During the second year there were three studio based assignments, ‘Appropriation’ – a video based project using material drawn from the internet. ‘Performance Portrait’ in which we were to illustrate on an aspect of our own personality or life and create a number of stills, (we could also interpret this to include an actual performance, i.e. not our real persona but an invented one), and ‘Cut Out’ where we merged two or more images, some via mixed media, to create a new piece with a new context.
This aspect of art is always going to be contentious simply because it relies heavily on work already made by someone else (and without their permission to use it). Whilst it is a legitimate art concept, obtaining image material (stills as well as video) and reworking this to form a new meaning, (ethical arguments to one side), is not an easy task. If it is to be a successful appropriation video it has to try to deliver a brand new message subtly different to that in the original material.
My first attempt was to re work some Susan Sontag interviews in an attempt to ‘put words in her mouth’ and have her say something that in life she may not have said. My problems started when I realised that to make this a successful and accurate parody video I would have to get to know Susan Sontag very well. Although time for this assignment wasn’t an issue, other assignments dominating my schedule were and this meant research into Susan Sontag wasn’t easy to fit in before the Christmas deadline for our first video.
My final version (see relevant blog entries) I feel just scratched the surface in relation to this iconic literal genius, and far more work and video research would be needed to fully satirise her. None the less I was moderately pleased with the final result although it did rely heavily on appropriated stills which in hind sight I could have taken myself using friends posing.
On reflection Sontag was a difficult subject in many ways especially as she rarely spoke the individual words in the appropriated filmed interviews that I needed. I wanted her to say the phrase ‘I don’t like my own work’, a statement I thought would resonate with any audience already struggling to comprehend her written works.
Having completed video one, we were set the challenge of creating a second video before the final submission date.
To offer a contrast I wanted to make this one an illustrated dialogue by re telling a traditional poem but in a new and unique way. To achieve this my research led me to examine mythical stories from Norse and Celt ancient cultures and exploring ways of illustrating it in a more modern way. Again time became a factor as although some of the material I discovered I felt would work for what I had in mind, I decided that to truly strike a cord with the meaning behind the text I would need to understand much more of the culture from which it came. In this I saw an immediate comparison between my Sontag video and this one, more research with no real guarantee that the time would be well spent.
Changing tack I started looking at material from cultures that I was already fully familiar with and thus could already relate to. This lead me to examine Victorian poems, the most famous of which is Rudyard Kipling’s poem ‘IF’.
The knowledge I already possessed on this era along with the discovery of an excellent reading of the poem by Sir Michael Caine suggested to me I had found what I was looking for.
I merged the poem with stills from Chris Markam’s ‘La Jetee’ as I felt the values expressed were similar in both. In hind sight I believe that perhaps a series of movie clips from recent cinema releases, with each clip demonstrating a different virtue, would have maybe worked better. This does suggest though that the only place that you find the values described in the poem in our modern society is in a movie. In today’s apparently uncaring world this statement does have a ring of truth.
My final solution was to turn all the video images into a comic book. Again this worked ok but having a different set of stills perhaps ones that better reflected modern life scenarios, might have had more impact.
Overall the appropriation video assignment was fun to do and most definitely challenging. This has made me think of other appropriation themes including the manipulation of published still images to create new pieces.
The cut up project was launched with a series of stills showing many different ways that a photographic print could be changed with the introduction of a controlled level of destruction. Cutting, sewing, merging, adding paint via brush or screen print to name just a few. Like appropriation these processes involved the manipulation of an original source image with one or more additional images to create a new visual with a new meaning not present in either originals.
I decided early on that as the majority of examples we had been shown were of cut up images involving people, that I would break with this and use images of buildings as my source. My initial test image was of a church merged with a forest with the church removed by cutting it out from the surroundings. I eventually changed this to a McDonalds restaurant simply because in today’s modern society a fast food outlet is probably visited by more people in a year than a church and so is more representative of today’s society. Making the natural landscape full colour and the fast food outlet black and white, I found worked well as the bright reds and yellows of the McDonalds signage were immediately reduced to grey and therefore ceased to dominate the eye. This left the green foliage and multi-coloured flowers the sole attention grabber.
This project worked well for me. The idea was simple and effective and supported with good research. This has led me to look at other ‘landmark’ buildings such as the modern shopping centre and merge this image perhaps with a natural view of a path through a wood. The forest was the source of food, garments and tools in the past so placing it within a modern shopping centre would I feel create a ‘time’ link.
In reality this project has left me with many different development ideas to try as well adding cut up elements into other types of art picture. This has expanded my skills in montage and made me look at image manipulation in a different way, as it is a process that I find resonates with me.
This was for me the most enjoyable of all the studio practice assignments as I was to be both the creator of the image and also to star in the image as the subject.
Starting with a simple ecological statement portrait and using my ‘cut up / montage skills’ I created a dramatic futuristic landscape with myself as the subject dressed in a gas mask. The message was a simple one in that continuously damaging the environment we (the human race) will eventually destroy the very planet we treasure so much.
The resulting picture fitted in with several montage images taken in year one, as I used a similar theme to create them under the assignment title of ‘re invention’ although this was not realised until after the performance portrait was completed.
My initial thoughts were to tint the portrait image a mustard yellow, emphasising the ‘chemical’ nature of the ‘pollutant’ causing the subject, me, to wear a gas mask in order to breathe. Eventually I decided that the image did look much stronger in black and white, especially when put with the two montage images from year one (also in black and white). The three images formed part of my exhibition under the title ‘The Dead Earth’.
Having completed just one performance image, there was still sufficient time to have a go at another.
For my next attempt I had researched the world of ghosts and the paranormal as part of my essay work. With the main subject once again being me, this time dressed as a Victorian medium, I set out to create a visual of the moment a medium is surrounded by ghosts. Having a mental vision of what I am trying to create always works best for me, the premise being if I can imagine it, then I can create it. Thus creating a host of ghosts to join me on the set and at the same time making them look realistic, became a real technical challenge I was determined to meet. Source images of ghosts were supplied by friends dressing up in white clothing and jumping off chairs giving the impression of them flying. To say we had fun shooting this is an understatement!
The final picture of me plus ghosts was used as the main piece for my exhibition and it received much praise. The piece was added to by dressing the same friends in historical hats and photographing them in silhouette.
I’m considering expanding this series for my final project in a Fontcuberta style Victorian study of the paranormal….
There is no doubt in my mind that these assignments were not only fun to do but taught me a lot about art. The work is some of the best I have completed to date and has inspired me to take the themes of appropriation, cut up and montage still further.