Janet Cardiff is a Canadian artist who works with immersive multimedia, sound and audio/video walks (Miller, 2022). She often collaborates with Georges Bures Miller on the video walks to create alternative realities for the audience who listen to (and view) the constructed narrative, layered with background sounds and directions.
I spent some time looking at the different walks on their website. I selected Thought Experiments in F# Minor, described as “A labyrinthine video walk that takes you inside and outside of the Walt Disney Concert Hall in downtown L.A”.
The same place is used in the video, but there is previous footage of past events being shown at the same time as someone walking the tour. In addition, there are more fantastical elements, such as the cat conductor. The cat also links to the idea of reality in Schrodingers cat. What is real? Is video footage real? The people in the video are both alive and also not necessarily. An image or video always shows the past. We can then meet the person, the person has aged, changed, or in some cases, they may even have passed away, but the photo still exists.
Ideas for my Own Work
I find this piece very inspirational. I wonder if I could incorporate some time shifts in my own piece about mapping digital pieces. Superimposes two days of work on top of each other.
What are the main areas or ideas for reflection from the feedback you received?
Something that stands out to me is how my tutor really liked the pieces I didn’t particularly think were strong. I experimented with taking photos with wires on my screen, and I wasn’t happy with how they turned out, but my tutor really thought they were powerful. This makes me want to be more experimental and take a few more risks. Post work that I perhaps don’t think is finished and get feedback on it.
Creating any piece of work is a risk, and it exposes you to criticism, something nobody enjoys, but it is how we all learn and develop. It is something I definitely need to get better at. I could be braver with what I post here and open myself up for feedback more instead of waiting for a polished piece of work.
How will you develop and refine your work and ideas in response?
As mentioned, I want to be more creative and experimental. I need to get back into playing with ideas and not necessarily only post on here the ones that feel finished.
One thing I could do a lot more of is using my sketchbook to develop ideas and show how I get to my finished pieces.
Another aspect my tutor mentioned was to explain my thinking a little more.
Which sections of your work do you want to explore in more detail, and how might you do that?
I really want to explore this idea of the internet and time spent and now bring in place too. The internet is a place that perhaps doesn’t meet the conventional understanding of place, but we all curate our own little corners of the web. There isn’t a physical space but a digital space. How can I explore this?
What elements of your work start to reflect something about the place you chose to work in, and how might you build on that?
My work was based around my desk and where I work. How it is all digital and not something with a physical presence. Is this still a place?
Place is difficult to define. I decided to create a mind map with all the ideas I think about when I consider the word place. Place is home, it is linked to people and culture but there is also a sense of movement about it. Place never remains still. Just like time. There is constant change, boundaries change, people and things move in the place, time changes places like the seasons, climate, there is growth and shrinking.
I don’t think I am any clearer about what place is. Can we even define it?
Oath of the Horatii is a neoclassical oil painting by Jacques-Loui David (1784). It is currently on display in the Louvre, Paris. It is an example of the history genre which was considered to be at the top of the hierarchy of genres.
History paintings are a form of narrative or ‘istoria’ that go back as far as the Renaissance. Acts of human virtue and intellect by moral heroes, including those in Christian stories (the dominant religion in Europe), were placed at the top of what would become the hierarchy of genres. History paintings were usually large-scale works depicting a subject based on classical history, literature or mythology from ancient Greece and Rome, a scene from the Bible, or real historical events.
History paintings were ideally suited to public spaces and large canvases. The scenes depicted were usually heroic or noble, the aim of these works being to elevate viewers’ morals. It was important that they provided the opportunity to depict the human figure – often nude or partially nude – since this subject was believed to require the greatest artistic skill. From the fifteenth until the nineteenth century, these enactments of human virtue were placed at the top of what would become the hierarchy of genres, and as a result, many artists aspired to be history painters.
The Renaissance values had a hierarchy on what they considered to be the “best” types of art. ‘History’ painting was considered to be the grande genre because, unlike the lower-ranked genres, it provided the artist with the opportunity to demonstrate (and the viewer to experience) moral force and imagination.
David’s Oath of the Horatii
Materials and techniques
Oil painting on canvas.
Monumental scale – each figure is life-size.
Required great skill, especially to depict the human body with anatomical accuracy.
Disguised brushwork (difficult to tell from a reproduction).
David’s technique was time-consuming and challenging. He had a palette of only six pigments – black, white, vermilion (red), Prussian blue, yellow ochre and burnt umber/sienna. He applied his paint meticulously with small brushes, so no strokes are visible on the finished work. This highly finished technique is typical of the Neoclassical style, which in turn is highly appropriate for the ancient Roman subject. The figures look like painted sculptures.
A form of narrative painting known as history painting.
History painting is top of the hierarchy of subject matter known as genres.
Based on classical history from ancient pagan Rome.
Focus on noble male heroes and acts of virtue, both moral and intellectual.
Inspired by the writing of Livy (59 BCE–17 CE) which was designed to establish the Emperor Augustus’ validity after the fall of the republic.
Also inspired by French dramatist Corneille’s play Horace of 1640 which David saw performed.
The three Horatii brothers are preparing to do battle with three brothers from the Curiatii family in Alba to settle the dispute between their cities. The scene depicts them swearing on their swords, held aloft by their father, to defend the city of Rome to the death.
Scene of stoic bravery and masculinity.
The apparent subject matter is Roman heroism, the real content is a comment on the French state.
Formal elements of style
David wanted a serious, academic style.
Geometric precise composition organised around groups of three – three arches, three figure groups, three brothers, three women, three swords.
Linear perspective (emphaised by chequerboard floor) to suggest an accurate illusion of three-dimensional space (a mathematical system).
Strong outline to each figure.
Single light source from left (which casts long strong shadows on the ground showing it is early morning).
Figures look solid and three-dimensional.
Figures show mass and volume and look sculptural. The muscularity of the men is heightened by the angle at which the light (which enters from upper left) rakes across the surface of their bodies, sharply delineating mass and volume.
Highlights and shadows – chiaroscuro.
Influenced by ancient classical sculpture – the plain classical Doric order of architecture (considered ‘masculine’).
The Human Form
The depiction of the human figure lies at the heart of the European art tradition. How the human figure is represented is a key to understanding any style.
The classical ideal of head : body ratio, as used for the Horatii, is 1:7.
The active heroic salute of the Horatii brothers; the limp arms of the women.
The Horatii stand strong and upright and take up space; the women are seated, in contained poses.
The stern, serious Horatii actively looking towards their father are based on the classical ideal of male beauty.
When I compare these to the first session I attended, I am happier with them. They feel freer and more in proportion than my first attempt. I feel like I have captured the atmosphere of the pose well, with the model in some tricky poses. I want to develop my work on faces, feet, hands and overall tone control.
I have been questioning this more recently as I start to explore and create with different media. Is embroidery art? Or is it a craft? What is the difference, if any, between arts and crafts? Someone like Marcel Duchamp certainly challenged the distinction between art and objects!
I brainstormed a list of features that I believe art to have and then put these to the test with two famous pieces:
Originality – it is the result of a unique idea.
Uniqueness – it is a unique object, the only one of its kind.
It is made by an artist (the definition of an artist is also one that can be questioned).
It is not intended to be a functional object.
It is a thing of beauty (as defined by the standards of the period, as opposed to personal taste).
It is thought-provoking.
It is imaginative.
It is emotionally expressive.
It has been made using ‘fine art’ materials and techniques.
It is shown in a gallery or museum as ‘art’ and is recognised by professionals in the field of art.
Leonardo da Vinci – Mona Lisa (1503)
Originality – Leonardo’s portrait introduced the original concept of ‘psychological portraiture’, suggesting the sitter’s inner thoughts and feelings rather than simply focusing on the external physical likeness. Uniqueness – There is one unique Mona Lisa in the Louvre in Paris and it would be difficult to reproduce. Artist – Leonardo was an apprentice artist in a workshop. Non-functional – Leonardo’s was a commissioned portrait. Leonardo’s patron never received his work. Leonardo kept it with him his whole life, possibly because he realised its significance – or perhaps because it did not match the patron’s requirements. Beauty – Leonardo’s sitter met the fashionable contemporary standards of beauty – her high shaved forehead, for example. His painting of her was a little too radical for the aesthetic standards of the time, however, as it rejected colour in favour of tone, and it took a while for the painting to be appreciated by the patron classes. Thought-provoking – Mona Lisa is so thought-provoking that new interpretations and revelations continue to this day. Imaginative – Leonardo’s imagination developed a new format for portraiture – three-quarter view, half-length, seated with hands – as well as new painting techniques (sfumato and aerial perspective) in order to find a visual language for his new ideas on portraiture. Emotionally expressive – Mona Lisa’s famously enigmatic smile continues to intrigue. Fine art materials – Mona Lisa is now regarded as a traditional oil painting though Leonardo used relatively new techniques for Florentines at the time. Shown as art – Mona Lisa is still in the Louvre.
Tracey Emin – My Bed (1998)
Originality – Emin had the original idea of using a still-life installation as a self-portrait. Uniqueness – There is one unique My Bed installation (though it has to be recreated each time it is exhibited, and certain items will need replacing with time). It would be much easier to replicate My Bed in theory. Artist – Tracey Emin is an art college-trained artist. Leonardo’s was a commissioned portrait. Non-functional – Emin’s bed was constructed as art to be exhibited rather than to be slept in, and was initially bought by Charles Saatchi. Beauty – Emin’s work is not usually described as beautiful. Thought-provoking – My Bed caused a national scandal in the popular press over the question ‘What is art? Imaginative – Emin found a new visual language to comment on what it meant to be a young woman during the late 1990s in Britain. Emotionally expressive – Emin’s bed is aimed directly at all our senses and makes an immediate emotional impact. Fine art materials – Emin’s work is a carefully constructed assemblage of ready-made items to form an installation. Such techniques originated before the First World War and were well established within gallery spaces by the 1970s. Shown as art –My Bed has been on display in Tate.
I do believe to fully appreciate a work of art, we need to know its place in history to gain an understanding of its cultural specificity and meaning. Today we tend to accept the institutional definition of art – that anything which is shown in a gallery as art is art which links back to what Grayson Perry says in his bookPlating to the Gallery. It also brings into question works like Land Art that are never on display in galleries.
Nationality: English Born: 1965 Major Works: Disappearance at Sea (1996).Mosquito (1997), Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty (1998), Sound Mirrors (1999), The Green Ray (2001), Kodak (2006), FILM (2011) Years Active: 1992-present Medium: 16-mm film, drawing Style: Films that resemble drawings, no narration or score, no fancy lighting “I like things to happen within the frame”.
Tacita Dean is someone I have been aware of, mainly due to the film The Green Ray which I looked into back in Project One and also from her book Place (Dean and Millar, 2005) but before this project, I would definitely rate my knowledge as sparse.
Expansive is a word that springs to mind when I began to research her work. This one entry can never do justice to the scope and breadth of her work, so I am going to focus on what I see as some common themes that run through her work and particular pieces that caught my eye. I also want to focus on any inspiration I can take for my own creative journey.
As detailed on the padlet research board, I have looked at a variety of Dean’s work, although I feel I still have only scraped the surface. There seem to be some common themes that run through them which I would like to reflect on.
One thing that is clear from pieces like Mosquito (Magnetic) (Dean, 1997), Kodak (Dean, 2006) is a determination to keep older means of producing art and video alive such as 16 mm film. There is a nostalgia for the past and the way we used to create and a focus on keeping these industries alive. Dean herself says:
“There’s something in the emotional language, the emulsion, and the movement and the breathing that makes film a very alive medium, whereas digital projection is inert.”
Dean writes in an article for The Guardian (Dean, 2011) about her wish for celluloid film to maintain its presence in art and video and her sadness at the last 16mm lab in England closing. She talks of her process of creating films using 16 mm as being “intrinsically bound up in the solitary hours of watching, spooling and splicing” and how there is a “magical transformation” with analogue techniques that digital can’t replicate.
This has made me stop and think about the importance of the method used to create as being equal in stature to the end result. Modernity seems to continually look for shortcuts, we now have apps such as canva that turn everyone into a graphic artist with ready-made templates and images to snap in place. Is this art? Or in taking all these shortcuts are we losing true creativity and is everything becoming a cookie-cutter replica of each other. There is something about a hands-on, slow and arduous process that reflects in the final piece. Would Dean’s work like The Green Ray (Dean, 2001) have the same impression if it was filmed and edited digitally?
I think people are starting to appreciate times gone by and the processes we used to have. Recently there are movements such as “Slow Food” which has a focus on slow, traditional methods over mass production. There is a sense of loss when old industries die out and artists like Dean are highlighting this with the use of materials such as 16 mm film.
It brings me to think again of Katie Paterson’s Future Library and how the world will look in one hundred years. By reflecting on the past, we jump to thoughts about the future. That is what thinking about Time does, it seems difficult to only think in one direction.
Another common theme I see is this technique that has been described as “drawing with film”. This in some ways seems to contradict the idea of keeping to the old ways. In bringing film into the idea of drawing, are we losing traditional drawing techniques? This idea is explored to some extent in Ed Krcma’ Tate paper (Krcma, 2010) who suggests that drawing is more aligned with analogue technologies like film. Interestingly in this paper a comparison to William Kentridge’s work is made which is a link I han’ tmade previously but I think it is a very valid one as both do use film and drawing together to create something very new.
One piece by Dean I was immediately drawn to was Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty (Dean, 1998). The Spiral Jetty is still something I keep coming back to for inspiration and so my interested was certainly stimulated when I found out that Dean shares a similar fascination. Trying to Find the Spiral Jetty is a sound piece that Dean recorded when travelling to the United States to visit the Jetty. She didn’t find the Jetty but recorded her experience, analoguely of course.
Building on this sound recording, Tacita Dean made contact with JG Ballard who was also a great admirer of Smithson and they exchanged a series of letters over a period of time. This lead to the making of the film JG (Dean, 2014) hich features images of the salt lakes intertwined with Smithson’s Jetty and Ballards short stories. Tacita Dean said of the project:
“Both works have an analog heart, not just because they were made or written when spooling and reeling were the means to record and transmit images and sound, but because their spiraling is analogous to time itself.”
In order to mix the landscape and time in the same frame, Tacita Dean used a technique that “used various purpose made masks of different shapes to mask the gate aperture rendering an effect of stenciling, layering the filmed images” (Galerie Marie Goodman, 2014).
I think of Dean using Smithson and Ballard’s work as a basis in a similar way to the Ekphrastic poems. Creating something using a very different discipline based on an earlier piece of work. This has given me a lot of ideas and inspiration about how I may keep Smithson’s work at the basis of something I could create.
Inspiration and Ideas
When I first cames across Tacita Dean in the introductory lecture with her Green Ray film, it wasn’t one of the works I was initially drawn to and I didn’t look too much into it at the time. However, now having spent some more time exploring her work it has given me a lot of ideas and inspiration for how I could develop my own work.
One approach I want to experiment with in the next few days is using film as a drawing technique. I sadly don’t currently have access to analogue filming equipment to fully appreciate this style but am hoping I can create something digitally.
In the future, I want to experiment with analogue photography and filming. I remember the anticipation as a child taking photos where you had to wait and see what returned from the developers and you didn’t have the chance to take 100s of versions of the same shot to get a good digital photo. I will see if I can get hold of a camera to allow to do this.
Looking at Tacita Dean’s work has also renewed my interest in the Spiral Jetty and land art. Perhaps there is a way I can combine “cinematic drawing” with taking photos of spirals in the local environment.
This was my first attempt at drawing a life model in person, it is not something I have experienced before and it taught me a great deal.
Each pose was only held for 10-minutes and so I had to adapt to quickly observing and drawing what I saw rather than taking the time to make detailed observations. It allowed me to focus on quickly observing shapes, tone and positions without being too concerned about generating a refined drawing at the end.