‘ALERT TONES’ – Thoughts on the way in which we use sound and sight to navigate the physical world, a reflection on artists and theorists influencing my practice and analysis of recent work shown in ‘IRIS TURNS’ an emerging artists group show at the Barge house, OXO Tower, London.


Reflecting on the failure of the work I presented in ‘TARMAC’ I decided to focus my attention on my sound work as it had been the most successful element in my previous works ‘WE FEEL’ and ‘MEMELTSCREN.mov’. Over the past year I have developed a new appreciation and understanding of the powerful influences of sound on affecting experience and space. This encompasses everything from the emotions evoked from the roaring sea, to the effect of pop music being played in the shopping centre.

This contrasted my recent observation of how dominant our sense of sight is in our collective perception of the world. In particular I find this currently problematic because of the proliferation of personal images shared on the Internet. Social media outlets such as Instagram and snapchat encourage users to crop and filter their lives into attractive advertisements of the self. The deception of the lens is a theoretical discourse that has been discussed from thinkers such as Roland Barthes to artists such as John Hilliard since the birth of the commercial camera. Although these discussions have traditionally focused on images used in film and journalism, I believe that they are now more relevant than ever, as every smart phone user has the ability to create untrustworthy presentations of the world and human experience.

John Hilliard – ‘Cause of Death’ (1970)

Sight allows us to see what is immediately in front of us. If we stand on a precipice, we will see for miles in the direction our body faces. If we stand inside a cave we will be able to closely inspect any part of the cave wall in as much detail as our eyes can account for. Looking is a constant act of choice; by choosing to look in one direction, or at one section of cave wall, we are immediately choosing not to look at all other directions or all other sections of cave wall. In this sense our access to visual information is limited by the position of our bodies and the physical environment that surrounds us. This is the best example I can relay here to describe the limitations of sight that are not possessed by sound.

Standing on the precipice, or inside the cave, one will have access to audio information that is not limited to the bodies’ position or the physical environment. We are able to hear sounds that are happening all around us, whether our eyes are closed or we are facing the opposite direction to the sounds source. This allows us access to information that extends beyond the physical limitations of our bodies and the space they inhabit. Sat in my bedroom with the curtains closed I can hear birdsong, then the siren of an ambulance. Through sound I have access to information about the wider world outside, whilst being physically inside. Sight only gives us access to the immediate environment and is very much dependant on the physical position of the human seer, sound on the other hand is dependant on its physical range and frequency. The difference here is that as sensory beings we do not possess the natural ability to choose not to hear sounds in the same way we can choose not to see. The artificial exception to this rule is headphones.

This new understanding of the neglected importance of sound dramatically effected my relationship with music. I realised that by wearing headphones whilst walking through the park or in the street, I was cutting myself off from audio information that is crucial for navigating the natural and urban landscape. Headphones allowed me to ignore a vast part of physical reality, to shut my ears to the local environment, obliterating my relationship to the rhythms of the world, whether organic or artificial.

The first problem with portable music devices and sound cancelling headphones is that it prevents us from being present. Sound and sight go together to create a narrative; I am walking down a path, I can see trees, I can hear bird song, I am in the park. As I have discussed, sound is not limited in the same way that sight is, so by limiting our sense of sound we dramatically reduce our understanding of our surrounding environment.

The second problem is that we exchange this valuable information about our environment for music that has the ability to radicalise our experience. I find this to be a side effect of cinemas alluring depiction of reality. This new ability to walk around plugged into our own soundtracks completely unrelated to our surroundings ultimately effects our perception of reality and therefore our behaviour. What is most concerning about this is that due to the popularity of headphones and portable music devices, a large percentage of people inhabiting the same physical location are able to have very different experiences of the exact same time and place. This creates an emotional social divide and thus makes it more difficult for people to interact with one another. Just like the structure of cinema and the Internet, this cultural phenomenon forces us to focus on the narrative of the individual experience rather than on the collective, polarising our common social and political abilities.

Ultimately, this preference of the virtual cinematic experience over the ‘organic’ experience gestures toward a much larger issue that has possessed humanity since the first agricultural revolution in 10,000 BC. Since this technological revolution, humans have manipulated natural resources for their own benefits, effecting global ecology. This dominance over the natural environment has had profound effects on the way that we think about the non-human environment; we see fauna and flora as natural resources that exist only to serve us. Today, many millennia later, human arrogance and self obsession can be seen in the abundance of cities, portable music devices, noise cancelling headphones and digital screens. We have slowly but surely cancelled out the natural landscape, replacing it with human invention and imagination. We live in a human-only world built on a practice of decision-making that benefits human kind only.

In his book ‘Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind’ (2011) Yuval Noah Harari describes how this dynamic between man and nature has accelerated dramatically in the past 200 years; “The Industrial revolution opened up new ways to convert energy and to produce goods, largely liberating humankind from its dependence on the surrounding ecosystem…As the world was moulded to fit the needs of Homo sapiens, habitats were destroyed and species went extinct. Our once green and blue planet is becoming a concrete and plastic shopping centre.” I must reflect here that Harari’s text has been greatly valuable to my practice in terms of thinking about the relationship between history and biology in specific subjects such as the economy, gender and agriculture.

This removal from the organic world of which we originated creates a self-fulfilling cycle of destruction. Once we developed a cognitively superior perception of our neighbours, in this case; the tree, the deer, the rock, our respect for these entities diminished. This then allowed us to exploit these entities for our own needs, thus reinforcing our biological superiority. Our lack of respect for other species and biota has resulted in our disinterest in them. We can no longer hear the birds over the roar of the car engine or the sound-cancelling headphone, so we will not notice if…when they disappear. Our cognitive superiority has blinded us to our moral ecological responsibilities and we have drowned out the rest of the natural world. The effects of a diminishing ecosystem will not be felt by us until it is too late.

During the development of these thoughts I came to admire the work and ideas of Bernie Krause. In his TED talk ‘The voice of the natural world’ (2013) Krause talks about the importance of studying soundscapes to ‘evaluate the health of a habitat across the entire spectrum of life.’ He demonstrates this with the example of Lincoln Meadow in the US where the process of selective logging (removing trees sporadically rather than in one selected area) was implemented under the assurance that it would not have any environmental impact. Krause recorded multiple dawn choruses before and after the selective logging. Although there is little visual difference between the Lincoln Meadow before and after the logging process, the decline of birdsong is drastic. This demonstrates the valuable information that we miss out on when trusting so dependently on our sense of sight.

Another example Krause uses is how Mono Lake’s Great Basin Spadefoot Toad was affected by the flight path of US navy jet pilots which drowned out and disoriented its chorus. This is a literal and very poignant example of how human progress and arrogance has the ability to drown out the natural world. So long as it is benefiting us, any negative effect of our actions on any other specie is unlikely to affect our behaviour. Krause has also put together a selection of his ambient recordings under the title; ‘The Great Animal Orchestra’ which combines Krause’s intimate field recordings with a human orchestra. This is a beautiful and important project that poignantly places man back into the Animal Kingdom rather than above it.

Pinar Yoldas’ work ‘The Very Loud Chamber Orchestra of Endangered Species’ (2013) is very closely related to the practice and ecological ideas of Krause. In this work Yoldas uses recordings of endangered species to create a rare orchestra that is conducted by input from environmental datasets. The installation of this work presents skulls of each endangered animal, and when the animals cry is triggered by the input of live data, its jaws artificially open and close in the rhythm of mechanisation. This collaboration between data and biology creates a profound emotional experience that confronts the audience with the urgency of human’s continuous ecological impact. Yoldas describes herself as a ‘Post-humanist’, which since has become a line of theory and philosophy that I am often finding my own thoughts align to.

The very loud chamber orchestra of endangered species _ abridged documentation of CO2ncert may 15-17 2013 from pinar yoldas on Vimeo.

In ‘The Great Silence’ (2012) Allora and Calzadilla utilize the techniques of documentary storytelling to reflect on our prioritisation of technological progress over the welfare of other species. The multi-projection installation combines footage and soundscapes of the critically endangered Amozona Vittata Parrott with imagery of Arecibo, the world’s largest radio telescope. Using a script written, by science-fiction author Ted Chiang, from the perspective of a parrot, the film unfolds the alternative narrative of human progress. This script poetically highlights the absurdity of humans fascination with finding intelligent life in outer space whilst destroying the habitats of and ignoring the potential of species we have co existed with for millennia. The dramatic irony that inhabits the centre of the piece is the fact that the Amozona Vittata Parrott and the Arecibo telescope both reside in Puerto Rico. Both the subject matter and style of this work is something that I greatly admire. This documentary style method of making art, which deals with particular narratives in order to talk about much wider global issues is far more effective, in my opinion, than the more commonly used abstract approach. Not only does this work respect the perspective of non-human experience but it also echoes my own belief that man’s interaction with advanced technology is a spiritual and sacred experience that goes beyond scientific understanding or classification;

“According to Hindu mythology, the universe was created with a sound: “Om.” It’s a syllable that contains within it everything that ever was and everything that will be.

When the Arecibo telescope is pointed at the space between the starts, it hears a faint hum. Astronomers call that the “cosmic microwave background.” It’s the residual radiation of the Big Bang, the explosion that created the universe fourteen billion years ago.

But you can also think of it as a barely audible reverberation of that original “Om.” That syllable was so resonant that the night sky will keep vibrating for as long as the universe exists.

When Arecibo is not listening to anything else, it hears the voice of creation.”

I came across this work at the Wellcome Collections current show ‘Making Nature’ which has been detrimental to my recent modes of thinking due to its display of other artworks and artefacts that deal with this subject matter in a similar style.

Allora & Calzadilla (in collaboration with Ted Chiang), The Great Silence from Artribune Tv on Vimeo.

Evan Roth’s recent video work ‘Total Internal Reflection’ (2015) follows the same mode of thinking about the development of digital technologies as sacred and spiritual. In this this work Roth combines the deceptive invisibility of the Internet with sounds and visions that are beyond the human spectrum and locates them in the physical landscape. This video work depicts snapshots from Roth’s global mission tracing the physical locations of fiber optic cable landing sites. Alongside this, Roth has utilised techniques used by so-called ‘ghost hunters’ to collect infa-red footage and radio frequencies that cannot ordinarily be detected by the human spectrums of sight and sound. Not only does this reflect my interest in physicalizing the Internet, but Roth also uses technology in a quasi-spiritual manner to highlight the breadth of audio/visual information that humans as a species do not have access to. This collection of audio-visual material is combined to produce a work that is both visually alluring audibly repellent.

Despite what I previously said about the realisation of sounds impact on space and experience to my relationship with music, there have been several musicians that have also been integral to the developments of this understanding. In particular the works of Brain Eno, William Basinkski and Steve Reich have enriched my understanding of the possibilities of sound as an artistic medium. Through Eno’s work I have realised composed music’s ability to open up and reveal moments, as opposed to the way in which I believe lyric heavy pop music conceals and masks real time and moments. I believe there is a time and a place for rock music, where it can harvest unbelievable emotional and political power. But I personally feel that this power is exploited and lessened when it is removed from its historical context and location and listened to in privacy, on headphones or in the car, it becomes a commodity. The power of ambient music on the other hand, lies in moments of solitude where it has the ability to amplify the transience of time and space.

Through both Reich and Basinkski’s works I have been exposed to the discourse of process music and musical minimalism. Manipulation through controlled encouragements of chance has always been a strong element of my work making process. This was encouraged several years ago when I can across the print work of John Cage. It seems that Reich in particular has also been heavily influenced by the same line of thinking. Both Reich and Basinkski have used the material limits of sound equipment to create melancholic works that reflect on the technological capabilities of man. In particular here I am referring to Basinkski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ (1982) and Reich’s ‘Pendulum Music’ (1968).

This exploitation of sound technologies limitations was also used by Alvin Lucier in the work ‘I Am Sitting in a Room’ (1981) which has recently come to my attention. This work traces the disintegration of the human voice that occurs when it is captured using recording devices. Lucier re-records this recording of his voice multiple times in the same location causing the technological qualities of the recording device to combine with the resonant frequencies of the room, creating a soundscape of unrecognisable, free flowing organic noise. This work reflects the ideas around language that I was working on in earlier works after reading the David Abram’s ‘Spell of the Sensuous’ as I believe that this work also focuses on the limitations of languages and Lucier uses these flawed technologies to liberate speech back into sound. This work also reflects what I was attempting to do in ‘MEMELTSCREN.mov’ with the translation of organic matter into artificial man made structures. Here Lucier proves this to be a self fulfilling cycle – when these recording technologies are used in accelerated manner, manipulating their intended use, the unpredictable output reflects an organic sensibility.

‘ALERT TONES’ originated with the idea of creating a soundscape out of smartphone ringtones that could be mistaken for the soundscape of a rainforest. I felt this was vital to demonstrate my reflection on how we have drowned out the rest of the natural world with our own self-obsessions. In this sense I wanted to make a comparison between the calls of animals to the replacement call of humanity, a noise that is identified by artificial sounds radiate from electronic devices. The deception of digital sounds as natural phenomena was something I have been interested after hearing multiple stories of people confusing bird-song alarm tones for actual birdsong outside. The part of these stories that I find so compelling is that at some point the person deceives reflects; ‘what beautiful birdsong!’ only to find that it is a pre recording of a healthy sounding bird community. This highlights the lack of such bird communities in areas where smart phone users generally reside.

After seeing Laure Prouvost’s work ‘Hard Drive’ at the British Art show 8 (which I wrote about previously, here)  I was keen to experiment with this use of interactive synchronisation with disparate electronic elements. My initial idea was that the viewer would enter a dark space, on their arrival a motion sensor would trigger the start of my composition. I knew from the beginning that I wanted the composition to begin quietly and slowly build up. At the pinnacle of tension in the composition I wanted the faux animal noises to cease at the same time a bright light flooded the space, revealing to the audience that the space they have been inhabiting is in fact a greenhouse. As the audience became accustomed to their surreal surroundings I wanted the voice of Siri to speak, slurringly and incomprehensibly. This shift in the soundscape was meant to create a sense of technological malfunction reminiscent of the scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey when Dave unplugs Hal. Ultimately, I wanted this moment to be physically and emotionally revealing, just like the power of ambient music.

Due to many technological difficulties this idea could not be executed to quite this standard. Fortunately, the sound work was very close to my original idea but the physicality of the lights and greenhouse had to be abandoned. My first test of this work used a projector to light up a wall with white light when the composition shifted. This was effective in that it transformed the room radically, but the rigid rectangle of the projection was a problem along with the impossibility of hiding the projector itself.

For the presentation of this work at the Bargehouse show ‘IRIS TURNS’ I swapped the modern projector for a CRT monitor. I originally intended to have this facing the wall so the wall was lit up ambiguously in the shifting moment but during the set up I found it much more effective to have the monitor facing the audience. This monitor was not as bright as the power of the projector, but I believe that it lit up the room with a more sinister light. I also feel that the use of this out-dated tech was more appropriate for the context of the work as it develops what I attempted to do with the digital photo frames in the work ‘UPDATE/OUTDATE’. Alongside the clear ecological focus demonstrated by the manipulation of digital sound into animal calls, I feel that the disintegration of the screen in the second half of the piece demonstrates my ideas about our wasteful relationship to digital technologies.

To attempt reclaim the atmosphere I wanted to create with the implication of the greenhouse, I used black PVC strips to black out the space and separate it from other works in the exhibit. I felt it important to use this material as it has connotations with many human-animal environments such as the butterfly house and the butchers. An unexpected addition to the piece was small green and red lights that flickered in time with the composition from PA system that the audio played through. I felt that this was a subtle visual supplement to the piece that was welcomed in this space that aimed to reflect on technologies ability to be poetic.

I feel that the most successful element of this work was the sound itself. At first I attempted to create the sounds by rerecording one ringtone at a time, until it became unrecognisable, much like Lucier’s process. This did not create the deceptive soundscape that I desired so I experimented with manipulating the audio digitally. Firstly I tried reversing and slowing the audio, then playing the same audio still reversed but slightly faster. I repeated this process until the audio was playing at normal speed. This experiment still did not have the desired affect. Finally I collected many more alert, alarm and ring tones from multiple different mobile phones. Instead of listening to the sound and then deciding if I would use it or not I reversed and slowed all of the ringtones, using these sounds to create my faux natural soundscape. During the composition the soundscape gradually transforms from rainforest environment to unforgiving digital racket. A sound byte of Siri then interrupts the eventual silence, admitting; ‘I’m not sure I understand’. I layered this audio to create a second build up in the composition that then gives way to a slow droning noise and the sound of a chime. This technique of non-musical audio sampling to create ambient music can be seen reflected in the works of Reich such as his piece ‘It’s Gonna Rain’ alongside many other examples often seen in popular music.

When listening to the variation of ring, alarm and alert tones all reversed and slowed down there were many ambient tracks that arose without any manipulation on my behalf. I selected and cropped these minimal tracks, which often were not appropriate to use in the ‘ALERT TONES’ composition and uploaded them to soundcloud as the start of a new project. I hope I will collect more such tracks that I have unintentionally come across, as I feel these ‘songs’ reflect the process and work of musicians such as Baskinski.

Ultimately, I am satisfied with the presentation of my ideas and with the eventual presentation of this work. I do believe though that this works power lies in the knowledge that the soundscape is composed entirely from ringtones and alert tones from mobile devices, and it was difficult to present this information clearly to viewers. The inclusion of Siri may have indicated this slightly but I feel that it needs to be much more specific for the implications of the work to be truly realised by its audience. I also believe that it is a great shame that my more ambitious plans for the work, including floodlighting and a greenhouse, were not possible but I hope that these elements may come into play more sophisticated roles in my degree show work.

In terms of the success of the work at ‘IRIS TURNS’, it was interesting to find that a few minutes walk away from the Barge house, at the Tate the work ‘South Tank’ by Wolfgang Tillmans was being shown. This artwork presented an immersive experience in which the audience walk into a space dotted with very ordinary chairs that sprawl across the space. It is not clear for a long time what the audience is being exposed to. The installation shifts from lightshows in time to bombastic music, to the grumbling of field recordings. The installation stays mainly dark throughout the 90 minute duration of the piece, with the occasional use of projectors to display an array of seemingly disconnected imagery.

Wolfgang Tillmans installation ‘South Tank’ (2017)

The current work of Philippe Parreno being shown in the Turbine Hall; ‘Anywhen’ I also feel reflects my current interests. The installation of Parreno’s work is physically kinetic, with speakers, lights and screens all mechanically setting into motion at the dictation of information triggered by micro-organisms. Not only do I find this ambition awe-inspiring but Parreno also utilises an array of soundscapes to challenge the audience’s perception of time and space. The provision of blankets encourages visitors to lie on the floor, physically stopping all other distractions that the gallery environment might initiate. On the other side of the Turbine Hall huge speakers have been installed. These speakers sporadically play the sound of rain, a large carpeted space is provided for visitors to sit and listen to this sedative soundscape, which drastically transforms the commonly hectic environments found in central London.

The unnerving atmosphere caused by the constant and unexpected shift of audio and lights in both of these works, along with the manipulation of soundscapes, is something that I had tried to attempt with ‘ALERT TONES’. The fact that the timing of these exhibits at the Tate coincided with my own work being shown in London has given me a boost of confidence in terms of the mediums I am approaching to demonstrate my ideas.

Artists currently influencing my practice

Since showing my work at ‘No Ordinary Disruption’ last month I have been working on ways to fully resolve how ‘POLITICALLY EMOTIONAL/EMOTIONALLY POLITICAL’ is presented to an audience, as I felt as though the presentation at this show was ineffective. To help me realise this I have been looking at established artists who have presented text works in the past, these include; Lawrence Weiner, Jenny Holzer, Trevor Paglen and then artists who have taken a very different approach to presenting similar ideas such as William Basinski, Emma Critchley and Ray Lee.

Lawrence Weiner: ‘Iron & Gold in the Air Dust & Smoke on the Ground’ (1995)

I was sent this picture of ‘Iron & Gold in the Air Dust & Smoke on the Ground’ (1995) by a friend visiting Antwerp, not only was I struck by the poetic resonance and simplicity of the words but also by their freedom from a gallery space. After some research I found out this was the work of Lawrence Weiner, often dubbed ‘The Father’ of Conceptual art. I have taken many things away from my readings about Lawrence and his work, in particular my faith in writings constructed ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS, and confidence in leaving a work just as simple text without any embellishments. I also admire Weiner’s process of rejecting commodification through the form of his work and the way in which he constructs work so that their impact continues outside the gallery or viewing space; “You are required to accept the logic in order to use the work and once you’ve accepted that logic it carries over into the rest of life.” [1] Finally, two other quotes that have helped validate my confidence with the content of my writing as previously I had thought that perhaps they would be perceived as quite naïve; “I spent a lot of my youth deciding whether I was going to try to change the culture as a whole, or whether I was going to continue to try and change each individual horrendous thing that was going on in the world.” [1] And; “Art, I think, always comes from an anger with the specific configuration that’s presented to you. It’s not terribly intellectual.”[1]

[no title] 1979-82 by Jenny Holzer born 1950
Jenny Holzer: [no title] from Inflammatory Essays (1979-82)
I have also been looking Jenny Holzer’s work, specifically her series of ‘Inflammatory essays’ which she posted around Manhattan between 1979-82, a new one each week on a different piece of coloured paper. Holzer dotted these around the city in places where she hoped a diverse audience would get the chance to read them; “From the beginning, my work has been designed to be stumbled across in the course of a person’s daily life. I think it has most impact when someone is just walking along, not thinking about anything in particular, and then finds these unusual statements either on a poster or in a sign.” [2]  This is a sentiment that is central to my own beliefs about how my own writing should be interacted with by the viewer. Holzer’s writing style, content and use of language, other than being much more sophisticated, is really quite similar to my own ramblings. This raises the question; what is the point of me making the work I feel like making if it has already been made? This is a question I do not yet have an answer to, but I shall continue to draw on my visual and contextual similarities to Holzer, as along with the ‘Inflammatory Essay’s’ series I have also drawn inspiration from looking at the projections of her writing that are well documented on her website.

Jenny Holzer: Projections – Washington (2004)

One thing that does concern me about both Weiner and Holzers’ work is how much they may be affected, in terms of honesty and impact, when the writings are commissioned or shown in a gallery. As both artists works quite clearly echo the function of street graffiti yet have developed in a way that carries more authority due to their scale and presentation. I feel sure that once writings like this are commissioned or backed, they are no longer a rebellion against the state and especially when they are displayed in a gallery I feel that they loose any genuine dialogue with the global environment, instead the text feels as though it has been validated by what it is against, rendering it useless. For example, I felt a much more urgency of expression and passing information in this text I spotted scrawled in spray paint onto the The Royal Court of Justice (October 2016):

The Royal Court of Justice Graffiti October 2016: ‘they are sharks they pay judges circle of lies, they are fabricating evidence’ 

Possibly I should keep this as a reminder to avoid letting any of my writings and their presentation become ‘institutionalised’.

Trevor Paglen also uses projections to display text in his work ‘Code Names of the Surveillance State’ (2014). I have so far found four examples of how this work has been displayed previously. In his 2015 exhibition at Metro Picures Paglen displayed the work, which consists of a continuous loop of over “4,000 National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquaters (GCHQ) surveillance program code names” [3], on three synched horizontal TV monitors. In his 2014 exhibition at the same gallery Paglen presented the same work in a multi projection installation. Here, the Alphabetised list scrolled endlessly over all 4 of the gallery walls. I have also found an unspecified image of the names directly applied onto the gallery wall but in my opinion the most successful presentation of Paglen’s collection of absurd code names was when he projected them on political buildings around London in 2014. I think the contrast between the hilarity of the names featured on the list and the seriousness of its implications is a perfect balance for a society that regularly communicates world news and politics through Internet meme’s. It is this dry humour that I also think is important to include in my own writing as I feel it gives the text more realism, a kind of comic relief. In a way I quite like viewing this piece of work, in all of its forms, as a form of absurdist found poetry.




For me, the temporality and large scale nature of both Paglen and Holzers’ projections feels better suited to this piece of Paglens’ work as even in its documentation it stands as a powerful piece of evidence and protest. Both projections by Holzer and Paglen use white text with a black background, which is better suited to this idea of shining light on and exposing a subject. Paglens’ other works are usually quite pictorial and could easily be described as tranquil. For example the mystical imagery in his photography works such as “Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean” (2015) stands as a visual metaphor for the unnecessary disruption of serenity. The title of this work also presents the image as a piece of evidence, which it is, rather than an objective artwork. It is these subtler, poetic yet profound works that fuelled my interest in Emma Critchely.

Trevor Paglen: ‘Bahamas Internet Cable System (BICS-1) NSA/GCHQ-Tapped Undersea Cable Atlantic Ocean’ (2015)

Whilst attending a talk by Emma at the beginning of October after installing her work in UCA Farnham’s gallery space Black Box I learnt that she too has been inspired by David Abram’s text ‘The Spell of the Sensuous’. It has since become very important for me to study her work and see how the ideas from Abrams’ text translate into visual art works. One of the clearest links I can see so far is to Emma’s series ‘Figures of Speech series 2’ (2012). Here Emma asked free divers to say a word underwater and then captured the form of the air bubble released from their mouths in front of their faces. For me the air bubble distorting the facial expression of the free diver talks about the decrease in non-verbal communication between all living things. This echoes Abram’s ideas about the importance and faith we place on language to understand people and the natural world, and how this limits us from reading more truthful signals that they/it is sending out. The musical scores that accompany many of Emma’s film works is something that I found affected me in a very physical way, and music is a form that I have been keen to experiment with since seeing the ‘THIS IS A VOICE’ exhibition at the Wellcome collection.

Emma Critchely: 1/3 ‘Figures of Speech series 2’ (2012)

This directly reflects my interest in musicians such as Brian Eno and William Basinski. As always, I really appreciate the way in which music can function outside a gallery space and can affect people in daily life, it carries a purpose and one that can heighten and explore the human senses. It is this ambition and function that I want to be making myself, and the more I listen to the transient rhythm of Basinski’s ‘Disintegration Loops’ series the less I feel that this can be done with the aggressive, feeling sorry for myself, ‘poetry’ that I have been working on.

I have also very recently come across the work of Ray Lee. What excites me about Lee’s work is the way in which he uses installation to bring sound into public spaces and explores the way in which it can transform the way we interact with space. It is this idea of giving an audience a direct experience that I have always been interested in, but I have ever seen it done in such a way that allows viewers to explore the possibilities of their minds and relationship to the world. Although it was presented in a gallery space and not in the public domain, it is Lee’s project ‘Cold Storage’ (2011) and all its sci-fi implications that I am most keen to let infiltrate my own practice and future works. On Lee’s website the experience created is described as so;

“In a room modelled on the regency bedroom from the end of 2001: a space odyssey, the one-on-one audience member is invited to lie down in a cryogenic sleeping pod, a sleek metal casket-like box familiar from any number of sci-fi films (Alien, 2001, Dark Star etc). 
A calm, white clothed technician assists as you climb into the cryogenic tank. The lid is closed on you. Inside it is cold, noticeably cold, freezing. Your hands and face feel the cold.

There is not much room inside. You are lying down on your back. The casket is lit from the inside and you see your reflected image on a mirror above you. You cannot see outside the tank. It is a bit like being in a coffin, or in a medical procedure, or…
There is an uncomfortable sense of nothing happening except that you are beginning to feel the cold penetrate the outer layers of clothing that you wear. You wonder how long this will go on or if you will get too cold for comfort.
Wearing headphones you listen to a calm, authoritative voice explaining what will happen to you. You will be deep frozen and put to sleep for a thousand years. The voice continues to gently talk to you and you are invited to consider the finite nature of our life span and as you do so the light dims inside the tank until you become aware that you can see through the glass window above you.

As you see through the glass and your mirror image fades you can see that above you are an endless sea of stars. You are now in complete darkness, in the cold of the cryogenic tank, looking out into space, as if set adrift, lost in an ocean of nothingness.” [4]

Similar to the experience of a floatation tank that has so informed Emma Critchley’s work, it is this speculation of and separation from everyday life that I would like my work to evoke in viewers, an experience that can take people out of the ordinary and return to it more grounded in the fragility of reality.

Ray Lee: ‘Cold Storage’ (2011)

Although I have received relatively positive feedback on my recent writing I do not feel that shouting horrible things through text is a successful way of creating the emotional experience that I wish too, in fact I think it is more of a therapy for myself rather than for an audience. In the next weeks I plan to experiment and finalise my text works, hopefully using multiple projections in a space as a starting point, but in the future I hope I will find a way for my works to develop into something much more ambitious, subtle and reflective.

[1] http://www.itsnicethat.com/articles/issue-6-lawrence-weiner-interview

[2] http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/holzer-no-title-p77397/text-catalogue-entry



‘LSTV’ and development of work from September – October

As an induction into my Second Year studio unit, in September we were given a project to respond to a piece of Art on display in London, in order to change our way of working whilst expanding our knowledge of artists. I was given Sigmar Polke’s ‘Untitled (Square 2)’, 2003, which is displayed at the Tate Modern in the room ‘Painting after technology’. Although I usually try to avoid looking at traditional methods of painting, within this composition I found an interest in the contrast between fluid and the static because of the layers of different painting technique. The free flowing paint caught under a systematically printed image, and the colour palette of this painting had a great affect on me, I found the metallic and yet dulled hues soothing and complimentary whilst simultaneously dark, generating a sense of mysticism.

Sigmar Polke, Untitled (Square 2) 2003

From my initial research I became interested in the philosophy of Metaphysics, as I found that in its theories it contains questions I have often asked myself. The basic questions of Metaphysics helped me form my first response to Polke’s work as they gave me a basic reason to make art. These questions are: 1. Ultimately what is there? 2. What is it like? To start generating work I tried to answer these questions visually. My initial response consisted of a black and white macro image of moss, enlarged onto 16 A4 pages. Onto this I projected colour footage of the moss and it’s surroundings. In this way I tried to answer the questions like this; 1. What is there? This piece of moss. 2. What is it like? It is green, growing in a wall, there are bushes growing above it etc. This idea of static and movement was clearly inspired by the layers in Polke’s painting, whilst still trying to visualize the merging of reality and then humans perception of reality. The projection onto the image made it difficult for either element can be understood at all but when they were separated they can both be seen clearly. I find this confusion caused by the layering of the objective and subjective over one another to be an interesting idea – is it impossible for human’s to objectively observe the world around us because we are a part of it?

Initial response to Polke and Metaphysics research
Initial response to Polke and Metaphysics research

I then went on to look at the works of Gustav Metzger, Stan Brakhage, Len Lye and Oskar Fishinger. The contrast between the technological and the organic is what drew me towards Metzger’s work, in particular ‘Liquid Crystal Environment’ (1965/2005). The way his work naturally transforms over the duration of it is display is something that I feel is central to my own way of making work. Not only is his work transformative, but also it is politically engaged and deals with the environmental whilst being extremely physical in its presence.

Gustav Metzger, Liquid Crystal Environments, 1965/2005

Research into Stan Brakhage led me to experiment with out of date film, making gifs with a Nishika camera, creating multiple still images into ‘moving moments’ of distorted colour. I also experimented with digitally manipulating photographs damaged by a broken camera, transforming the colours and visibility within the composition.

Stan Brakhage, Film from ‘Mothlight’, 1963
Nishika gif experiemnts with expired film
Nishika gif experiemnts with expired film

Play with colour and animation led me to look at Len Lye’s films. I was instantly immersed in Lye’s use of repetition and bright block colours. This interest then led me to ‘An Optical poem’ by Oskar Fishinger. The circular forms pulsating and transforming took me out of reality for a few minutes, absorbed me into the screen on which I watched it, creating a mental transgression into the bright and infinite technological world.

Photo manipulation from damaged film
Photo manipulation from damaged film

Len Lye, Rainbow Dance [still], 1936
The colour and forms in these animations and the influence of Polke led me to experiments with paintings. I generated these by making multiple backgrounds at once and then creating layers of varying colour palates and textures on top. After all the layers had dried I would attempt to make sense of the free flowing paint with ink drawings on top. From this I found a colour palette that I wanted to work with; Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black. This started off as a visual interest and then transformed into a conceptual process. Using the acrylic versions of the printer inks to talk about tensions between technology and painting.

Paint experiments with colour, composition and texture
Paint experiments with colour, composition and texture

I was then recommended to look into the MoMA’s 2015 exhibition ‘Forever Now’. This introduced me to the term ‘Atemporal’ which describes ‘The strange state of the world where due to the Internet, all times now exist at once.’ This helped me think about the cross overs between the tradition of painting and the immediacy of digital/man made imagery. I then looked at different ways of painting and began experimenting contrasting these highly artificial colours with natural marks. I would use the negative space of a burnt piece of paper as a template, transferring the paint onto the paper with a sponge to create delicate but sharp edged forms. I also experimented with layering paints to recreate the spectrum of colours that create images out of a digital printer.

Experiments with Yellow, Cyan and magenta using burnt paper as stencil
Experiments with Yellow, Cyan and magenta using burnt paper as stencil

This influence in our perception of colour and the spectrum bought me to Olafur Eliasson and his study of colour. From his work I became more interested in installation space and was reminded of my interest of audience’s participation as a key aspect of the work.

Olafur Eliasson, Your uncertain shadow (colour), 2010

To develop my work for the October Crit show I began painting in block colours focusing on the form of the circle as this allowed me to easily create patterns and illusions. Reading Aldous Huxley’s ‘Doors of perception’ was also a great influence in my work at this time, especially where he describes the effect of bright colour on our ‘antipodes’; “Bright pure colours are characteristic of the other world”. Despite this Huxley evaluates only a page later “by it’s amazing capacity to give us too much of the best things, modern technology has tended to devaluate the traditional vision-inducing materials.” I felt a real connection to this analysis of colour in the everyday as I have often thought about why we do not feel the complete awe at colour and composition that our ancestors would have done.

Pattern and form experimentation with circles of block colour.
Pattern and form experimentation with circles of block colour.

Through reflection of this research I decided to make a ergonomically scaled installation that explored painting, colour, technology, the kitsch and human experience of forced perception. This is where ‘LSTV’ was formed. This consisted of an interior and exterior made from Acrylic and pencil on Canvas, black out fabric, Wood, AstroTurf, TV monitor and a Glass mannequin head.

The exterior consisted of a pattern made from the colours Magenta, Cyan, Yellow and Black. This pattern of dot painting had to be strategically planned before it was painted, I first had to plan it digitally on photoshop before I could start physical work. This process echoes that of Michael Williams digital and handmade paintings, whom I found in the ‘Forever Now’ catalogue. I was particularly interested in Williams’ choice of always creating flat imagery because of “the fact that he usually encounters artworks on the Internet or in books, rather than in person.” I wanted to subvert this in my ideas as I wanted to be sure that the viewer was completely present to view my work and in this way it would be impossible to photograph the piece, I felt it was important that the work could only be experienced truly when you are in front of it.

Michael Williams, work from ‘Forever now’ Exhibition at MoMA, 2015
Surface of Canvas painted in Acrylic
Surface of Canvas painted in Acrylic

Again, this work was very physical, the 5×5 meter canvas was much bigger than me so had to be made in stages, using hand drawn grids to guide me to where I should print each individual circle (applied with 10x10cm sponge). These pencil marks on the canvas were not removed once the paint had dried as I felt they became part of the work, these artificial dots sit between man made and mass production and the pencil lines highlighted this tension along with the reality of human error. From afar the canvas still looks as though it may have been mechanically made, but as the viewer gets closer to see the interior of the installation this pretence is abolished.

Canvas detail
Canvas detail

The ideas of over exposure to technology dulling our minds to a point where the ‘other world’ that Huxley references throughout his Mescalin experience is no longer accessible, is where the assemblage formed for the interior of my installation. Here I combined a glass mannequin head, Plastic grass and an old TV monitor stuck on white noise. These objects are all man made but particularly unaesthetic. They are objects whose function is to be the backdrop for other man made aesthetics but when placed all together they create a very bleak assemblage manufactured from evolving technology. This interior installation could only be viewed from one hole cut out of the canvas disguised as one of the painted black circles. This forced the viewer to interact with the piece physically, circling the structure to search for the hole, and then bending down to look through the it. This was followed by a mental interaction in the viewer where the contrast between interior and exterior aimed to transport the viewer to a very different place than the room/time and place that they were viewing my piece in.

Initial experiment with 'technological' assemblage
Initial experiment with ‘technological’ assemblage

In the crit feedback the comments revolved around the effective contrast of the bright and positive exterior and dark and disturbing interior, and how this could symbolize the transformation from childhood to adult hood. The disguise of the hole within the painted canvas also created a real moment of realization within the piece, a realization that there is ‘more’ and that this piece is not static. I was also told that my piece reminded people of advertisement because of the bright colours and positivity of the exterior from far away in comparison to the point where first the hand drawn lines and the imperfections of the circles can be seen, followed by the dark and bleak interior.

I feel that this piece was more successful in its interaction with the audience than ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME’ because of its much larger physical presence. Its height meant that viewers couldn’t see over it, making it obstructive and forcing the viewer to confront it. But I do feel it was also too confusing, there were a lot of things in this piece to try to pick apart, also the disguise of the viewing point made it a secret when the work is meant to be for the viewer, and many did not know that it was there. I am pleased with this idea of transformation that occurs in the work, transporting the viewer from reality to an interior of strangeness using installation and contrast. The change of physical perception is something that I am going to work with again due to the success of this piece, the hole in the canvas allowed me complete control over the physical perception that the viewer had of the piece. Ultimately I want my work to allow moments of realization and moments of change in my audience by giving them a physical space of reflection. I want work to talk about human experience, the fears of death, realizations of something ‘bigger than us’ and other overwhelming moments of realization we face in our lives. These transformative and scary moments can sometimes only be consoled with humour and the absurd, which I feel is also very present in my work. I feel I would be happier about this work if it talked more about the political and environmental and had more influence from the audience. The idea that the audience could physically change outcome of the work was what was more successful about ‘ENJOY ME/DESTROY ME’, it gives the work a sense of immediacy and ephemerality to it, whereas ‘LSTV’ forced the viewers to be more present but did not completely include them.

'LSTV' 2015
‘LSTV’ 2015
'LSTV' 2015
‘LSTV’ 2015
'LSTV' 2015
‘LSTV’ 2015

How does ‘Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)’ examine the commodity of franchised storytelling?

‘Birdman’ or (the unexpected virtue of ignorance) (Iñárritu, 2014) follows ex super hero movie star Riggan Thompson, played by ex-Batman Michael Keaton, through his attempt at repurposing a short story by Raymond Carver for Broadway. Although this brief synopsis sounds relatively simple on paper, the reality of Birdman is anything but. The film employs a range of re appropriations and technical skills throughout its 119-minute duration to wage a battle between contemporary spectacle and art that can be both critical and ignorant, but is always purposeful.

In 1989 Ronald Perelmen, an American investor, and the 69th richest person in the world, bought ‘Marvel Entertainment Group’ after realizing its potential for marketable characters;

“It is a mini-Disney in terms of intellectual property, Disney’s got much more highly recognized characters and softer characters, whereas our characters are termed action heroes. But at Marvel we are now in the business of the creation and marketing of characters.” (Shanken, 1995)

Despite Perelmen’s efforts his vision ended up in bankruptcy in 1996, but due to his spectacular wealth he was able to redeem the company through an array of complex business deals involving bondholders and stock sharers. In 2009 Marvel transformed from mini-Disney into actual Disney when ‘The Walt Disney Company’ purchased ‘Marvel Entertainment’, the parent company of ‘Marvel studios’ along with it’s other subsidiaries, for $4billion. Since 2012 to date (April 2015) Disney has invested a further $930 million into the budget of it’s first 5 Marvel films, creating revenue of 3.7 billion so far, but has further investments planned up to 2028.

The release of ‘Birdman’ coincides with the recent birth of Marvels newest franchisee film concept; ‘The Avengers’ (Whedon, 2012). Here we witness all of Marvels most marketable characters crossing universes in an abundance of films and products that simultaneously advertise both franchise and individual super hero. For example, fans of Iron Man will now go to see an Avenger’s film and leave with not only satisfaction from experiencing the development of their favourite character, but with an interest in newly developed characters such as Captain America.

‘Birdman’s cast reflects this recent history of Blockbuster comic book adaptations. Firstly acknowledging the success of Michael Keaton’s role in both ‘Batman’ (Burton, 1989) and ‘Batman Returns’ (Burton, 1992) as the birth of the comic book franchise into franchised film. Emma Stone who plays Sam Thompson, the daughter of Riggan in Birdman came to celebrity status because of her role in Marvel based ‘The Amazing Spiderman’ franchise films in 2012 and 2014. Sam’s love interest in Birdman is the erratic theatre actor Mike Shiner, played by Edward Norton who is known for his one time super hero role as ‘The Incredible Hulk’ (Leterrier, 2008). This was one of the last Marvel films made before Disney’s purchase of the franchise the following year. Despite being the most recent actor to reboot the Incredible Hulk franchise, the actor Mark Ruffalo was chosen over Norton for the role in the Avengers films. Norton has expressed that this was a “business decision” of Marvels, rather than a creative risk. (NPR, 2014)

Our Introduction to Shiner’s character in ‘Birdman’ mimics this decision making of employing certain actors to play certain characters as a means of advertising the production itself. Riggan uses his ‘magical powers’ to get rid of an actor that he describes as “the worst actor I’ve ever seen” (Riggan, page 7), who is then just as magically replaced by Mike Shiner, known for selling “a shitload of tickets.” (Jake, page 16) when it comes to the theatre. This shows the business arrangement of artistic value, where Shiner’s popularity with the critics helps advertise the play and Shiner can use the play to advertise himself further. This financial benefit for both the play (and therefore everyone else in the play) and Mike Shiner perfectly reflects the arrangement of Marvel and Sony’s shared rights to Spiderman. “Sony needed to breathe life into its “Spider-Man” franchise; by lending its character to Marvel, it has a way to generate more exposure for its bigscreen hero.” (Lang, 2015). This complicated arrangement means that when Spiderman is used in a film produced by Sony it will simultaneously advertise Marvel’s Avengers franchise and when Spiderman is used in an Avengers film, it advertises Sony’s films.

This use of appropriation echoes what Roland Barthes talked of the sign, the signifier and the signified in his book ‘Mythologies’ (1957). Here Mike Shiner (or Spiderman) is employed by Riggan (or Marvel) as a sign of previous success, signifying to potential consumers that his adaptation of Carver (or the Avengers franchise) shall also be a success. Our culture has developed into a hyper commodity that no longer just commodifies the objects that Barthes talks about; “Take a bunch of roses: I use it to signify my passion” (Barthes, 1957:221), but now reduces humans, in particular celebrities, to signs and symbols of western culture with actors on contracts that employ them 3 films at a time. This hyper commodified reality means that characters no longer have any structural relevance to the story line, but are instead employed as signifiers to consumers that generate profitable margins for the companies that created them.Untitled

Throughout ‘Birdman’ there are references drawn between Birdman and the mythical Icarus with the only few cuts in the film dedicated to a shot of a fireball ripping through the sky, visually representing Icarus’ infamous fall (see fig. 1). This comparison between historical mythology and superhero characters reflects the reality of Marvel’s ‘Thor’. Thor is one of the most interesting of all the Marvel’s products, originating from the Viking age, he is one of the oldest European myths, now turned super hero. Thor is a myth that is so deeply historical in the English-speaking world that a day of the week, Thursday, is named after him. As Barthes explained in ‘Mythologies’; “it is human history which converts reality into speech, and it alone that rules the life and death of mythical language.” (Barthes, 1957:218).

Perhaps even more interesting is Marvel’s concept ‘Captain America’. This character embodies the strength of the American army in the Second World War with the super hero famously defeating the Nazi’s. This appropriation of recent historical fact simplified into a battle between superheroes and super villains transforms our cultural history from the real into the commodity of myths that Marvel creates. This story re writes factual past into a hyper commodified myth that consumers cannot learn from but companies can profit from.

The self important power and immortality of these super hero characters is referenced in ‘Birdman’ with Sam’s toilet roll that uses dashes to “represent the 6 billion years that the earth has been around.” (See Fig. 2) One small sheet of of toilet roll holds the whole of human history and with it “all our ego and self obsession is worth.” Riggan ignorantly wiping his mouth on this metaphor signifies humanities faith in the power of the myth being able to transcend human history and reason. It also reflects how the self-importance of these Marvel myths ignorantly diminishes and undermines our historical and cultural past with its toilet roll worthy wipe.bman

Along with other appropriations this physical representation of humanity in ‘Birdman’ helps us to deconstruct the myth of the super hero. By parodying the same tactics as Marvel it exploits the fact that Western myths, passed down from ancestors through story telling spanning over human history, have now become products of commodity. In the film itself, an interviewer recites “As you’re probably aware, Barthes said, “The cultural work done in the past by gods and epic sagas is now done by laundry detergent commercials and comic strip characters.” (Gabriel, page 11).

Our cultural myths have developed to a point where they no longer concern themselves with the rules of society but instead save society from unrealistic threats. Comic book characters initially only saved cities, for example Michael Keaton’s Batman was employed to save the fictional Gotham city. Over time this concept has developed where once fictional super heroes were saving fictional cities now ‘The Avengers’, or, the mythological God’s of Western culture, save our universe. 30 years before Disney purchased Marvel Jean Baudillard wrote; “Disneyland is presented as imaginary in order to make us believe that the rest is real, whereas all of Los Angeles and the America that surrounds it are no longer real, but belong to the hyper real order and to the order of simulation.” (Baudrillard. 1981:12). This franchise is ultimately made up of “post-apocalyptic porn” (Birdman, page 95) that save us in our ‘real’ world from incomprehensible CGI monsters. Each film concludes with the declaration that the world will never end so long as super heroes are here to save us. These characters and their plots make us feel as immortal as we believe the myths to be. It seems that Western society will feel safe for as long as it can spend money in exchange for super heroes on our cinema screens.

imagesAs what is at stake to us (as inhabitants of the earth) within the films increases, it seems that the audiences’ attention span has decreased. The contemporary and controversial film director Peter Watkins studies the effects of ‘standardized Hollywood film making’ through his own works and reflects that;

“Its reliance on speed, fragmentation and hierarchical structures, the deceptive illusion of ‘reality’ it imparts has created over the years an increasingly powerful tool of global mass manipulation, with long-ranging social and political consequences.” (Watkins, 2012).

‘Birdman’ was able to avoid these editorial techniques that Watkins critiques by designing the films cinematography, script and sets so that the film would appear to have been taken in one shot. This creates a continuous performance on screen that feels truthful and allows the audience space for reflection as well as outstanding performances from its actors.

This artistic critique of creativity and talent that Watkins talks of is embodied in ‘Birdman’ by the critic Tabitha Dickinson, who explains to Riggan that; “I hate you. And everyone you represent. Entitled. Spoiled. Selfish. Children. Blissfully untrained, unversed and unprepared to even attempt real art. Handing each other awards for cartoons and pornography.” (Tabitha, page 90). It also occurs when Mike disregards Riggans previous work as Birdman as “cultural genocide” (Mike, page 42). Therefore strongly implying a distaste toward the “billion-dollar Iron Man franchise” that is referenced earlier on. (Blonde woman on TV, page 9).

It seems though that Marvel is aware and happily complacent with their standardization of cinematic techniques. Marvel’s Producer and president, Kevin Feige was awarded the ‘Motion Picture Showman of the year’ in 2013. Despite this, an article in Bloomberg Business described how; “Feige’s films aren’t groundbreaking-they rely on epic showdowns at major landmarks,” but overlooked this to congratulate the fact that because of this “Marvel’s sequels make progressively more money.” (Leonard, 2014).

The spectacle of location is another of the Hollywood Blockbuster techniques that ‘Birdman’ avoids using. Although it is set in New York, which is a favourite Blockbuster setting for its panoramic city scape shots, very little of the city is shown, with almost all of the scenes taking place within the theatre. The only scene where we are exposed to the commodities of New York is when we see the creation of the most modern form of Mythology. A video recording of Riggan’s embarrassing walk through swarms of people in Times Square in only his underwear and a wig is turned into an online hit, racking up “350,000 views in less than an hour. Believe it or not, this is power.” (Sam, page 89). Here, and throughout the rest of the film with its constant references to social media, ‘Birdman’ acknowledges that the rise of the Internet, especially social media means that; “consumers today participate directly in the creation of culture.” (Anderson, 2012). So ‘Birdman’ not only critiques the companies producing these Blockbusters, but also the audience that consumes them.images (1)

There is only one moment in the film where the audience is addressed directly, Birdman the superhero looks down the camera during a CGI scene that would be more at home in a Marvel film and exclaims; “Look at these people…They love this shit… Not this talking, depressing, philosophical bullshit.” Directly confronting the audience for our support of these franchise films. This scene is the pinnacle of re appropriation. The soundtrack changes drastically from the percussive beats that vibrated through the rest of the film, to the familiar sound of a choir chant being mutilated by CGI explosions that we find in many super hero films.

This commodity that evolves over Marvel’s cinematic experiences is not just contained by the films themselves. The franchise of the characters transcends far beyond the films into their merchandise, as is demonstrated in this same scene where success is measured by “Magazine covers and billboards. Happy meals with Birdman dolls.” (Birdman, page 95). In present day fans can connect with the hyper reality of these films through products that will further simulate and connect them to this hyper real world. The costumes, video games, toys and key rings that pay tribute to the characters super powers are just as important as the films themselves, they are the physical by product of commodified story telling. (See Fig. 3)

Ultimately, ‘Birdman’ tells a story that demonstrates the negative effect that commodified story telling has had on society. Where Riggan confuses “love with admiration” we in society confuse value for wealth and myth for immortality. Our cultural stories no longer teach us about the human experience as the subtlety and reflection in Raymond Carver’s story ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ does. Our story telling creates hyper realities that distract us from the mundanity of the everyday instead of reflecting it. Saying this, it is interesting to note that the version of ‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ or ‘Beginners’ (Carver, 1981) that is used in Birdman is not Carvers original writing. Instead it is the version published by his editor (Gordon Lish) who changed it for a more dramatic, crass read. It is known that “Carver disdained cheapness and vulgarity, and he profoundly resented Lish’s sensationalistic rewriting.” (Leaf, 2015). Knowing that the version of Carver’s story used in the film is not the original allows the film to further manipulate a piece of art that has already been altered in order to make it sellable, reflecting the appropriation of ancient myths as super heroes in comic books.

Aside from the tributes to Carver and Barthes, the appropriations throughout ‘Birdman’ are immediate, with references to modern Western cultural figures ranging from Justin Beiber to Hallmark. These appropriations reflect and critique society right now, whereas Marvel’s franchises have lost themselves in a hyper commodified non reality that no longer reflects culture or society but invents it whilst simultaneously destroying the value of it, which is echoed in the conclusion of ‘Birdman’s story with Riggan’s suicide at the end of the film.

References in chronological order:

Birdman or (the unexpected virtue of ignorance) (2014) Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu [Cinema] United States: Regency Enterprises

Shanken, Marvin (1995) [Interview by Author, Spring 1995]

The Avengers (2012) Directed by Joss Whedon [DVD] United States: Marvel Studios

Batman (1989) Directed by Tim Burton [DVD] United States: Entertainment

Batman Returns (1992) Directed by Tim Burton [DVD] United States: Entertainment

The Incredible Hulk (2008) Directed by Louis Leterrier [DVD] United States: Marvel Studios

Leonard, D. (2014) ‘The Pow! Bang! Bam! Plan to Save Marvel, Starring B-List Heroes’ In: Bloomberg.com 03.04.14 [online] At: http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/articles/2014-04-03/kevin-feige-marvels-superhero-at-running-movie-franchises#p1 (Accessed on 04.05.15)

Inarritu, A.G. et al. (2014) Birdman or (the unexpected virtue of ignorance)

Barthes, Roland (1957) Mythologies (2012 edition) New York; Hill and Wang.

Lang, B. (2015) Spider-Man: How Sony, Marvel Will Benefit from Unique Deal At: http://variety.com/2015/film/news/details-spider-man-appear-in-sony-and-marvel-movies-1201429039/ (Accessed on 05.04.15)

Baudrillard, Jean (1981) Simulacra and Simulation (1994 edition) University of Michigan Press

Watkins, P. (2012) The Media Crisis: A Perspective by Peter Watkins At: http://www.tate.org.uk/whats-on/tate-modern/eventseries/peter-watkins-films-1965-99/media-crisis-perspective-peter-watkins (Accessed on 02.04.15)

Anderson, S. (2012) ‘How Roland Barthes Gave Us the TV Recap’ In: nytimes.com 25.06.12 [online] At: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/27/magazine/how-roland-barthes-gave-us-the-tv-recap.html?pagewanted=all&_r=1& (Accessed on 15.03.15)

Carver, Raymond (1981) ‘Beginners’ In: newyorker.com 24.12.07 At:


Leaf, J. (2015) How ‘Birdman Betrays Raymond Carver: An Untold Story At: http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanleaf/2015/01/04/how-birdman-betrays-raymond-carver-an-untold-story/2/

Lance Nixon Review

The bike is said to symbolize human reason at work. To quote Angela Carter’s ‘Lady of the house of Love’, “To ride a bicycle is in itself some protection against superstitious fears, since the bicycle is the product of pure reason applied to motion.” Although here Carter is referring to the fear of the super natural, this theory can also be applied to Lance Nixon’s work.

I first came across Nixon in late 2010 with his publically interactive piece based in London, ‘Roadrunner 2’. Inspired by, or some may say in retaliation to the ‘Boris bikes’ installed earlier that summer. Nixon collected over 300 old bikes, saving them from scrap and placed them around zones 2 and 3, as the Boris bikes only covered zone 1 at the time. These bikes were chained outside tube stations, in bike shelters and on streetlights with signs attached giving the user information on how to operate the bikes. Nixon specified here that the bikes could be used for any length of time and could be left wherever best suited the user so long as they were locked up. This free alternative that was given to commuters on the 27th of September resulted in only 9,000 people taking out a Boris bike on that day in comparison to the usual 14,000.

Although most of the bikes where inevitably stolen by the end of the day, the aim of Nixon’s interactive stunt was achieved. He gave daily commuters an alternative to the faults of the Boris bikes which made, and continue to make, revenue from unavoidable late fees due to the docking station to bike ratio.

Nixon came into the public sphere of performance and interactive art in 2007 when he debuted with his piece ‘Roadrunner’ based in New York City, which worked similarly to it’s sequel in London. Nixon was criticized for critiquing such new systems but has since commented that he was simply trying to “expose existing problems before the general public comes to accept them as fact.’” With this statement we can apply Nixon’s work to a much wider context, going beyond the realm of city politics and into semiotics, proving that his work not only provides comment on existing systems but also challenges them.

Alongside interactive art, Nixon is also well known for creating sculptural pieces using bikes. His piece ‘Speed’ (2009) consists of two bikes warped individually in their centers, which come together to create a circular form, whilst still appearing to be functional. As Carter describes in ‘the Lady of the house of love’, bikes are a symbol of reason, and by warping these two bikes into a continual circle and titling the composition ‘speed’ we can interpret this as a juxtaposition between the way that companies use materials to make profit as fast as possible, thus creating and continuing a cycle of profit.

Ultimately Nixon uses the art sphere and the symbolism of the bike as a way of exploiting both truths and lies simultaneously, contrasting reason with unreason and creating opportunities where the ‘readers’ use of systems come before the ‘authors’ benefit of it.
Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 17.10.54

Enter the void analysis

This film had an interesting plot, but it is more the bizarre visuals, use of perspective and unique camera angles that inspired me most. In particular the cuts that Noe uses throughout the film, which transports the audience via light display or what appears to be Tokyo’s electric system to the next scene instead of blacking in and out. I think if I do experimenting with making films with multiple cuts I should find more interesting ways of linking shots that will add to the viewers anticipation and anxiety. One change of scene that I thought was particularly well done takes place when we are following the backs of the two main characters who are on a rollercoaster, as an audience we get the sensation of being hurtled forward by the ride with all the noises and lights that you would expect to hear and see flashing past you. Once the rollercoaster goes into a tunnel the fairground audio fades slightly and we begin to see a light that we assume to be the end of the tunnel, but as we get closer we realize that it is actually an oncoming car and we are moving at full speed towards it, all of a sudden we find ourselves in the midst of a fatal car crash. The way in which the camera is continuously moving forward at such high speed until this point is effectively what makes this transition so smooth and shocking, helped by the way in which Noe has chosen very similar colour palettes for both scenes. This idea of transforming something pleasant to something disturbing very quickly is something I’d like to experiment with as I think this use of shock would be an effective way of creating anxiety in my audience. Another transition technique that I want to experiment with which takes place when the two main characters are talking and the camera blurs slightly and when the camera restores focus the female lead is carrying on the exact same dialogue and stood in the exact same position with the same costume but the rest of their surroundings have changed. As this is from the lead males memory we can interpret that this is him being unclear about the location of the memory, but I think that this technique of setting up to similar shots but with changes that confuse you as to what you where expecting to see. The hallucinogenic sequences that Noe also chose in transitions between shots were also something that I’d like to experiment with, possibly in a kaleidoscope format but with everyday objects to reiterate the idea that everyday situations, however familiar can seem scary and confusing from the perspective of someone living with a mental illness. Another technique I felt was worth noting was used in the beginning of the film when we are in the perspective of the male lead in such a literal sense that we even experience his blinks. In an article I read in the guardian, the writer described how as he was watching this part he noticed that his blinks where in the same rhythm as the characters. This idea of being able to physically effect the viewer by influencing their basic human need to blink is something I’d love to be able to recreate, as it shows the complete subconscious control that a mental illness can have which turns into a physical action (in this case the viewers blinking, in the metaphoric sense self harm or loosing motivation).

Don’t hug me I’m scared analysis

Although this may be more of a viral entertainment video rather than an ‘art’ piece I feel that themes within this still apply to my project because of the way I feel it creates anxiety and disgust in the viewer. In the first couple of minutes we are introduced to child friendly characters singing a song about creativity within a setting of bright, simplistic colours and up lifting but slightly annoying audio. Once the characters begin to ‘get creative’ the audio fastens with the pace of the change in shots and action. The audio suddenly becomes very messy with some instruments overtaking others and strange noises changing the tone of the video. This is where the video becomes really unsettling, the characters go from being puppets to strange animations which pixelate and blur, this is the turning point where the intentions behind the video transform. The first gruesome thing we see is a really quick shot of a heart against a bright yellow background that we have seen prior to this shot with glitter spread over it, but the shot is so fleeting that initially you don’t notice it as it is so unexpected. The weather changes from blue skies to thunderous clouds which is a very basic way of using pathetic fallacy but still effectively prepares us for the strange turn the video is about to embark on. From this point the video becomes unbearably strange, especially with the contrast of bright colours and raw meat becoming quite distressing comparatively. The video finishes with the original audio so that everything is seemingly back to normal. Although this is effective because it allows us to compare the surrealism of the video to the calm ending I think it would have been more effective not to conclude the video as therefore there would have been no satisfying cathartic release in the viewer, thus creating anxiety. After watching this video several times I have noticed that there are several examples of foreshadowing in the first couple of minutes indicating the gruesome ending. An example of this is the rather long shot of the kitchen knives, which in hindsight is very out of place for a kid friendly video. I also think the line in the song “listen to the voices in your brain” is quite disturbing when you think about it in the context of the rest of the video, although it fits in perfectly with the pentameter of the song, when looked at on its own implies an idea of mental illness, in particular schizophrenia, which one could argue is what the whole video is about because of the way the mood of it changes so dramatically in such a small space of time. Another thing that I feel is important to my project is the way things are concealed and revealed throughout the creativity sequence. For example at one point we see one of the characters placing the letter ‘D’ on an orange background, but as this is placed amid several other shots we as an audience don’t give it a second thought until it cuts back to it with the word ‘death’ spelt out and we then realise the true intention of the ‘creativity’. I thought this was really interesting technique that I could work with using film to deceive my own audience.

Martin Creed – What’s the point of it? Exhibition review.

This week I was fortunate enough to go to the Martin Creed exhibition at the Hayward Gallery in London. I have never known much about this artist previously but had been told to give it ago because his work was similar to the kind of thing I want to be doing in my final major project, I agree as I was surprised at how well this exhibition happened to fit in with my own project. It seems that Martin Creed too aims to create pieces of art which create extreme reactions in the viewer whether it be disgust, fear, anxiety or even relief. As soon as I entered the exhibition space I became completely overwhelmed, before being able to even look at any of the work my access to the gallery space was obstructed by a sofa which had been placed just in front of the entrance so that you had to focus on awkwardly getting around it before being able to think about the rest of the work. Once you get your bearings you are instantly disorientated again by a compulsive ticking noise, which you later find to be thirty-nine metronomes, and at the same time you are also aware that there is a large steel bar travelling towards you at a very threatening speed, the natural reaction is to duck, even through practically you know that there is no chance it could actually hit you. It takes a few minutes before you can truly begin to look at the work, it actually took me a while to notice that the big spinning piece of metal actually carried the word ‘MOTHERS’ in big neon lighting. The effect that this opening room had on me is exactly what I want to try and do to the audience of my work in this project, I also aim to completely disorientate those viewing my work to create a sense of anxiety and unease. 

Opening room to Martin Creed’s exhibition at the Hayward Gallery ‘What’s the point of it?’

I was particularly intrigued at Creed’s use of audio throughout the exhibition as this is something that I have not seen used much and definitely something I had never considered using before, as I found it was a really effective way of confusing the senses of the audience. A perfect example of this was in the second room of the exhibition where there was a lone speaker sitting in the corner with no apparent visual work connected to it which was repetitively playing an audio of someone blowing a raspberry. This was seen by many of the spectators that I observed as quite amusing as it a sound that is usually associated with childish behaviour, but this got me thinking about how I could use taboo sounds in my own work to make people feel uncomfortable such as recordings of people having sex or blowing their nose or even farting. The other piece of audio used in this room was produced using a piano. Instructions are a big part of Creed’s work, and over the shoulder of the security guard turned musician instructions on how to play the piano that went as follows:

“Play all the notes on the keyboard – the full chromatic scale – going up from bottom to top.

Rest for the same amount of time that it took to play all the notes.

Play all the notes – the full chromatic scale – going down from top to bottom.

Rest again – as above.

Repeat endlessly.”

I find this idea of rules and regulations to create formulaic art really interesting even though it may not apply to my current work. This piece confused me, as it made me question, what part of the formula is the actual art product? Is it the piano, the audio, the instructions or the player? Or is Creed trying to highlight the fact that nowadays artists are not always the creators of their own art but set out instructions for other people to complete to create it after they have come up with the concept.

This concept was also displayed in his broccoli prints where Creed used the same process a thousand times but changed variables to the formula to create a thousand different results. From afar the result was repetitive but on closer inspection you notice that each print has produced a unique outcome. The combination of these prints shown side by side on one wall is rather overwhelming and I feel that this use of repetition on such a large scale is something I should consider experimenting with in my own work.

‘Work No. 100 Broccoli prints’ Martin Creed (2009-2010)

Another process that Creed uses that I felt was of importance to my own work was his pieces where he has covered the whole piece of paper with markings from a felt tip or marker pen as I found that the results were so strange and unusual yet completely unexplainable as to why they are so interesting. I think it may be because of the way we traditionally expect a pen of such nature to be used, and the places where one line stops and overlaps half way through the page with another is visually confusing especially when this is repeated with all the lines on the page in different places. I found it even more visually confusing when the lines weren’t completely straight as it created obscured textures and shapes. I experimented with this technique but tried creating shapes and even images by changing the darkness of the line by going over it. This was quite an obscure process to use but I liked the outcome because it was a totally new way of making imagery with a marker pen than I would have ever thought of.

Example of Martin Creed’s wok with marker pens from his 21 part series ‘Work No.944’ (2008)
My own experimentation with Creed’s marker pen work

A large part of Creed’s concept behind his work is the idea of making decision but choosing all options instead of either, and the anxiety we face in making choices. As my current project is based around myself I think this is an important concept that I could consider working with as I am currently faced with the decision of what university I want to go to next year, but unfortunately choosing both is not actually an option for me. These pieces such as; ‘Work No. 990 Curtains’ And ‘Work No. 227 The lights going on and off’ where he uses automated signals to open and close the curtains and the lights to turn on for 30 seconds and then turn off. When I was in the gallery I interpreted this as the artist choosing what we did and did not see. These pieces also give the audience a sense of disorientation and then relief, as one does not appreciate the light until it is turned off or the view until the curtain is drawn, but once the light is turned on again or the curtain is open a sense of normality is restored but we are in a state of anxious anticipation for the cycle to repeat.

‘Work No. 990 Curtains opening and closing.’ Martin Creed (2009)

A piece that the exact concept of my project I am working on currently was ‘Work No. 1820 – light bulbs and fixtures.’ This was situated at the top of the stairs so as a viewer you did not seeing coming before you were face to face with it because of the form of the staircase. This piece was too physically painful to look at directly as it had several light bulbs of all different forms all too bright to look at and the effect was so overwhelming that the viewers had to hold a hand in front of their faces to shield themselves from the intrusion of light to their senses. It is this that I want to create in my own work, something that is too visually distressing to look at straight away, an instant reaction is created, to look away and protect your vision.

‘Work N0. 1820 – lights and fixtures’ Martin Creed

The exhibitions biggest selling point was ‘Work No. 200’ or more commonly known as ‘The Balloon room’ which consisted of a room with half the air filled with balloons. This was by far the most interactive piece of art I have ever experienced. Whether the viewer finds it humorous or overwhelmingly claustrophobic, each individual has to cope with how close the art is in proximity to them as the nature of this piece completely invades your personal space, therefore giving the viewer an experience whether they like it or not. Personally I really enjoyed being completely submerged in the balloons and wandering around with no knowledge of the shape or even the size of the room I was in, my perception of where I was and my bearings, was completely over thrown without a clue where the exit was and it is this confusion in the audience that I aim to create in my own work for this project.

‘Work No. 200 – Half the air in a given space’ Martin Creed (1998)

Creed’s film work is also something that has given me a lot to reflect on. His films ‘Ships coming in’ were very relaxing to watch, a strange game of spot the difference where both screens are unbearably similar, showing the repetitive nature of life itself. The only reason I felt any unease at all was because I had to stand for an unknown duration of time as in theory both videos could have gone on for any duration of time, whereas in the last room of the exhibition scenes were being shown from Creed’s ‘Sick and Shit’ and there was a bench in front of the screen inviting me to sit down in front of the screen in comfort. I think this contrast is really interesting as it was almost embarrassing to be seen watching these videos of peoples bodily functions let alone be seen sitting down comfortably in front of them for an extended period of time. This has given me ideas for creating an installation film piece that is uncomfortable to watch and placing a comfortable chair in front of it and instructing that only one person should go in at a time to watch it, making it a much more intimate and intense experience for the viewer. I find the contents of these videos, as is hardly surprising, disgusting but interesting in their concept, as Creed uses them to visually show ‘horrible feelings’ which we can’t physically capture. As in my own work where I have tried to describe feelings of anxiety or depression there has been no way I have thought of to visually show these feelings visually but by creating videos of horrible things that everyone can relate to Creed has captured this perfectly. This piece especially caused huge reactions in the audience where viewers were both humoured and revolted, I myself felt nauseous when watching the videos of people throwing up but it is this kind of feeling that I hope to produce in my audience.

‘Work No. 405 – Ships coming in’ Martin Creed (2005)
‘Work No. 610 – sick film’ Martin Creed (2006)

Ultimately I found this to be a wonderful, interactive exhibition and I thoroughly enjoyed every experience that I took away from it and would encourage anyone and everyone to go along to see it. I hope I will be able to use this experience as inspiration in this project to create emotionally effective work.


Essay Research

 For the contextual studies module of my course I have to write a 2,000 word essay comparing two artists. I have decided to use one of my favourite and one of my least favourite artists for this essay; Ai Weiwei and Banksy. I have decided to use these artists because of my very strong opinions of them both, and I want to analyse the impact that they have on their target audience and culture. Both Ai Weiwei and Banksy create art in order to make political statements usually opposing the government. Although they are both from completely different cultures and create artwork in different mediums, the aims of their works share similarities. Where Banksy forced himself into fame using street art and actually sneaking some of his work into galleries, similarly Ai took no caution and came into the world wide public eye when he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2010. Ai is not only viewed as an artist, but also as a political activist, which I believe shows the undeniable power of his work. He has commented that ‘Modern Chinese cultural history is one that scorns the value of the individual; it is a history of suppressing humanity and spirituality.’ From this quote alone you can understand why Ai’s work is so important to Chinese culture as change is vital in this society, whereas Banksy is known for ‘exposing the many hypocrisies of modern life.’ which in comparison to Ai’s work seems quite insignificant and petty.Image

One technique that both artists have used is the defacement of cultural artefacts. For example Ai has produced a series of ceramics such as the Han Dynasty Urn with Coca-Cola Logo, in which he destroys a historical artefact that has been dated back to around 206BC, with an iconic branding of the modern era. The way in which he tackles this in a pop art fashion, shows how individualism and traditional techniques have been discontinued to make room for mass production in a culture that seems obsessed with consumerism.Image

Conceptually this is similar to Banksy’s Vandalised Phone box where he has mutilated the phone box making it totally unusable, much like Ai has done, as he has destroyed a historical artefact that we can assume the state would want to preserve for museums to encourage tourism and therefore profit, so in practice this is an act to get under the governments skin by destroying what they want to preserve. The reaction to Banksy’s piece was much the opposite, a BT spokes person described it as ‘a stunning visual comment on BT’s transformation from an old-fashioned telecommunications company into a modern communications services provider” and reportedly BT requested to keep it in their head quarters. I think this is a prime example of how Banksy’s and Ai’s work differ, although the work was removed, Banksy lives in a culture where freedom of speech and creativity is encouraged, the work was reported on the news as another of his ‘audacious, clandestine pranks.’ This is only a small amount of the research that I have done so far, but currently I am looking forward to completing this essay as analysing artists work is one of my favourite things to do and something I believe to be vital to my own practice.

Introduction to Fine Art pathway

For the introduction to part 2 of my course I had to find two articles to annotate. In artforum magazine I came across an article by Charlotte Birnbaum on Mary Ann Caws’s ‘Modern Art Cookbook’ and ‘Scene of Production’, an article by Rhea Anastas on a piece by Andrea Fraser. The one I was most interested by was the article on ‘Untitled’ by Andrea Fraser, this piece, as I gathered from the article, has all the connotations of prostitution, but is considered art because that is what the artist has labelled it as. This reminded me of Marcel Duchamp’s work, where he took everyday objects and put them into a gallery space, therefore dictating that they were art. In this case, Fraser labels a video of her having sex with a man commissioning the video itself as ‘art’, directly linking to Duchamp’s statement ‘I am an artist so everything I do is art.’ I feel that Fraser is just trying to shock the audience, but as modern day viewers, who are constantly exposed to sexualised images for the sake of advertisement, I no longer think we can be shocked by this. I don’t think this piece of art is particularly necessary for our culture as all it does is normalise a taboo subject, but I don’t feel that we need to adapt when we are already immune. These ideas of creating shocking art using sexual imagery lead me to look at an article from the guardian titled; ‘Oedipal exposure: Leigh Ledare’s photographs of his mother having sex.’ This article has assembled a number of provocative photographs of mother in his series ‘Pretend You’re Actually Alive.’ Unlike Frasers lack of title this heading gives the piece much more meaning already, it gives the viewer an instant narrative of possibly a lonely woman trying to find comfort in sexual relations with much younger strangers, and this is exactly what the pictures depict.Image

This particular image that I have included feels rather uncomfortable, the young boy sleeping completely unconnected to the remorseful face of his older momentary lover. I feel that this image captures the reflection of his mother, the moments afterward when she asks herself ‘is this actually making me alive?’ Ledare is described as ‘soft spoken’ which somehow makes his work more uncomfortable and taboo, especially when you see the names of his photographs such as ‘Mom fucking in mirror’. I find this piece rather hard to understand or face, and I just feel that although Ledare has been successful in pushing new boundaries within art, there is a reason why these boundaries have never been touched before.