Saturday, October 30, 2010

Mirrors and the Cellar

Another Field trip today- this was the second last of four big outings for our class this quarter. It was complete with Indian museums, junk and scrap yards, as well as ice cream, pottery and dolls. Of course throughout the entire trip I was much more conscious of photography through mirrors and themes of dolls/mannequins, and memento mori, especially after last night reading a book on Czech photographer Jindřich Štyrský. He often photographed objects from amusement parks and fairs, storefront windows, and funerary objects. Karel Sro goes on to describe how "Štyrský's view becomes the shop window in which the world is taking place and he carries the shop window inside himself. The object at which he aims his camera is also the eye observing the observer".
That certainly made more sense to me now- how we view ourselves through multiple mirrors and lenses and fragments, reminders of human presence and death, stopped yet fleeting time. Always, it seems I latch on to certain things to discover they've already been done, of course, but it is also comforting and helps to figure oneself out, as this is just the way that others have explored their own psyche, almost 100 years ago. So much and yet not much has changed. The only difficulty is working with these images even though I now have this extra knowledge about their why and how. It is a little stifling to not simply work intuitively. Sometimes knowledge is a curse.

I had also spent the night before watching Jan Svankmajer's "Down to the Cellar" featuring a young girl who goes down to fetch potatoes- a seemingly impossible task, encountering all of her anxieties of the adult world- all seeming strange, threatening, and incomprehensible. And of course, featuring the menace of coal being shoveled down in the depths- a man sleeping in piles of it and a woman making coal cakes in a flaming oven. The girl shakes her head and never accepts their offers. Also, the black cat and mysterious rolling and disappearing potatoes sabotoge her attempts to get back upstairs. I certainly relate to the dank basement full of groaning furnace bellies, mysterious machines, and an avalanche of coal.

Jan Svankmajer, Down to the Cellar, 1983

So I leave you here with some images from the trip- mirrors, an intriguing bridge in Zanesville, and photographs in pottery-making and a Charlie Chaplin exhibit (another one who highly impressed the Dadaists). Till then...

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Video Projection Box

I finally did it! After much fretting and late-night research, last evening I caved and bought myself a pico projector. I went with the Samsung SP-H03 pocket projector, as it is smaller than my hand... (really, I swear!), LED-powered, and one can just plug in a flash drive to show a movie. Very exciting, as I wanted something to easily hide and disguise inside the accordion box.

So I am very happy to say that it fits right in- I can perch it on the ledge of the box, and the movie shows up very well in regular fluorescent room lighting. I plan to have it in a fairly dark area, possibly cloaked by some old velvet drapery (if I can get my hands on that). The projection is actually on top of a partially etched zinc plate, on which I hoped would give a strange luminous and reflective quality. It certainly does, although at some angles one just gets the bright spot of the LED light reflecting straight back in the face, so I will have to mess with positioning, although somehow I do really like it all just resting right on the ground. I think it goes along with the viewer having to huddle down toward the chair to pick up the phone receiver.

Perhaps I should explain the video a bit. When I was trying to edit it into this sort of narrative montage, it just wasn't working. So I thought about what it really was that I wished to capture, and it was simply a series of actions of making, pulling out, and creating- all sort of magical ways of bringing forth an image and looking, and processing- all mostly with traditional, analog reproduction equipment, such as typewriters, copy cameras, and etching presses. They have a sort of magical draw for me- as if always opening this strange, musty old velvet-lined box and waiting to see what appears inside.

What I decided to do instead was put black space, fade-in's and out's as pauses between each action so that they were separate- almost like a moving slideshow. I added a soundtrack of the trains and the crickets- that sort of strange white noise one hears in the woods, kind of mournful, and longing for a place to return to. I felt that tied it all together somehow.

So without much more adieu, I present some photographs of the setup.


Sunday, October 24, 2010

Accordion Drawings

In the studio... Now to put all this research and inspiration to the test.

First, I thought I would try the idea of assembling the original drawings accordion-style. I purchased stiff board to mount them on as sorts of joints between each one, then taped together and stood up, voila!

The only problem is that they are so darn flimsy. If you walk by, they simply keel over. I kind of like that, though, but for any sort of show, that would drive everyone nuts. And, of course, in the process I keep damaging and ruining the drawings. It's sort of interesting to have them worn, but not beyond recognition and just plain looking bad.
The thing I did like was how sunlight came in from behind and made the paper sort of translucent. That was an interesting effect. If there was some way I could keep that, I would be interested. Perhaps I just need to print them all out on paper, and maybe xerox transfer them to something else. Tracing paper would be nice, but not quite stiff enough. Perhaps vellum?
And if that doesn't quite do the trick, then next quarter I can experiment with film in the copy camera again.

After that process, I set upon the task of making it possible to listen to sounds out of the old telephone. I had torn apart several little earbuds, only to discover it was better to just take out the guts of the phone speaker and insert the earbuds intact. Surprisingly, with a little amplification from the horn-shape, one is able to hear quite well. All I did was plug the jack into my iPod and hang it underneath the chair, and voila, we have stories on demand. I can even put them all on shuffle on a continuous loop so that it is ongoing and completely random whichever tale happens to play when the listener picks up the receiver. I enjoy this, as I cannot decide upon any sort of order for the stories. They all coexist at once in one's memory.

So here are shots of the mini installation in my studio:

There's a strange filmic, repeating image between the two typewriters, drawings behind on the old peeling board, "The End" film still will certainly be somewhere, there are black-and-white photo scraps that I pulled out of the trash upstairs, and I plan to project my videos onto the shiny etching plate inside of the accordion box. So the next big task is research on mini projectors.


Friday, October 22, 2010

More Studio Visit News

Yes, well, it's certainly been a little while here. Today was a day of more pondering between running around all week with barely any choice studio time. But somehow I feel a lot was figured out.

I keep thinking about a Tarkovsky documentary that I just finished, in which he staged the burning of an entire house as the pivotal scene in The Sacrifice. Apparently the first shot was a failure- explosions weren't set off, the camera jammed, and to top it off, he had an uncooperative ambulance driver. So what do you do? You set up for an entire house to burn down and the take doesn't go so well? There's not exactly a take two. Apparently Tarkovsky never compromised a single inch on any shot he wanted, so the solution was for an exact replica of the entire house to be built within a few days, and the entire scene re-done. Luckily, the second try was a spectacular success.

Wow, is all I have to say. Now that's clear, uncompromising vision.

Somehow in the middle of viewing that, I finally got an idea for what to do with my stories. I think that in this hopeful upcoming installation with obsolete objects, drawing, and projection, I was hoping to have these stories playing. I don't want for them to interfere too much, though, and would like the viewer to 'tune in' to these tales however they please. So the sudden epiphany was to install a little speaker into my candlestick telephone and make it clear that is is to be picked up and listened to. (Unless, of course, I figure out how to refurbish an entire antique telephone set, but I kind of doubt that's happening any time in the near future.)
Now, just to take apart some mini speakers...

The other thought came during my studio visit. I am still interested in serial images in that in-between stage, somewhere betwixt the moving image and video. It was lovely to hear Art Spiegelman discuss such things while introducing beautiful Art Nouveau comics- "Little Nemo"- up on screen, where the height of the cell gradually increased to accommodate growing brass bed legs, then shrank down to the same-sized cell at the bottom. I also purchased Lynd Ward's novel of woodcuts with his introduction- a beautiful example of WPA-era wood engraving as a tale told in pictures, not words.

Woodcut Novel

So how does one arrange all of these drawings and stories in no particular order? For me, it's not a cut-and-dry tale with 'once upon a time' and 'the end'. They are all just flashes of memory: strange little recollections that exude a certain feeling, but don't necessarily make much sense. I began to think of the many forms of book structure and way that one can navigate through a page. At a talk in the rare books library last week, we discussed the difficulties of navigating scrolls- how hard it would be to go back and find something previously read, with so much rolling, unrolling, and putting back together involved. The codex, and then small, portable book structures were a huge advancement in the ability to navigate quickly, stop abruptly, and continue where one left off.
But what about other structures that aren't so clear? The only way to have an ambiguous beginning and end, I think would be to have something cyclical. There is, of course, the accordion book structure that continues endlessly:

Megan Berner Book

If the front and back were glued together, this would form and endless circle with no beginning and no end.

Someone else seems to have done this inside an actual accordion:

Peter and Donna's accordion book

And while we're at it, why not take a look at this amazing player piano version of an accordion?

Hohner Magic Accordion

This seems important with the recent video (I swear I will post it at some point) of pulling prints out of a red velvet accordion box, as well as playing with the accordion-like bellows of the copy camera. I hope to project the images inside of here as well. So what if I connect all of the drawings in a gigantic, circular fashion, running them around a main installation? And perhaps other texts and/or images run through a roll that endlessly connects between two typewriters? Who knows! But these are the latest thoughts. Now to just get down and do it.

Signing off...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Second Field Trip

After a long week and night of tossing and turning with no sleep, I was up and on the road by 7:30am Saturday to drive a gigantic van of 10 students for MJ's second trip.

This trip felt very important somehow, with the serene autumn sun and fog in the early morning. I actually got to pay more attention to the landscape by driving.

First stop was a lovely quiet site, called Hopewell Mound. Oddly enough, just across the street from a correctional facility.

I have a special affection for these places as my grandfather was an amateur archaeologist and spent his retirement digging and preserving local indian sites and artifacts. It is comforting to know that someone has saved these places.

Next was a Dental Museum in Bainbridge, where there happened to be a lovely fall festival going on just outside. When walking in to the Historical Museum, I found the adding machine to pair with my typewriter- mirrored beveled glass on the sides and all. Of course I found that very typewriter in the next room, along with an Edison Kinetoscope powered by a rigged-up gas magic lantern.

In the Dental Museum, besides piles of sadistic dental equipment, were shelves of reference books. I picked up my favorite one on anesthesia.

The next stop was the main reason I felt this to be a monumental trip. My parents and I went to the Serpent Mound when I was about 10 years old. It was the only time I had ever been in Ohio before I came out to look at grad schools. It was such an interesting feeling to attempt to put together impressions from so long ago. Were they accurate? Was it truly special in any way to revisit such a place?

Afterwards there was a wild chase on dirt roads through the mountains, stopping to see a burned out, charred and twisted house.

The last stop was a funeral and human carriage museum. There was a lovely light inside, and a deep sadness, of course. I kept watching mirrors and reflections.

As I walked around, I noticed reflections even more, as I attempted to take photographs in dim lighting on glass. More and more it seemed important as these ghostly figures and preparations for the afterlife became intermingled with our own faces

This entire time I was affected, consciously and subconsciously, by recently viewing a film for the first time by my now beloved filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. I had been reading a book before with incredible quotes about his work and just watched The Sacrifice.

Several sequences affected me so strongly, getting to that space of a dream, in a dream- those intense emotions that one can hardly conjure up again upon awakening. It seems he has filmed all of my childhood memories, anxieties, daydreams, and nightmares. Finally I have found something that so truly and deeply affects me.

Some of his quotes:
Nostalgia, he said, 'is not the same as a longing (toska) for the past. Nostalgia is a longing for the space of time that has passed in vain.' The reason, he explained, is that the 'instant' of the present can be experienced only 'when we fall into an abyss: we are in a state between the instant (of life) and the future (of the end)'.

'…All I knew was that I kept having the same dream about the place where I was born. I dreamt of the house. It was as if I was entering, or more precisely not entering but circling around it. There was some strange shift […] I thought this feeling had some material sense, that one cannot just be persecuted by such a dream. There was something in it, something very important. And I thought, because of something I'd read, that I would be able to free myself from my feelings becuase it was quite a grave feeling, something nostalgic. Something was pulling me back into the past, leaving nothing ahead. […] Well, I thought, let me write a story. However it all gradually began to take form as a film. Moreover a strange thing happend. I indeed was freed from these impressions, but this psychotherapy turned out to be worse than the cause. When I lost these feelings I felt that I had, in a sense, lost myself. Everything was complicated. These feelings disappeared, but nothing formed in their place. Although, to be honest, I had somewhere supposed something of the kind, and even in the screenplay it was written that one shouldn't return to old places, whatever it might be: one's home, the place one was born, or the people one has met. And although that was thought up theoretically, it turned out to be quite accurate. The main thing: it turned out that this sense and idea of the film was not at all to free oneself of memories.'

As I thought of this, and the mirrored photographs, and the longing and searching for something intangible of the past that one does not even know whether one should visit, I continued to make my series of videos begun a few days ago on the act of making: a plate submersed into the murky depths of the acid bath, cranking through the press, the lights and reflection in the mirror and instant darkness of the copy camera with industrial vacuum sounds and puzzling childhood photographs- all ghostly memories seen through mechanical reproduction. It is about our interactions with these images. How to show this without being too obvious or simply looking like a 'how to' video?

More next time...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Studio Visits

I am still here and processing an in-depth studio visit from a few days ago. It was amazing to have a new perspective from a faculty member outside my department. Not that that hasn't happened before, but not terribly recently. Visits often centered around "don't do printmaking- don't do all these assignments-think of other means and processes that are relevant to the message you wish to get across." I always thought, however, that printmaking was the perfect medium for my ideas, and I had all my reasons lined up and in a row, so that comment would always ruffle my feathers. I felt it would be some sort of awful betrayal to put it away for a while, especially while I am in school and have access to equipment. That's part of the preciousness of it- I know time is short for taking advantage of press access at any hour.

At this time, though, I think I might actually be moving away and into other forms of expression, such as object, performance, and video... at least in addition to printmaking and drawing.

Some things that were said during my visit:
  • You really have to think about your process: everything is in fragments. How do you make them fragments? Will you put them together and take them apart?

  • How do we physically wear these narratives that we are a part of?
  • You need to revisit the typewriter piece (I was walking outside in various settings and typing on my rigged-up and wearable old Smith Corona). This really embodies a simultaneous existence in a different time while still being in the present, and feeling out of place. You are slowing things down. It's about slower time. (I stated that it's about tactility as well and the narrowing line between man and machine. Should I go back to making that evident?)

  • In the video- you are putting yourself in it: between film and video and the actual performance and drawing. Maybe all of that should come together.

  • Is drawing important to you? What about the original photos? Perhaps combine/transition between the drawing and the original source material?

  • What about videotaping a walk through one of these spaces?

  • It’s interesting that you walk around in these places without knowing all of the history- that’s a part of it.

  • What is the feeling you are trying to get at? What is that space? (I said- abandoned ghost town, still trying to feel something palpable where history is evident. A deep sigh, a heaviness.)
These are all the thoughts still bouncing around. I also just saw a video where the artist traced a moving landscape video as it was being projected- a sort of attempt to capture the images as they moved- simply with a pencil and smartly showing the act of tracing. I think this is a good possibility for combining the renderings and original source material.

Here is my short video, and basic animation that I created over the summer:

So...more of this?

Bye for now!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Actual Evidence

I had a fairly good critique on Thursday with Prof Massey Jr. It's been the first official discussion of these thoughts of stories and drawings, and several new ideas came about. We discussed multiple narratives at once, such as Faulkner's As I Lay Dying, which also made me think of the recent film Get Low with Robert Duvall, based on a true story of a hermit staging a funeral in order to hear all of the locals tell their own stories of his life. Once again, multiple narratives, and multiple viewpoints coinciding.

It was also interesting to discuss the possibilities of how to make visible the accumulation of memories and history of a place that no longer exists- what gets bulldozed underneath to make way for new spaces, and what still exists of the original structure and the underground, which is why I enjoy these abandoned structures; history is still so palpable. The traces of those who passed before are still evident, and one can conjure stories just by looking and existing within that space.

I still don't quite know how to display the narratives with the drawings. As I discussed the possibilities of typed stories nailed to the wall right next to them, I might as well post some actual images and evidence to show what the heck I was talking about:

I have also tacked the typing directly overtop the drawings and have thought of reproducing the images on a smaller scale, connecting them all in a string, akin to a film strip. Perhaps everything should be pulled out of a box, or a large, fake paper camera. But where do they all end up? How does one navigate all of this in no particular order?

There is also one more drawing, and not sure how fond of it I am, but it is an old drive-in movie screen in PA:

Till next time...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

New Drawings, More Thoughts

I finally got to some drawing in the studio this week, thinking about what images are most important to me- which should come first. The night before I transcribed a few of my stories on the typewriter, typing directly onto very thin tissue paper that almost tore through with the keys, while sort of punching holes into the ink ribbon as well. There is something to this- the act of writing being so physical that it tears apart the paper and self-destructs along the way. I like this. And the end result it so ephemeral despite all the physical effort- the paper being so thin that it could float away, barely tacked to the wall with a stubby nail, the type partly faint, imperfect, and difficult to read.

These are my stories. And these are the images. I posted the tram car wheels last time, and recently finished a speaker hooked to a pole/tree from the abandoned amusement park.

I love the how wires underneath are curling up on themselves, as if it's poised to make a motion. I've been attracted to the image of the speaker projecting silence to nothing, nowhere, most likely since a few years ago I dreamt of a Victrola playing static to an empty room, and more recently I saw the disconnected speaker horn as disembodied voice in Fritz Lang's Dr. Mabuse. Of course it's very much like Kentridge as well, as this sort of faceless authority/transmission figure. There is something about it being in the trees in this abandoned park, though, completely functionless and no longer threatening.

I also completed the image from overlooking the top of the dirt mountain road in my grandmother's country. It was the last morning I was there, and a typewritten story accompanies the piece. I climbed the top to say a sort of goodbye to the mountains (I miss them so) the shot-out red barn with a Chrysler logo and an elk sign tacked to it, and the old bath-tub-turned water trough amongst the jewel weed. It was the very beginning of fall, and a soft breeze was blowing and all the usual sentimental tropes- but there was this rattling sound that disturbed me. I thought someone was there, but I turn around to see nothing but a 25-mile-an-hour sign caught up in a tree.

There was something about that damned sign and that moment of realization up there on the hill. There is a lot of significance to this particular place, which I will get to later, but I had to begin to draw it, anyhow. I realize the sign isn't even visible and it looks like a simple landscape study, but this is somehow a step.

The biggest holdback now is to figure out how to display the drawings and the stories. Is this image format okay? Is everything up on a wall, fixed with nails, or does the viewer have the option to rifle through things and rearrange the narrative? Do the stories line up with corresponding drawings or is it all mixed up? Is there sound playing of my own voice reading these recollections? I definitely think I will include ambient noises that I've recorded on site, such as crickets, peep frogs, industrial sounds etc, and possibly some animation.

Anyway- enough pondering for one night. That is where I stand for now.... more to come.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

First class trip

Amazing! This was the first time I actually went on an organized AND legal trip to strange local paraphernalia and factories- and they were working factories nonetheless! I now have even more imagery to work from (as if I needed more- I just need to finally get my behind in the studio, as it's been just plain impossible this first week-and-a-half).
We stopped first at Superior Clay, where they still make a few decorative ovens, fireplaces, pipes and miscellany. There was a beautiful sky with lovely terra cotta colored clay abounding, broken down and fragmented brick ovens, beehive style. It was slightly surreal.

The ovens reminded me of the country where my mother's family is from, where nothing much is in operation any more. We also stopped at a lovely kitschy button museum and bee museum with a Civil War cemetery lunch stop.

I tried to consciously think about what I gravitate towards imagery-wise. Why do am I always drawn to fogged, dusty factory windows? Piles of endless equipment? The light at the end of the tunnel shot through an abandoned warehouse? Scales, adding machines and typewriters and especially the industrial office chairs from the 20s sitting in front of rows of file cabinets or switches? What is that all about?

Of course there is something here that connects to all the mines and factories and abandoned amusement parks. And there is something that also connects to storytelling and where you are from, although these are not my stories; it is as if I am snooping around in someone else's tales, and yet only being partly interested in the actual history. Don't get me wrong, I always am interested in the real background story, but often while I'm listening to all the details I tune out and focus on the imagery around me. I sort of want to make up my own story, my own history and piece it together in a sort of sideways way that doesn't quite make sense. I want it to remain mysterious, and if the original tale is mysterious enough (like the bee museum buff telling us they don't give tours to the top-secret wick room), then that is worthy of passing on. But otherwise, I would prefer to let the imagination wander; let it be a mysterious throw-away or artifact.

The talks by visiting artist Suzanne Bocanegra this past week keep me thinking as well. I need more time to digest, but so far it seems that something will happen in this lovely ag sciences hall with a dirt floor.

It will be a possible battle reenactment scene, and there is something of history, something of that smell, the age of the building, the darkness, the old lighting. All of those things I would wish to keep and use in my own work. We also saw a talk right after the tour by Dr Johanna Drucker who spoke on the layout of the book as navigation of a story. She then showed a lovely diagram of very similar arena-like seating to explain the navigation of a table of contents, the index, and book layout. There was something very lovely about that image and idea. I am thinking about performing these stories out of order, in a certain space, with certain lighting and sound and smell. An empty stage and arena.

And that is partly what "it" is about.