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By: Neil Armstrong
Bringing alive a now demolished but much loved dance hall in the north east town of Hartlepool is the impetus for this piece.
Working with groups that cover the entire spectrum of age, I am making a video installation which combines recall with a contemporary narrative. Although the Rink is physically no more, perhaps it still might inform the present.
# 55 [26 April 2013]
ETHICS OF THE EDIT
If I'm not posting here so much it's not because there isn't much going on... very much the opposite.
Somewhere in the human brain there must be a mechanism that continually calculates and re-calibrates time. It's like I have this time-line in my head that says... 8 week to your show.. that means you need to have edited this sequence; to get to that sequence; recorded this to get to that, printed this art work in order to tick something off etc. etc. etc. Each day it changes a little. Just a little. A sort of involuntary critical path analysis.
I'm on course now. Just. Having edited a long sequence that I struggled with initially, it's this that I think throws up some interesting dilemmas. You may be familiar with the problem if you work with material that involves others being the subject. This is it...
... I have 9 participants recorded in two groups plus one single interviewee. I am wanting to stretch the idea of 'the edit' to a point where I run these three occasions together in a non hierarchical way. That involves me taking the interviews and firstly cherry picking the sound bites I want to use. That involves choice of course.. a necessary evil in order to get some content in there that actually makes sense to the listener. I lay out two of the sequences like this and then fit them together like a fanned out pack of cards.. so they interlock. This in itself produces interesting results as the rhythms of the interviews weave between each other; sometimes interlocking and other times at odds with each other. There is an amazing amount of serendipity actually. I then took the third person and inset them into the pictures along the timeline, shrunk down into a small box, positioned on each shot with regard to composition of the whole.
I hope you're following this. Sorry if it sounds a bit obtuse.
Anyway my point is...This is a really interesting process, as it goes some way to making a more democratic use of material than the traditional narrative documentary approach. If you didn't know what I was doing it might almost not be an issue. It's more like eavesdropping on another's conversation in a bar. You pick up various strands. Themes emerge, die away and re-appear.
So this was my dilemma. At one point one of my interviewees says "Eric Delany!" cut to next person saying "was a great trumpet player". That was just the way the cards fell.
In fact Eric Delany was a drummer and the person who made the initial statement knows this. Said person is also a bit of an authority on such things having worked on local radio for a lot of years and made sixties Hartlepool music appreciation his life's work. It makes him look incorrect.
Hmm I thought. But if the viewer continued watching for a while they would be able to fathom that this juxtaposition is just that.. two different conversations with a related theme but not the same narrative timing. Then I thought.. perhaps I should put a caption on screen something like "Eric Delany was a drummer not a trumpet player". But then it looks like I am contradicting my man and making him look foolish.
To be totally true to my structure I should let whatever happens happen and leave it at that. It's not as simple as that though of course because I have two agendas in the piece. One allows me to re-invent my own role in the overall piece to a point where fiction is a possibility. But the other side of this coin is that I can't allow myself to misrepresent other peoples stories.. even if overall the nature of representation itself is the theme of my work.
In the end I amended the offending juxtaposition and inserted another statement that didn't have such an inference. I had to be mindful of my subjects subject as it were. In a way it's a shame.. but only I (and you now) know about my own private ethical conundrum.
# 54 [6 April 2013]
H... IS FOR BECKENKREGER
At last I have all the parts for the musical arrangement of my song and have a meeting with the band leader next week. Finally feel like I'm getting somewhere yay hey.
This weekend I have to write the various wall panel stuff that will go in the show. That in itself is proving to be an interesting exercise and has made me consider how to frame this for public consumption. I don't want people to think this is a 'trip down memory lane' as, to be frank, it has nothing to do with that in my eyes. On the other hand I have to frame it in a way that will be compelling to what may be a particularly partisan audience in this context so it's a bit of balancing act.
My list of acknowledgements is getting a bit long too. It's at this point that I wish I'd made more comprehensive (legible would have been good) notes as to who was who. Think I'm going to have to double check the spelling of a few of the more unusual names...
Part of the process of making this piece is not really knowing how each element will turn out. They very much dictate their own theme. Mr Beckenkreger is no exception. He turns out to be very particularly associated with the letter H. Here is a glimpse into his world >>
# 53 [28 March 2013]
Now that is what I call cold. Just hovering around freezing - but the wind had the sea crashing and rearing like a Perfect Storm. Poor Erin... I had arranged to film her in Hartlepool over the weekend and we lucked out with the weather. Well lucked out in terms of my hand nearly froze off and she, being just a wee snip, was none too pleased about hanging around staring at seascapes and industrial landscapes. I tried my best to minimise her exposure to the cold... parked the car close, only got her out when I was all set up...but it is probably only something you could ask a relative to do (with the promise of a present afterwards). The sea really was amazing though... all churning and dangerous looking. Timeless really.
Luckily one of our locations was inside a shopping centre. Unluckily Erin trapped her fingers in the car door as we parked up. For a moment it looked like a trip to A and E would cut the shoot short. Luckily it wasn't as bad as it first seemed. We cajoled her into the shopping centre and pretty soon she was happily spinning around the concourse to my direction (after a protracted episode with security. I had got advance permission to film but let me tell you...those shops are VERY well guarded and nobody had told security we were coming).
A bizarre Sunday perhaps, but one of the final elements in this project. I wanted my Marion doll to go on a little trip... helped by another generation. These short sequences will link my other video episodes. I had also filmed E against green screen the day before so that I have some flexibility as to what I put behind her. I'm not looking for realism so much as hyper realism... which isn't the same thing of course.
Easter looms but I need to push on. For the last couple of weeks I have been concentrating on the artwork side of my show so need to get back to editing video if I am to hit the deadline... failure is not an option Mr Bond.
Our re-cycle bin is just outside the back door but boxes always get left in the kitchen for yours truly to take out. One of the benefits of this system is that I am now making plectrum shapes from these boxes before binning the off-cuts. Morning and evening. I have a 'plectrum maker' die cutter. One of the installation pieces I plan to put together in a glass case is called 'Assuming the means of production'. It involves an amount of coal and lots of plectrum shapes made from random stuff scattered as a layer above. A white Stratocaster guitar wrapped in organza sits on top. It alludes to the decline of local industry and how society drifted into change like a boat let loose. Make of it what you will. It links to some of my video stories.
Pizza boxes and cat food cartons are ideal... though they're rubbish (literally) as real plectrums.
Oh and I finished 'Lanark' by Alasdair Grey the other day. Now that's an odd book and one I would definitely recommend if you haven't read it. Art school and surreal socio politics...right up my street.
# 52 [17 March 2013]
CHEWING IT OVER
I have made no greater sacrifice to my art than chewing gum. To me chewing gum has a similar effect to the sound of chalk scraping on a blackboard. Amplify that by a factor of ten and hard wire it into your nervous system and that gives you an idea of how chewing gum effects me. Even seeing other people chewing gum sets my nerves on edge.
I have been working on some of the wall pieces this week and something I wanted to reference was an anecdote told to me by Marion Keene. She had been singing on the same bill as Buddy Holly and the Crickets and, boys being boys, the Crickets had been fooling about backstage. Somehow Buddy Holly's front tooth got knocked out. Marion apparently used to chew a lot of gum in those days and Mr Holly spotted her chewing backstage.
"Can I have your gum please?" he asked
"I'll see if I have any more" said Marion
"no the gum you're chewing will do fine" said Buddy
She passed it to him, slightly bemused, and after a short sculptural interlude he pushed it into the gap - just in time to go onstage.
A small detail but one that adds richness to my back stories. So I made the ultimate sacrifice. In order to re-make history I bought a pack of gum (something I haven't done since I was a kid). I even chewed it so I could photograph the result, nerves a-tingle. I hope you are impressed.
The video I have been working on this week is themed on Kip Heron's trumpet. A while back I was allowed to get it out of the glass case in Hartlepool museum and I was impressed by how battered it is. It really shows its use and there is something very evocative about that. Wearing white gloves to handle it seems strangely at odds to the treatment it so obviously had in the past.
This video sequence (apart from the intro on the street near the site of Kip's cafe) is made from single frames shot on my stills camera. The Hammond Organ is played by a musician called Paul Flush who I interviewed previously and who now lives in Belgium. He reckons he was the youngest person to play the Rink. Bringing two great musicians together who never actually met, albeit in a slightly abstract way, is for me the essence of this project. Re-shaping the past and delivering it into the present >>
# 51 [10 March 2013]
TAKE THE A TRAIN
Well I delivered the full score arrangement today to the band leader. Down the A19 again to the bands regular Sunday gig in Hartlepool to make absolutely sure it got directly into his hands. Now I await the verdict...
The big event this week was that I got the good news I'd been waiting for. ACE have again helped with funding to complete the project and to assist with a bit of marketing. It's a great relief since there are numerous costly things to be sorted out for the show. Apart from the band and recording I have got print costs, mounting, frames etc. etc. to sort out imminently, plus more video to shoot too. Validation of the project is also important; that what I have produced so far is deemed to be worth all the effort. Big sigh of relief.
Generally speaking I have had great feedback from people who have viewed my clips (though people rarely comment on the site here.. maybe the forthcoming new site might be more interactive in that sense?)
I went to a meeting this week to walk through the installation with Ashley from the council and three of the guys who will be installing the AV equipment and generally building things like plinths and walls. As I enquired at the offices where we were meeting the guy on reception said to me.."Oh you're Neil Armstrong - I watched your videos on VIMEO - really nice - thought they were brilliant!"
It made me consider how isolated you can get making these things...and how easy it could be to construct a world which nobody else understands or is interested in. His comment was a little ray of sunshine and lit up my afternoon more than he could have known... so thanks for that. You do these things first and foremost for yourself, but validation is much appreciated even though I prepare myself not to get it! Big thank you to photographer Mark Henderson too (who comes from Hartlepool but now lives in Dublin). He was similarly complimentary about the piece this week. Strange how I still feel stressed though ha ha. Anyway I must tell myself it's ok to accept praise... then get on with the hard slog again.
This week's video sequence involves footage shot at a retirement home called Laurel Gardens, plus the complete cast of kids, students and old folk that I filmed on the rehearsal day. It had to be poignant and is the most reflective of the sequences I have put together thus far. I deliberated about introducing a slightly spooky spinning disc element, unsure if it was perhaps a bit literal. Showed it to my partner and she said it reminded her of the Wizard of Oz - which convinced me to keep it in. It's an appropriate reference and fits with my nod to Busby Berkeley too. The spinning circle of seated dancers is dynamically at odds with the sedentary participants which is kinda nice I think >>
# 50 [2 March 2013]
ONE AND SIXPENCE FOR A PLECTRUM (allegedly tortoiseshell)
With so much material, a lot of time is taken up just deciding what to use in these short sequences. I'm not so much looking to present things in a factual way, more to make something that encapsulates the essence. Also trying to not overly intellectualise my approach so I can leave some head space to add magic. One thing I am aware of though is that what I have taken away with me is a bit like 21st century soul capturing...and that I'd better make sure I proceed with respect but not timidity.
This last video sketch features 2 members of the Hartbeats who I filmed on a number of occasions. It's not really possible to do justice to their story in 3 minutes but, in a way, the form is very appropriate. I'm almost seeing it like making a version of what might be a 78 or a 45 single.
The best songs often encapsulate a mood or conjure an insight into another world without being overly specific. It's like analysing the words to a song and discovering that the meaning lies within the spaces between...only making sense when performed.
I have been thinking that as these sketches loop in the gallery I should intersperse each occurrence with other 'single takes' of speech so the experience has an element of the 'ongoing'. The sketches are encapsulations of intensity and put alongside more freeform speech they should reflect the way time experientially expands and contracts. Each viewing would then be unique; with repetition but no obvious conclusion.
On another subject... I have found a female singer yay hey! who is both the right age and has a lovely evocative delivery, so now have two very talented vocalists for my bigband song. This coming Tuesday I head back to Hartlepool, with guitar on the back seat this time, to run through how they will work together. It's great when a plan appears to be coming together...phew >>
# 49 [25 February 2013]
Tomorrow morning I head back down the A19 to Hartlepool to run through the final arrangement for my bigband song with the arranger Gavin. It still seems a little bizarre even to me that I have pursued this particular line, especially since it has taken so long to get this element together. I am clear though as to how I see it fitting in.
In essence this song is the gateway to a narrative which allows me to explore wider issues in the whole piece. It's a prop really I suppose... but one that has not been easily achieved. Having said that I'm very happy to be questioning my own definitions of what 'ART' is. This aspect of the piece has the added bonus that it involves quite a range of people too, from musicians to performers and then through to audiences.
I'm hoping it will become a bit of a legacy for the piece after my Hartlepool show is over. Something that will be played and remembered. For me it's kind of interesting that my agenda is perhaps not what the average punter might appreciate, but that fact doesn't matter in this context. It has a dual function.
I have my Male singer sorted too... but not sure about the girl yet. This Sunday I shall head to the bands weekly rehearsal gig in the Park Hotel and present the bands leader with the full arrangement. "Remember me? it was only 10 months ago we first talked about this!".
The first of our 'whisper campaigns' has been sent out... content supplied by me and a video link to Vimeo which is embedded on the Council website. I have given them content for the first four of these so we will begin upping the awareness levels hopefully...
.. also there is talk of me guest speaking at East Durham College... never been there so that might be interesting... a viewing of the finished piece in July is now sorted for the people who took part in the dance event at Hartfields retirement village... and there is very positive talk about me showing the installation at the Toffee Factory after the Hartlepool show. I just don't have the time to pursue any other showing opportunities as finishing the installation has to take priority, but once complete there will be a mountain of things to do to raise awareness and get shows further afield.
# 48 [17 February 2013]
...is his real name. When I first spoke to him, over a year ago, I was under the impression it was 'Moule'... which would indicate it's French roots, however although those roots definitely exist it turned out his name is actually spelt 'Mole'
When sifting the material from my interviews I am trying to find something that defines both the essence of the story being told to me ('their' story if you like) and also something that might have happened at the time we met. I am trying to reference something unique to our moment together.
With Lenny it took a while but then two themes emerged which now seem like a 'drrrr how come you didn't see that before' thing. He talks about the life he always wanted, to be a market gardener, to work outside in the fresh air. The irony emerges that he was called up during the war to be a 'Bevin Boy' working underground in the mines. Not to make a bad joke out of it... but you can't help thinking that a name like Mole is just toooo serendipitous for such an occupation.
His house is a treasure trove of things collected over the years; to the unfamiliar eye arranged in a somewhat haphazard way. No doubt this is not the case and I'm sure Lenny knows exactly where everything is. At one point during our chat his bird clock chirps in. It didn't occur to me at the time, but on trawling through the material it stands out as a brief 'NOW' moment; less about recall and more about reaction. It's funny and Lenny smiles.
Birds seem appropriate to his story. His love of the outdoors and the more functional metaphor of a canary in a coalmine fit perfectly. The plastic bird trill acts as a metronome though this piece. It may be harsh but I hope I haven't missed the poignancy of this extract from his story. What I show here is only part of his story, but one that offers a window into his world.
Making these pieces I am acutely aware that they have to be snatches, an essence of a situation. Seen in the gallery context they will loop and compete with each other on the various monitors. I want people to be able to dip in and out of these worlds, taking away with them singular impressions but also an appreciation of the whole.
I give you... Mr Lenny Mole >>
# 47 [7 February 2013]
POP GOES THE WEASEL
Been working on the back story for my composite character Jack Brunel. I'm quite liking him now, and thinking that his story will provide the main text for the small book I will publish for the Rink Project. I ended up visiting a sweet shop in Seaton Carew with him (on paper... not in reality this week). But that's the point.. there is a blurring of the 'real' with the way I need it to be, which isn't necessarily always the same thing. In some ways that's the process of fiction I guess.. except it's more like truth mixed with imagination - I'm not sure what you would call that. He ended up skipping onto the beach and reciting a mad little rhyme...
The gob stoppers stupidly glad dad
the liquorice sticks and ice-cream
and it's no fault of his
that the sherbet's a-fizz
or of hers for this comical scene
Though the sports mixture's still tired out dad
the imperial mints are serene
for tonight it's declared
not the Lords nor the Lairds
but the Poor Bens
shall dance with the Queen!
Yes all mine I'm afraid.. perhaps I am going slightly mad???
Also this week I have completed my Manfreds sequence. This 'sketch' has probably been my most difficult dialogue to date, mainly due to trying to get the balance right between what was ostensibly an 'interview', but needing to avoid the trap of journalism. I'm there I think. It was always going to reference the film BLOW-UP ...and so it does.
Having put a few sequences together now I'm beginning to get a glimpse of how these will sit together... which is somewhat of a relief. Having said that, the more I do the more I realise there is to do... I don't actually have days off anymore...
Take a look below... see what you think >
# 46 [30 January 2013]
...Is the title of a performance piece of mine from the late 70s. It's actually an anagram of my name and refers to the 'fragmentation of self' examined in the piece, being somewhat influenced by my day job as an Art Therapist at the time.
Stood in the lecture room at Cleveland College of Art and Design last Thursday I was contemplating the route that had got me to this place. Ostensibly I was there to talk to the students about the Rink project, but it also offered an opportunity to do a historical self-appraisal. Have to say that's not something I've done for quite a few years so it was with some trepidation that I trawled though my back catalogue. Funny - I had taken the precaution of preparing a fairly lengthy powerpoint in order to prompt myself (no tedious bullet points - just images and video clips) plus I had backup notes.
In the event I stood there and it all flowed out... for two hours non-stop. Phew.. I could have actually continued for another hour at least. Didn't look at the notes once.
I got to the point where I was describing an early performance of mine; reduced down to the performance equivalent of a white canvas. Me, a film projector with no film in it, beaming its rectangular light towards my singular presence on a high stool. I remember doing Coventry Events Week with that piece, deliberately going on with nothing prepared; putting myself in the ultimate improvisational situation. Afterwards a couple of people came up and said it was the most powerful performance they had seen all week (and no it wasn't the opening day ha ha). Doing that piece there was always the danger that nothing would happen - that nothing would occur to me. In the event something always did occur. The adrenalin kicks in of course despite the fact that your mind is blank two seconds before going on.
So it was with my talk. I quite enjoyed it.. I'm sure I rambled but it afforded me a rare opportunity for public self examination.
Ones work twists and turns through time, but I could see how it has developed. That water shed performance piece, a performance stripped bare, at first sight is a million miles away from the Rink project.
In fact I regard it as quite close.
The only difference is that my cast has expanded somewhat. Now, instead of myself and the room as the subject, I have a room full of other people's rooms as the drama. All the stories I have acquired are now mine to scatter and reform. To mould into another space. Perhaps I have acquired some skill to listen and to interject from using myself as the subject. I do find I am drawn to invent something else out of this that doesn't exist. That's the creative act I suppose.
Specifically, the Rink project is getting more focused. There have been problems (nay let's call them challenges... erm no... opportunities!) as to how we make the piece work in the gallery - but these are now resolved and have actually suggested another dimension.
There will be a light-tight entrance and wall built in the gallery to show the main video, and in the main gallery there will be an arrangement of monitors. This gets round the issue of light levels for projectors. It also means I can make a lot more use of the walls now that the lights won't be down low.
There is the offer of the loan of a scooter from the sixties and I have other elements like my white stratocaster and hopefully Kip Heron's trumpet to incorporate, which I hadn't initially envisaged. Such objects, alongside the main video installation need to be treated with caution though. They could change the nature of the show, which is not what I want. I have decided that if I use them (and I think I will) they will be wrapped in white organza... a fabric light enough to see through but sufficient to make then a little mysterious...
I'm quite looking forward to my journey into the unknown again.
I am an artist from Yorkshire who lives and works in Newcastle. My work is predominantly realised as large scale photo pieces and/or video installation, although I still regard myself as a painter.
Much of my work involves the exploration of time, how it is experienced, recorded and then re-presented. The nature of this process has led me to collaborate or become part of worlds which I might not have otherwise touched. This has proved to be both challenging and beautiful.