This image is a detail of an assemblage piece taken in my studio during filming.
In the Summer I had the brilliant experience of working with a team from Tate Britain, who visited me in my studio to film a segment for a short film on British Artist Felicia Browne. Felicia volunteered in Spain at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War and tragically died in action in 1936. Her commitment to activism meant that her artistic career was less developed than her talents allowed, and due to the brevity of her life she did not establish a reputation as an artist. If she is remembered, as we hope she will be more so after our film is launched highlighting the archive of drawings and letters held at Tate Britain and now digitalised, it is either as something of a martyr and an outstanding anti fascist activist willing to give her all, or as a misguided and naive victim of political zeal.
To me her commitment to a free Spain and her insight – along with many artists of this generation – into the perils of “neutrality” and appeasement in the fight against fascism are nothing short of breathtaking and heroic. It is something to be acknowledged and memorialised – which the archive and hopefully the film also will achieve.
The Felicia Browne archive is accessible on the link below.
The film awaits editing and is due to emerge in 2016 to coincide with the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.
Meanwhile, the Tate team’s incredibly thorough investigation of my practice in situ in my studio has proved inspiring. A previous adventure in film in my 2014 Jonathan Moss collaboration Without You I Would Not Exist, and my own burgeoning video practice have made me curious about the medium and it’s potential for expression and dissemination.
Without You I Would Not Exist is available on the link below.
You can also catchup with some of my video work on my website here:
So I caught the film bug, but lacked confidence about speaking on camera. Neurologically speaking verbal fluency is difficult in certain circumstances – multiple demands block access to this facility. So that if I have to take in too much data at once, or bear more than one task in mind words become literally meaningless and disconnected making it hard to speak coherently.This made aspects of my time filming with Tate Britain extremely challenging as this is how this kind of filming is done. You have to keep many things in mind when speaking on camera. I had to sit still, keep my gaze on the face of my interviewer who was off camera, keep my hands on my lap and remember to reference the question (which would be edited out) in my answer each time we shot a take.
In a later segment I could stand and talk while gesturing and looking around at visual prompts (paintings and objects) and this was noticeably more comfortable. Words began to appear more readily and join together.
My best moments on camera were the “acting” parts where I was asked to hold objects, look at paintings and generally interact with my work. Here the words flowed, or often as not no words were needed for such shots. I noticed at the time how different this felt. I was no longer a trapped insect squirming – I could stand to order, gesture at my paintings and stroke my grandmother’s handbag with total ease.
In the past few days I’ve made two videos, in which verbal fluency is achieved through the expedient of DIY methods. It’s actually a revolutionary experience to make my own videos and it’s taught me so much about my brain too.
Fluency occurs when I am alone unobserved. It comes when it is me recording and I know that I can edit myself. It comes when I can see myself (in my iPhone screen) as I talk, rather than looking at another face. This is not megalomania, control freakishness or anything like it. This is the elimination of excess input (sensory data) and a completely unanticipated form of bio-feedback. Seeing myself is an integral part of gaining fluency I’ve found. For some people with neurodivergent brains language and even a sense of self is submerged in excess sensory data in the environment often this can be data emitted by others.
In brief, I needed to see myself talking in order to keep talking. As you’ll observe it is completely effective! I can also do this in conversation (much freer than filming) usually without too much difficulty if I’m relaxed, but I now see the effort it’s taking. I see the mechanics as I’ve never seen them before.
You can watch the new videos on the links below. The first is an invitation into the studio – a home made “What Do Artists Do All Day?” The second sees me as a Talking Head in which I manage to spout for 3 minutes without stopping.
Whether you’re a neurodivergent individual or not there’s something extraordinary empowering about filming yourself as opposed to being filmed. For artists I think this can also be a valuable way of engaging an audience with your practice. This is helpful for other artists too. We can learn so much from each other and besides I love seeing inside other people’s studios and video is a perfect medium for this.
Ultimately I enjoyed having Tate Britain at the studio, despite some of my unease. Being interrogated on your practice is a wonderful discipline, especially when you feel in good hands. I’m hoping the editing will iron out all my discomfort – but with my new investigation into language and fluency I am also aware of how false documentary style filming can be in order to achieve it’s aims.
While I’m sympathetic to some of the need for slick representations of art professionals I also feel it can be undermining doing some of us no favours. I’m talking of course about people who struggle with verbal fluency, as an insistence on editing out the struggle for language gives the impression that fluency is the only desirable norm.
As I’ve discovered there are alternative ways in which fluency can be achieved but that’s not entirely the point. This is probably why I like a particular video of Richard Tuttle – Artists Are Like Clouds. I love that his beautifully expressive non-linear verbal meanderings couldn’t all be edited out though I realise that it has been cut (and where, now that I know!). Visual thinkers can struggle with language and yet our profession demands we speak fluently about our work. This is a form of translation essentially, which is rarely acknowledged. Not all of us can do this with ease.
You can watch the Richard Tuttle video on the following link.
So I’m recommending the DIY approach but I’m also suggesting we be ourselves and let some of our glitches show. Okay so I felt a bit Blue Peter circa 1972 making my video Painting Exile, but hey I’ve always wanted to say, “and here’s one I made earlier”.