Image above: screenshot from Becky Edmunds’ video work, Homefire.
This morning was the second of our group Reflections meetings this week. Two of the group shared their work for us – Becky Edmunds and Kate McCoy.
First Becky Edmunds’ told us about material for her work which she has made, borrowed, inherited and found. She showed us first her film, Homefire from her Distant Wars project, giving us a taste of how she “borrows” material (in this case a research film from the US Airforce Research Laboratory). Then she told us about material she’s acquired which could become future work. She told the story of a family relative – former model, actress and artist, Shirley Smith. Becky and her husband have inherited Shirley’s archive film footage of herself. We heard the story of this 50s beauty; a model and actress who reinvented herself as a visual artist when her life was changed by illness and physical deterioration, though her preoccupation with her relationship with the camera continued. This fascination resulted in an archive of film material which she shot of herself, intending to make a documentary of her own life and which includes extraordinary footage of her personal interaction with the camera. This rich source of material is now in Becky’s possession – but she wonders, does she have the right to use it in her work?
Next came Becky’s poignant story of a box of diaries she rescued from refuse collectors, in which the personal stories of a man’s loves and life from the 1920s until his recent death from lung cancer are related. Another possible future work? But again Becky questions her right to use this material.
To end her presentation Becky showed us an intensely moving short film, Goodbye Love, which she made about love and loss. The stark simplicity of the story told in only two minutes was the trigger for tears before breakfast for more than one of us.
Then it was Kate’s turn. Kate McCoy is performing a piece of work tomorrow for the first time for a public audience at a venue in Brighton and decided to try out a short section of the performance on us. She normally works in prisons or with groups in the community such as victims of abuse or addiction and her performance employs objects (in this case vegetables) as a device onto which emotions and experiences can be transferred. In this performance, the potato takes on a particular significance as an object of spiritual and emotional, positive and negative energy. I love Kate’s particular humour, her manner and persona (though one of the things I have found very disconcerting about some members of the group is the ability they demonstrate to transform themselves into other people in their performances without any noticeable transition from one to another. Their performance character seems to invisibly take over in front of my eyes as an extension of themselves but saying and doing things I don’t expect them to say and do. This is quite confusing I find.) Anyway, it was a very short time before I was once again shedding tears, but this time tears of laughter. It was interesting to hear from Kate how differently groups respond to her – some experience her performance without seeing any humour at all and with a sense of belief in what they are experiencing, so Kate is used to allowing the performance to evolve in response to the audience and their state of belief, disbelief, or both.
Watch Becky Edmunds videos on Vimeo – https://vimeo.com/user2801323/videos
Image: inside Gillian Wearing’s installation at the University of Brighton
Today, 30 minutes of time unaccounted for, so I can choose how to spend it. I am sitting in an oversized bean bag in Gillian Wearing’s A Room With Your Views installation.
Four other people are slumped in the dark beside me – engrossed, at ease, engaged. The level of engagement has surprised me. I am drawn in to this subtle work, with Wearing’s typically understated style.
I’m struck by the fact that more than 600 people have been inspired, have bothered, to take part in this work, following a simple set of guidelines instructing them to make a short video. These clips, each around 10 seconds long, have been carefully composed by Wearing into a the piece I’m now watching which in total will run on for more than 2 hours.
In each short clip, a video camera is positioned in front of a window while the curtains or blinds are drawn back or opened to unveil the world outside. Each clip begins with a caption telling us the location where it was filmed. There is a certain expectation that comes with each caption; a preconceived idea, perhaps subconscious, of what each place might be like. Each one brings its own surprises and a seemingly limitless variety of nature, weather, landscape and humanity:
snow in Stockholm and a howling wind
birdsong in Boston, USA – birdsong, a feature of so many of the clips
Tiassale, Ivory Coast – slowly opening louvred blinds and the sight and sounds of jungle
Kanof, Guinea – a dusty street, people calling and the chitter of cicadas in the background
London , UK – darkness… and light – a glittering spectacle (and a cat on the window sill)
Brooklyn, USA, more snow, deep and blowing
Stockholm again, this time a city street
Kabul, Afghanistan – the unexpected view of a beautiful garden and a reminder of a world populated by ordinary people who just want to make a nice life in a pleasant place.
Since Tuesday I have learned a little about:
Yesterday we went to see The Complete Deaths by Spymonkey and Tim Crouch which was fun and a new experience for me of a style of comedic performance which seems to exist somewhere between theatre, circus and pantomime. This morning, Director of the production, Tim Crouch, came to tell us a bit about his experience of working with Spymonkey which gave us a great insight into how the performance evolved and some of the ups and downs of this sort of collaboration.
This morning we were also treated to tiny glimpses of each other’s practices with Guillermo Weickert Molina showing us an excerpt from his dramatic production Lirio entre Espinas, and Alexandrina Hemsley telling us about a new project.
Tonight – Nederlands Dans Theater – “one of the world’s most celebrated dance companies, wowing audiences with its unique brand of breathtaking dance, awe-inspiring skill and passionate creativity”!
I’d never been to The Spire and I really liked it. I always enjoy things that happen in non-traditional venues; they always seem a bit special somehow. On this occasion we’d come to see New Blood, a concert by three modern classical musicians and composers, pianist Dmitry Evgrafov, pianist-composer Emilie Levienaise-Farrouch, and Polish cellist Karolina Rec (aka Resina). I don’t know much about music but I enjoyed the performances, liked the visual accompaniments and the atmosphere, and also rather liked my first experience of Whitstable Bay Ale. http://brightonfestival.org/event/8213/new_blood_130701/
Our visit to The Spire came at the end of a day during which we’d also experienced out first “Reflections” session. A key part of the Collidescope programme, Reflections is an opportunity for all eight artists taking part in the programme to get together with one of our facilitators, not only to talk about what we’ve experienced during the past few days, but also to learn more about each other’s practices and, as facilitator Lou Cope says, “open up opportunities to think on behalf of each other… get other great minds responding to particular issues of practice…”
At each of the first few sessions two or three of us are given the opportunity to talk about an aspect of our practice that we’d like people to think about, and introduce ourselves more thoroughly so that others can be “thinking on our behalf” during this intense period when we are experiencing so much creative stimulus. Yesterday it was fascinating to hear about Paul Hodson’s current theatre project, Still. Still is a work in progress based around the character of photographer Vivian Maier with a contemporary twist which explores ideas about photography, social media sharing, data protection and surveillance.
We were also introduced to the work of another member of the group, Johanna Bramli who told us about her practice as a sound designer and composer and shared some of her diverse work with us. I find it really interesting to think about the physical effects of sound on the body, and I was intrigued to hear about the sensations which Johanna experiences in response to certain sounds, and the physical effects she attempts to generate through her own work. Johanna also talked about the relationship between soundscape and visual image, something which Johanna wants to explore for future performances and something which I’m interested in too. I’m going to send her links to some of my images to see if they might work together. It was good to carry these thoughts with us to the performance at The Spire in the evening and think creatively about ways in which performances are enhanced or complimented by visual elements.
This was Day 2. Operation Black Antler – “an immersive theatre piece by four-times BAFTA nominated artists’ group Blast Theory and critically-acclaimed immersive theatre company Hydrocracker that invites you to enter the murky world of undercover surveillance and question the morality of state-sanctioned spying.” I don’t need to write a review of it – here’s one: http://www.theartsdesk.com/theatre/brighton-festival-operation-black-antler-secret-location
More useful I think is to talk about what I thought of the experience. My initial reaction? It was fun! Others in my group described it as “complex”, “macho”, “confusing”, “moral maze”, “intrusive”, “playful”.
For me it was not an experience I’d have chosen for myself. Being a bit of a scaredy cat and never one to willingly put myself in a situation where I’m not sure what’s going to happen, I’m normally happier sitting in a dark auditorium as part of a less visible audience, but part of the excitement and for me, the value, of Collidescope is going to events I wouldn’t have chosen for myself, so this is a good one! I decided I’d just have to throw myself into it and go with the flow, secure in the knowledge that nothing really bad would happen and no-one would have big expectations of me.
The format was a recipe for success – we were briefed and sent off “under cover” to a party in a pub – this was a good start. Our mission was to gather information on right wing extremists at the party and report back to HQ. The pub was a good old Brighton back street venue; the party was in full swing and the characters were suitably diverse – and extreme. Conversations flowed easily though to start with it was difficult to know who was actor and who was “real”, and it wasn’t long before the fictional characters began casually to introduce extreme right wing issues into the conversation, which we were then expected to use to develop the conversations in directions which would allow us to gain the “important” knowledge we would glean and feed back to HQ . We had 45 minutes to identify and talk to our asigned “POIs” (Persons of Interest) and try to gather information about their plans before we were pulled out and told to report to an agent in a backstreet round the corner before being stood down.
In the post-event discussion, opinions were divided about the experience. I think we all agreed that it didn’t really do what it set out to do i.e. really make us think deeply about issues of privacy and surveillance. Perhaps it was over-ambitious to really try to get to grips with these issues in an hour or so, but it did make us all think about all sorts of other things, especially the issue of being asked to take on a role which required us to say things we didn’t believe. As one of the group said “Who am i? Who are you? … and what the f*** are we all up to??!”