Performing for the Camera

If you have studied any form of visual arts beyond the restrictive curriculum of A-levels, it is likely that you will have seen half of the images on display in this exhibition already. Between documentation of Yves Klein ‘s ‘Anthropometries of the Blue Period’ process and Cindy Sherman’s ‘Untitled Film Stills’, everything you would expect from a major Tate show, is exactly where you’d expect it to be. The familiarity of the earlier works on display was not detrimental to the exhibit, instead the amount of works was. In an era where we are being drowned in an over abundance of imagery, it is quite a lot to ask of viewers to engage with 14 rooms worth of photographic images and their stories. Essentially, this was a historical review of performance art and it’s documentation, rather than the effect of rising photographic technologies on the general populations behaviours (as I had initially, obviously foolishly, thought it would be). This is not to say that the exhibition itself wasn’t relevant, as instead it displayed the transformation of the camera from documenter of performance to creator of performance. This transition, in hindsight, does in itself demonstrate and reflect the change in societies behaviour towards the camera in the same time frame. Where previously performances were captured (almost haphazardly) so that they did not dissolve into memories, now it is more common that performances are staged only for the photographic outcome, overlooking the spontaneous experience factor of the earlier images.

Yves Klein and a model during the performance ‘Anthropometry’ (1960)

For me the most exciting work on display was Martin Parr’s ‘Auto Portraits’, reminiscent of ‘meme culture’ the brightly coloured array of prints was a welcome sight after the hoards of very serious, black and white, high brow art images in the galleries before. Despite its humorous façade, this collection reveals something very interesting about the world in itself. The series of garish images were taken by street photographers and in photo booths in popular locations all over the world, but it is difficult to find anything representing the ‘culture’ each is from. Instead, the interchangeable format of each image exposes a worldwide commonality; tourism everywhere is simply a cheap thrill of kitsch aestheticism and ‘proof’ of experience.

Martin Parr – Wolverhampton, England (2012) from ‘Autoportraits’

As the exhibition drew to its close, the remaining images were performances solely staged for the camera, bringing us to reflect on the unconscious modern day performances documented on every users Facebook newsfeed. So, quite fittingly, the exhibition ends on work by Amalia Ulman. This consists of prints taken from her Instagram page and some tablets that allow you to browse through all her Instagram posts. As a series the images uploaded to Instagram document the narrative of an innocent young girl moving to LA, her down fall into drugs and later her recovery and newfound appreciation for brunching. This new form of online art is something I, along with many other young artists, am getting excited about. Earlier this year the a famous snap-chat user Andrea Russett’s online following was used by director Hannah Macpherson to create the first snap chat film: . Although this is a horror film and the final product is not near any league belonging to the work of Ulman, I feel that it is still a better use of online platforms ability to exploit unsuspecting viewers. My problem with Ulman’s ‘Excellences & Perfections’ series is that the Instagram following had no idea that they had been duped because what she posted is, and intentionally so, what we can find on a large majority of Instagram accounts. Although I greatly admire Ulman’s use of social media as a place of performance, as I feel it is now a much more realistic way of critiquing the world than in a gallery, the work is so subtle that it almost doesn’t exist.

From Amalia Ulman’s Instagram series ‘Excellences and Perfections’

Ultimately this show took me on an educational journey through the historical use of the camera in art, which was beneficial for any art lover. My critique, however, is that it probably only extends to those who have a rather extensive knowledge about art and art history already. This is a shame as with the rise of smart phone cameras and the world dominating ‘selfie culture’, this is an exhibition that should have been able to inform, excite and interest anyone wandering the streets of London.

Drawing as a process workshop

On the first day of this workshop I decided to use water condensation as my material to work with so I turned on the hot water really high in the shower room and waited until the room steamed up. I then experimented with different tools that I could use to make different marks and patterns on the glass. Unfortunately this was not as successful as I had hoped, because the rest of the room was white, the pictures I took to document the process do not show clearly the marks I made unless I held a black sheet in the behind me. So I then experimented with using water colours on the mirror and then trying to get an imprint of the markings by pressing a piece of paper against the surface. Unfortunately this was not a successful experimentation as the markings did not come out clearly and just came out as one large texture. So I then decided to record the process as a performance piece of me painting onto the mirror as no other documentation seemed to work. The first film I made was of me applying the watercolours onto the mirror quite obsessively and repetitively so that there was constant movement and change in the frame. My favourite part of this minute long video was the last few seconds where the paint was particularly watery and it dripped down the mirror fluidly. I then decided to make another video but this time using watered down acrylic paint so that the colours were more vivid and I only applied the paint a couple of times, mainly letting the film focus on the running it running down the mirror, which was surprisingly interesting and therapeutic. Unfortunately my camera lens steamed up from the condensation in the room so this film is not as clear as the first. In my reflection of this workshop I decided to look at Helena Almeida’s piece ‘Study for inner improvement.’ Although this piece is not about hiding or self portraiture, it is the technique used here that I felt would benefit my project. I decided that it would be interesting to base my short project around the idea of exposure and protection. Although Almeida denies that the blue paint used in her work has anything to do with Yves Klein, I believe that if we do see their works connected in someway then we can interpret that Almeida is covering up and protecting her body with the paint that Klein exposed anonymous women with previously. I found this concept really interesting and for the rest of this project I am going to experiment with the idea of ‘obscure selfies’ to show the way in which the media distorts the way we perceive ourselves in the mirror. On the second day of this workshop I decided to experiment with the technique that Almeida used of painting herself out of her portraits, but instead of painting over them after the image had been printed I decided to try and paint myself out before the picture had even been taken. This resulted in me suspending a paint brush from the ceiling using string which I could pull back and release so that the end of the paint brush, which had paint on it, made contact with the mirror and made a mark, I started with the string short so that it marked the top of the mirror and then slowly unravelled it in the film so it covered a strip of the mirror. To make a clear reference to Almeida’s work I decided to use a vivid blue colour to cover my reflection in the mirror, this is also to indicate that this is a reaction to Yves Klein’s work, but should also be seen as a modern piece about personal insecurities. I am pleased with the final outcome of this project, the video ended up being over 10 minutes long so I had to speed it up by 700x its original length, I also included a static photo at the end to show what I could see as I was going through the painting process. I really enjoyed this short project and felt that I got a lot out of is as I am not a massive fan of drawing but being able to use it in a way that creates concept and meaning was really beneficial to me.