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By: Veronique Chance
I have just arrived in Banff to take part in 5 week co-production residency programme ‘Liminal Screen’ at the New Media Institute, part of the Banff Centre. I will be developing a project that uses mobile camera technologies to record long distance runs, looking at possibilities of live broadcast/streaming from both eye-views as I run. This blog will reflect upon and document my time here.
# 16 [14 March 2009]
Today was much warmer at -4 in the morning, which is mild for here. I was toying with going in to Calgary to seek out some mini web-cams. I’m looking the possibility of working direct with these as they can plug straight into a computer without the need for an intermediary device. If I’m having to carry small computers now, as I run (light as they may be), I need everything else to be very light. I haven’t got to the level of those army guys who run marathons with huge rucksacks. The only thing is, there are only a few buses a day. I knew I wouldn’t make the 9.45 as I had to have a quick chat with Kenny before the weekend. The next bus wasn’t ‘til 12.45 and it’s a 4hr round trip. This would mean getting back after 7pm or even later. I really didn’t want to spend the rest of the day on a bus, with a shorter stop in Calgary. Besides, I don’t need the cameras yet.
Instead, I decided to go out to take some still photographs along yesterday’s route with a medium format camera I’ve borrowed from Goldsmith’s. I’d been told that there are bikes we can use here for free, which would make it a lot quicker and easier. After finally locating them and getting hold of a lock, I set off bike in hand with the camera. There’s a steep slope down from the Banff Centre to the Bow River trail. I decided not to cycle down it as the bike was a bit precarious. It’s a bloke’s road racer with drop handle bars (which I’m not used to), and had only one set of gears working. It give me a chance to begin photographing from the start of the route as I walked down, taking in the Bow River Falls and the fantastic Bow Springs Hotel. This vast hotel was built in the 19th century for the railway workers. It’s amazing and very grand (very expensive too), with imposing character. Reminds me of the hotel from ‘The Shining’.
It was great to take time to stop and to look at the scenery properly (only thing is, there’s a tendency to take too many similar photos- I have to be more ruthless and selective- there are only 15 exposures in a roll of film). As time went the wind started up and it began to get quite cold. Standing still to take photographs and to change film didn’t help either. I forced myself to carry on to the end of the Vermillion Lakes Road and made it nearly all the way before it became too much and my finger and toes got too painful and I could no longer feel them and I headed back (it’s not worth getting frostbite for art). Was very glad to have the bike for speed. Now about to go off for a quiet evening by the fireside with wine and a film.
# 15 [14 March 2009]
Mixed day yesterday. In the morning tried another recorded run to the Vermillion Lakes Road. It was another glorious day, but still pretty cold: -13 with a wind-chill of -25 but sunny. I needed all the layers I had on.
The sun made a difference to the whole run and to the recorded footage -much better contrast and much more colourful. I’m looking forward to taking some still photographs. Managed to do the run non-stop, which I’m very pleased about- I must be getting used to the altitude. Quite slow though and my breathing is erratic and heavy. On the way back I overshot the Fenland trail and found myself almost joining the highway. I turned back, but it probably added 2km to the route.
Got back pretty exhausted around midday which gave me a couple of hours to recuperate before meeting Kenny at 2. We decided to do the testing on the ground floor of the building where the New Media Institute in based and where I have my studio. The AVDC converter (which takes the feed from my recording unit to the computer), only runs on mains so we had to use a 100ft lead to get enough slack to allow me to run freely. It looked quite a sight and rather odd! We managed to get the live streaming to work in the end through ‘i-chat’, but the picture quality particularly on the receiving computer was very poor. It was really disappointing after all that, but I wasn’t entirely surprised as i-chat is very basic. Kenny suggested I research other live streaming software, which when I got back to the studio I remembered I already had- a week ago! I remember speaking at length to Robert about using VLC, which is a media player that also supports live video and audio streaming (apart from it doesn’t do it for Macs, I later found). It seems that most software for this only works with PC’s- I’m beginning to realise that if I want to take this any further when I get back to London, I’m going to have to invest in one (or 2 if I still want to work with both eye views), of those tiny ee-pc’s, especially since the way we’re going (at least for these current tests), it looks like I’ll be running with them!
I was a bit done in for the rest of the day following my run and probably dehydrated. I had a splitting headache all afternoon and evening. I went to an informal concert of contemporary classical music with flute and percussion. It didn’t help. Later, Bruce, one of the other artists, hosted a Flusser night. This was an introduction to the ideas of image and media theorist Vilèm Flusser, followed by a televised interview with Miklós Peternák. Turns out that Bruce is a Flusser expert as he has been working on the archives in Berlin. Must read more of Flusser’s work.
# 14 [12 March 2009]
Started the day today with an indoor run on the running track in the Sally Borden Recreation Centre. It goes around the perimeter of the viewing gallery above the basketball gym. Quite a nice idea, but the circuit is not very long- only about 100m. However, I managed to make myself do 100 circuits (10km) as I wanted to keep a feel of running a certain measure of distance. I may do some filming there- in any case -we talked about doing some initial tests using a lengthy extension cable. I also need to keep up my training and was concerned I might not get out again today to run outside as I was due to meet Kenny to continue where we had left off yesterday. It was very boring run going round and round- I had to make myself keep going. It was also too warm and the atmosphere was very dry. I didn’t seem to have any altitude problems though or shortness of breath. Not bad since up here we are at 1500m. Must be getting used to it now.
I met with Kenny after 1pm to go into Canmore, the nearest bigger town, to try to find a USB video capture device that will connect to the computer and that I can connect my cameras to. Edwin the line producer for the residency came with us. He wanted to collect some things for a film he is shooting in the next couple of days. We also wanted to find a larger mobile ‘phone store to get some information on mobile ‘phone internet connection. It will be easier for me to use kenny’s ‘phone in the end whilst I’m here as the cost of increasing the capacity of my own ‘phone or buying one here, is too prohibitive.
Canmore is a strange sprawling town- really spaced out and flat and made for driving in- a real car town quite industrial and surrounded by mountains.
Got back to Banff around 3.30 to try some initial tests on the running track with my cameras. I’d got hold of some very long extension leads in the morning as the capturing device we were using has to be plugged in. After getting all the kit up there, none of it worked! (it seemed that east my PDR recording unit wasn’t recognising the capturing device). Went back to the studio and realised that the unit will stream live video to the internet via the capturing device, but it is unable to record at the same time. It’s looking increasingly likely I’ll be using webCams to do this- much simpler and less connections, but I’m concerned about image quality. Now I know what the problem was this afternoon, we’ll try again tomorrow with the PDR units on standby.
Ended the evening by attending the Ed’s (another artist) screening choice: Lucky People Center International, an extremely rare anthropological documentary from 1998 with the common thematic of dancing running through it. Great film.
# 13 [11 March 2009]
Ended the evening last night feeling really frustrated and with the sense that I really wasn’t getting anywhere. Various options are being proposed but nothing concrete is happening. This development of my project is really very new to me technically, so when I research various components, I really don’t know what I’m looking at and if they will work. It doesn’t help that I haven’t really seen Robert and Kenny together. They have both talked about different things that don’t always coincide. We need to have a conversation together and to lay our cards on the table to figure out a viable way forward.
In desperation I emailed them in the early hours to request this and copied to peer advisors and other staff. I don’t want to get annoyed because everyone has been very helpful, and I still feel very privileged to be here, but the technical staff are spread out very thinly amongst us and so have a lot to deal with. It’s not their fault, and they are very good, but they don’t really have the level of expertise in relation to my particular project. Meanwhile time is ticking on…
It was still very cold today (about -17), but very much brighter and sunny. I was determined to try and get a run in. But what with trying to make progress and another scheduled discussion forum bang in the middle of the afternoon, it wasn’t going to happen. The good news is that Kate took on board my email plea and was very proactive in getting this meeting going with Kenny and Robert in her presence (although Robert wasn't around). She was very good in trying to pin down a means of moving forward and how we were going to do that. I feel a lot happier, but I’m still having to wait for various bit and pieces. The way forward is to do a rig that is as simple as possible and to test it in the locality. This will mean only using a single rather than a dual eye-view in the first instance, but at least I’ll be able to see if something works (soon I hope!). I had been all ready to do another recorded run, but this meeting was too important to miss. I will catch up with Kenny again in the morning so that we can proactively sort out what I need to buy/order. I may need to forgo my own bullet cameras in favour of some small web-cams as these will directly stream to the internet without the need for a converter. It looks like either way, I’ll end up carrying a lot more than I had anticipated (they are talking of me carrying a computer!), which is a little worrying, considering the distance I hope to run. Initial tests will be on campus, both indoors and out, to see immediately if the system works. I really hope we can have something going by the weekend.
# 12 [11 March 2009]
Yesterday was bitterly cold- -24 and a wind-chill of -30!. Hoped to go for a run but it was far too cold and very overcast. We started off the day with studio visits, which were scheduled for the whole morning. This was an opportunity for everyone to go round each of the artists’ studios in turn to see what they were working on and to get some feedback. Each visit had a scheduled 15 minutes. It was great to get a look at what everyone had been doing and also quite daunting.
I managed to download the footage I had taken on Saturday and to get hold of a projector to project it onto the wall of my studio to get a sense of the experiential aspect. This really made a difference. I got some very good feedback- people particularly liked how the sound worked with the rhythm and sound of my breathing, along with the rhythm of the moving image itself. I couldn’t really say much about the development of the live thing, apart from that I had had a few conversations and various things had been flagged up that I would be talking about with Kenny and Robert later in the day. There were a few questions about the live aspect and the reason for it, which for me has very much to do with the performance of running a durational run. There something about being out there trying to do this run NOW that I want to be able to share with others as I’m doing it. There was also talk of how the footage would get shown and how one could get a sense of the liveness. For me, the liveness becomes like a scheduled programmed event that people know about and that takes place once at a particular time. I still intend for the live relay to be transmitted and projected onto large screens, possibly outside and `I also intend for there to be some recorded runs and for the live run itself to be recorded.
There was a suggestion that using wi`fi networks might be particularly interesting because of the occasional loss of signal that could create its own rhythm with the piece. I agree, as long as it is not lost entirely.
I managed to speak a little to Robert and to Kenny at some length in the afternoon, - we managed to test that we could relay an image from one of my cameras direct to a live internet video stream via a conversion box. We were also able to test a relay from computer to computer. We then looked at possibilities of live transmission using video transmission/receiver devices. On the surface this seems like a better option but for the range I need, it is very expensive. Kenny left me to do some more research around this and I got completely bogged down by it all. All this technological research doesn't feel very productive or creative.
# 11 [10 March 2009]
Sunday I was determined to have as a day of rest as I have not given myself time off really until now. (I was also feeling the effects of a few beers following the trip to the baths the night before). I’d forgotten that the clocks were going forward and I managed to drag myself out of bed to catch breakfast before the 9am cut off point, only to find I was too late. Had to make do with a mediocre breakfast wrap from the Kiln Café instead.
I was desperate to do my laundry as I hadn’t had a chance until then, so I took myself down to the basement, hoping to have a browse in the library to pass the time. Unfortunately, I forgot it doesn’t open until 5pm on a Sunday. Instead I lazily read the local paper and tried to catch up with this blog. It was great to have fresh clean clothes again!
When all was done, I took myself into town to get provisions for the evening’s social event. We organised to have a dinner between us , with everyone making some sort of contribution in food and wine. There is a kitchen/lounge in the basement of the hall I’m staying in, which is quite well equipped with an oven and other cooking implements, and a long table with plenty of chairs- a perfect setting for such an occasion. I’d promised to make a ‘mousse au chocolat’ (my mother’s recipe), so I had at least to get chocolate and eggs and of course a little cognac for flavour. Also bought a bottle of wine to add to the drink contributions.
I ended up of course, buying many more things in the supermarket as I also needed to stock up on energy food like cereal bars and bananas.
I stopped off in the dollar store on the way back to buy some postcards (yes I will send some eventually) and a rather kitsch thermos mug with a photograph of a Bear and the slogan Banff Rockies on it.
Dinner was great fun and a great success- we had a fantastic meal of samples of roast chicken, salmon, sweet potato mash, roast potatoes, carrots and beans, followed by my chocolate mousse, which thankfully turned out well (after much egg-white beating). And of course much wine was drunk. We ended the evening (some of us), watching a screening of the Manchurian Candidate (the original better one with Frank Sinatra).
Got back and sat in bed to catch up with the Blog until 3am, much like I’m doing now. Tomorrow I’ll only be a day behind and I can tell you about today’s activities. For now though it’s goodnight.
# 10 [9 March 2009]
Now it’s got really busy, it’s really hard to keep this blog up, but I’m determined to do so.
Saturday was a really active day. I tried a full-length recorded run wearing the camera kit I have brought with me to get some footage to show for Monday’s studio visits.
I set off quite early as I had arranged to meet Kate at 2pm to try out the climbing gym and I would need time to recover. I decided to do a revised version of the run that included the Vermillion Lakes Road. I’ve figured that I’m much better off trying to run at as low an altitude as possible. Rather than cross through the town first, I followed the Bow River and Fenland trails from the start.- it’s much more straight-forward. Weather was fairly mild, but a little overcast so not great for filming, but as this was a first test I wasn’t too concerned.
I haven’t worn this kit for a little while so I had difficulty in adjusting the belts I wear with the recorders in them. I started recording and managed to make my way to all the way to the start of the Vermilion Lakes Road, before realising that neither of recorders were on any longer. It was a bit annoying after having already run 4km, but since this was a test, I let it go. I switched them back on and continued my route.
I checked halfway to see if the recording was still going. All seemed well and I continued my route back to the start. I didn’t find running much of a problem and I seemed to be able to manage my breathing a lot better. I managed without too much difficulty to complete my route, only slowing at the end after climbing up the hill back to the Banff Centre.
I was excited about seeing what footage I had and immediately checked to see what I had before doing anything else. I checked the card from the left cam and was pleased to see I had a complete recording. With the right cam I wasn’t so lucky- I’m not sure what happened but there was nothing there.
I had enough time for a hot bath and some soup before going down to meet Kate for the climbing wall intro. It was great fun, though tiring especially after my run. Erika, my room-mate came too. Didn’t really have the right shoes but managed to have a go and get a sense of what to do. I really felt it in my arms the next day, but I’ll definitely go again.
Saturday evening was rewarded with a trip to the Banff Hot Springs. These are located half way up Sulphur Mountain. Unfortunately the actual original springs are no longer active, and it is now a mineralised substitute, but it was great to be out in the cold air in a hot pool under the stars.
# 9 [9 March 2009]
The trip to see Guy Maddin’s film on Thursday evening was well worth while. It’s a personal account of the film-maker’s relationship with the place he grew up in (Winnipeg- a City in Eastern Canada, known for extreme cold winters). The event was marked by Guy himself, performing his personal melodramatic narration to the film live, followed by a Q & A. Shot almost entirely in black and white, this film, is an homage to the nostalgia of film itself, and to ‘film noir’, with the live voice-over reminiscent of early film police thrillers or silent movies. The only criticisms are that I thought it was a little long and a little (unnecessarily) repetitive in parts. I would like to see some of this film-maker’s other work. Because of its personal connection to a Canadian city, this film is going to mean more to a Canadian audience. I wonder how it would be seen abroad.
Friday was a studio day. Good to get a bit of consolidated time, but still need to crack the technical thing. Had to go into town to get some materials from the hardware store and graphics shop. I’m surprised that there isn’t better provision for art-materials here. Stopped by the liquor store to stock up on wine and beer. The wine here is very expensive- you can’t get anything for less than $8.00 (£4.00), for some very mediocre Canadian wine.
Arrived a little late for the organised thematic discussion on the question of Audience. This turned out to be a little frustrating and disappointing. I had hoped for a more critical and philosophical discussion around this. Instead, the agenda was much more market-driven and very narrowly considered around the specifics of ‘New Media’. I mentioned that I was concerned that there seemed to be this separation between what was ‘New Media’ and what was other Art, which was not very helpful. Shouldn’t we be talking about our work as art more holistically, rather than by using narrow definitions like New Media? I deliberately do not define myself in this way and feel very uncomfortable about considering myself like this as I see myself as an artist who uses different media to make work. My work is not defined by the media I use, but by the ideas.
Later, I finally managed to get a more in depth chat with Robert about trying to make some headway with the live thing. This was more useful, but he still needs to do a bit more work. I also talked to Kenny, who is a lead programmer and who will help me specifically to figure out some things using mobile networks in the first instance. I’ll have a more in depth meeting with him on Monday.
The evening ended with a screening of the excellent Harun Farocki and Andrei Ujica film ‘Videograms of a Revolution’, showing the Rumanian revolution of December 1989 in Bucharest in a new media-based form of historiography.
# 8 [9 March 2009]
On Thursday, I organised myself to do another run. I had it in mind to do the ‘Spray River Loop’, a trail that follows the path of a subsidiary river. I wanted to get this run in early as there was an organised trip to see Guy Maddin’s ( a local film maker) film ‘My Winnipeg’ at the University of Calgary later on. I woke up to a flurry of snow, which didn’t seem too bad. I’m quite used to the cold by now and quite well prepared for it. I was actually quite glad to see some fresh snow as I was concerned about running on anything too icy.
When I set off it didn’t seem too bad- I made my way down to the river site and across the bridge to follow the trail. This is a popular one with the cross-country skiers, so quite easy to follow the tracks (or so I thought). Once I was on the trail, it became very tough going. It was snowing steadily and the snow had settled very quickly, so it was much deeper than I thought. I found it very difficult to run through (like running through mud or wet sand). Also, the cold made it much more difficult to control my breathing and very soon I had to keep stopping every few hundred metres to catch my breath. However, I persisted and wanted to see it through. The route itself was fairly straight-forward, following the river upstream, so a little undulating, but nothing too extreme under normal circumstances. I didn’t have to check the map to find my bearings except at the half-way point to loop round.
The half-way point was marked by a small bridge so it wasn’t too difficult to keep on track, but I was really starting to be affected by the cold and to feel quite tired. I started to follow the trail back downstream and all was fine (apart from continued breathlessness) until I had the choice to continue the trail slightly higher up above the river, or to move down alongside. I thought if I moved down to a lower level (and altitude), it would help my breathing. All so far so good until I somehow lost the trail and found myself running in the middle of a golf-course!
I tried to keep calm and continued on, thinking that I would eventually get back on track. The problem was that the snow had covered the marked route. Finally I found an adjoining road and started along it, before realising I was heading off in the wrong direction. For a moment I thought I was lost and was a little alarmed (I was also very tired), but I figured that if I followed the path of the river back I could find my way. Luckily I did. This is definitely the hardest run I have done so far. Very slow. Got back in time for lunch and a long, hot bath.
# 7 [9 March 2009]
Apologies, I’ve got really behind with this. I’ll have to update this in a few posts if I don’t want to leave anything out. (will add pics later). Now we have our studios, things have started to get busy.
Wednesday started with presentations from the peer advisors, Nina Czegledy, Willy LeMaître and Kate Rich. All very impressive. Nina and Willy’s work is very technology dependent and oriented – Nina works alot collaboratively with scientists and other artists on global digital projects that are very much on the ‘New Media’ circuit; Willy’s concerns are particularly vision and process oriented with modernist tendencies focussed on the question of appearance, so his work relies heavily on the processes of technology and its effects.
Kate’s work is less driven by technology itself and more conceptually oriented. Her work is socially and politically motivated and uses the tools of technology in the world around us to infiltrate social and cultural infrastructures and networks. I found her work the most interesting, particularly her love of sports as a ‘mechanism for survival in the cultural realm’ (her words). It was refreshing after seeing so much work that is heavily dependent on technology, to see her involvement in outside tree-climbing activities- where there is no use of technology at all! I’m with her there.
Following the presentations I made an appointment to see Robert, the technical line producer for the programme and the main point of contact for anything technical. I think he has a lot on his plate, trying to sort out everyone’s needs. Although there are other staff to liaise with for more specialist concerns, Robert seems to be the person who initially coordinates everything and tries to solve things in the first instance. I made an appointment to see him at 4pm, but because of having to answer to everyone’s needs, he didn’t get to me until after 5.
I am still no nearer to solving the live thing for my project and Robert admitted he also need to do more work/research on this. He asked if I could do a search on live Mac/streaming software (although I don’t really know what I’m looking for), and I also mentioned my concerns in relation to getting data from my GPS device so I can print out routes that I am running and track my progress in real time live.
Nina came by beforehand for a chat. Because she arrived late, she had not seen the artist presentations and wanted a sense of what people are doing. She was very encouraging about the live development of my project and was concerned about how it might be shown. I am quite clear that it should be made into some sort of event that is known about and that begins and ends at the centre (the New Media Institute), possibly outside. I am also clear that I will be working on some recorded runs in addition to the live output.
My art-practice includes a range of media that are mainly photography and video based but which also maintain strong links to sculptural and performance art practices. Referring to performative and sculptural strategies that emphasise the physicality and materiality of the body, I use the representation and props of visual technologies and physical exercise as a means through which to overlap concepts of bodily presence with photography, sculpture and video representation.
In recent work I have been developing a series of moving-image/performance works that have used mobile camera technologies to record a series of long-distance runs .