Friday, 11 January 2013

Video and Art. Video as Art

I was writing to a friend. In order to provoke discussion of things cultural I suggested we pick and share favourite books, films etc. that we enjoyed last year and then as an afterthought suggested a work of art since our common ground many years ago was art school. I thought this might be tricky as I don't regularly frequent galleries and when I do, it's so often a bad experience.

The Martin Creed exhibition in the Fruit Market Gallery in 2010  would be a prime example. The works on show here were like a first year art student project on progression. For instance a large chair with a slightly smaller one stacked on top, another slightly smaller one stacked on that, and so on. A row of cactii from small to large. Not grown by the artist, I would imagine, just chosen and situated in the gallery for our wonderment. This is the artist (“one of Britain's most highly regarded and popular artists”) who won the Turner prize for turning on and off the lights at the Tate in 2001. I wasn't sure how I felt about that. It didn't have any resonance for me but maybe you had to be there. Often the difficulty of a minimal work is that it doesn't have much substance or impact by definition. I find it helps to ask the question if that was a book would I read it, if that was a piece of music how would it sound? If it's not got rhythm, harmony or melody then it has to have something pretty special or it's going in the bin.

Easier to hoover around like this.

However at the Fruitmarket exhibition I had the chance to see Creed's work close up. This took less time in minutes than the number of works on show. It felt like a first year art-school project but without the resonance, vibrance, substance or enthusiasm first year students would have. The work was simplistic with no other depth or value that I could see. I felt the artist had run out of steam and would shortly be revealed worthless and promptly forgotten. Although a free exhibition I felt it wasn't good value for money. I was alarmed that this was the new black.

Cy Twombly Exhibition

More Cy Twombly: to me this looks like he was trying to wipe something off his shoe.
I think there might well be more to Cy than meets the eye but these doodles are difficult to admire.

They no longer teach drawing or painting at art schools and traditional values of composition, colour harmony and drawing skills are, at best, neglected. I find it difficult to engage with paintings where I have to do more work as viewer than the artist can be bothered to do as instigator. The lack of communication is the problem. Knowledge of the artist and for what they are striving, often sheds some light on the matter but whatever happened to art as communication? Or just a decent bit of skill and hard work done by a master of their craft?

It occurred to me that contemporary technologies are spawning far more gripping art and design, particularly the latter, as its primary fiscal remit is to communicate (an idea, a product) to an audience well up to speed with the language we have all been learning since the development of television. Having (mostly) stopped painting pictures because of the limited marketplace, I traded one process for another, swapping paint brushes for camera, both still images and moving. I opened an account on Vimeo: like YouTube but without the undisciplined mob-violence associated with YouTube comments.

one of mine

It would seem to be a natural home for creative work, a gallery of beautiful and thrilling videos on any subject you can think of. (Of course there are plenty of dreadful videos as well. And many more just routine visuals-to-accompany-pop-tunes.) “Video” is fast being recognised as a leading medium in the art world with 2 of last year's Turner Prize short listed artists working in film. The winner Elizabeth Price showed a 20 minute film combining three disparate subjects with jump cut editing and on screen text interwoven to make “The Woolworths Choir of 1979”. Which is not to say I put a lot of store by either that prize or the short listed artists. I think at least 2 of them seem to be using art as a therapy for mental impairment. Which in itself is laudable. And it also lends weight to a theory I have been sharing for a while with anyone who'll listen, that art is itself a mental health issue.

burrowing frog

This theory is the story of my own experience. Since leaving Grays School of Art in the 1980's I have had no great success in finding gainful creative employment. I painted posters for the Playhouse Theatre till digital technology relieved me of that calling.

Many moons ago (note cigarette in hand) I painted front of house stuff for the Playhouse
Behind is a lightbox vinyl for Ryvita, a Lloyd Webber cracker.

I have done computer graphics, I have painted signs, I have painted murals, I have done interiors, I do painting and decorating. There would appear to be much more work applying emulsion paint than any other sort. We live in a country that rewards bankers, accountants, lawyers and, strangely, footballers. Oh and celebrities. A few brave souls I know who create a craft item or art thing to sell, do so usually at the expense of a regular and healthy wage, though it can be possible if you have a decent agent, accountant and outlet(s). Hence, I would propose that a need to do art, an almost irresistible compulsion to go down that cul-de-sac of unemployment and heartache is like self harming: akin to a mental issue. It hasn't kept me warm at nights but I am currently in remission and mostly have it under control. Although I did get the paints out recently. Like an alcoholic you are perhaps never cured, always in recovery. Also it sends me into a seething rage when I see anyone with any success, in my humble opinion, unmerited. The list is long.

A portrait sketch I did recently based on a tweaked sepia photo of Humphrey Jennings
 "the only real poet that British cinema has yet produced." (Lindsay Anderson)
Whatever that means.

Anyway, retuning to videos. Here are a selection of genres and ones I have enjoyed. (I am not even sure of the nomenclature here: both “video” and “film” refer to obsolete media formats.) To me this is the new voice of creatives and has a sensationalism and power that I am not seeing in the world of paint. As more of us spend our lives in front of screens I think creative video is the leading edge of the language and interface we confront. As painting becomes an archaic practice more like calligraphy or woodcarving, so film and photos are the commonplace. Hard as it would have been to believe in my youth, soon more people will carry a camera with them daily than a pencil and paper.

Picasso triggerfish

This first group of 3 similar films are short spectacular adverts for skydiving and proximity wing suit base jumping. While one section of society is bulking up on the sofa eating delivered pizzas, another is climbing up high places, throwing themselves off then seeing how close to the edge they can get. High mortality rate in both camps. With precision editing and well chosen sound tracks these films manage to convey an upside-down alien beauty and GoPro slo-mo ethereal feel that transcends the more obvious white knuckle ride. Experience... no 1 Experience... no 2 Experience... no 3

A fun home-made short designed to go viral on youtube or facebook. Scroll down the text to follow the link to the making of the video that lets you know how much work has gone into the project. (More than you might think: esp. full size costumes.) Presumably a calling card for a film maker in the making. camera trickery fun in high-kicking short

Next up an art-house bike stunt film. While a Danny MacAskill video will primarily showcase the rider's talent, this short video is about the quality and style of the film-making, as well as demonstrating the rider's skills. Depth of field, sound track, colouring, post production, even titles are carefully considered. The aerial camerawork travels smooth as butter on a cable  in the beautiful sunset but the finished feel is “hey we just turned up and shot some stuff.” Arthouse bike stunts

Who says adverts can't be fun. stuff you'll recognise if you buy online

This next film is far too long and laboured at 6 mins. It is pretty much a straight documentary record about a piece of art in an exhibition. I suppose there are levels of political stuff that can be read into it but I think it (the exhibit) is primarily lighthearted. The comment after the link is the comment I left on the vimeo page. As superb as it is trite - far too much hard work went into this for me to admire it, but I like it.

Three design shorts. Very short but highly frenetic. Many contemporary painters would do well to look and learn about colour harmony and complimentary colours here. Especially the first film – a showreel for a firm who do superb motion graphics. Designer/Animation Showreel Design and motion More snappy Design

Invisible technology all over this next one. No idea how it was done without throwing paint all over the expensive camera. Or how the focus or point of view changed while filming at such high speeds. Or why the thing was made. Seems just to relish the challenge and beauty....
(Nice soundtrack.) Highspeed footage of flying paint.

The reason for the next film is a final year college project. A superb use of speedy life-like animation yet stylised not photographic. Part fast cut edit and custom made sound track are completely captivating as the train leaves the tracks of a fantasy neon city heading off into metaphor. Psychedelic train trip

Old film clips from the days of actual film joined back to back, with “dodgy” music show the power of nostalgia and potency of memories and the good old days. I love the emotional resonance of these “little moments of beauty plucked from the limbo.” the power of nostalgia

A standard video to go along with a pop tune. As literal as Pan's People miming out the lyrics but using over 12,000 sheets of paper instead of dancers. The makers are anxious to point out they didn't tweak it in post production. Which means a LOT of hard graft went into making this. Thinking about that nearly spoils the lightness of the toe-tapping tune. Josh Ritter - Love Is Making Its Way Back Home

Next up a triumph of style over content. Fast cut mix of grainy urban surfing using time slice techniques which first surfaced (to my knowledge) in the original Matrix film whereby many cameras placed around a scene shoot an image at the same time which is then rippled back and forth. The end result is already looking dated – not dated like the short focal length, retro colouring look they're laying on a little too thick, but the post production added scratches and dust along with the fake intro and exit are nothing short of pretentious. I do like the music however, and the fact that they bolted thirty eight G3s (my camera of choice) onto a board which they hung over the surfers at night in the English Gardens in Munich. Then having made all that investment cut it down to less than 90seconds of action. That's discipline. urban cool and thirty eight G3s

Also very cool is this offering from S. Australia. Very widescreen ratio, retro looking pp colour grading and lots of out-of-focus / short focal length slo-mo stuff makes this cutting edge contemporary. (Many people are using dslrs to control the look and focus depth of their work.) Hand held glidecam for running smoothly. Or you can just enjoy the sensitivity of the photography and pretty ambience. It may look like not much is going on but every shot is carefully chosen. The music here is used to accompany and flavour the images rather than this being offered as a video for the tune. Atmosphere and cinematography

Last up is Crazy Horst, a delightful RC flier and amateur film-maker. His enthusiasm for model planes is matched by very skilful flying and sure-fire editing of his GoPro on-board camera. “Interesting” music on the soundtrack, fine scenery (usually Germany) and a cheerful disposition make his films some of the finest regular treats on Vimeo. Enjoy! Crazy Horst, RC flier doing what he loves, very well.

To see further works by the person click on their icon or name.

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