all else, and the excitement of the thing disintegrates quite quickly into the sum of its parts.
Loping around listlessly on the internet afterwards trying to make the disintegration go away, I found a link to curator Tom Trevatt’s review of this blog for the a-n ‘choice blog’ section. And neatly, it made the disintegration go away.
Reading Tom's perspective has been restorative. It snapped back into focus the elements of the project that engross me: the attempt to catch time, the superfluity of the resulting drawing or text, and the attempt to write out of the pen and into the pen at the same time, even if the pen and the camera sometimes have to do one another's work. The image of the line being 'drawn forth' is particularly satisfying, as though the line were there all along in advance of being written. It reminds me of a conversation I had in the Project Space one afternoon about the line seeming thread-like, existing independently of the writing that shaped it. Though unlike thread it's gone the moment the writing passes through it. Keeping time, and never letting it collect.
In my hour of loping, thank you Tom, you done good. Tom’s review is here:
(and here's a very brief video from the studio today)
# 18 [6 February 2012]
I would have written on Saturday night but I had to play in the snow. And I took Sunday off completely.
As I was falling asleep on Sunday night I was trying to imagine how the projections would work: what the relationship between the two videos should be; whether there should be two or just one; and if there are two whether they should be adjacent, parallel or anything else. The same thing duplicated? A lag? Some kind of reciprocal repetition? I toyed quite seriously with the idea of back-projecting the two videos onto two closely-facing screens, with just a slim gap between them which you could slip into if you liked, and watch the scribbling uncomfortably close. Anton was just getting off to sleep so I woke him up to announce the new development. I'm not sure I should do that sort of thing.
But back in the studio this morning (following the unexpected mopping of the floor) we considered the possibility of back-projection. Screens were dragged out of the stock room, unrolled, rolled back up, things were googled, people were telephoned, and eventually back-projection was laid to rest. It's something I might try another time, but with just four working days left I'd prefer to focus on a single conclusion rather than keep my options open.
This said, focusing on a single conclusion wasn't easy today, mainly because of the pedancies of Final Cut Pro X. Pedancies took up more than two hours. I was almost at my wit's end when I decided to reverse some of my ordinary settings and ended up with a video that made me breathe slowly. Relief. It keeps the grain and loses the shadow. And best of all I adjusted the settings with the video playing via the projector, so there were no horrible surprises in the transfer from screen to wall. Why wasn't I doing this all along?
These new settings lack the screaming whites and almost violet blacks of the oversaturated videos, and because the contrast is reduced the real-life event of writing is more immediate. You can see it's a real thing rather than something generated by a computer. The more work I put into the computer interface the more it disappears. Good.
Tomorrow lunchtime the studio's open to the public again. I'm looking forward to gauging responses to the work in its present form. Before lunch I plan to film a video that replies to the one I made this afternoon, then I can spend the rest of the day editing. This still leaves two days to look over the work and experiment with projector screens before we finally install on Friday.
I wanted to post an example video but I don't think I'll have time today. I have to edit this afternoon's video tonight so that I can reply to it first thing tomorrow.
# 19 [7 February 2012]
Today's prize goes to MultiScreener. I'm going to shamelessly plug it. It's a piece of software I downloaded for free this afternoon and it lets me exactly synchronize two Quicktime videos across multiple screens from one computer (or from several networked computers). The shameless plugging is because at MAO we've all been struggling to work out how to do this without buying complicated equipment, and I thought there might be other people out there with the same problem. So: MultiScreener.
Speaking of complicated equipment, look at all the stuff I've accumulated around my desk this fortnight. I took this photo just before I left this evening. All this stuff just to catch the ink coming out of the pen.
Sorry about the quality of the photo, my proper camera's stuck to my pen.
# 20 [8 February 2012]
Today has gone by in a flash. Only two cups of tea for example. I’ve been synchronizing the videos: an alarmingly slow process of overlaying them semiopaque in Final Cut then editing them piece by piece while I wait for the cursor to catch up. Sometimes it never catches up and the software crashes. It is spine-tingling. I’m not sure I’ve made any progress at all today.
I might have even gone backwards. I found and deleted a couple of videos that looked good on the computer but on the big screen turned out to be blurred. They don't quite look blurred, just not interesting. You don’t get the jolt of delight unless the images are absolutely sharp. When the focus is just right - with a fraction of depth around the edges - the images start to look a bit like paintings.
And the way the edit is developing, with short breaks between bursts of activity, the videos have a structure like a poem sequence. Paintings that move, or poems that move. A dance. As I’ve been making the marks with the pen, it’s been helpful to think of it all as a kind of dance rather than anything figurative or legible or representational. It helps keep in mind the primacy of the process over the resulting product. I’ve been absently sticking the used sheets of tracing paper to the side of my desk after each video’s done, and occasionally people have asked me if I’ll be exhibiting them too. Resolutely no. The papers are used up with the drawing.
Thinking of the videos as dances rather than conversation, I wonder whether the screens would be better adjacent instead of parallel. The decision affects whether the space of the page is pushed forward through its depth or stays on the level, to read left-to-right. Parallel would use the room in a more interesting way, but I suspect adjacent might be more appropriate to the work. It all depends on how the finished videos look together. That’s the one thing I can’t look at because they aren’t finished, and they can’t be finished until I find a way to get Final Cut to work at a functioning speed.. That’s tonight’s project.
On a happier note though, a lovely review by Lita Doolan of Keeping Time appeared in the Daily Information today. I met Lita during an Open Studio session but I didn't know she planned to write about it. A good surprise!
“The image she projects onto the white wall is dynamic but also has the composition of a traditional painting. After all it is an image of a simple shape made of colour placed on a gallery wall. Then the sound effects bring in a whole new dimension and interpretation to the piece I am privileged to be previewing. Her genre feels unique.”
I was happy to read the comparison Lita makes with painting, which is becoming increasingly important. I'm beginning to wonder how Keeping Time is going to affect the direction of my practice. Both Keeping Time and these etching lessons I've begun.
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