wow this is turning out to be an oddball project. yesterday and today we spent learning how to hand process 16mm film (louise already knew, but was learning to do it more systematically, and i was starting from scratch). itâ€™s pretty much the same as processing 35mm black and white still photographic negative, except obviously the film strip is thinner and much longer. louise has this great russian plastic processing tank, it can take 30 feet of film at a time. you have to load it up in the dark, on this spool thing which keeps the surface of the film emulsion separated from itself, and then you can put on the lid, turn on the lights, and pour in the chemicals. i like it a lot, how you have to put yourself into complete blindness for a period of time, groping around in the dark completely relying on your sense of touch, in order to produce this artifact which is all about vision.
during this residency, we’re thinking about 4 works to re-enact – McCall’s Long Film for Ambient Light, Sherwin’s Man with a Mirror, and two films by Raban: Breath, and 2’45”. It’s 2’45” which we’ve been processing by hand. One of the immediate changes which has emerged via pragmatic consideration is the amount of time the piece should go for. Raban ran it for two minutes forty five because that was the standard length of a commercially available roll of film. That’s allowing chance operations to make decisions for you, a pretty normal method in minimal art since dada i guess. We looked into recreating this work, a hundred foot roll of black and white 16mm film these days costs about $77. Which isnt a vast amount of moneyâ€¦but considering that what happens in 2’45” is that its filmed and refilmed and refilmed every day, that means that if we were to do a significant amount of iterations of the work, itâ€™d cost us a bundle. We’ve only got a budget of a grand for this whole project, so that’s clearly out of the question. Besides, one of the things that weâ€™re trying to do here with these re-enactments is not to fetishise the exact way that the original expanded cinema things were made, but to somehow think deeply about the essential elements involved, and to get close to the experience of the work. And one of the things that a lot of the filmmakers from the early 70s stressed was the ability to make do with the available resources, to do things cheaply, to get things done with very small budgets. It seems absurd to break our bank account to just use the same materials that Raban used, especially since they are not the standard available technology for moving image today (whereas they were then.).
So what we decided to do is to adopt a dual approach. One side is to continue with 16mm film, partly to learn how to do the hand processing ourselves (very empowering) and partly to see how the material behaves for ourselves, when shot and refilmed many times. And the other approach is to remake the work on digital video. Then we can compare the two.
Given our budgetary constraint, we decided to use a limiting factor factor of our own. Rather than work with the 100 foot roll of film, we decided to make our timing for the film correspond to the maximum amount of film strip we can fit into the russian hand processing tank at one sitting. Which is 30 foot, working out to 55 seconds, according to Louise’s maths, although I’m not sure if that ratio works out. (we’ll find out tomorrow when we project it i guess. )
Of course, 55 seconds is nowhere near 2 minutes forty five. Its a diminishment by a factor of five. And one of the things that is important, we imagine, about raban’s time span is that it gives you just enough time to really get a sense of duration. its enough time to settle into something and ask, whats going on here, to have a hypothesis or two, and sit with it before the film finishes. which you don’t get to do with the 55 seconds at all. so this is a radical departure from the “original” – but what the hey, we’re not too worried about that, perhaps something else interesting will happen along the way, we dont really know yet. and as i said, its about seeing how the 16mm film material behaves when treated this way, and there’s really no other way to find out.
our other approach is to use mini dv, and each iteration burned to dvd and played back on a data projector. wow, big differences here. first of all, with the 16mm projection, we’re able to get a rough approximation of the scale used by raban (which we can eyeball from his rare film stills published in a few books. the body of the “performer” who announces the work comes up about half way in the frame, and the light from the projector strikes him roughly in the navel. we have reassembled this set up pretty well with 16mm. with the video projector, however, the throw of the beam is enormous. the projector is only about 7metres from the wall, but already the image up on the wall is huge. completely out of scale with the human figure. what to do about this? we dont know. would another projector give a different throw? probably. we decided to just run with it and see what would happen.
another big difference in using mini dv and dvd/dataprojector is of course that the default colour of projector with no content in the image, is blue (not white). so we start with blue. also, the camera registers colour (not black and white) and sound. (more on the 16mm sound issues later)â€¦ AND the thing about 16mm negative film stock is that each iteration when projected and refilmed flips back and forth between negative and positive, a neat encapsulating of history which also corresponds with the pragmatics of the processing of the film. whereas when using video, there is no developing as such, only refilming, and it all stays in positive. we didnt realise that this would be a problem until today. we had planned to just go with the default setting of the video camera, it films in colour, and positive, fine, whatever, thats what the technology does. but the trouble which arose on our second iteration is that the (dark)framing around the blue projected screen is so dark that the video camera can pick up no information at all. so the blue screen rectangle gets smaller and smaller with each iteration without clearly communicating its own history. hmm, that’s not very clear, perhaps a diagram is needed to clear it up…
essentially, you need light projected in order to illuminate the audience, so they become part of the history of the work. if you always use positive, the dark area around the edge of the screen gets bigger and bigger, and the illuminated rectangle (lit up because of the blue blank screen from the very first iteration) gets smaller and smaller until it will almost disappear. thus the work will have a kind of deadline, and end point. whereas the idea of the work, as we understand it is that it is continuous and lives and grows wherever it’s presented. so it can never really die.
so what to do about this fact that the technology kills off the piece?
the solution is far from clever. we discovered a cheesy function on the video camera which allows you to film in negative. the blue screen comes up as an attractive yellow. what this means is that no matter how dark the outside border of the screen might be, in the next iteration it comes out light, thus projecting light onto the backs of the heads of our audience and allowing their images to be registered on the video camera, sandwiching them as part of the work’s history.
we have no idea if this will work, but that’s what we’re going with at the moment.
now, to time. the “trouble” with digital video is not that it doesnt have a limit on the available â€œrollâ€, as the 16mm did for rabanâ€¦ its that the limit is a bit too generous. if we were to follow the spirit of the work in that way, weâ€™d have to run it for 60 minutes. perhaps that’s what we should do, but it doesnt seem especially pragmatic, given that the work we are hoping will be able to parasite onto existing film and video screening events. 60 minutes would be trying the friendship. so what to do? should we keep with the original 2â€²45â€³? what would be the point? one thing we considered today was switching to john cage’s parameter, 4’33”, as a kind of homage to the origins of rabans work, and also because we felt, sort of instinctually, that 2’45” is well, just too short. i reckon we need to push the attention span a bit more than that, enough to really let our audience stew in their own juices, but without putting them through some gruelling sort of theatre of cruelty. we settled on six minutes. its a bit longer than five minutes, which is still a “short” amount of time in the scheme of human affairs, but a bit longer. coincidentally, its the amount of time we have to put our 16mm film in the developer chemical, and this may just be a coincidenceâ€¦but both louise and i thought of this connection independently, so who knows.
HOWEVER! we only made this realisation today – that six minutes would be a good time span, after doing our first iteration yesterday, with a 2’45” span. rather than chucking out this first iteration and starting over, we decided to begin with it, and when the time was up, louise got up and unplugged the video input RCA to the data projector, so it once again projected the blank blue screen.
a big issue that has emerged from using video, is how to END the work. in raban’s piece, the projector would run out of film and that would indicate that the work had ended. presumably white blank screen would be beamed and the projectionist would turn off the projector. with video however, the projection keeps running. how to know when to stop?
we decided to use louise’s electronic countdown timer, weird as this may seem. so hereâ€™s how it works: the artist announces the film at the front of the room, after starting up the camera, dvd and projector running. the announcement is: everleigh [our location,] march 8th 2007 [today’s date], 6 minutes [the title, and the duration of the film]. s/he then presses the go button on the timer, which makes a small beep, and goes and sits back down in the audience. we all sit and wait. the timer does the work, so we ourselves dont have to be vigilant, and can simply experience the duration for itself. then, once six minutes is up, the timer beeps, and the artist gets up to switch off the projector, indicating the piece is over.
as regards sound, we have no clear idea yet whether raban used sound in the original work. we thought that he did, due to the fact that there is a microphone in the frame in the images documenting his work from the 1970s. but weâ€™re not so sure, since thereâ€™s no optical soundtrack visible on the filmstrips. perhaps he used mag sound stock?
either way, recording sound onto hte 16mm strip isnt available to us. we are using an mp3 recorder, burning it to cd, and then replaying it in the space. clearly there is a synching issue, but we’ve decided to live with it for the time being. the main thing is that the audience can see all the equipment being turned on and off, which allows them (we hope) to “forgive” these technical anomolies. and anyway, if we decide the sound isnt working for us, or if we learn that raban never used sound, we can always abandon that audio element if we wish. although, even if we do find out that raban didnt use sound, doesnt mean we HAVE to not use it too!
phew. that could be all for today. surely there are more things, but that’s all i can think of, and i’m exhausted. oh yeah, theres a whole saga about the process of setting up the projector/camera systems (which took up most of yesterday) but its not as essential to discuss, only to record distances and make a few diagrams.