For the past twenty years I have slotted myself into the professional identity that is Digital Artist. It began in the second half of the nineties as New Media Artist, but there emerged a need to loose the term ‘new’ as we witnessed the crusade of digital technology into the twenty first century. For me, it began when I became the first Digital Artist in Residence for North Tyneside Arts, hosted by Isis Arts and housed in a modest ‘creative digital suite’ in the Buddle Arts Centre in Wallsend.
Now, the term Post digital has become a thing; a position, an approach, a mode of engagement, that has been identified as needing a name of its own. Recently, whilst consolidating what seems like endless piles of studio ‘stuff’, collected and taken shape over years, like my own mini Mertzbau, I happened upon a hard copy (which in its day was not identifiable as any such thing because although we might have written an application on a computer, it had to manifest on paper and be put in an envelope and sent through the post for selection panel members to pore over photocopied copies) of the application documents I sent for that Tyneside residency. Reading over what I wrote, I discovered that I’ve always been Post digital. I was post- at the beginning of my journey into technology, and twenty years later, somewhat frustrated and lacklustre in my relationship with my work, I found myself asking ‘do I need to turn around?‘
An a-n Professional Development bursary has got to help when you find yourself asking a question like that. So a new application document got created, and this one never got to be a hard copy.
I want to undertake the proposed activity to enable me to reinvest my practice with the passion and inspiration that I drew upon when I made work using cine film during and directly after my Postgraduate study. Cine film causes me to respond to visual stimuli in a way that I have discovered is not replicable using digital media, and allows for tactile and gestural experimentation which has been lacking in work I have produced solely through digital video.
……..Also, concerns regarding environmental issues and the impact of chemical processing, became more pertinent as I began my ongoing collaboration a little piece of land with artist and composer Jake Harries. This collaboration is now gaining international recognition, having received Arts Council support …….
Undertaking the proposed activity will enable me to gain new knowledge and develop new skills in the use of a medium I am long familiar with but have allowed to all but disappear from my practice.
My specific proposed activity? To undertake three workshops focusing on DIY processing of 16mm and the antiquated Double 8mm cine film, including film processing using environmentally friendly developing agents in place of industry standard chemicals. It is a long way to travel from the East coast of Yorkshire to the East end of London for a six hour workshop, but save no.w.here lab in Bethnal Green and Gauge Film in Birmingham, there is nowhere to learn these things. Part of my development proposal was to research the viability of a facility providing practical and professional support for artists interested in using cine film, somewhat closer to home in the Humberside region, but I soon discovered why that might not come into being.
The logistic ins and outs of executing my proposed activity will unfold in due course, but right now, disrupting temporal linearity in the same way digital video editing allows me to skip the endless running through film footage backwards and forwards to find the clip I want to splice next onto the growing ribbon of celluloid wound on the Steenbeck plate, I want to write my thoughts that came directly after a workshop at no.w.here lab.
Its a long train journey, Kings Cross to Hull, so I got time to reflect on how I was feeling after a day of having a Bolex camera in my hands again, and sitting in front of a Steenbeck watching the flickering image dragged past my eyes at twentyfour frames per second. It felt good. It felt exciting. It felt like being home after a long time away, having fun while you were there, wherever it was that wasn’t here, but being so so happy to be home. But it also felt sad. I felt sad at the possibility that that word, that concept ‘new’ that got recently tagged onto ‘technology’ had served to sever our relationship with so much that now could only be ‘old’. I decided the title of the blog post recounting these ideas would be Has technology killed technology? I also decided to google (now a verb and therefore sporting only a lower case ‘g’) that very question to see if other people have been asking it and framing their analysis of obsolescence within the development of tools in such a way. Strangely, nowhere on the vast playing field that is the internet, did Google find such a string of words, so instead it offered me lots of discussion on the topic Has technology killed creativity? For me, this was just as, if not more interesting to share than my thoughts on (new) technology killing (old) technology.
The last time I clutched the handle on the side of my Bolex and wound it fiercely before holding the camera up and squeezing the roll release, was in a steeply sloping field in southern Spain with a herd of multicoloured and multisized goats moving towards me in a multilegged wave. That was in April 2005. In December 2005 I didn’t take my Bolex to Argentina. I had spent my cash, hard-earned as Digital Co-ordinator at Peacock Visual Arts and Lead Digital Artist on the New Dynamics programme and Digital Animator for a project with Helix Arts, on a teeny tiny digital video camera that fitted in my pocket at a push, and in a neat little vanity case if I wanted to carry extra tapes and power supply at the same time. The Bolex, even with Switar zoom lens removed and packed alongside, required a metal flight case, plus a dark bag for tricky reloading in daylight situations, and cans of film that add up a weight, and cost quite a bit so every shot is so precious.
So how did I ever manage in the south of Spain six months earlier?
The workshop at no.w.here lab reminded me what it is like to have stuff in your hands. Stuff in your hands that you are actually making something with. Alongside all my works produced via digital technology, with nothing more than a mouse or graphics tablet pen in my hand, I have continued to make in-real-life objects that sit somehow uncomfortably somewhere unknown between sculpture and craft. Most of this work has never been exhibited beyond the walls of my mini Mertzbau. What I focus on showing the world is my moving image work. It is what I consider to be my real work, but I think I have been working under a misapprehension since I first put my hand on a mouse and taught myself a new way to manipulate new tools.
Cine film is not just moving image. It does not equate to either magnetic video tape or digital video, but that is not an assertion regarding the aesthetic quality of the viewing experience, which we tend to focus on most when considering moving image. My assertion refers to the making process. Cine film is a physical substance which your hands come into contact with when you make a film. It is also a physical substance that can be manipulated and used in ways other than those dictated by a camera or projector.
What I have not done until this period of professional development, and since entrusting my beloved Bolex to mothballs while my Sony PC350E gads about the world with me, is actually put to test my long suspected theory that direct physical contact with a substance effects one’s visual sensibilties. So, when I work with cine film I create different images, different imagery, different visual juxtapositions and therefore construct different relationships in meaning and context. When I first used to talk about myself as a film maker, I was always urgent in my explanation that I don’t make films. Rather, I explained it as using cine film like a painter might use paint or a poet might use words. Using it as a medium, a substance, to make a work of art with. A work of art that does not necessarily use the same sensibilities we expect from a film. A camera is only one tool within the process of making, and how I use that tool is influenced by the processes I went through prior to picking it up; when making a previous work.
The mental processes we engage in when using software are quite different to those that happen when we manipulate physical matter. I feel convinced that that reality makes me make different art. In turning around and looking back to what I used to do, I seem to have found the way to move forward. It must always be true that we do not want to walk ourselves back into the past and do the same things again and again, but by facing the opposite way to everything we have done, is it so much easier to loose sight of what was good about it? I’ve decided for the time being that the best way to continue my practice is to learn to walk backwards into the future.
It took me a long time to complete the activity proposed for the bursary. Truth be told it still remains uncompleted. With the approval of a-n, I sidetracked the funds and earmarked them for other, related items, for which a need had emerged in light of the conclusions I came to regarding the viability of a local(ish) facility for artists wanting to use cine film: it seemed that if I wanted to up the awareness of and interest in the potentials of this medium, I would have to start off on my own, by myself, in my house, self sufficient. It is not financially viable, or even sensible, to travel those distances for facilities, but maybe growing up in London and cutting my teeth at the London Film Makers Co-op had spoilt me.
Now, on finally completing the blogging activity, I can report that the workshop I have waited over a year for is (hopefully) to happen next March. Next March! Waited over a year for?
Yes. This workshop is rare. Possibly the most valuable thing I have learned from my bursary activity is that I may be the only remaining person in Britain with a desire to shoot and hand process the enigmatic Double 8 film format. All the more important then that I become proficient in processing and handling the film myself if I seriously want it to have a roll in my practice. I shot one of my first films on Double 8, using an old Fujica which was the most reliable member of my Double 8 camera collection. I have a passion for this format, because it gives the possibility of ‘messing about’ with image production right from the off in the camera. The celluloid is 16mm wide, the camera gate is 8mm wide, you shoot the roll, open the camera in safe light, flip the roll over, put it back on the start spool and shoot all over again, down the other half of the film. The lab splices the 16mm strip into two 8mm strips and there’s your footage. To my mind there is a whole lot of ‘messing’ I can do with that if the lab are not involved. When I found the workshop listed at Gauge Film I knew I had to be there. But this particular workshop gets cancelled when there are insufficient sign-ups. This workshop is rescheduled for months later, but is cancelled because of problems with the organisation’s building. I tell the organiser how keen, even desperate, I am to do this workshop and he explains it may not run again because hardly anyone is ever interested. I’m on an email alerts list. My bursary period runs out. I spend the money.
Finally, I come to publish my written blog posts, which have been languishing in a folder on my desktop, and uncanny as can be, I go to the Gauge Film website to check the url to make a hyperlink in the text, and there it is, my long awaited workshop, scheduled for March 2019.
Am I soon to find out I truly am the only remaining person in Britain with a desire to shoot and hand process the enigmatic Double 8 film format?