I know that I am mortal by nature, and ephemeral; yet when I trace at my pleasure the windings to and fro of the heavenly bodies I no longer touch the earth with my feet: I stand in the presence of Zeus himself and take my fill of ambrosia – Ptolemy, Ptolemy’s Almagest c. AD 150 [i]
To record the effect of the full moon on the high tide.
The Source Material
The source material was mainly gathered during winter 2014-2015 with a proportion gathered on the nights of the full moons in both January and March. Much of the imagery is of the available light sources such as the moon, car headlights, street lamps and the coastal lights. Much of the audio is wind or wave sound.
Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, comprises one train station a golf course and one shopping parade. The majority of the permanent residents of Frinton-on-Sea are retired. In its heyday (1930’s-1940’s) Frinton-on-Sea was a lively and happy place. Attracting the rich and famous, who built large houses and hotels overlooking the sea. The well-kept Bauhaus style public facilities and free parking along the sea front is a remnant of this past spirit.
The promenade and surrounding coastal architecture is utilitarian with machine gun pillars at regular intervals along the imposing coast line wall. The whole area is impeccably clean and maintained. Walking North on the beach or the promenade takes you to Walton-on-Naze. Walking south to Clacton-on-Sea. There are beach huts in either direction, a micro economy.
Frinton-on-Sea has opted not for amusement parks and fun fairs, unlike both Walton and Clacton. Instead they rely upon the property market and less on tourism. Some residents use the fact the train station gates periodically block the only entry to Frinton as cache of exclusivity.
This small gated community has an active Christian congregation spanning across the five or six churches. Sunday service and weekly bell ringing is normal practice.
The Moon is the closest celestial body to the earth, whose influence is literal. In the work I produced I intended to capture this literal influence. My association with the visible planets (Venus and Mars) and the Moon itself forms a lifelong narrative. Starting with a feeling of wonder at the greater natural system as well as understanding a human historical narrative. The concept was important to me, it was a learning curve and an intention that allowed witness to the trials of the planet (its own daily survival).
I admire the timelessness of the composition of Venus in relation to the moon. It assists with the knowing that time bookends the solar systems lifespan. It awakens curiosity. This is a luxurious perspective, space as an intellectual infinity. The light of Venus has a clarity, a creaminess to it that seems to emit rays of green and blue.
The skies that accompany my observations range in colour within a spectrum of beauty. Couple this phenomena with the chameleon state of the Moon, I am witness to an ever changing choreography of scale, luminosity, contrasts and sensations.
I consider the recording to have taken place both in a personal experiential sense as well as the recording devices I had at hand and on loan from the university. The personal recording I began to interpret as witnessing. It was important to me to understand that process and blend the device recording into the act of witnessing. What I learnt from that aspect of the work would continue to inform my research and thinking during the rest of the degree.
Several devices were used to record.
- Canon 550D
- Nokia Lumia 520
The devices used in the material gathering process has several significant impacts on the material itself. The high quality image from the Canon 550D was offset by being physically unwieldly. The Polaroid was quick to activate with low quality video and audio output.
I tended to work with burst mode which has a lower quality but takes many images quickly.
Material gathered by the Nokia Lumia 520 has enhanced Meta data, which includes GPS, Date/Time and camera settings such as F and ISO as well as image size and resolution. The data footprint of the source material itself is not complete. Deletions, duplications, loss and device changes all impact the narrative. I have not worked on the Meta data at this point.
Witnessing (to see)
The act of observation, as experience of moments (recording now to imprint for future recall). An unobstructed now. Where all else becomes reinterpretation.
The high tides in January and February were both late at night. My hands were rendered dull by the icy wind and the cold spray of sea water. The sounds of the waves crashing on to the concrete promenade was startling and alien. I was alone and struggled to keep warm, eventually finding strategies such as drinking thermos flasks of tea, jogging on the spot and swapping gloves to keep one hand warm enough to operate the equipment. I was also anxious about coming upon other people so late at night and in the remoteness of the location.
The moon had moments unobscured by clouds, where it would illuminate the area around me. An icy light that was vivid and bright enough to not require torch light. The strong winds formed eddies that were rhythmic with the waves, the pull of the waves as they sucked the air when rolling back were physical and buffeting, making controlling the equipment a challenge. There was a tempo that informed the timing of shots to get the most sea spray. Waiting for those moments where all the elements I wished to capture aligned were experientially rich. The timeframe to take the shot was short and inexact. I used long twenty five second exposures with the Canon 550D and burst mode with the Nokia Lumia 520.
On occasion I interacted with other people, late at night, these are often strange encounters. Some were recorded.
I picked up audio of church bells in post-production and became aware of church bells subsequently.
My thought at the time was that the first few seconds of recording was the footage. Those few seconds of raw experience were the moment.
Art brings collective scenarios to consciousness and offers us other pathways through reality, with the help of forms themselves, which make these imposed narratives material (Bourriaud, Post Production p23).
Henri Bergson in his 1896 book Matter and Memory alluded to two different forms of memory, the repetition of a learnt times table for example is seen as an automatic memory function and pure memory in the form of the recollection of images and sensations is defined by Bergson as being a contemplative even spiritual form of memory. Bergson places this pure memory outside of the self.
Marcel Proust who attended lectures of Bergson focused in his writings on fragments of memory, allowing the connections to be revealed using all the senses not just of vision, and idea science has come to agree with. That the hippocampus (taste and smell) are also involved in the process of storing and recalling long term memory.
Although the science has evolved since these ideas came into print, the truth that the process of recall is unreliable, error prone and that the act alters the original, infusing that memory with the process of recalling it is better understood. “As long as we have memories to recall, the margins of those memories are being modified to fit what we know now” (Lehrer, 2007, p 87). The mind is convolutional, seeking relationships. Reprinting multiple threads, associating.
Encoding, storing and retrieving
The utilities of function, cloud based beta generation.
Processing the recorded material becomes a simile of memory function. The storage and retrieval inevitably are physical functions that operate temporally and require computation. The material becomes entangled and infused with the process, with the now and with local (temporally) events and conditions.
Once recorded I began to experiment with the material, recording the screen and projections of the material and working with the material on different devices. This caused the material to both gain and loose facets of itself. The projections resulted in loss of quality but additional audio, or the loss of audio and additional imagery, for example.
Devices used in Post Production
- Apple iPad 2 – Post-production
- Home built PC – Storage and post-production
- Various USB and SD devices – Storage and switching devices
- One Drive – Cloud hosting and access
- Epson ST Projector – Short throw projector
- Adobe Premier Pro – Video editing software
In juxtaposition to the physical process of memory, the data streams of transmission and retrieval have the ability to be faultless, yet they are not, suffering instead from device failures, duplication, refresh rate dissimilarity, as well as the inevitable human error, etc.
Additional elements through the artistic process of encoding and decoding took place using 3D modelling. Where material was imported into the utility software and mapped onto 3D objects. This blending of digital information affected the material, changing its meaning from the original analogue experience.
The challenge was to curate and transmit the information in such a way as to randomise the material to the extent that viewers would extract meaning in the same sense that Stuart Hall describes (see Transmission). That the artistic process ended at the final transmission phase. At which point the viewer would decode, record and store that information in a way that was meaningful to them.
The randomization and curation process employed the simplest method to achieve that result, as it was not the randomization but the parallel streams of information that viewers could encode that were relevant.
- From the whole volume of digital artefacts. I applied a visual classification which resulted in 3030 artefacts.
- I sorted these into 6 containers of 505 objects. The simplest method was to vertically select one of 6 columns at a time.
- Random in some sense, however the operating system would prioritize to some extent, based on Meta data.
- I then allowed these six containers to run in parallel. Recording elements, disregarding others.
It was that recorded element that I took into the 3D modelling software. Where I began to produce short works blending together those elements.
The producer is only a transmitter for the following producer, and each artist from now on evolves in a network of contiguous forms that dovetail endlessly (Bourriaud, Post Production p20).
Transmission invokes a state change at the boundary point between an internal and external. Projections turn images to light. Voice turns memory into language.
Stuart Hall describes encoding as the production of the message and decoding as the extraction of meaning in a way that makes sense to the person decoding the information. Whilst the simile of memory function exists, so too is there a parallel in regards to transmission. The artist encodes meaning into the material and transmits this encoded information to the viewer who then decodes the information back into meaning through the boundary of the external into the internal. At this point the process has again gone through the recording process and is again understood via the unreliability of memory.
The point at which a photograph is transmitted from the camera to the cloud, retrieved and viewed on a screen are each unique state changes. From pixels to packets of data that are recompiled and viewed on the screen. Be it analogue or digital, verbal or visual. At these boundary points (the point at which recording is live) the additional elements of chance and probability act as catalysts for change.
I learnt a great deal from this project. The original idea seemed at first to be a simple and clear. Yet looking back at the entire scope of the project it soon scaled in complexity, asking me to consider the fundamentals of the task at hand.
Some of the learning was practical, such as operating equipment and software and some was physical, keeping warm and taking photographs, requires a fitness and flexibility.
At times I was overwhelmed by the volume of material collected, having to adjust and apply agile thinking. Additional material was collected by chance. Self-control is required to accept these events, not as accidents but as things are.
The greatest gain, were the glimpses of insight towards the cognitive processes undertaken by both artist and viewer. The relevance of which informs how I think about my art product. The live recording process that occurs when faced with new data. The construction of meaning from that, the forming of new associations and the remarkable tool of memory that makes it all possible.
Bourriaud, N. (2002) Post Production [Online] Available at: http://faculty.georgetown.edu/irvinem/theory/Bourriaud-Postproduction2.pdf (accessed 27/03/2017)
Lehrer, J. (2012) Proust was a neuroscientist. Edinburgh: Canongate
Wikipedia (2016) Matter and Memory [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matter_and_Memory (accessed 27/03/2017)
Wikipedia (2017) Encoding/decoding model of communication [Online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Encoding/decoding_model_of_communication (accessed 27/03/2017)
[i] Ptolemy’s Almagest focused on a geocentric model of the solar system. A complex mathematical treatise on the motions of the planets that placed the Earth as a stationary central body in which all other objects moved around. This idea held for 1200 years. I cannot help wondering what a move away from this misunderstanding must have been like. Questioning a theory that had existed as fact for over a millennia. A theory so embedded in time that it had become unquestionable.