On Making a New Piece of Work in Bergen, Norway

I have a blog which deals with issues around high definition imaging, both technological and aesthetic at this address:


What follows though is my most recent post, on the subject of the motives behind creating a new piece of work. This is a blog about high definition but I am also concerned with making art within this form and for a long time now I’ve been concentrating on the technology and then aesthetics, but my recent trip to Bergen to teach a workshop on the subject of HD to MA and Phd students and staff of an art school (not a standard academic institution) has altered my view on what I’m doing. This visit has opened up some issues for me and I wish to discuss how and why I make art so that I might articulate (also to myself) the process, so that I might better improve what I’m doing. This begins with the naming of the work and certain titles have arisen that say something about this project: Self Portrait The Narrow Road to the Deep North The Way North Nor Way Until I’m gone I might use one or none of these. They come from the fact of Norway itself – known in Norwegian as ‘the way north’. ‘Nor Way’, because there’s an element of ’no’ way forward. Matsuo Basho’s ‘Narrow Road to the Deep North’ was very influential on me. Beautiful and sometimes comic travel descriptions of late 17th century Japan, sometimes encapsulated in haiku form – the use of the title would be an homage. ‘Self-portrait’ because that’s what this is at this stage of my life (a nod to Rembrandt here and his persistent and useful self-portraiture). ‘Until I’m gone’ is the subject of the text – who am I whilst here, how will it be when I’m gone – does the world stop – or just me. Was it here before me and how was it/will it be. I took a trip into the fjords and of course there were a lot of people on the boat – but you will not see them – only me and only what I saw. I couldn’t help but abstract images of water, hills, of reflections. There’s the issue of what the artist notices – what’s in his or her eye and mind and therefore aesthetic – is it worth looking at ? I’ve seen so many small works of art in museum’s and galleries that really are just neurotic responses to the world, that were not worth making (or at least worth it to the artist to get something out of their system but actually insulting to an audience who had travelled to see it. Moving image works occur in time – generally starting at one point and ending at another. Point A leading to point B. The use of narrative in video art has been frowned on in recent years because entertainment uses this strategy to entertain the audience as its primary force and the art system here doesn’t want to associate with its strategies, as if art will become contaminated by that association. Artists tend to think of narrative as candy floss – a means of overwhelming the audience into submission. Then various strategies within narrative capture the audiences attention and others deliver fulfilment – narrative resolution being a strategy that sends the audience home happy. Except of course, its now been so overused that even Hollywood is faltering in its stride. So I wanted to think about narrative – about whether art should not use this strategy about whether the use of it automatically disables the art and turns it into entertainment. About whether things do not need to have a story – a line, a direction, about whether art can use narrative in its palette of expression – or whether narrative is too heady a strategy and will in fact take over a work that the audience is then left entertained by, rather than going through that more subtle of experiences that we call ‘art’. Through looking at this I also wanted to look at the nature of what that more subtle experience was, about whether when looked at too closely it comes apart as you examine it. Entertainment makes an audience read a work. Assumption, expectation, congratulation (for having realised a point – but then modern art uses that strategy invariably), various ways of reading the information you have before you – and one very dangerous way: Interpretation. Much modern art requires approaching something that has disguised intentions – disguised because that strategy is considered allowable by the 20th century modernist project as it grew into conceptual form – if an intent or a concept was disguised or withheld then its revealing, the revelation of the point of the work, would come with added impact. So many works are a simple juxtaposition of two ideas where a frisson is generated in the viewers mind – how much more powerful if this frisson was ‘revealed’ rather than seen straight away. To me this is as disingenuous as a bad use of narrative form. Equally the pointless work, or the work that is solely concerned with form gathered weight in the curatorial mind, then a series of strategies that involved the use of irony – to show how we are now beyond being affected by the qualities that used to be paramount in renaissance and enlightenment works. These two are different of course but share common functions. But irony is the work of the cynic and the scoundrel, the craftsperson who avoids the point that comes when ideas like ‘beauty’, carrying a terrible relativistic edge to its meaning and appreciation. In this sentence I’m calling the artist a craftsperson because that person is avoiding ‘the matter of art’. Of course the contemporary theorist is having terrible shudderings at my cavalier attitude to this well thought out area. But I make my comments because I am mindful of one important thing – that the artist is above all, a practitioner and needs be true to practice rather than theory, value, the market, the dominant curatorial project or any set of values or ideas that might sway the embodiment of the urge that makes people create art works as pure transmission from the deeper psyche. All an artist does is ‘know’ something, perhaps dimply, then follows their inspiration and intuition towards an expression in some kind of form, for display and exhibition to their fellow men and women. This gesture is the childlike gesture of finding something interesting and saying to ones fellow children in the play area – come, look see what I’ve found – what do you think of that. The artist show the audience what they are about to know and become familiar with, the artist journeys ahead to the horizon to see the landscape that lies beyond. Earlier in the dim light of early morning I awake and began to think about staging my new, as yet unmade work. I knew pretty much how I would formulate the images and sounds and the general direction of the work. Over the last couple of years I had made many installations that were to be experienced in part. One could enter a space and come upon a work that would simply continue before one entered and after one left. That way, my theory went, the issue of ‘narrative was diluted and people could approach the work which involved a ‘going’ and leave without the addition and complimentary act in narrative of ‘coming’. The narrative journey of moving between ‘A’ and ‘B’ was interrupted. I had taken on the issue of staging – moving the screen from the wall and perhaps suspending it above the audiences heads, or laying it down upon the floor, or doing away with it and projecting images on to objects. But now I realise that I have to go even further because all of the things I’ve tried are simply strategies – some very effective and to be used again. But now I wish to go more deeply into the form itself and I no longer mistake the material of the form, video, electronic data, digitality etc, as the form. The form is the concept, the idea of moving image itself. The idea in fact of ‘image’ moving or not. The idea of ‘art’ embodied or not, concept or form, material, displayed or not. But with all of this remaining true to the original engagement – I’m not talking here of my fellowship, but my original engagement with the act of making. I have spoken before about a compulsive inner urge to make inscriptions. I have been challenged on that through the argument that all that you do is chosen and so I am not free from responsibility towards choice at all points; but if you practice, you know that deep down beneath any set of intellectual constructions about what art is or why we do it is for want of a better descritption, the ground of the human condition. By this I mean that which moves us through the world – not as individual personas, but as the human species upon the human project. And here I use the term ‘human’ as descriptive as a local state, in our case biped, primate, carbon based. To me, ‘human’ means sentience embodied – and I don’t care if that sentience is in carbon reptile, carbon mammal, silicon, gas whatever. If sentience is present then I call that ‘human’. So, in the early hours I began to think of this piece I was upon in terms of its possible outcome: single screen, black box installation, multi-screen performance etc. I was trying various outfits on to my idea, my tailors dummy, to see what clothes best suited it. Of course it became relative – but that’s part of the condition. I have various thoughts on how this will come about, but I do know that the act of making will begin t change what the work is, what thoughts I had had, will change and the material will start to ‘speak’. I will apply simple conventions to the use of the footage I’ve shot and they will either enhance or deplete its power. My set of aesthetics gathered through many years of making will come into play and start to determine the relative use of these aesthetics and what you now see and hear before you will be one outcome of this act – one outcome because I now know, whatever I think this thing is, it is also many other things and can be displayed and exhibited in many ways. The artist must lead the curator and not the other way around. Most artists are within the zeitgeist and of course should be lead by the curator – but some artists must go ahead. As the Italians say: “Few are called, but many answer”. So it gets harder and harder to find the work of the people that innovate, because innovation is not just something different from what you normally see. Sometimes innovation is very hard to see because it is in fact so different. But – importantly, I have begun my work and it excites me, makes me want to come back to it and develop it because I sense that it is a way through this conundrum. I am asking a Norwegian friend to translate my work into Norwegian and speak the voice part, my text will be in English – I have used this technique a few times now. It’s necessary because we are in a global situation and the voices of the many languages will speak a common truth.


No comments posted.