Louise and I have finally begun the practical work of re-enacting Guy Sherwin’s Man with Mirror (1976-2009). We’ve been looking and thinking about this work for several years now. In August 2008 we spent some time with Guy, when he came to Australia. We saw him performing the piece in Brisbane, and we had a session with him where he “taught” us some of the finer points of the work.
This was a great teaching and learning experience, fitting with our philosophy of inter-generational research. A kind of oral history where Expanded Cinema works are passed on from one generation to another. There is something organic (alive) in the essence of the piece that exceeds the archive/document. It is only in enactment/performance that the work can stay alive.
The nature of Man with Mirror is that Guy films himself holding a mirror/screen. It is a mirror painted white on the back. He is standing in a park, the camera is on a tripod. He moves the mirror/screen around, up and down, around and around, tilting it, flipping and rotating it. The resulting film is the raw material for the performance.
Then, in a darkened room (gallery, theatre, cinema) he projects the film, back onto himself. Standing with the mirror/screen, Guy replicates (or not) the movements he had made on the film. There is a mapping of the past onto the present. It is “conceptually” very tight, as the same man, the same film, the same mirror/screen is used in both the original “performance” (the shooting of the film) and in the present performance (the projecting of the film).
Super 8 film differs from digital video in that it is a physical material substance. When Guy performs Man with Mirror now (in 2009) he projects the same film strip that passed through his camera in 1976. Similarly, and crucially, Guy, the man who performs live for us is the same chunk of physical substance that he was back in 1976, radically and poignantly altered by the passing of time. (Of course, there is that argument about the total replacement of cells in the body over time… but notwithstanding this…)
The thing about Guy’s Man with Mirror, then, is that in the future, when his physical presence is no longer available to us, the work will no longer exist in live performance. Nobody else can take his 1976 film strip and perform with it. Or rather, they could, and it might be quite interesting, but it wouldn’t be the “same” piece any more.
Thus Louise and I have decided the best we can do, in terms of learning about the work, and keeping it alive, is to initiate our own version of Man with Mirror. That is, we plan to re-shoot the film, in our own backyard, using ourselves as the subject, with the intention of then going on and performing it ourselves. Mapping the new film we have made onto ourselves. In 30 years time, as our bodies age further, the work will begin (perhaps?) to take on the qualities that Guy’s version exhibits now.
Given that there are 2 of us, we have decided to each make a new version. Thus there will be 2 new Man with Mirrors (in Louise’s case, Woman with Mirror) going into the future. Possibly at some point we can train some more people to do it and the work will multiply and proliferate, or at least ward off extinction for a while.
We have made up 2 mirror/screens, and are testing our super 8 cameras now. We will try to film the work in our backyard tomorrow. Our thoughts at this stage are as follows:
– to shoot our 2 new versions simultaneously – the cameras will be “back to back” on tripods. Thus it is likely that in our mirrors we will see each other. Then, in performance, we will replicate this arrangement, 2 projections live at the same time;
-to document the process of shooting from a triangulated angle, with a third super8 camera, for context and “educational” purposes;
– to set up the cameras in such a way as to (perhaps) capture an aeroplane as it soars overhead during the filming of the piece. It is a characteristic of our neighbourhood that aeroplanes drown out conversation regularly. We are aware that with some of Guy’s work from the 1970s, his subject matter (trains, humans) inevitably become infused with social content (styles of clothing, specific technologies in the background etc) which was never the original intention. However, these later prove to be fascinating impurities in otherwise “pure” conceptual artworks.
Those are our thoughts for now…