The exhibition Shoot! Existential Photography opened a few weeks ago at The Photographers' Gallery and i never got to mention it so far. The selection of work is fantastic, the theme is seductive and it makes you want to locate the nearest playground.
Load, aim, Fire!
In the period following World War I, a curious attraction appeared at fairgrounds: the photographic shooting gallery. If the punter's bullet hit the centre of the target, this triggered a camera. Instead of winning a balloon or toy, the participant would win a snapshot of him or herself in the act of shooting.
The exhibition celebrates the use of the shooting gallery at fairgrounds by the famous (from Jean-Paul Sartre to Federico Fellini) and the non-famous but also the contemporary artists who have been intrigued by the idea of shooting oneself.
The most stunning work in the show is probably the video-sound installation Crossfire by Christian Marclay. I felt like that rabbit in the headlights of a car (or was it a hare? or a deer?) Crossfire is a super fast, loud and powerful sampling of shooting scenes from Hollywood movies. You stand in the middle of the room and wherever you turn your gaze there's Clint Eastwood, Antonio Banderas or some other action hero star aiming and shooting at you.
Since the late 1970s, Jean-François Lecourt has been literally shooting his own image. In his early experiments, the bullet smashes the camera. The roll is pierced by the shoot. In the second series, the bullet perforates a wall of the lightproof box, a ray of light comes in and leaves a mark on the photosensitive paper.
Similarly, Rudolf Steiner uses the camera as a target. In the series Pictures of me, shooting myself into a picture, the bullet hole is the aperture for a pinhole camera, creating an image upon impact.
The story of Ria van Dijk is endearing. Every single year, the lady goes to a fairground shooting gallery in Tilburg, Netherlands to shoot a self portrait. She started her pilgrimage to the shooting booth in 1936, when she was 16. The artist Erik Kessels collected all the images she has taken at the fair. Going from one self-portrait to another is fascinating. You see her hair getting greyer, her glasses following the fashion of the passing decades, her friends or fans coming along with her, etc. The only pause in the sequence is from 1939 to 1945.
The action takes place in total darkness with the flash being triggered just as the bullet breaks open the analogue camera and hits the negative inside it.
Sylvia Ballhause bought a shooting rig from the booth of a family business in Germany. It was the last booth working with analogue, large-format cameras in the country.
The shooting gallery is not as popular as it used to be but you don't need to go far to try the amusement yourself, the Photographers' Gallery has turned on of its rooms into a photographic shooting gallery so that visitors can shoot (at) themselves.
Shoot! Existential Photography is up at the Photographers' Gallery in London until 6 January 2013.
Related story: The cameras that record the moment of their own destruction.
Do you remember Technoviking? He was one of Youtube's sensations in 2007. Millions of people admired his dancing skills and undeniable male magnetism but to this day, his identity remains a mystery. The technoviking video has been blogged, commented, shared, emailed and sparked numerous parodies.
Wafaa Bilal has installed an inflatable Technoviking avatar at All Saints Park in Manchester for AND, the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art (running this weekend and you should run there too if you can, it's that good). The gigantic head is linked a twitter account and in order to breathe life into it, people have to tweet about it otherwise Technoviking will go flat and dance right back to oblivion again. So go and tweet #technoviking to keep him alive!
Pop culture and astute social comments cohabit in this work like in other works by Bilal. Meme Junkyard is fun and a bit silly of course but it also invites us to reflect on the promises of constant connectivity, on the meaning of 'going viral,' of generating almost unlimited levels of attention before fading back into disinterest. What happens to the technoviking (as well as to the other meme that will soon lay to inflate and deflate in the meme junkyard) is similar to what awaits our ego when other web users stop re-tweeting our rants, linking to our blog posts (oh please let that never happen to me!), or thumbing up our status on facebook.
And the one and only:
Wafaa Bilal is going to discuss his work this Sunday at Cornerhouse. The event is free.
AND, the Festival of New Cinema, Digital Culture and Art remains open all over Manchester until 2 September 2012.
Other works by Wafaa Bilal: Subversion in the Arab Art world, A few words with Wafaa Bilal, Book Review - Shoot An Iraqi, Art, Life and Resistance Under the Gun, Positions in Flux - Panel 1: Art goes politics - Wafaa Bilal, ...and Counting.
The Circus as a Parallel Universe, edited by curators Gerald Matt and Verena Konrad. With essays by by Birgit Peter, Matthias Christen and Verena Konrad. And interviews with pop artist Peter Blake and filmmaker Ulrike Ottinger.
Published on the occasion of the exhibition of the same name at Kunsthalle Wien.
Publisher Verlag für moderne Kunst writes: Clear the ring for the world of acrobats, clowns, and exotic animals! Presenting a number of contemporary works of art, the catalog »The Circus as a Parallel Universe« offers an introduction into the universe of the circus and highlights a wondrous place full of knowledge of the world, surprises and sensations, a place of poetry, but also of excitement, confusion, and unease. The circus as a parallel world has become a projection surface in film and literature, but also in the fine arts.
I wouldn't normally review the catalogue of an exhibition i haven't seen but i was seduced by the description of the book and its accompanying images (midgets! Anthony Quinn in La Strada!) But then i don't know much about the circus, i've never even been to the circus. Not because i have that "clowns freak me out" affectation but because i've always been so sad for the animals.
Still, there is something unique and endlessly appealing about the whole circus aesthetics though: the garish colour, the merry silhouette of the tents, the posters, the costumes (which i do wear on some occasions) and Moira Orfei (do click with sound to max volume). Don't laugh at Moira, she used to be the most beautiful creature of Italy. I just wish she'd leave those tigers alone.
The book has the usual format of a catalogue: a series of essays and then a few pages about each artists participating to the show, plenty of images and a couple of interviews thrown in. The essays are particularly good at identifying the rules and roles of the circus. On the one hand it's a world of escape and dreams. A world where social conventions, animal behaviour and even the laws of physics are challenged. But it is also a microcosm that sets very clear limits to its own transgressions, makes a business of violating norms and requires that its members operate within a strict framework.
The text The Circus as a Model of the World charts the intertwining histories of circus and cinema. Both shared the same venues, the same audiences and the nomadic lifestyle in the early days of the cinema. They might not have so much in common right now but the movie industry has never stopped looking at circus as a source of inspiration (apparently some 600 circus films have already been produced in 30 countries.) The essay Taste and Prejudice, however, demonstrates that the circus isn't meeting with the same appreciation as the other sources of entertainment. While theatre and circus used to compete in the 19th century for example, it is now obvious that one is now regarded as a form of art while the other doesn't meet with the same respect.
The interviews in the book are as enjoyable and though-provoking as the essays. They would, however, benefit from some context or at least a short introduction. For example, the interviewer kept asking Peter Blake about his collection. If i hadn't seen an exhibition about that collection two years ago, i wouldn't have received much information about it from the interview only.
I've said a few words about the essays, the interviews, the images are as good as you can hope in a catalogue. Let's talk about the small texts explaining the works exhibited by each artist. Actually there's only one thing i can say about them and it is that they are in german only! The whole book is in english and german except the part dedicated to the individual works. Why be so cruel? Why translate one half of the book and leave the other part in german only? Still, i did discover a few works i liked a lot. That Deborah Sengl does animal anthropomorphism like no one else.
The artists selected have found inspiration in the circus in its childhood entertainment form (as opposed to glamourous Cirque du Soleil-like performances), reconstructing part of its magic, decoding its figures and metaphors, extending its boundaries. Here's just a small selection of their work:
In 2005, Javier Téllez organized a parade of patients from Mexicali's CESAM mental health center. They were protesting against general views on mental illness in today's society. The procession stopped in Las Playas, a Mexican town on the US-Mexico border for the first-ever firing of a human cannonball over an international border: from Mexico to the US.
In the installation illustrated below, light chains hanging from the ceiling move up and down. The installation is activated by a person pedalling on an exercise bike.
Some researchers have observed that apes held in captivity watch tv programmes. Some of them are fond of the Teletubbies, others favour emergency room dramas or Disney cartoons. But is it possible to script, shoot and screen cinema just for primates? That's what Rachel Mayeri set out to discover with her work Primate Cinema: Apes as Family.
The artist worked with Stirling University comparative psychologist Dr Sarah-Jane Vick to identify which kind of action, narrative or images a group of chimpanzees from the Edinburgh Zoo were most receptive too. The scientist and the artist observed how monkeys reacted to documentaries, cartoons, dramas screened inside a research pod where the animals could pop in and out as they pleased. The monkeys would spend a few minutes in front of the images then go away, come back, sit down for a moment, get up and bang violently against the wall that protect the tv screen, etc. Unsurprisingly the monkeys reacted more strongly to scenes featuring sex, food, violence but they were also interested in drumming and seemed quite fascinated by humans dressed as monkeys and by humans removing their monkey masks.
The result of the artist's research is a 20 minute movie. The video installation juxtaposes two screens. The right screen shows the movie for apes, its stars are actors dressed as and acting like monkeys. The second half displays the reactions of the ape audience when the film was shown on a chimp-proof screen at Edinburgh Zoo last August.
The hero of the film for monkeys is an actress wearing an animatronic suit with motorized eyes that are controlled by a puppeteer. She enters a house, gets a soda from the fridge, goes upstairs and falls asleep in front of the tv. Soon, a group of chimpanzee intruders enter the house as well and start misbehaving: they help themselves to the bananas and carrots in the fridge and basically trash the house. The clatter wakes up our chimp heroine. She gets up and goes downstairs to see what's the tumult about. That's when the plot thickens. Because chimpanzees also appreciate to watch social and sexual dynamics on screen.
Rachel Mayeri told us a few thought-provoking facts during her presentation:
- chimps might like to watch tv but that only happens when they are in captivity. Left in the wild, they have far more interesting things to do than watch tv.
- even the zoo is not the most suitable place to study the reaction of monkeys to moving images as the chimps' backgrounds may vary dramatically: some were rescued from poachers, others used to be mascots, some were born in captivity, etc.
- it's not correct to say that we descend from chimps as they haven't stayed exactly the same while we were evolving, our closest cousins have evolved too.
- chimps don't focus solely on the images appearing on the TV, they regularly check the changing social situation around them. They monitor each other ("who around me is sexually available?" for example) just like we do on facebook. Two of the most 'avid' tv watchers were a mother and daughter. During the research, the females were the ones who spent most time watching the tv screen. On the day of the screening of the finished movie for chimps at the Edinburgh Zoo, they were in rut, distracted and the center of male attentions.
- The artist is conscious that she made a film that reflects her own, very human prejudices and ideas of what a film should be like. She therefore asked herself "If a chimp director had to do a film for humans, would it have done the same mistakes and made a film for chimps rather than one for humans?"
Rachel also showed an extract of her first Primate Cinema video experiments, Baboons as Friends. In the two channel video installation, field footage of baboons are shown next to a reenactment by human actors, shot in film noir style.
The work was inspired by primatologist Deborah Forster who, unlike most people, can watch babboons for hours as if they were actors in a soap opera. The artist attempted to translate the plot of lust, jealousy, sex, and violence into the human world.
Primate Cinema: Apes as Family is at The Arts Catalyst in London until 13 November 2011.
At the beginning of the Summer i was in Nottingham to participate to Making Future Work. That day was only the last of a long string of events, conferences, meetings and commissions.
MFW started back in December 2010 when Broadway -a cinema we shall all salute for its programme dedicated to media arts- called for artists, designers and organisations based in East Midlands to submit proposals that would respond to four distinct areas of practice: Co creation / Online Space, Pervasive Gaming / Urban Screens, Re-imaging Redundant Systems and Live Cinema / 3D.
The winning projects were therefore very different from each other. Hopefully, their quality will put East Midlands on the digital art/interaction design map.
One of the winning proposals is Le Cadavre Exquis, a digital re-interpretation of the surrealist game Exquisite Corpse and the parlour game Consequences in which participants define parts of an image or text. The next person will add a portion of text or image without having seen the previous one and the process repeats itself until a complete narrative or image is completed.
In the interactive installation designed by Brendan Oliver and Brendan Randall, members of the public are invited to record a short stop-frame animation (with a little help from a custom designed software and gesture interface) as a response piece to a previously recorded submission. The piece is uploaded online within minutes and textual narrative is then created by online participants through a narrative suggestion feature.
Le Cadavre Exquis' aims to explore how notions of co-creation and user-engagement in live/on-line spaces, within the context of digital art or digital interaction, can be used to create an ever-growing visual film generated entirely by participants.
Contemporary sources of inspiration include user-generated content projects such as Aaron Koblin's wonderful The Sheep Market and The Johnny Cash Project, a crowd-sourced music video initiated by Chris Milk. I had never seen it before Brendan Oliver and Brendan Randall screened it in Nottingham so let me copy paste the embedded code over here:
I thought i should catch up with Oliver and Randall to see how the installation had evolved and traveled since we met in Nottingham.
The call for proposals invited artists and designers to respond to "four distinct areas of current practice" in digital innovation. You chose to focus on 'Co creation.' But did you have this particular project of Le Cadavre Exquis in mind well before reading about the commissions or did you start from scratch when you read the commission guidelines? How did the project mature and evolve?
Whilst we have an interest in co-creation and user-generated content the actual concept of Le Cadavre Exquis was generated completely as a response to the call for submissions and wasn't something we were already working on. When we read the briefs we considered them all and potential responses to each before deciding to submit a proposal for "Live Cinema and Co-Creation". It was at this stage the concept of Le Cadavre Exquis was born.
Initially the concept was that participants would respond visually to a textual narrative set by the previous participants and this would serve as the basis for them to act out their own submission. Once they had completed their submission they would then set the textual narrative for the next participants (using a keyboard) and by doing so we would have an entirely user-generated linear visual and textual responsive narrative.
However, through our research and development of the installation, we realised that this approach was very restrictive for participants and by allowing participants to dictate the visual and textual narratives the quality of the final outcome would be less successful than if we allowed participants to be responsive. We came to this conclusion for two main reasons. Firstly, we felt by having participants provide a textual narrative as well as record their visual submission this was too immersive and time consuming for an installation environment. Secondly, there was also the possibility that people would feel they could not respond to the textual narrative for varying reasons such as the narrative being purposefully difficult to respond to or controversial. We also wanted the focus of the installation to be on the creativity and expression in the visual submissions and for the technology to be almost invisible to them. It was always the aim to create tools that empowered the participant in the creative or artistic process and not for them to focus on the technology.
Is there any way for the public to check out the archives of the stop frame animations done by other people in the past?
All submissions can can be viewed online on the project website at www.LeCadavreExquis.net as well as textual narratives added to each video created. Visitors to the website can become participants themselves by submitting their own textual narratives to describe scenes filmed within the installation space via the 'Participation' page at www.lecadavreexquis.net/participate/. This also introduces a competitive element where visitors can vote for submitted textual narratives. Where more than one textual narrative has been submitted for a clip the narrative with the most votes then becomes the narrative for that video submission.
"Upon completion of the animation the players provide the next line of the dialogue for future player". How is it done exactly? Do they have to type the scenario on a computer? What is this step like exactly? Does it mean that in the end, if you put the short animations side by side the public has constructed a long collaborative narrative?
This was the original idea and the collaborative narrative is still at the heart of the final installation but we decided to allow participants to respond to the previous visual narrative rather than have them respond to a dictated textual narrative.
The original concept meant that only visitors to the physical installation would be able to take part and to view the output. However, our research-based conclusions, helped us to consider opening up the installation to an online audience.
In the final installation we separated the visual and textual narrative submissions to make it easier for participants to be creative with the visual story and to include an online audience by asking them to add a textual narrative via the website developed for the project. Animations created at the installation were compiled into video files and automatically uploaded to the website where they can be viewed by visitors and textual narratives submitted online. The textual narratives were then pulled back down from the website and displayed as subtitles when the visual narrative is projected in the installation space as a playback aspect.
You probably spent a great deal of time and energy on LCE so are you not ever tempted to influence the public? To ask them to perform in a certain way? Is it not frustrating to let everything in the hands of the strangers?
We did spend a lot of time developing the installation and website, much more than we initially envisioned and was originally considered for the commission. It was always our aim to create something where the final outcome was created solely by the audience and participants. We empowered participants to do this through the technology and the concept of Le Cadavre Exquis. We very much see the installation as a tool for creativity rather than prescribing the creative aspect itself. We are very much interested in how participants respond and in particular how we can enable people who wouldn't ordinarily consider themselves creative to lose their inhibitions, get excited, have fun, enjoy the experience and become the artist. Due to these ideals its not been frustrating for us to let participants create whatever they like.
I'm quite curious about the way people use LCE. Do they feel immediately at ease with the installation? Do they find it easy to engage with it? Do they reflect a lot before using it? Are they bold? But also did they surprise you along the way? Did they find ways of using the installation you had not thought about before?
Whilst we had introduced the installation at The Nottingham Contemporary for the final commission presentation we were thrown in at the deep end to a certain degree with being invited to install the piece at the V&A some two days later. We had naturally tested the technology and had also experimented was a local Dance company but the V&A would be the first public acid test. So naturally we, whilst confident, were a little nervous as to how the installation would be received. We needn't have worried though as from the first person to the last seemed to have no problems at all interacting straight away. We had worked very hard to ensure that the technology was very easy to use and understand and this was proved to be the case. With the event being at the V&A there was lots of people from various countries all over the world attending. Even those with little or no English seemed to have no problem understanding how the installation worked and how they could be creative.
As far as installations go this is quite an immersive experience for people to be involved with as we're asking them to be creative on the spot and to try and lower their inhibitions. Some people have been reflective, a few declined but the overwhelming majority have been excited and more than happy to be involved in something creative and user-generated. Having the playback projection aspect where people entering the space could see all the previously recorded scenes definitely helped in this respect. We think feeling they are part of a larger whole, part of the creative process has been a great incentive and we have been really surprised at the variation and quality of the stories told within the ten frames of the animations they create. You'd be surprised what can be done. We even had a meeting of a couple, courting, engagement, marriage and finally the birth of a baby - all in ten frames.
The beauty of the installation is that because we haven't sought to control the output it can be used in various ways. For instance The Nottingham Contemporary, who hosted the installation after the V&A, provided a number of props and accessories for participants. This has been great for creative submissions but also influenced the public towards certain narratives by the style of the props themselves and the fact they had tied it into the on-going Jean Genet exhibition at the gallery.
The work has traveled to V&A in London and other venue since we met in Nottingham in June. Do you have plans to show it elsewhere?
It's been quite non-stop for Le Cadavre Exquis being in the V&A two days after completion and directly following that it has been running permanently in The Nottingham Contemporary over the summer. It's due to finish there on the 4th of September. Our vision is that this is an installation that, in theory at least, can keep running and running. If we can keep installing and generating submissions there's no reason this can't be the case. We've already had enquiries for installing in various other environments and alternative uses. We are very much open to propositions or proposals from anywhere & anyone.
By the very nature of how the installation is conceived we can adapt the system in many ways to different uses and environments from performance to education uses. We also have plans to develop the project using the generated content itself. One area we're looking into is a 'Director' tool aspect where online users will be able to access all the videos and textual narratives (or indeed write their own) to create their own self-directed movie. We're currently looking into funding opportunities to develop this aspect. This notion of 'Directing' has routes into performance and writing within the arts and education - all of which is very exciting for us and for the project in the future.
Thanks Brendan and Brendan!
Photo homepage: Le Cadavre Exquis at the V&A's Web Weekend programme Credit: Rain Rabbit.
Before going through the series of winners of World Press Photo, i had never heard of narco cinema. But then again each time i've discovered a cinematographic (sub)genre recently it was thanks to photography. In late 2009, i found about Nollywood cinema through Pieter Hugo's work. This year Fabio Cuttica brought me to Narco Cinema.
The name says it all. Narco cinema churns out low-budget, action-filled B-movies that star drug dealers, corrupt cops and politicians, strippers, explosions, blood baths but also plenty of trucks and those vehicles that are twice the size of my flat. Although they are fictional, the films mirror and glamorize the stories of the real battles that oppose police vs narcos or drug cartels vs other drug cartels. The more brutal the real conflicts get, the more violent the scenarios of narco movies.
Making a 90 minute movie is an experience as fast-paced as the action in the film itself: most of the time only 2 weeks separate the writing of the scenario from the distribution of the film. The films never make it to the big screen, they go directly to DVD case. VICE went to the shoot of a narco movie last year and came back with a long article and a short documentary.
But let's get back to the winning entry at the World Press Photo 11:
Tijuana is a focal point of real-life drug wars raging in Mexico. The wars have inspired 'narco cinema', a B-movie genre dating back to the 1980s that has become increasingly violent in recent years. Formulaic and action-packed, the films have been accused of glamorizing the drug lords' way of life, but reflect a world much of the audience recognizes. Narco cinema is enormously popular both in Mexico and with Mexicans living in the USA. Over 30 such narco movies are shot each year in Tijuana alone, and many actors achieve star status.
Fabio Cuttica speaks about the project:
The winning picture, which is one of a series about narco cinema, was shot during the filming of the movie El Baleado 2. It was one of the last scenes, before the main character, actor Fabian Lopez in the role of Saul 'El Baleado' was shot to death. I worked on the set of El Baleado 2 film during a week. In the scene, 'El Baleado' leaves his office, shooting at the enemies that want revenge. In the background, a cloud of cocaine fills up the room. His face, drug crazed, is also cover by cocaine-like powder. That day was the last day of filming. It was a 20-hour, non-stop journey, at a set inside a house in Tijuana. It was a very tiring day, but really lucky, I will not forget it!"
In an interview with The Independent, Cuttica explained that narco cinema may even be a way to make sense of the violence. As he suggests, "it is something happening today in Mexico and the people feel somehow involved with this, they want to know, suffer, and - why not? - also laugh about it."