Monthly Archives

April 2018

Research

Holocaust Testimonies: The Ruins of Memory

Testimony is a form of remembering. The faculty of memory functions in the present to recall a personal history vexed by traumas that thwart smooth-flowing chronicles. Simultaneously, however, straining against what we might call disruptive memory is an effort to reconstruct a semblance of continuity in a life that began as, and now resumes what we would consider, a normal existence. “Cotemporality” becomes the controlling principle of these testimonies, as witnesses struggle with the impossible task of making their recollections of the camp experience coalesce with the rest of their lives. If one theme links their narratives more than any other, it is the unintended, unexpected, but invariably, unavoidable failure of such efforts.

Langer, L. (1993). Holocaust Testimonies. Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Research

The Image and The Witness: Trauma, Memory & Visual Culture

I soon realised that this book wasn’t so much about witness of trauma and testimony, and more about how images represent trauma they have ‘witnessed’. After looking for through the collection of essays I looked online and found further discussion on the book and came across this:

For all our reliance on images, we never quite believe in their revelations. Despite the privilege given to the authority and presence of the image, it is, after all, just an image, a picture. It might be manipulated, biased in perspective: it does not fully reveal the truth of what it claims to represent.

Vertigo Volume 3 | Issue 8 | Winter 2008

 

Revealing the truth has been a key theme within my work. Considering the idea that image can never truly represent truth is interesting. In terms of my display I’m keen to not hide the projector, now that I’m better understanding the implications of ‘revealing’ it. If I hid the means by which I transmit my film it doesn’t feel honest. And additionally, it shows that there’s no trickery behind the truth I’m revealing.

Research

Artwork as Social Model

Cultural Influence Through the Artwork -3A

Artists have long been considered essential to the process by which society generates new cultural sensibilities. Whether the artist has participation in this process as a coherently stated objective is another matter, as such intentions are rarely explicitly specified. For the influence of the artist has historically been accepted as implicit, hidden, or confused with the other functions which society projects onto the artwork. Yet still the means, and it is the means that are fundamentally important, by which the artist seeks cultural influence is through the ‘artwork’ and hence its central position between the artists conception and society. In this way there is a tacit understanding that the intention of the artwork is ultimately mediational, that is does, in some unspecified way, interrupt to change perceptions and understandings of an audience. But in reality this is denied by an artwork’s plurality, for what is projected onto the artwork by different vested interests is a multiplicity of functions all of which, while diverse, are simultaneously significant.

Keeping the piece as simple as possible will really work to my advantage and I feel that the title alongside the film will give way for interpretation of the work to extend past the issue of wartime sexual slavery.

Transformation and Context – 16B

An important element of transformation is the contextualisation of the space surrounding the transformer. The transformer loads the space with references that they find meaningful, thus conveying what is impersonal, perhaps even anonymous, to somewhere personal, relevant, a statement of their own sensibility and identity.

This really resonated with my while I was trying to decide on how I could display the film in a way that spoke of the research without explicitly referencing it. Displaying the film in a way that feels as though you’re looking through a window at something happening to a form speaks of those references.

Making

Project Proposal

What is your project about? In 150 words outline your understanding of your developments following the recent crit.

The work began with research into the women and girls who were kidnapped and forced into sexual slavery (euphemistically called ‘comfort women’) by the Japanese military during World War II. The work itself speaks of this forced invisibility and is a direct response to the research undertaken for my written dissertation.

The central themes of time, collective as well as personal memory, and testimony intertwine to cross over into new themes and questions within socially engaging practice. These new themes highlighted include how history is written and remembered, how women are forgotten in those retellings of history, and how we can engage with new histories with the use of testimony and documented experiences. The work looks at the pain of others and gives voice to their testimony, using the material of clay to bear witness to that testimony.

Titled ‘We must record these things that were forced upon us’, this facilitates bringing the work into the context of the ‘comfort women’ issue as these were the words of Kim Hak-sun, the first Korean woman to testify in 1991of her experience of forced sexual slavery by the Japanese.

What is the most effective medium to convey your ideas within the context of an Art and Design showcase? I.e. Website / Onsite Exhibition or Offsite Activity and associated documentation.

I’ve used unfired clay to cast small ceramic forms that I’d brought back from my trip to South Korea. These small pieces, once bone dry, are partially submerged in water and they gradually dissolve as the water penetrates the layers of unfired clay, causing them to flake off into the water.

The entire process is filmed in the Lens Based Media Studio with three video cameras from different angles, with the footage edited in a dynamic and satisfying way. The resulting film will be displayed against a white wall/screen, 8ft high, filling the space. The work needs to be at a large scale as this ties in with the center of my research around the vastness of the ‘comfort women’ issue.
The piece will be shown during the onsite exhibition in addition to screenings and panel style discussions during the BAAAD Public Programme.

Location:

I would like a dark space within IPS – there are a couple of sections within the project space that could remain unlit while not disturbing others’ work. Due to the satisfying aspect of the clay flaking away from the pots in the water, I want the area to be contemplative and quiet. I will be attaching the projector to the opposite wall with the use of a bracket, mounting the projector at a height so it’s as big as the wall is high. A closed off section of IPS would give the work an isolated feel, something which ties into the explored themes of forced invisibility.

Making

Projection Trials

Until now I’d always assumed I would show my work on a larger scale, as this ties in with the vastness of this particular issue of human trafficking, however, after speaking with Stuart and Sarah I’ve begun looking at alternative sizes to display the video.

My feedback for the Work in Progress show was to look at making the work ‘monumental’ as the pots were in the same formation as the monuments commemorating the five original women who came forward and sued the Japanese government in the early 90’s, so the question was asked: Why didn’t I make the scale of the work ‘monumental’? I thought this could be addressed by making the projection really large, but after trialing a couple of other sizes I’ve found a new language within the work that comes through when it’s projected at a smaller size.

With a smaller projection I felt like the work was a lot more intimate and enclosed. It felt a lot more defined and the quality of the image was a lot better than when it was projected at a larger scale. Additionally I felt that having it smaller revealed more about the work than having it larger, as the audience viewing it would have to make the decision to view it, rather than it being unavoidable due to it’s scale if it were bigger.

Once I’d established how effective the smaller projection was I moved on to working out how I could display it at a smaller scale in a visually pleasing way, because having the projector 30cm away from the wall isn’t practical and disturbs the work too much. I want my viewer to be able to stand in front of the work and not have to look around a projector. In my original plan for the projection I was going to have the projector and media player hidden, as I didn’t want it to become a part of the piece. Hiding the equipment by installing it up high above natural eye level also meant the work could be at a large scale and the line of projection could eliminate the possibility of people’s heads blocking the image when they walk across the room.

With displaying the work on a smaller, more intimate scale I’ve realised I’ll need a solution to the new problems having to have the projector so close to the surface I’m projecting onto. I don’t want the viewer to have to look around something to see the work.

I went and spoke to Ana about these issues and asked if any previous students had worked out a way to project something onto a surface at a really small scale while simultaneously hiding the equipment. She ran through a few options troubleshooting possible problems against what I want the viewer to experience:

  • Do I want people to sit in front of it and watch it like a film?

    No, because the work will be very long I like the idea of people coming back to the piece to see how it’s changed since their last visit. Inviting people to sit down and view the work on a bench/chair feels too directional and I want the viewer to feel like they’re witnessing an event, not watching a film.

  • Do I want it to be low down and small?

    When I first projected the film onto the wall it was on a fairly low surface, initially I didn’t think this would be an issue but as I was watching it the viewing angle felt uncomfortable and wrong. I felt like I was crouching down in an unusual way.

  • So do I want it to be high and difficult to see?

    No, I think somewhere between the two would be better; eye level felt the most natural and the most appropriate as well. It invites the viewer to feel as though they can comfortably look at the film while making sure these encounters don’t last too long. 

  • How does the image quality change as I trial different sizes and how does that make me feel as a viewer?

    When the work was huge I felt it conveyed the vastness of the issue I was researching, however trialing it at a smaller size helped the work speak of different things, of fragility, of ‘smallness’, while also emphasised the silence of the video. These themes relate closely to my work in ways I didn’t expect. 

Ana went on to explain that I could make a slim rectangular plinth, with the projector at one end and a perspex screen coated in projection film installed at the other so the film could be back projected and viewed from the front of the plinth, eliminating the need for the projector to be mounted to a wall, or installed directly in front of the screen/surface I will be projecting onto. I trialed this idea using card as my mock back projection screen to see how close I could get the projector to the screen while maintaining the quality of the film. Obviously this isn’t a back projection set up and I’m seeing it the wrong way around but this helped establish how far away the projector would need to be to achieve the effect I want.

I used a previously built plinth to further test how far away the projector needed to be in order to get a clear, crisp, concentrated image. The typical throw range for this projector is between 1-8metres, however I found I was able to get as close at 20-30cm and still maintain image quality. I moved the makeshift ‘screen’ around a bit to establish what looked best and found the smaller it was the more interesting it became. The piece changed quite dramatically, from being a big unavoidable film covering an entire 8ft high wall, to a suddenly quite beautiful and ethereal piece at a smaller scale. Having the work smaller meant I could manipulate or make my viewer look at it in a different way, in a way that speaks more about the work.

While researching the ‘comfort women’ issue during my time in South Korea I came across a lot of images taken during WWII of Japanese soldiers lining up outside ‘comfort stations’ in occupied territories:

 

While viewing the exhibition at the Museum of Sexual Slavery in South Korea I noted that most of the images presented for display were shown on a small scale, with masses of text surrounding them. I don’t feel it necessary to include any text with my work apart from the title, however investigating the impact of displaying the work at a similar size to the images in the museum has turned up better questions about the work. Looking back on the images of soldiers lining up to visit ‘comfort stations’ as well as remembering scenes in various films which address the history of ‘comfort women’ I’m reminded of the small windows at eye height with a view into the rooms within ‘comfort stations’ where victims were forced to service soldiers:

I didn’t like the feeling of having the work low down, initially I thought this might work because it speaks of the way women are looked down on within society, but given that the film is being projected onto a flat surface it felt more of a hinderance to look down at it. With this in mind I tried looking at it at eye level, and found it to make me feel a lot more like I was looking at something happening for a fleeting moment – a moment in time where something is being destroyed but I can’t stop looking at it. The soldiers watching ‘comfort women’ being used by their colleagues saw something awful happening and may have watched for a time and moved on. Coming back to that window might have shown them a further degraded version of what they witnessed earlier.

This is what I want to achieve with my final piece, and projecting it at a smaller size at eye height achieves that feeling. The viewer may not be fully aware of what they’re looking at, but if they revisit the film and find the objects more and more degraded/destroyed then their understanding might shift.

Additionally, having the piece displayed at a smaller size means I won’t need to have the lights off in order for it to maintain maximum impact – the above images look dark but they were taken with the lights on, with the camera set in a way that picks up the detail of the bright projection. Having the piece displayed in a brighter environment means I’ve got more options in terms of location.

Next Steps:

  • Begin designing my display system.
  • Speak to Ana about ordering back projection film.
  • Book in with Charlie as soon as possible.
Making

Wednesday’s Filming

So Wednesday 18th was probably one of the most stressful days so far and for all the wrong reasons. I arrived early in the morning and transferred all the necessary equipment over to the Lens Based Media Studio before kit request opened, something I’d negotiated with Ana and Luke to make sure I could maximise my time in the studio and meticulously prepare for filming. I spent a total of six and a half hours setting the space up, as last time when I used the space to film I was only shooting with one camera, this time I had three. Setting up the cameras took the most amount of time as I had to work out a way to fit them all in while still accommodating for the screens in front of the lights. I used two tripods – one shooting the pots head on as I’d done in the previous video, one focussed on the pot in the middle of the formation at the front, shot from the side – and a Jib Arm shooting down, focussed on a pot on the corner of the formation.

Once I pressed record on each of the cameras I made sure I left at least five minutes before I began pouring in the water, to account for the cameras wobbling slightly (especially on the Jib Arm) and also to give me enough footage at the beginning to give the film a smooth start. Once I poured in enough water (1.5 litres) I had been advised to vacate the immediate area, leaving the cameras running. The reason for this came from reviewing the footage from my last film made, where I noticed during editing that whenever I went to check on how the pots where doing throughout the filming the floor wobbled the tripod ever so slightly, causing a wobble in the footage. The floors in the LBMS are all quite bouncy, and because Ana and I weren’t sure where would cause more severe bounce than other areas it was just safer and better to leave the cameras to do their thing. I couldn’t place one of the foam screens in front of the entrance to the LBMS because I was using all four screen stands, so I placed signage on the front door to F12 and blocked the doorway into the space with chairs and someone’s work that had been balanced in the corridor.

The total time filming was almost four hours long. Unfortunately this footage can’t be used as while the three cameras were filming someone entered the building and stole one of the cameras off the tripod, taking my work with them and compromising the footage captured on the other two. I had been periodically checking on the set up throughout the evening every 20/30 minutes, when I arrived for what I had hoped would be my final check on the status of the pots I found the tripod on the right of the set up missing its camera. After a lot of frantic searching it had been established that someone had stolen it, along with a number of lenses. I was able to view the footage from the other two cameras, and in the audio file for one of the films I can hear him moving around the room going through bags and boxes, and attempting the remove the cameras from the tripods, however because they’re quite tricky to use it took him a while to actually remove the plate. It was horrible hearing the audio, remembering how upset I was thinking that someone could do something like this.

Obviously I’m fairly upset, as I’d put so much time and energy into the day and was really excited about the resulting footage but upon reviewing it the following day it’s not something I’m happy to use for my final piece. It is salvageable with the footage from the two remaining cameras, but it isn’t how I want my final piece to look – the camera that was stolen had been set up in a way to show a really contemplative, almost serene angle of one of the pots disintegrating out into the rest of the frame and trying to edit what I have left doesn’t feel right.

Reshooting the footage brings up a whole host of problems I’m determined to work through, so the next week will be crucial in order to make sure I can make the best version of this work possible. After speaking to Ana it’s been established that I have a couple of options in terms of rebooking the studio space, at the moment I’m pencilled in for Thursday 28th until 16.30. I’ve spoken to Luke and my plan is to go in the night before and try and set up as much as I can before the building closes so I can maximise the amount of time I have for filming on the Thursday. I need to speak to the Fine Art student who’s in the studio space the evening before just to establish that that’s okay.

Making

Motivation

Motivation has been a huge issue since the camera was stolen last week. I didn’t think I’d feel like this, and it’s been difficult trying to push through it. Having my work taken away from me at such a crucial time was always going to feel terrible, and talking to tutors about it has made it easier to get back into it all.

I spoke with Linda Matti, who helped me with my dissertation writing, and she suggested exploring my own reflections. While I don’t want to rehash the actual event I think it’s important to reflect on the positives, despite feeling like its an impossible task finding any positives.

  1. I can reshoot and I’ve rebooked the studio between other bookings.
  2. I have the support of the technicians and they have been unbelievably helpful and kind during all of this.
  3. I still have enough time to make the work exactly how I wanted to make it. I don’t have to settle with what’s left.
  4. This is a good lesson in working practice, and despite not being to blame for what happened it’s helped me understand how valuable the work I’m doing is to me, and how important it is that I protect it in future.
  5. Everything will be fine.
  6. Everything will be fine.
  7. Everything will be fine.
  8. Everything will be fine.
  9. Everything will be fine.
  10. Everything will be fine.
Research

Mona Hatoum

Mona Hatoum’s practice focusses on using household objects and modifying them to explore the line between the familiar and the uncanny. Investigating themes such as the political and the individual, the domestic and the hostile, Hatoum brings together beauty and horror while engaging her audience in conflicting emotions.

 

Homebound, 2000
Kitchen utensils, furniture, electrical wire, light bulbs, dimmer unit, amplifier and two speakers
, dimensions variable
.

Homebound consists of a combination of kitchen utensils and household furniture, connected to each other with electric wire, through which runs a live electric current. A programmed dimmer switch makes the bulbs flicker and fade up and down. The crackling, buzzing sound is the amplified hum of the fluctuating electric current which adds to the sense of threat. A barrier of steel wires protects the viewer from potentially lethal electricity and also creates a caged-in environment. The title plays on ideas of domestic confinement or house arrest.

The Uncanny: A concept in art associated with psychologist Sigmund Freud which describes a strange and anxious feeling sometimes created by familiar objects in unfamiliar contexts.

Furniture and other household objects feature prominently in Hatoum’s work, often modified to explore the unsettling within the everyday. Grater Divide is based on a Victorian foldout cheese grater that has been scaled up to the size of a room divider that cuts aggressively across the space. Similarly, Daybed is based on a vegetable grater enlarged to the size of a bed that promises discomfort and pain.

Are my pots uncanny? They don’t serve the traditional function of pots. While making them I was often faced with the desire to complete them, through firing, glazing and firing. I thought about the amount of time put into each pot, and continued to ask myself why I was making them to destroy them again. Then I realised after performing the work from the Work In Progress show all the way through until my last session in the Lens Based Media Studio that they were changing form, not function. All of the women and children impacted by trafficking, not just in the context of ‘comfort women’ during WWII, could be described as being forced to change form. They were ‘used’ and their bodies violated, changed forever.

Hot Spot, 2013
Stainless steel, neon tube
92 1/10 × 87 4/5 × 87 4/5 in; 234 × 223 × 223 cm.

The term ‘hot spot’ refers to a place of military or civil unrest. Using delicate red neon to outline the contours of the continents, this sculpture presents the entire globe as a danger zone – what Hatoum describes as a ‘world continually caught up in conflict and unrest’. When I look at Hatoum’s work I can see the way she looks at the world and her relation to it. Her work explores being at home in a dangerous and conflicted world.

“an exhibition that manages to be both personal and political, in a series of encounters with the body and the world, journeys and confrontations at once intimate and global.”

Thinking about this evaluation of Hatoum’s exhibition at Tate Modern (4 May – 21 Aug 2016) I’m drawn to “a series of encounters with the body and the world” and what that means when applied to my own practice – where I’m taking one aspect of the history of systematic violence against women and exploring the impact of ignoring it, allowing it to alter the shape of the view of women in society. The dissolving clay speaks of the damage done by silencing voices, but also speaks of the violence upon the body, with the pieces flaking away gradually over time. The kind of trauma inflicted throughout history has gradually reduced women down, not just through physical trauma but emotional and mental trauma too.

These ideas are central to my practice; the first fight for women who have experienced gender based oppression, in any form, is to be heard. But how can we be heard if we as women have been reduced down so far that we’re not even seen as equal by society? If we were seen as equal, would gender based violence even occur any more?

Tate Exhibition Guide

Guardian Review

Research

‘Employing’ Testimony and Using Materiality

Salcedo employs the testimonies of such witnesses as a foundation for her sculptures but steers away from a direct relation between these testimonies and the final work. Her sculptures are never an illustration of these narratives, nor are they confessional props. She avoids explicit images and instead tends towards poetic representation, abstracting the experiences recounted to her by using simple materials indicative of the environment and poverty which surrounds the victims.

‘Unland’ The Place of Testimony, Doris Salcedo’s Unland: audible in the mouth 1988,
Contemporary Art in Focus: Patrons’ Papers 3, Tate, London 2004.

Thinking more about how my research looks at the experiences of women forced into sexual slavery, my main concern was always that the work made would be read as ‘props’ rather than representations of those experiences, and the removal of their histories.

When I think about the materiality of my work I want to convey the subjective sensations of memory, and how that memory is being disintegrated. The disintegration of the pots looks to act as a new language, speaking of the period of silence where survivors were shamed into near invisibility because of their trauma. I want for my film to represent absence through presence, and presence through absence, through the documentation of the dissolving pots. Seeing the same thing happening to more than one form, seeing it from several angles and not being able to do anything about it but watch it happen; witnessing it.

As an artist I can’t intercede in the process of the water eroding away at the clay, I can only watch, and see what it does.

Making

Thursday’s Filming (Final Piece)

Third time lucky ft. studio accident @ 1:13

I don’t want to start every post during this period by outlining how stressful it all is, but maybe this is the most stressful so far?

I’m trying to remain positive and remember that this could be a blessing in disguise. I realised while I was reframing that I had a chance to really make sure it was perfect. I had the benefit of trying this a total of three times now so rather than rushing through it I could really refine it. I did my best and after reviewing the footage I’m pleased I had that deep breath moment where I could take my time. I ended up stationed outside the studio doors for the entirety of the filming as I just didn’t feel comfortable leaving the room. It was interesting being so protective of the work considering its themes. It felt like worthy effort not just because it was my final piece for the degree show, but because I really want it to speak of things that are not spoken about and bring things to light.