….because I’ve been drawing it for months and secretly writing away – gathering local history, anecdotal stories, tall tales, magical musings and amusing magical facts. And they are all about both sides of the river and encourage you to consider what it’s like on the other side.
Matt Collishaw VR work, Threshold, at Lacock Abbey, National Trust Estate, Wiltshire.
I’ve not felt compelled to write a review of any work lately, but today’s visit to Lacock Abbey fascinated me in many ways. I went specifically to see Matt Collishaw’s VR work about Talbot Fox, to inform my own learning about the potential of VR in contemporary artworks. I was not disappointed.
I’ve seen a few in the past year – Bjork’s show at Somerset House; Rafman in Berlin Biennale and one in a Cotswolds barn, Corridor, by Helen Kincaid. All very different and satisfying in their own way. But I wish to consider context and the visceral experience and interactive qualities of Collishaw’s piece, not just in the space it was exhibited and experienced, but also in the wider location.
Firstly, you need to know that Fox Talbot was a pioneer of photography, so the medium is perfect shown here. Secondly, you need to know that the VR offer was in a tent in a courtyard within the Abbey walls, which enhances the circus-coming-into-town feel. After all, technology is contemporary snake oil, isn’t it?
What you also need to know is the ‘the village’ of Lacock is used regularly as a film set, so is designed to be easily adaptable for that purpose. It too is a VR environment, with all trappings of contemporary living removed from sight – no satellite dishes, no telephone cables, no PVC doors or modern trappings. Flip-flap – the street conceals the real, yet pretends it is real; the VR artwork presents a seemingly real experience that is virtual, by overlaying onto museum display simulations.
Photography was terrifying for many, and Talbot’s first ‘photos’ were made with real objects, such as plants and pieces of lace, on light sensitised papers to capture virtual images. Contact prints. Touch.
This touch thing is important to our experience of place. What works extremely well with Collishaw’s work is the way you can hold onto the display cases, and even lean on them, (they are naked white blocks, like CAD designs of the wooden ones they are modelled from). Being able to touch the surfaces of the cabinets locates your own body in VR space and time. The virtual fire emanates real warmth and the images in the cases can be extracted and expanded by your hand movements. I even played with a virtual spider which was walking across a portrait on the wall (sadly it only had six legs so wasn’t very convincing!). When rioting chartists are heard outside, you can look through the window and see them shouting below you.
Outside the grounds of the Abbey, in the ‘real’ village, life felt more virtual than it did in the headset. It was more theme park than a theme park. It all messed with my head and really made me consider, yet again, about this merging of real and virtual, and what it means to us and how we experience this world we live in, and create. It all reminds me of Benjamin and Baudrillard, about how a simulacrum is not a copy of the real, but becomes truth in its own right: the hyperreal. Somehow the street reverses that phenomena, and Collishaw exemplifies it.
Pop over to my other site to find out more.
Forest of Dean open studios event: farOpen Studios, my work will be in Newland group show. Launches Friday 6th October.
Old Passage Restaurant, Arlingham, Casa Interiors in Newnham on Severn and at Creates Gallery, Monmouth, all ongoing.
I know, I’ve been rather quiet on the Flow Projects side. Sorry.
As many people are aware, I’ve been taking a bit of a sabbatical from producing to restart my own practice. Inevitably, as always happens for me, my personal passions have seeped back into my practice as a producer and sparked off something unexpected. It’s all bubbling away in my planning folder, research and conversations have begun. Watch this space to find out when my own creative flow merges with my parallel world and converges to make a wave!
It’s all about the river, of course.
Meanwhile, my explorations of both sides of the Severn are culminating in the production of a book and body of work that manifests itself as original charcoal/chalk panoramic drawings and giclee prints made of them. And it is getting exciting – a bit like waiting for the big bore to arrive on an equinox.
Two new things now rolling on the tides: one, a crowdfunder and two, selling prints via my Carolyn Black Art website. I’ve polished up my digital skills, dredged them up from my background as a video artist and am presently collaging them together to do these things.
Launching in October, there will be a myriad of rewards, some of which will ONLY available via the crowdfunder. There will be an open edition of my most recent drawings – of the Old Severn bridge at both ends. The whole project explores both banks of the river opposite each other, and the bridge is both the entry and the exit of my narrative in the book. Like bookends. The words and images will be framed by them and the prints fro the original drawings will be offered as rewards at a lower price than my usual wall prices. They will be offered as singles, but of course you may wish to buy a pair, to see both sides together and make you ponder about the things that evokes for you.
Next year is going to be a significant one for the Severn Bridges, as it will mark the end of the tolls and open things up in both directions – England to Wales, Wales to England. There are pro’s and cons, and hopefully my drawings will provoke some discussion about them. More flow, probably.
It won’t affect the Severn River though, that will continue to come and go as it pleases, as it always has done.
The other reward will be an opportunity to pre-order the book. Indeed, that’s what the crowdfunder is all about. I need to contract the designer, City Edition Studio, for the publication and print production. The Studio have some great ideas on how we can make sure the book is right for the content, as panoramic images are not the easiest thing to accommodate. It will be pretty special I’m sure.
The project got off the ground thanks to seed funding from Arts Council England, now I need a bit more help to bring the publication to its conclusion. And supporters get a good deal on my prints – it’s a win-win situation.
The panoramic prints on offer will be included in that publication, alongside several others. The images frame the river, and vice-versa. They act as ‘banks’.
The prints will make fantastic Christmas presents and I promise to get them to you in time!
It will be a development from the drawings and set out to create a memorable event that crosses the river and indeed joins communities together too. With my producer hat on, expect it to be substantial, unusual and very site specific. It will be in an unusual place, indeed in several. There will be crossings and sounds and haunting performances.
If this intrigues you, get in touch. It could take a while to get going and I’m going to need a good few partners to make it happen.
5 Soldiers: The Body is the Frontline (Salders Wells/live relay) & Naked Attraction (TV)
I watched this performance on Facebook, the morning after seeing Naked Dating on TV. I’m glad I watched them closely together, because, as a pair, they really do tell the story of how vulnerable and brave soldiers are.
The humanity of the soldiers is powerful in both renderings, but, for me, the creative interpretation and rigorous training of the body in the dance enables me to empathise the most. All corners were covered – team work, discipline, monotony, routine, coherence, obeyance, army as a military machine, gender, the individuals, isolation, camaraderie, fear, panic, terror and everything in between that portrays the complexity of being alive.
The stage set was simple and effective, the constant code displayed on the back wall reiterating the machine-ness of military procedures, that people are merely data now. Their descent reminded me of cherubim in a Michelangelo painting, and Busby Berkeley formations. Both relating to heaven and to hell, to the air and to the imminent ground.
The stage show benefitted from deep research and professional choreography, not to mention exquisite performances by all the dancers. The context is the cultural realm, not an entertaining TV show.
Naked Attraction on Channel 4 is a different thing. I shan’t make generalisations about audiences, why would I, because I watched both. It would be easy to dismiss NA as a cattle market, but having watched it a few times, I have become increasingly fascinated by the way the presenter handles the comments of the potential daters. They are also careful to mix up different cultures, sexual preferences and ages, so much so that I am constantly aware of that, because it is not often seen on TV. I don’t agree with the way it is presented in terms of objectification of the body, but hey, everyone is treated equally and there is a huge amount of respectful conversation and kindness in the way they speak of each other. I find this very refreshing, after the awful want-to-be-a-star programmes, where humiliation and jeering rule. It is also interesting that this dating programme with naked bodies of all shapes and sizes could risk being a bit of a wank-fest, but it isn’t. Without uniforms, we are all the same. And where the stage performance required a leap of imagination to picture the solider that loses his legs, the TV programme is real, there in front of the viewer, and his story unfolds later.
At the beginning of this writing I used the term empathy, but maybe that is not what these shows evoked. They are both about acceptance, accept who you are, what you have, that you are unique, but you are more than your body. They challenge our cultural obsession with how our bodies are, how they operate, how we judge them. The TV does that by beginning with the most vulnerable body parts and moving upwards, ending where most dating begins – with the face. And then the added experience of the voice. We don’t know what work they do, or age they are, until near the end. They are neutralised by the absence of personal detail, the assessment is purely about the body. How fit they are in terms of attraction. But in a machine-like way.
The soldiers in the dance are evaluated by how fit they are on different, more complex terms. They need to be physically fit to survive. That fitness is primarily based on strength and aggressiveness, yet the play reminds us that these machine-bodies are also sensory and tactile. Emotions are expressed more vividly in the play, more deeply, because of the skills of the dancers, producers and whole production team. Whilst the TV presenter of NA plays an important role in monitoring carefully how the date selector speaks.
My MA FA thesis many years ago was about the Digital Body and looked at Orlan, Stelarc and suchlike. They were bodies that wished to embrace machines, prosthetics and augmentation. In both of the above shows, the presentations provide the viewer with a window into the body as machine – as little more than machine – but then metaphorically cut the flesh, letting us see the vulnerable bodies within.
Sometimes my own practice collides with my work as a producer/curator, and this is one of those moments. I commission work for unusual locations – and love to do the same with my own artworks. So a friends house next to a canal and a village church fit the criteria perfectly. Read more about it here
There are some wonderful photos of the place and people, here’s a sample to whet your appetite.
And before you go, please complete my little survey, it’s only has three questions!!!