How Not to Be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013) Hito Steyerl

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My friend, Rupert following the instructional video and trying not to be seen at the Tate. I think his pixels are too big.

Hito Steyerl’s instructional video shows the viewer how to avoid detection by various digital surveillance technology. The title references Monty Python’s spoof Government Public Service instructional that showcases the benefits of not being seen e.g. not being shot or blown up, which is particularly important if you are a whole country avoiding nuclear annihilation.

The narrator in Steyerl’s video explains that visibility is dependent on resolution, whatever is lost by resolution becomes invisible. The videos are shot against a green screen at an old US airforce ‘resolution target’ that was used to test the resolution of aerial cameras and the artist (plus assistants) attempt to not be seen by the camera by employing various techniques that are explained in detail to the viewer.

The use of the .mov file extension and the exploration of very particular technologies sets this work firmly in a specific time and place where ideas around surveillance and our images being captured and held as digital images, with or without our permission, has become a topic of political, cultural and artistic conversation.

I read Steyerl’s essay “In defence of the poor image” a couple of years ago and found this piece to be a great accompaniment. They both examine how digital image quality – and degradation of quality – can be used within contemporary art to explore issues such as comprehension, visibility, passage of information and the place of perceived visual quality in value judgements.

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Arteles Residency Outcomes

My stay at Arteles has been very rewarding; I have created many new ideas, the beginnings of new works and have made some fantastic friends from around the world. Among my new artist friends is a woman from the US, Ellery Royston, who works with sound. We have decided to collaborate on immersive sound and video installation, which is an exciting prospect.

Time moves slowly and silently out in the countryside in the middle of the Finnish winter. Long nights, short days and the sun low on the horizon create an environment very different to the one back home in NZ. I decided to explore time and duration in the context of a silent ordeal. I would invite my fellow artist’s to participate by enduring the slow melt of ice against their skin and to experience the thoughts and feelings this awakens.

I was informed by the old Finnish story of the Sielulintu, or soul bird, who visits the human body at birth and death. I gave the participants the chance to experience the cold of the bird melting into their skin on an area of their choice; perhaps where they felt they might experience the passage of their soul. The pain of the bird against their skin stretches time while it is being endured, but is a fleeting moment that quickly fades.

I discovered that the constraints of shooting the videos at Arteles actually created some unexpectedly interesting results. For example, I found it necessary to use natural light which created variations as the clouds shifted and the light changed. This gave an added dimension to the durational experience that I would not have discovered if I had been shooting in a studio with artificial light.

My intention is to continue working with the project to create a multi-channel video installation with accompanying soundtrack which, hopefully, I can show here in New Zealand.

ellery
Ice bird melt on Ellery’s neck
marissa
Ice bird melt on Marissa’s stomach
quartmeltline
Cast ice quartz crystal melting onto a mirror

The Finnish Sauna

Saunatonttu – the spirit of the sauna

Last night I had my first opportunity to use the sauna at Arteles. It is a traditional  Finnish sauna with a wood-burning heater and water boiler. The sauna is a central part of Suomi life:

“After centuries of temporal use, the sauna acquired spiritual significance. The sanctity of the sauna was supported by ritual and strict propriety. “These stubborn people,” wrote an astonished Swedish economist in 1776, “even connect the sauna with their theology and think the sauna building is some kind of shrine.” An old saying, still heard in Finland today, says, Jokaisen on kayttaydyttava saunaaa samalla tavalla kuin kirkossa.” (“In the sauna one must conduct himself as one would in church.”) This strict reverence protected the Finnish sauna from the corruption that befell most other bathing institutions in Europe.”
(http://www.cyberbohemia.com/Pages/historyofnordic.htm)

The sauna provides an egalitarian venue for unencumbered discussion. It is a place to be yourself amongst others and to discuss deeper matters that might not be broached on a day to day basis.

The traditional wood-burning sauna at Arteles is a small wooden building off to one side at the edge of the forest. It is comprised of three rooms: the first is not heated and so is freezing in winter! This is where you undress and leave your clothes. The second room is the washing room which has a wood-burning boiler and basins to mix the hot and cold water to your tastes for bathing. You can use ladles to pour the water over your head and body before entering the sauna. You can also come out of the sauna into this room to cool off and re-wash, which is very refreshing.

The third room is the sauna itself and consists of several benches at various heights seating 4-5 people dependent on the heat that you can handle. The sauna is generally heated to 90-100c but can be intensified by ladles of water being poured over the rocks on the top of the stove to increase the heat and humidity, this steam is known as löyly.

Last night we spent around an hour in the sauna and in coming out to re-wash or stand in the snow. On our final round we came out into the snow and rolled around! It was amazing to me to see what the body can withstand when it is warmed up enough – last night was -22˚C and I was having trouble dealing with the cold even wrapped up in my snow clothes, but somehow the sauna allowed me to come out into the cold winter night completely naked and lie in the snow. The body has such a capacity for dealing with situations and adjusting it’s functions to cope. The sauna makes you feel somewhat superhuman in it’s ability to allow a human to withstand such extremes without pain or physical repercussions (eg shock or frostbite).

From Cyrill Schlepper’s “UR Musig” documentary about Swiss Folk Music Traditions. “Wilde Chlausen” from Urnäsch in Appenzeller Land.

Stay tuned for a lot more images of traditional ritual costume that I have been researching over the last few weeks!


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/181855510″>&quot;UR Musig&quot; documentary about Swiss Folk Music Traditions. &quot;Wilde Chlausen&quot; from Urn&auml;sch in Appenzeller Land.</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/marymacgregorreid”>Mary MacGregor-Reid</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>

 

Artists must be able to contextualise their work

Modern vs Contemporary Art at the Armory | Art Guides

This video is from The Creators project and is a short look at reporter Kathleen Flood’s visit to the 2016 Armory Show in New York. Kathleen wants to find out what the difference between ‘modern’ and ‘contemporary’ art is. She is unable to get a cogent answer. She speaks to an ‘Art Consultant’ and an artist who both tell her that “modern artists are dead” and “contemporary artists are alive” – not even a brief explanation of Modernism or what important movements came between then and now. According to this logic, if the artist who gave her this definition died tomorrow would his work suddenly jump from being contemporary to Modernist?

She then talks to artists about their work and very few are able to give any context for their practice. An artist called Ed Young talks about his works “All So Fucking African” and “Delroy” but is unable to give us any insight in to what it is or why he created it; in fact he uses the phrase “I really don’t know why I made it” as his parting gift. For a white South African male to make a piece of work like this, he really needs to know why he’s doing it – does he want to reference apartheid and colonialism? Is he looking at the commoditisation of the African continent and it’s indigenous people? Or does he just want to make a big controversial banner with the word FUCK on it? Come on Ed, what’s the context for this work? Being controversial and thinking it looks kinda cool isn’t enough.

This brought into sharp relief for me the difference between artists who can talk about their practice and those that cannot. Granted this video is really more of a pop culture interlude than a serious piece from the art world, but this is exactly why the public think that contemporary art has little value and is just a bunch of pretentious fluff. If artists and art world people can’t succinctly or correctly explain why modern art and contemporary art are different, then how is anyone else viewing work supposed to know?

Contextualising and speaking about your work in a succinct and informed manner is difficult. It’s a constant challenge for me but it allows me to speak to others and to myself about the work. The ability to question and answer enriches the work in ways that can’t be found elsewhere.

The best bit of this video was a woman explaining which works her celebrity instagram dog enjoys the most and why. Welcome to The Armory.

Aleister Crowley and 4th Dimensional Space in the novel ‘Moonchild’ (1917)

“The first impression of the savage about the universe is of a great mysterious jumble of things which come upon him without rime or reason, usually to smite him down.

Long later, man developed the idea of connecting phenomena, at least a few at a time. Centuries elapse; he begins to perceive law, at first operating only in a very few matters.

More centuries; some bold thinker invents a single cause for all these diverse effects, and calls it God. This hypothesis leads to interminable disputes about the nature of God; in fact, they have never been settled. The problem of the origin of evil, alone, has quite baffled theology.

Science advances; we now find that all things are subject to law. There is no need of any mysterious creator, in the old sense; we look for causes in the same order of nature as the effects they produce. We no lounger propitiate ghosts to keep our fires alight. Now, at last, I and a few others are asking whether the whole universe be not illusion, in exactly the same way as a true surface is an illusion.

Perhaps the universe is a four-dimensional object, or collection of objects, quite sane, and simple, and intelligible, manifesting itself in diversity, regular or irregular, just as the cone did to the water…

….It’s perfectly simple. I, the fourth-dimensional reality, am going about my business in a perfectly legitimate way. I find myself pushing through to my surface, or let us say, I become conscious of my surface, the material universe, much as the cone did as it went through the water. I make my appearance with a yell. I grow. I die. There are the same phenomena of change which we all perceive around us. My three-dimensional mind thinks all this ‘real,’ a history; where at most it is a geography, a partial set of infinite aspects…”

Crowley, A. (1917) Moonchild, York beach: USA, Samuel Weiser, Reprint 1991, P61

platonic-solids-and-elements

“There can be an infinite number of polygons, but only five regular solids. Four of the solids were associated with earth, fire, air and water. The cube for example represented earth. These four elements, they thought, make up terrestrial matter. So the fifth solid they mystically associated with the Cosmos. Perhaps it was the substance of the heavens. This fifth solid was called the dodecahedron. Its faces are pentagons, twelve of them. Knowledge of the dodecahedron was considered too dangerous for the public. Ordinary people were to be kept ignorant of the dodecahedron. In love with whole numbers, the Pythagoreans believed that all things could be derived from them. Certainly all other numbers. So a crisis in doctrine occurred when they discovered that the square root of two was irrational. That is: the square root of two could not be represented as the ratio of two whole numbers, no matter how big they were. “Irrational” originally meant only that. That you can’t express a number as a ratio. But for the Pythagoreans it came to mean something else, something threatening, a hint that their world view might not make sense…”.

Carl Sagan – Cosmos ‘Episode 7, Backbone of Night’

Art historical context – a brief overview

I’ve been looking back at art historical references over the last few weeks. There is an obvious nod in my video work towards religious iconography, baroque painting (particularly the Italian Baroque) and to symbolist artists. In my last series viewers noted the references to classical beauty ideals; high foreheads, white faces, wrapped head coverings and the fact that the figures appear austere and devout like an ‘abbess’ or a ‘monk’ (those words were put forward as descriptions).

I have taken a look at different areas of art history that are referenced in my work and tried to pick apart a little of why this is the case and how I can work with it more fully to consciously use these references rather than them being somewhat unconscious decisions on my part. This isn’t an in-depth analysis of these works, but more of an overview of some of the stylistic influences that I have been exploring and that have been expressed in my work.

Starting off with painters from the Baroque period who use a similar tenebroso technique. This is an extreme form of chiaroscuro where there is a violent contrast between light and dark, with the darkness being a dominating feature of the image. These dark shadows and deep foreground colours have come through in my video pieces “Hive Oracle” and the “Sublimation” series. Figures emerge out of the darkness with no fixed setting. The figures often have intense or unusual expressions and the action in the paintings has a viscerality that was not present in works from the Renaissance. Women have action and agency that was previously absent from most artwork.

IMG_7460 large retouch small An outtake from my Hive Oracle (2015) series where the figure emerges out of a formless, dominating blackness.

103 Caravaggio, Saint John the Baptist in the WildernessMichelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1604) St John the Baptist
St John emerges out of a black background into stark contrast where his skin takes on an almost deathly pallor.

judith-beheading-holofernes-1598Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio (1598 – 1599) Judith Beheading Holofernes

Looking at Caravaggio’s “Judith” the pose and gesture are quite awkward, the image focusses more on getting everyone in shot and making sure the composition is pleasing than of the realities of actually cutting someone’s throat in this way. Judith isn’t exerting much force, so even though the image is visceral, it misses the violence of how a scene like this would play out in reality. Skip forward a few years and we see an artist I love, Artemisia Gentileschi, taking on the story in a much more believable way. The beauty of the gesture and composition is sacrificed to realism and violence, the women are powerful, determined and dominant.

judith-beheading-holofernes-1620Artemisia Gentileschi (1614-1620) Judith Slaying Holofernes
The figures are foreshortened and stacked behind each other – very different from the ideal composition at the time. I like examining this painting in contrast to the Caravaggio so wanted to include it here.

This links to another aspect of my video work I have discussed with faculty and peers; the subject of gesture. I use a certain amount of posed and unusual gesture in my work that reflects the gestural tone of classical painting and sculpture. Often the gesture and pose in these works is expressive rather than natural, they are poses you could make but probably wouldn’t. The gestures create a theatricality in the work, an elegant exaggeration of reality.

bernini_st_teresa_avilaGian Lorenzo Bernini (1447-1652) Ecstasy of St Teresa
In this flowing marble work St Teresa swoons in ecstasy as her heart is pierced by a beatific angel.

Susanna_and_the_Elders_(1610),_Artemisia_GentileschiArtemisia Gentileschi (1610) Susanna and the Elders
A very early work by Gentileschi that has not yet adopted the intense chiaroscuro of her later paintings. The figures make exaggerated, theatrical gestures.

doublewhitePose and gesture in my own work Sublimation Fig. 3 (2015) The austere appearance of my central figures draws on ideals of the sacred, of dedication and otherworldliness.

jan_van_eyck_21_ghent_altarpieceJan van Eyck (1430-1432) Ghent Altarpiece (Interior) One of the most famous examples of the the altarpiece with christian iconography. The imagery covers both the interior and exterior of the tri-fold screen.

I spent a bit of time revising the stylistic conceits of religious icons and altarpieces. The set’s of 1 or 3 central figures and the ability for a narrative to be told across a presentation that can be viewed all at once have some parallels to what I have been working with in video. The central figures are often realistically imagined (in line with the stylisation of the era) but with ornamentation behind them in gold and this is something that I have also observed in my more modern influences.

2753371959_e3f5cd2bc8_oWilliam-Adolphe Bouguereau (1875) Virgin of Consolation
A more modern approach to the religious icon and one of a series of paintings of the Virgin Mary by Bouguereau. She displays the exaggerated gesture, the ornamentation in gold behind the central figure and the central, vertical composition seen in earlier icons.

QueenofWax TriptychMary MacGregor-Reid (2015) Hive Oracle (still shot)

maitreya_altarpiece63717dab48b2e7941b95Maitreya Altarpiece  5th year of the Zhengguang era, dated 524; Northern Wei dynasty (386–534)
Hebei Province, China. Gilt bronze; H. 30 1/4 in. (76.9 cm)

White-Tara-(fine-art-)-faceTibetan White Tara thanka (section) Date and artist unknown.
Bhuddist iconography in sculpture and painting for comparison. Elegant symbolic gesture, ornamentation and central placement of figure.

This use of ornamentation and gesture appears to have influenced some of the Symbolist artists and unsurprisingly they are a movement that I have always enjoyed. My favourite painter, right back from when I was still in school, is French Symbolist Gustave Moreau. I had the chance to see some of his work in the flesh, so-to-speak, a few years ago and was entranced by his use of colour and brushwork. Works that I thought were probably quite tight and formal in their painting style were actually wildly expressive and loose. Many of them utilise the stylistic elements I have picked up on in this post – the use of chiaroscuro, the prominent central figure, the mix of realism and stylised ornamentation, the expressive gesture. He painted Salome many times, 2 variations are below:


moreau_apparitionGustave Moreau (1875) L’apparition

800px-Gustave_Moreau_Salomé_1876Gustave Moreau (1876) Salomé
I’ve been fascinated by the use of overlaid ornamentation in this work for a long time. It’s so unusual and it creates a a film or screen over the subject that sets them apart from us – definitely ‘otherworldly’. Moreau’s women tend to be voluptuous and bejewelled rather than austere.

Another artist from this era that has been useful for me to revisit is Gustav Klimt. His work has unfortunately been aped by a lot of contemporary decorative artists and so it almost looks cliched, but observing the real Klimt it becomes obvious that the imitators can’t come close.

Gustav Klimt Judith I, 1901 Öl auf Leinwand 84 x 42 cm

Gustav Klimt (1901) Judith and the Head of Holofernes
Oh look, it’s Judith and Holofernes again! The symbolist artists loved depicting the strong, passionate women with a touch of darkness about her. Here Klimt is riffing off the stylistic elements of icons with the rich, gold, flattened ornamentation setting off painterly naturalistic figures.

Gustav_Klimt_046 Gustav Klimt (1907) Adele Bloch-Bauer
The patterned ornamentation also calls to mind Japanese kimono design and woodblock images. I love the juxtaposition of flat pattern with 3 dimensional flesh.

Recently I have been considering my use of black backgrounds in video and wondering how the work might fair with other colours or tones. The use of white on white appeals to me because it retains the otherworldly strangeness but loses the usually dark connotations that go with magic and the occult. Looking back on all my work over the last 2 years there is a funny switching from dark to light to dark to light, in that my work both stylistically and literally switches black and white! I enjoyed working with the white and gold/yellow of the first honey/wax works and the live performance ritual so would like to explore that further. I’m intending on shooting the same sequences on different backgrounds to see how the change from the black tenebroso effect to the white on white effect plays out.

cess-tilda-swinton-tim-walker-las-pozas-05-lTim Walker (2011) Tilda Swinton, W Magazine

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