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By: Jonathan Moss
I am a painter / video-artist interested in landscape and the "sense of place". I am particularly drawn to landscapes with a hidden history; a lot of my work is inspired by a WW2 concentration camp situated next to my studio in France.
I work in a rural part of the Pyrenees whilst trying to have a foot in a wider art scene.
# 64 [3 April 2013]
The book is developing... final design is done, made a video to help promote it on RocketHub and started a Facebook page to keep friends updated with its progress and as a place to hold info that didn't make it to the final version.
One problem I have been dealing with is how vague can the book be whilst giving enough information for the reader to get a gist of the context. So, the plans and maps have gone - information like that can be on a website, after all it's not a history book - just an artist's reaction to a particular place. There are many books and websites that give the details of that part of France's history, but none that present it through my eyes and from my standpoint.
The video I've made reflects the feeling of the photos - made at night, the only light being a torch. I had Gregor Schneider's claustrophobic installations in mind when I made it. No music, just the sound of my footsteps and some phrases taken from the Norbert Hertz interview. To describe the book I used subtitles, but for the RocketHub campaign I'm going to have to make it more personal and include myself in the video.
The RocketHub campaign is proving to be as much work as creating the book itself and I'm almost there - a fine line between whetting people's appetite and giving too much away, which may result in nobody buying the book.
The book will be a limited edition which sadly pushes the printing costs up, but partly because I'm not sure of the demand for it. I aim to promote it to galleries and museums interested in the Holocaust and artists' books. I'm spending the summer in New York, so shall take some with me to hopefully find some outlets.
I also plan to take the final version to the new director of the Rivesaltes Memorial, maybe he'll be more interested in my project than the last director. Perhaps we could discuss translating it into French, but I'm not sure there is a big market for it here due to its controversial nature.
On this subject, I had an email from a German friend who is interested in my book he wrote this:
I'm not absolutely sure how I came to know about Rivesaltes. A German pupil is confronted quite intensely with the younger history of his nation. In fact, the most detailed time you learn about in history lessons is what we call the NS (National Socialist) time. As a result we have learned not to hide and ignore the facts, but to keep that part of our history in our minds. "Don't forget" is more or less hammered into your head while at school. When at school you simply cannot avoid making a trip with your school to Bergen-Belsen, Buchenwald or Neuengamme. Of course, camps in other countries are also spoken of. Especially those in France. There's one big one close to Lyon and there's Rivesaltes.
It wouldn't surprise me if there were more Germans aware of this place than French. I really like the French and I admire some of their way of living. I have to admit, though, that critically reflecting their own history and position is not on top of their list.
# 63 [11 January 2013]
I've decided to collate some photos of the Rivesaltes Project in a book, together with extracts form this blog, sort of to draw the project to a close.
The images to date have been taken in the broad light of day, photos as documents, which barely touch the dark oppressive atmosphere; so I decided to photograph the camp at night, wishing to create more evocative images, aide-memoires of a place forgotten.
The first evening I took my son Louis, as I needed somebody to hold a light to illuminate the huts. Even though it wasn’t quite freezing, the wind was so strong, it hurt. Poor Louis tried his best, but after an hour or so, we gave up.
The following night was much more successful, the wind was calmer and the sky was clear, but oddly, no moon, which would have helped to create some dramatic shadows. No matter, I continued photographing into the early hours.
I returned four more times and worked through the night. What captivated me was the stark vegetation juxtaposed with the ruined huts. I was left with the impression that nobody had been to the camp since the last interns left and was reminded of Louis’ question some time ago made when he last visited the camp with me: “Are there any people here?”. The only clue that anybody had recently visited was the graffiti scrawled over the huts, which I felt was strangely poetic as it was a symbol of the current touching the past.
I think the results will make a stronger body of work than the previous photos and be more descriptive than my abstract video-stills.
# 62 [17 August 2012]
When Sigur Rós announced they wanted video artists to create a video for tracks from their new album Valtari I began to plan my submission.
A few years ago I had the pleasure to go to one of their gigs in Barcelona and it occurred to me that my style of experimental video would work well with their stage performances... so I was chuffed when this opportunity came up.
On listening to the album what struck me was that they have returned to their soundscapes following a dalliance with immediately catchy melodies on the previous album Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust (2008); great news for me as my videos work well with ambient noises.
I wracked my brains to find something that had a connection with the music, not that straightforward. All I needed was a starting point, which I found on the inside cover of the Valtari CD cover: simplified forms of pine tress.
I nipped up the hill to the forest with Emilie and Louis and my video camera. I made a few video walks at varying speeds pointing the camera at the tops of the trees to the sound of "Can we go now?"... thankfully the audio would be scrubbed and replaced with the title track "Valtari".
In the end I came up with something akin to my Path video. I timed the passing images to echo the melody of the music which proved troublesome as it did not keep to a rigid rhythm, so following much experimentation, I timed the frames to echo the music just most of the time and not all of the time.
I now have some extra footage which I plan to use for another finished piece, this time with some soundscapes of my own.
# 61 [13 August 2012]
Following an extremely draining few months painstakingly painting four large paintings with a tiny brush, I'm now content with the finished pieces. The general reaction has been positive and now I'm living with them for a while before I start the next batch of the series.
I'd like to develop the idea of the brush marks following the contours of the shapes that make up the surface. The completed four have a texture only in the dark areas... now I'd like to make an all over texture, dark and light areas. All I need is the time to start them.
They are linked with my previous paintings by a contrast between light and dark and a contrast of textures... but, even though at first glance seem abstract, take on a more 'figurative' nature. There's a limit to how many years you can continue to paint vertical lines! No doubt I'll return to them soon though.
# 60 [21 May 2012]
I've just read Susan Jones' Guardian article: Artists are struggling to make ends meet more than ever before. http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture-professionals-ne...
I know things are a bit tough for everyone at the moment, which would also impact on the art world, but I was shocked to see that ArtSway is closing.
It looks like funding has been taken away... I had some work at ArtSway once, such an inspirational gallery/art community that showcased the diversity and innovation current in the UK art scene. For me it was always intriguing that such a cutting edge gallery existed in sleepy Sway, coincidentally just a few miles from my birthplace. My wife also worked with Peter Bonnell on some catalogues when she worked for a printers - they've folded too now.
People often ask me how sales are going and I answer, not as they used to be. Susan Jones confirms my experience, opportunities, in particular for painting, are few and far between now - if these opportunities don't exist, my paintings won't be seen and potentially bought by collectors. Escaping to my studio and painting is only part of the story, it's also a business and I don't only want exciting shows and venues on my CV, I need to sell, not only to pay for materials to make new work, but to live.
There are more and more opportunities to show video work, all very good, but they do not create an income. Also, increasingly lots of festivals and galleries request a fee from the artist to submit work - of course they need to fund their activity. But what would Alan Sugar say? You've got to be in profit at the end of the day and if I apply for 5 or 6 shows a month, that could amount to almost £100, great if you're accepted by all of them, but that's not realistic.
When money is tight the first thing to go are the luxury items, in this case, culture and that's a pretty poor sign for the way things are going.
Today, once I've finished editing some videos for submission for a film festival (non-fee paying) I'm starting some plans for a large painting for a local wine festival, the organiser invited me to do something - each artist accepted will be paid with wine. Perhaps that's the way ahead.
# 59 [19 March 2012]
I received the book 'Magic Power Presence' by Iris Books today in the post. It includes a video still taken from my video 'Path' and a short description.
In their foreword Iris (an artists' book collective based in Dumfries) writes:
Iris originally came together to celebrate the 'presence' of books. We don't see books as 'just' words... we are drawn to the tactile, visual qualities of books, before or after you allow the words to absorb you. We are also intrigued by the magic of them. You can pick up and hold a book in your hand, open it and there, wherever you are, it opens out a world to you.
With more and more talk about digitising books it's refreshing to be involved with a group of contemporary artists promoting the book as an object made from paper rather than a soulless e-reader.
The combination of creative text and image in Magic Power Presence is a stimulating visual experience comprising photos, video stills, objets trouves, prints, assemblages and paintings.
A major exhibition in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh and the College of Art is in the pipeline. I don't yet know whether or not I'll be able to show the video 'Path', or just the still, either way it's far removed from me scanning that rocky track behind my house last year using a 150 metre extension cable and a lap-top that continuously over heated in the Mediterranean sun.
# 58 [9 March 2012]
Been working on a few prototypes for larger pieces... work in progress. Based on images from my video RSA4.
Something I found useful was photographing them during the early stages then altering the luminosity, contrast and colour saturation in photoshop... a new way of experimenting, then I made changes to the paintings. I'm now living with them for a while before I make any more alterations.
The large canvases arrive next week, so I need to decide which compositions work best to enlarge. It will be an experience working on a large scale in my new tiny studio, I could always work outside on the street, at least I'll get to meet some more people in the village.
Last week when I painted outside on the street, dressed in my overalls, a little old lady asked me to mend her car!
# 57 [7 March 2012]
Collaborations can emerge from the strangest of places. A fellow guitarist who initially I knew only through guitar forums turns out to be a bonafide composer of contemporary 'sounds' - studied composition at Dartington where his tutorials were extraordinary: "the uncomfortable silence when I played my latest DADGAD musings on my guitar to my composition lecturer who specialised in concertos for wardrobes and carbon-fibre fishing rods... "lounge music" was all he said after about 5 minutes of waiting..."
Just by chance Michael mentioned that he has been working on a conceptual piece. For a guitarist quite well-known on the international 'folk' circuit (albeit, 'new folk', i.e. contemporary, cutting edge, but within the confines of the heritage of a six string instrument) I was quite surprised at this. At first I thought it was a joke... then as we exchanged emails it became clear that he has another existence as a creator of 'little sounds' as I call them.
He offered to make some music for my videos - I don't have anything on the go at the moment as I'm painting, but mentioned one video, in fact my first, that I recently resurrected and uploaded to Vimeo just last month.
'Dot to Dash' is a simple video of the moon, shot in negative with a slow shutter speed; it takes on a life of its own - insect-like, crawling over the surface of the picture plane (video frame?). The addition of atmospheric audio creates a completely new dimension.
I'm really grateful to Michael and now we're eager to develop the idea... just got to wait for a full moon - well that's tomorrow, better charge the camera!
# 56 [24 February 2012]
I've been enjoying playing with cyanotypes over the last few days. The paper was in a Sigur Ros box-set to promote their new live album 'Inni' that I was given for Christmas. Once the photos have been made you can upload them to their website and then fans vote on the best ones.
Initially I wanted to place the light-sensitive paper on the computer screen showing my video stills... of course this didn't work, which was a shame. So I opted to follow the usual technique of placing objects over the paper in sunlight. I nicked some ideas from the artists who showed at the V&A "Shadow Catchers" exhibition which has just closed...
Firstly I placed some palm leaves on the paper, I liked the pattern of lines... then it occured to me that I could make a pattern on glass and place the glass on the paper. With very few materials in my small, makeshift studio I raided the kitchen: flour and olive oil. I literally used it as I do paint and created a drippy type surface - the results are spookily similar to my paintings.
I'm now thinking that I'm onto something exciting here... plus the kids would love to be involved too - just like magic.
If nobody votes for my images on the Sigur Ros site at least I've been inspired.
# 55 [10 January 2012]
Internet access has been difficult since I moved unfortunately, but it has allowed me to dedicate more time to renovating the house. (Internet now sorted thankfully.)
Today I finished painting my new studio - small, but just big enough to paint the new 180 x 200 cm canvases for a show in New York; it will be a tight squeeze and that floor may be a distraction, but it's better than the corner of a bedroom.
I mentioned to our new neighbour, a very sweet elderly lady, that I'm a painter by trade, not a professional DIYer and she very kindly said that she could arrange for my paintings to be shown in the local hairdresser's... I was touched by her kindness, I did explain that they are quite abstract, very large and not to everyone's taste. It's good to be known locally though, so I thought I'd introduce myself to the art school in Perpignan and see what emerges.
Just the facade of the house to paint now and the shutters, then on with the real paintings which I'm itching to start, it's been too long now.
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