Tues 10 Feb (Wo)man With Mirror, notes from Louise

The discussion had two starters. One was the Val conversation re-cap which appears below. Secondly, Lucas discovered the curious picture plane fracture that the mirror introduces in the photos taken in the garden in our last meeting. The mirror appears in each photo of the measuring-up images. It is striking only in one where the mirror is completely surrounded by the rest of the garden. It seems that the mirror reveals a fragment that you know is there but can’t pre-visualise hence its dynamism.

General discussion of mirrors and works using mirrors followed. Discussion covered Learning from Seedbed, a work that gave the audience a physical experience of actually being under a version of the platform.

Ideas that came up:
– Give the audience the experience of actually re-enacting the work. Film the source footage with a group of people. Present the footage on long looped S8s in the gallery or present the footage on video. have mirrors there for the audience to use to enact the work for themselves and their companions in the gallery. Give them the ability to have visual ‘foldback’ of what they do when they re-enact.
– Invite participants to work with a parent or a child to make enactments. Explore if this adds the generational reveal we observed in Guy’s Brisbane performance.
– As my mother was here getting ready to take the plane back to New Zealand, we worked with her to actually make a source footage version that I hope to try a performance with.
– After working with Val, we realise that we need to work with one pair at a time so that we can teach the work in the same way that Guy so generously passed it on.

Conversation with Valerie
Louise took the train up from Canberra with her mother Valerie this morning. On the train, discussion about re-enacting Man With a Mirror took place.

Notes from the train conversation with Valerie:
She described our project as translating a watching experience into a doing experience. She drew in the Degas exhibition she saw in Canberra on Monday. She described Degas’ process of moving from copying the reality of others to depicting his own reality but keeping a mimetic approach. She commented that our process was in a sense the reverse – we start with the evidence of the original work and we try to build up a picture of the work but we’re also looking particularities that crop up because of where, when and who we are and we’re looking to accentuate these. I’m not quite sure how this is the reverse of Degas now, but at the time, it seemed obvious.

Val and I also had a discussion about the working method Lucas and I have used with these re-enactments, particularly preparation – that in the past we’ve looked at limitations as a resource, taking the approach of working with what we have in terms of (scarce) time, money and information.  With Man With a Mirror, we have a great deal of information from Guy. The exhibition means we have some financial resources and therefore time. While we haven’t set out with the intention of doing things differently, it’s my observation that these resources mean we’re increasing our attentiveness to each step in the process which seems to have the effect of making it freer.

Measuring Up / Looking Back / Chewing Over

louise measuring
Measuring Up:
Illustrating this comment and this page of sketches and calculations, I’m posting these photos to show how we worked out the relative dimensions of the mirror/screen. Not very complicated! Lucas’ armspan (188cm) was assumed to be similar to Guy’s – thus, we reasoned, Lucas would use a “full-size” mirror of 24X32 inches (61X81.3cm). Louise’s armspan (163cm) means that, following the ratio, her cut-down mirror should measure 70X52.5cm

measuring armspans
Looking Back:
However, looking back at these photos (especially the one immediately above this text) I’m now struck by something a bit more interesting to think about.

Check out the mirror which is leaning up against my leg. There is the illusion of continuity between the “real” grass and the mirror grass, as if grassy space continues unbroken “through” the plane of the mirror. So when your eye travels up the mirror, the reflection of the chair comes as something of a surprise. I find it confusing and visually compelling, like a mind-bender puzzle. To my eye, the horizontal space of the grass seems to be prised up and over my leg. As if it’s been collaged (or photoshopped) on top of the portion of the photo where I am standing.

louise with screen
And then, this photo, with Louise holding the mirror/screen, with the “screen” side towards us, has a completely different visual effect. If you squint your eyes, it is as if the rectangular area of the screen has been sliced out of the picture altogether, giving the impression that you are seeing “through the page” to the blank void on the other side.

These twin/opposite visual effects (collage and excision) started happening for us, without our even trying, just in the shooting of a few documentation photos. Later, when we started to experiment with Louise and her mum, the visual puzzles began to pile up more…

louise and val
The above photo exhibits the same illusion that happens in Guy’s performance of Man with Mirror: the white square reflected in the mirror looks like a small object held by two hands – one Louise’s “real” hand, the other Val’s reflected hand…

minties wrapper

Chewing Over:
Chewing over these thoughts, it occurred to me that this Man with Mirror re-enactment project presents more opportunities than we had originally imagined. Mirrors are incredible tools. They’re so ubiquitous in everyday life that I think I usually forget about them, just use them without realling “seeing them” for themselves.

When we started with the idea of re-enacting (or re-making) Guy Sherwin’s piece, we watched Guy perform it, studied the video documents, and mirrors were re-enchanted for us. We were able to see mirrors once more, with “fresh eyes”, as the amazing artefacts/tools that they are. But it wasn’t until we made our own mirrors, and started mucking around with them in the back yard, that we realised how much fun they can be. Now, a sort of transformation of consciousness is happening – I am beginning to see mirrors everywhere. Last night, in a Thai restaurant, I was given a Mintie after dinner, and the above drawing on the wrapper leapt out at me!


(Wo)man With Mirror – notes from Sat, by Louise

Yesterday we started to prep ourselves to actually shoot the work. We looked very closely at the preview material – Lux preview tape, Lyn’s documentation on YouTube, the rough ‘telecine’ we made up in Brisbane from Guy’s actual film strip literally minutes before he used it for his performance. We also found part of the Brisbane tape of him demonstrating with baby table how to actually do the mirror movements.

One of these pages documents our notes on the timings of the mirror movements, the other is us working out how to stage it in the garden at Petersham and how we should re-size one of the mirrors so it’s relative to my arm span.

We discussed how we imagine presenting the work – clear at this point that the position of the projectors in presentation needs to be a mapping/index of the position of the cameras in the shoot.

This one documents timings from the documentation.

Timings taken from Lux preview, Loo YouTube, TLC Sherwin conversations in Brisbane

This one documents where to position the shoot in the garden and the correct distances for the cameras and the sizes for the mirrors.

mirror size, garden position, camera distances

(Wo)Man With Mirror notes, by Lucas

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…

re-enacting guy’s man with mirror (1976)

Thoughts in haste from today:

1. An important aspect of Guy’s method and point of connection for Curham seems to be open curiosity; discovering through doing; at outset don’t know outcome; finding/discovering work/image with camera in hand.

Railings for example seems a study of what will happen if? The if is printing the image which has a consistent and patterned vertical into the sound and solves the need to make a visual alteration, a visual ‘what if’ by turning the projector on its side.

Man with mirror seems a ‘what if’ on several counts – way for an ‘experimental film maker’ to bring own body into performance, to perform; curiosity about translation of film screen (something about it being both subject and object ie it’s the topic of the film in one sense but it’s also the material centre, the device); curiosity about space, expansion of space by the way the mirror behaves and by the index of the screen in the location of the original film. It is the tool that callibrates the original space with the space where the performance takes place, that allows the original to be ‘mapped’ onto the performance site.

2. The time shifting element is interesting – connection to Anneke’s comment about altering the usual chronology of event and documentation – I think this is what she’s trying to get at somehow, how you can expand and contract time by making something in one place and then re-making it another, almost too simple a thought but it does have some kind of potential concertina (ph. sp.) aspect (ie ability to expand and condense) which is what we’re doing with the re-enactment.

3. Other thoughts in no particular order:

a. curiosity Guy employs creates a quite ego-less performance mode. curiosity in this sense is quite synonymous with don’t know the outcome.

discovery in the process of making is my personal link to this work and the way-in i’m comfortable with

b. discussion about guy’s other work and his work with Lyn, discussion about vowels and consonents as a different kind of work in that it is composed rather than found – in the sense that some of the other works explore a purely material property and so you could call them found.

c. discussion about nature of ‘cinema’ in this work – that it allows these essential quite simple propositions to be very rich sites

d. discussion about how formal film artworks ie material film ie Sherwin’s material films are very open texts, can have multiple readings because the implied focus of the maker is quite restricted which means the audience has very free reign which becomes more and more free as time passes and the texts resonant in more and more unexpected ways. For me this is the essence of archival material, the way it can be read and interpreted can carry so much more alongside the original intention and purpose.


Disappearing Video, Video Disappeared?

Louise Curham at the Disappearing Video Conference

The above photo shows Louise Curham from the TLC making a cracking point at the plenary discussion session at the end of the Disappearing Video Conference. To her right are Lyndal Jones, Andrew Frost, Stephen Jones and Danni Zuvela.

It was a really interesting day. Here’s my round-up of a few random thoughts:

Stephen Jones is a walking encyclopedia. The man cannot be contained within a 1/2 hour presentation. Next time he needs to be given an hour, with a secret half hour snuck in at the end which he doesn’t know about, to contain his rich and fruity overspill.

Danni Zuvela gave a fantastic talk about “forgetting” as an Aussie characteristic that goes waaaay back. So it’s no surprise that our avant-garde ephemeral art histories blow away. They’ve got nothing to plant themselves into.

Jon Conomos. Man, this guy is great. He told an anecdote about listening to a lecture by Buckminster Fuller, back in the 1960s(?). Apparently, Fuller’s talk was like an incredible collage of references, quotes and images, rambling in all directions for 3 hours. It blew Conomos’ mind. Likewise, Conomos seems to have borrowed this strategy of bricolage-as-lecture format, and I was awash with the pleasure of his tales. When you carry so much memory in your body, it seems almost impossible to say anything without it being a quote. Didn’t Umberto Eco say something like that?

Andrew Frost gave a provocative forecast for what video art will look like in the future. Very futuristic. You know, screens scrunched up like handkerchiefs in your pocket, and micro-chips embedded in brains and all that. Probably will come true though. I hope he posts his paper online.

For me, Louise Curham’s talk was a highlight, and I’m not just saying that because she is my good colleague here at the TLC. She managed to bridge the fields of video art and archiving, the materiality of the medium and its cultural significance. She spoke the with energy and vigour of someone to whom this stuff really matters, as a film making artist and professional archivist.

I’m trying to get hold of the audio for Louise’s talk from the MCA to post online here – hopefully soon.

Oh, and the Disappearing Video screening was great too. I sat across the aisle from Albie Thoms and David Perry…that was something of an honour for this young whippersnapper. My faves were Peter Kennedy’s Idea Demonstrations – they were very medium-specific – interacting with the ghosting effects of 1970s cathode ray tubes. Of course, CRTs don’t ghost like that anymore. What sense does this work have now? How could it meaningfully be migrated to newer forms of presentation?

And also I loved “Built in Ghosts Inside Television” (I think that was the one) it was a cut-n-paste from TV and advertising, as taped from live to air telly in the early 1980s. It was striking because it was all about the mainstream fear of television, that “social scourge”. Almost 20 years later, it’s parody-effect seems almost unnecessary – television is no longer the big boogy-man – it’s been replaced by the internet

Disappearing Video

dennis b video work
[above image: Denis Beaubois “In the event of Amnesia the city will recall…” (still, detail) (Sydney) 1996-97 digital video, sound 9:12 minutes]

It’s rare enough to see a serious exhibition of video art in an Aussie art museum. But accompanying the MCA’s Video Logic show, there is a super rare screening of historical Australian video works. I’ve cut and pasted the screening program below (it’s also available here as a printable pdf).

Also if you scroll down further, I’ve pasted details about the DISAPPEARING VIDEO CONFERENCE, at which the TLC’s Louise Curham will be speaking about preservation and conservation strategies for this most unstable of media.

Louise recently contributed a chapter on audio-visual preservation to the 3rd edition of Keeping Archives.

See you at these events! -Lucas
— — —

Thursday 23 Octotober, 6.30 – 8.00pm, Circular Quay Terrace, level 6

David Perry Mad mesh 1968, 4 min
Peter Kennedy Idea Demonstrations # 4 1971, 2 min
Peter Kennedy Idea Demonstrations # 7 1971, 2 min
David Perry Interior with Views 1976, 5 min
Stephen Jones (music by Warren Burt and performance by Eva Karczag) Eva 1978, 3 min excerpt
Warren Burt Nocturnal B 1978, 3 min excerpt
Tsk tsk tsk (Philip Brophy, Maria Kozic, et al) Asphixiation 1979, 4 min
Stephen Jones SPK 1979, 4 min
Eva Schramm & Gary Willis Strategies for Goodbye 1982, 3 min excerpt
Built in Ghosts Inside Television 1983, 5 min
Peter Callas Night’s High Noon: An Anti-Terrain 1988, 8 min
Jill Scott Continental Drift 1993, 12 min
John Gillies & The Sydney Front Techno/Dumb/Show 1991, 5 min excerpt
Severed Heads Big Car Retread 1991, 7 min
Elena Popa Robot Cycle 1992, 3 min
Ross Harley & Maria Fernanda Cardoso Cardoso Flea Circus 1995, 8 min
Linda Wallace Love Hotel 2000, 7 min
Michael Glasheen Teleological Telecast from Spaceship Earth: On Board with Buckminster Fuller 1970, 28 min excerpt

Presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art in association with the College of Fine Arts and d/Lux/Media/Arts, with assistance from the Australian Research Council
Circular Quay West
Sydney Australia
02 9245 2400

– – –

Friday 24 Octotober, 10.00am – 5.00pm
, Circular Quay Terrace, level 6
10.00 – 10.30am Registration in Circular Quay Foyer on level 1
Morning tea refreshments in Circular Quay Terrace on level 6

10.30 – 10.45am Welcome and introduction by facilitators John Gillies and Ross Harley

10.45 – 11.15am Stephen Jones The Disassembly of Video Art
The methods and intentions of video art in its early period have largely been subsumed by
the narrative. This talk seeks to remind us of the broader intentions.

11.15 – 11.45am Danni Zuvela Forgetting and Remembering: Australian Experimental Video
Related to the physical loss of works whose material existence is bound to inherently unstable media formats—and equally concerning—is the disappearance from public memory of Australian work from ‘the foreign country of the past’. With discussion of ‘forgetting’ or the evaporation of the immaterial, Zuvela will canvass strategies to inoculate against such disappearances, and suggest ways to bring about a more active remembering of Australia’s rich creative history.

11.45am – 12.15pm John Conomos Between Celluloid, Plasma and Neon
As an artist, theorist and critic, Conomos engages with the ongoing intertextual adventure of seeking new horizons of image, sound, performance and text. From this perspective he shall discuss the historical context of Australian cinema, video and media art.

12.15 – 12.30pm Questions from audience

12.30 – 2.00pm Lunch break (not provided)

2.00 – 2.15pm Introduction to afternoon topics by facilitators John Gillies and Ross Harley

2.15 – 2.45pm Lousie Curham Media Art Archaeology: Making Good Archives and the Problems of

In a discussion about how we make good archives for video art, Curham proposes an emphasis on context. Thinking through the role of the material form of the work, there is discussion about which properties of the original matter. What and where is the video artwork and what is the role of the original maker? How will we meaningfully pass these artworks on to future generations? How faithful do these need to be? These considerations will touch on practices in existing time based art archives and will think about what Australian archives of media art might look like.

2.45 – 3.15pm Lyndal Jones Propositions for an Uncertain future
Thoughts on technology / video / art / sustainable practice, the ephemeral object and the art system.

3.15 – 3.45pm Exhibition viewing of Video Logic, level 4 galleries

3.45 – 4.15pm Andrew Frost Now to the Future
Video art has achieved an unprecedented level of visibility over the past 5 years with new opportunities for artists and the public to engage with what was once a marginal practice in contemporary art. But what does the future hold for video art? Has the outsider finally joined the mainstream? Or will the recalcitrant medium cling to outmoded methods of production and distribution in an effort to maintain critical purity? And what of the evil art market, the web and iTunes?

4.15 – 5.00pm Panel discussion and questions from audience

5.00pm Close
Presented by the Museum of Contemporary Art in association with the College of Fine Arts and d/Lux/Media/Arts, with assistance from the Australian Research Council
Circular Quay West
Sydney Australia
02 9245 2400

Speaker Biographies:

John Conomos is a media artist, critic, and theorist who extensively exhibits locally and internationally. His art practice traverses a variety of art forms and deals with autobiography, identity, memory, post-colonialism, and the “in-between” links between cinema, literature, and the visual arts. Conomos is a prolific contributor to art, film and media journals and forums. In 2000 he was awarded a New Media Fellowship from the Australia Council for the Arts. His essays on cinema, video art and new media were recently published as Mutant Media (2008), and with Brad Buckley he co-edited the anthology Republics of Ideas (2001) and the forthcoming Rethinking the Contemporary Art School, to be published September 2009. Conomos is an exhibiting artist in the MCA exhibition Video Logic, 2008.

Louise Curham is at the forefront of Australian moving image art. Well known for curating innovative expanded cinema events in non-traditional exhibition spaces, Curham is highly regarded in the experimental film world for her work using “obsolete media”. She is involved with Teaching and Learning Cinema, a filmmakers and film lovers group with a focus on re-presenting moving image works from previous generations in events that encourage discussion and break down the passivity of looking at images. Alongside Curham’s practice is her work as an audiovisual archivist, a field in which she has worked since 2002.

Andrew Frost is a writer, art critic and journalist. He is the co-founder and editor of The Art Life and writes and presents television programs on contemporary art for ABC1. He is the author of the forthcoming Burn to Disc: Contemporary Australian Video Art, to be published in 2009.

John Gillies is an artist working with film, sound, installation and video, and often in collaboration with performers from a variety of disciplines. Gillies’ screen work has been shown in festivals such as Videobrasil, Ars Electronica and the London, Sydney and Melbourne film festivals. He is an exhibiting artist in Video Logic at the MCA.

Ross Harley is an artist, writer, curator and educator in the field of new media and popular culture. His work crosses the bounds of cinema, music, art, design, architecture and media art practice. From 1986-91 Harley edited the influential art theory journal Art + Text. In 1992 he was the director of the influential International Symposium on Electronic Art, ISEA. Harley has edited a number of anthologies and conducts diverse research projects extending the electronic media art practice and theory.

Lyndal Jones has a long history of working with new media, video and performance art in Australia. Jones has produced an extensive body of work since the early 1980s, and is known for creating long-term projects which initially focused on performance then video installation. Throughout, her works have addressed the power of the experiential and the development of interactivity. Jones represented Australia at the 2001 Venice Biennale, and has shown her work at numerous galleries throughout Australia and overseas.

Dr. Stephen Jones is an Australian video artist of long standing and independent curator of electronic art. For many years (1983-92) he was the video-maker for the electronic music band Severed Heads. He is an experienced video editor and electronic engineer having developed equipment ranging from analogue video synthesisers to DVD synchronisers, and currently builds interactive installation devices for artists. He also provides conservation and preservation services in the electronic and video arts. Jones has recently completed a book on the history of the first generation of the electronic arts in Australia.

Dr. Danni Zuvela’s interest in experimental moving image encompasses research, teaching, writing, curation and the odd bit of practice (in both senses of the word!). As an academic, she has conducted extensive research into avant-garde film and video art, which she continues to foist on readers of various journal articles and books, and unsuspecting screen studies students. Zuvela is a member of OtherFilm, an artist collective dedicated to the production, distribution and exhibition of avant-garde, experimental, and artists film, video and music. Zuvela
co-curates the OtherFilm Festival, a 4-day festival of expanded, participatory and performative film and music.

Guy Sherwin and Lynn Loo in Brisbane

guy sherwin performing paper landscape
above: Guy Sherwin performs “Paper Landscape” in Brisbane during his recent screenings.

The TLC’s Louise and Lucas, joined by Sydney film maven Mike Leggett, recently made the trip to Brisbane to see Guy Sherwin and Lynn Loo do their thing at the IMA. Guy and Lynn’s trip was courtesy of the Brisbane Film Festival and our friends at Otherfilm.

It was totally worth the journey! Some more pictures from our adventure here.

In the meantime, listen to this radio piece with Guy on ABC Radio National, interviewed by Amanda Smith [15 min, 14mb mp3 file]