WORK INTERESTS AND IDEAS
It is a pleasure to be here in England, it is my first time here, actually my first time in Europe. As you can imagine, I am more than a little excited, actually it is more like culture shock. I still can't believe I am walking the same hard ground where the likes of Newton and Berkley strolled. Thanks everyone for including me in this symposium, it is an honour and very humbling as well.
Every time I am asked to speak about my work, I do so with great trepidation. It is very difficult for me to discuss what I see as the meaning of my work. I feel I do it harm every time I reveal my intentions. Partly because I am not even sure I completely understand my intentions. I don't find myself in any particular privileged position or point of view when interpreting my work. I hope others see it in an entirely different light. Once I am finished with a piece, if it is any good it will hopefully take on a life of its own. The intentions and the meanings I personally associate with it become pretty much irrelevant at this point. So I'll try the best I can to share with you my interests and ideas, and the relationships they have with the work you are about to see in the video. But please don't hold me to anything I say here today. With that disclaimer out of the way, I guess we can start the video.
I once made a film that was unintentionally the laughing stock of an optical printing course in college. It was probably the shortest film ever made. I think it was about 1 second, 24 frames total of discontinuous images. I don't think anyone could even make out a single recognisable image. Well, what I was after was that I wanted the art to be what was remembered, which for me is what film and photography are all about. I didn't want an object or a lengthy film with action. I wanted to stress the disappearance of images and what is left behind when they go. Well, everyone laughed of course. What they wanted was to see a film, not be forced into the activity of remembering. My mistake was assuming that one's recollections are as intense as the reality of the present. They said I was just trying to get out of the assignment. Even after all that grief I was given, I still find the idea interesting.
This idea of a film was born from what I see as a kind of blurry distinction in photographic images between the existence of the photograph as an object, the image of recorded light on paper and the memory or mind images the pictures inspired in those familiar with it. I suppose this occurs with anything we humans look at, since our minds never seem to be at rest or entirely in the present, except maybe when watching TV. This just seems especially clear to me when looking at photographic images. I have always had an interest in that metaphysical, even mystical, moment when a photograph is captured from time. When the latent image is formed and fixed into an image on paper. Yet it is not only the process of photography and film that intrigues me, but also the motivation and impetus surrounding the act of photographing. The obsessive desire, almost need for people everywhere, spanning vast cultures to partake in this activity. As well as the folklore of some people who fear photography, like it capturing your soul or stealing something vital from within. For me holography is a good way to explore some of these interests, to try to gain some sort of understanding into the ephemeral nature of life. I see my work as basically a slightly skewed version of the compulsion to make photographs, there is for me this almost cathartic need to take the photographs that are out floating around in the world and reverse the process of photography, to take a photograph backward or in reverse, or to take a memory and work backward from it. It is kind of a time travel fantasy that I can somehow accomplish at least metaphorically with holography. I imagine the light bouncing off the photograph, through the camera lens directly back onto the subject, reconstructing the scene or taking a mind image, the brain stimulation and tracing it through the action of light on the retina, out the eyes, back onto the subject. This in a very crude way is the very description of the holographic process. Releasing the image into the air, turning it back to light, and ultimately to memory again. I see the images as resting, then dissolving and collapsing. The immateriality and the ephemeral nature of the holographic image, its luminous qualities of light take on a kind of sacredness for me. The fact that one cannot spoil images made of light with human touch is intriguing. Something I found fascinating with the old medieval and renaissance reliquaries, which would house in an elaborate encasement, safe from human touch, a fragment of something which was charged with mystical or religious importance, be it a piece of cloth from a saint's garment or a fragment of bone from someone of great religious importance. Many of my earliest works were made as holographic reliquaries with images of photographs and small artifacts. They started the process which led to work which instead of presenting a hologram of a photograph as an object in a housing I used photography in a way that pointed more to memory by incorporating time and animation into the pieces. Many of the pieces were derived from my family's collection of movie films and photographs. What intrigues me about many of these films is how they became a part of my memory, every bit as much as the memory of a truly lived event. Perhaps my recollections are in part from recorded images intermingling and coinciding with memories of the real world. In my life I have encountered thousands of images and have grown accustomed to them, so common are they that they form part of the natural world around me. My memory is filled with recollections of pictures, photographs and films that I often mistake for truly lived events. It is these that I have tried to translate into holograms, they are reliquaries for memories rather than objects. Many of the images contain identities lost to the ravages of time, decaying from mould, stains and scratches.
The departure point for much of this work are some photographs of personal significance to me. One is an image of my grandmother, which my father carried with him since he was 15 years old, the age he was when she died a sudden and tragic death. As you can imagine, the circumstances were very traumatic, yet were tempered by that photograph somehow, it helped him to cope with such a profound loss. Another image I use repeatedly is an image of a young girl taken from a group family photograph. In it she is the only one who moved during the exposure and is blurred. I see memory as an emotional device one uses to deal with the sometimes painful loss of the present to the past. I probably make this work for the same reason my father carried around that photograph, allowing me to confront the uncertainty that change brings with it, not alone but with my artwork and my recollections. I see something beautiful in the changes brought about by the passage of time, the decaying photographic and filmic record, and the recovery of these losses through memory. The beauty of change and what a miracle it is to contemplate, rather than deny because of the fear of uncertainty. This for me is always a constant battle. I have been going on and on about memory, yet forgetting is important as well. What we forget in the old photographs and films is a way of gleaning or stripping away the trivial to reveal a closer form of the truth. The faces lost in shadows or covered by decay leave a far more poignant and universal image than ones whose names remain. There is a lot of yearning, longing and melancholy in my work, also perhaps a little too much nostalgia and sentimentality. I'll be the first to admit that. There are obvious similarities with assemblage, collage and filmic montage. Yet I don't see my work in any way as an advancement, simply because I am using this new technology. I don't particularly believe in any forward notion of progress anyway. I am simply trying to understand some basic aspects of the world around me, to learn a few things about loss and recovery through memory.
Just as I see a relationship between memory and the photographic and filmic record, there is also a paradox in holography that interests me as well. I am not speaking of the most obvious illusion reality paradox. I am thinking along the lines of the relationship between the object which I am calling the hologram or the holographic material. In my case a pane of glass and the images housed in it. There has never been a question beyond an existential one as to the reality of a holographic image. It is as real as the object it is a copy of. What interests me more is that unlike photography and even film, the image remains separate from the object or the pane of glass, yet it is inextricably linked to it and dependent on it as well. This intrigues me about holograms. That the images disappear when the viewer is outside a certain area. For me it is equally important that the work not try to hide this fact. I make sure that the holographic object is carefully crafted, a beautiful pane of glass. Most of my current work revolves around the stereogram technique, which allows the possibilities of complex sequencing and storage of images. Although I am fascinated by holography's ability to record dimension, I am not so interested in making use of the stereo effect or achieving three-dimensional illusions. I simply want to make objects that look like something being remembered. One way I use the stereo technique is to supply entirely different images to each eye, so some sort of mixing occurs in the brain or in the retina, unique to each person. It also gives you a good headache, which is also a lot of fun from my perspective. If I do use space, it is very subtly, layering images, passing one image by another, implying space with the passage of time and movement.
I am interested in qualities of light, the material and ephemeral nature of disappearing images and holography's ability to store multiple images and show change, all within a thin piece of glass. I try to use the images poetically so that they can relate and play off each other and give depth or a variety of meanings or interpretations to the work. In many ways I came back to my infamous memory film. Taking the same amount of film footage, I could string it out, turn the viewer into the projector, allowing them to release the images as they please, depending on their movement in front of the work.
I am trying to hold these images of time and change in little pieces of glass as reminders, like small slices of memory on a wall or in the middle of a room. It is not an epiphany or anything really very spiritual, I am not catholic, I am not even Christian, I was never baptised, yet there is something about the feeling of being saved. It comes from some deep down need, I remember the calming feeling of wearing those old catholic religious medals and knowing that my grandparents had worn those same ones, it has to do with belonging. I make these objects, they are strange, yet they are kind of my personal salvation, there seems something benevolent in memory. Why else do we block out really bad memories, or if we do remember something bad, it is our memory that seems to soothe and heal. Is is built into the system, as a way of protecting our sanity.
Early on I became intrigued by the fact that you could record holograms in a variety of channels as well as from both sides of the piece. I almost always work in these double-sided pieces now. I found it interesting how the holographic image washes through one's vision much as it does in a day dream. I like how two people can be face to face with each other and not see one another through the clear pane of glass separating them. Like thin veils that block the reality behind them.
Lately I have been questioning the integrity of much of my holographic work. I still worry that they seem too gimmicky and novel. The viewer interaction seems somewhat arbitrary. The interaction should mean something more than a few trivial choices, like how fast to move, how close, how far, when to stop and go. The viewers never really have a say in the content of images, their interaction is purely physical even to the point of retinal mixing, which only alters the content by fusing two predetermined images together. In response to this I have backed off somewhat, limiting the animation in some of the pieces to a subtle breathing, so that one notices something amiss, but it is not blatant.
There too was this issue of a certain comical effect of a film running backwards. Because of this, an effect I didn't really want, I began thinking about symmetry in time. That certain things in the world look the same as they unfold naturally as they do in reverse time. Images of chaos, water waves, blinking are examples. One aspect that is interesting to me is a perspective of time that is less mechanical or clock-like, but more a social construct, an interactive phenomenon which we influence, its flux depending on our perspective, point of view, circumstances, mood and culture. It makes sense to me, time changes, speeds up, slows down, depending on one's state of mind. In some of the works I choose animations that will grate against the viewers' expectations, which are set early on in the piece. As the viewers get accustomed to a certain repetitive movement, it is then abruptly changed to the opposite of the viewers, as in Trace. When a figure in the hologram follows the movement of the viewer and then abruptly the figure moves opposite the viewer. It is only here that I have come to some resolve regarding viewer interaction in my work. I have a long way to go.
I am reminded of an interview I heard on a radio show once. It was with a man who was in his late 90's. They were speaking about issues of old age in America and how our concepts of the elderly are distorted, unhealthy and oppressive. This gentleman was saying that one can experience life to its fullest, even though there may be some physical barriers and difficulties. That new experiences and encounters await one at every turn and are not reserved for the youthful. He said that life for him was becoming more and more interesting as he got older and that time mattered less and less. His abilities to discern between past, present and future were diminishing. This was a beautiful, poetic and soothing experience, I thought to myself with great envy and also with great hope for the future as well.
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