The Chris Packham documentary has helped me consider why I found making my Crowdfunder film very hard to do.

Is it because it’s also hard for the viewer to watch?

I watched the documentary about Chris Packham the other day (catch it on BBC iPlayer if you haven’t seen it). It was the best TV I’ve seen for a long time. It was excruciating to watch in some places, and, equally, felt like a privilege to watch too. Packham, who has spent his entire life talking intelligently about his subject matter – animals and nature – was now the subject of his own documentary. The camera was on him and his coming to terms with Aspergers.

It has made me think about how we can switch from being both object and subject, and how that feels. Packham trained himself to overcome his deep-seated discomfort of being filmed and having to talk to others, and to do so he actually used his impairment. He declared that he doesn’t care about other people, he’s not interested in them, so that gives him an advantage over you or I, because most people do care about what others think, and that affects how we behave.

As a visual arts producer, I have done marketing and PR for many projects and have always found it to be relatively easy, because it’s not about me. My first learning curve about having to promote my own work in an objective way was when I set up Flow Contemporary Arts. I realised that whilst the name provided me with a mask, the mask was semi-opaque, people soon knew that it was me, a sole-trader, behind it. From my perspective, that was challenging, but it comforted me to know that Flow was my external label. When I produce projects for others, my name rarely appears on any publicity, which is written in third person. To begin with I was muddled by that and tended to switch from third to first when I wrote on my Flow website. As my confidence improved, I stuck to using first person – after all, everyone knew by then it was only me, a freelancer. I had developed my own voice. There was no place to hide.

Returning to my art practice this year, I was again confronted with the demon of self-publicising, but with no mask. I joked about ‘coming out of the closet as an artist’, but, in truth, I really did feel like that, and a naked one too. Which makes me consider that for years I taught life drawing, but have never worked as a nude model myself.  I’m camera shy and always avoid having my photo taken.

I thought making a video for the Crowdfunder would be fairly easy, after all, I used to edit video for my art installations; I can project manage and I can tell a story. But it was torture. My daughter gave me some great advice (she produces documentary films as BlackBark). I asked her to film me, because I (wrongly) thought that would be more comfortable for me rather than a stranger. She pointed out, more than once, that I was pulling weird faces, which she said I probably only use with my children!

Which brings me back to Packham’s TV documentary. Here, you see a man who stated very clearly that he cannot make eye contact with people and has no empathy for humans. He loves animals and cares for them tenderly, with passion and commitment. We find watching animals on screen entertaining, so why is watching human subjects speak about themselves to camera so uncomfortable?

Packham can’t bear social situations and avoids them wherever possible. He became his own subject for research and set out to look at how others manage, and try to fix, their condition. He lives alone, miles from anywhere, and anyone. Which is why it is so amazing to see him being so vulnerable on TV, speaking clearly about his ‘impediment’ and how it has affected his life, albeit in a detached manner. The only time emotion chokes him up is when he talks about his kestrel. Not diagnosed until he was in his forties, he had struggled all his life because he didn’t understand why he was different to other people. It appears that the diagnosis gave him the ability to accept his condition and be who he is.

I believe that all of us suffer from something similar, to different levels, and the intensity varies according to our habitat/situation. For some, an exam or interview will blow all confidence out of the window, for others having a profile picture on Facebook is one step too far and makes them feel horribly vulnerable. Some people who step out into the spotlight and become media stars develop a public persona, whilst fiercely protecting their subjectivity in their private lives.

For me, the whole Crowdfunder experience is uncomfortable, because I feel like I have to sell myself. But I am not up for sale – my art is. There’s a sense of pressure when doing Crowdfunding to share who you really are, to connect with the viewers, to build empathy. But when you can’t speak to camera without recoiling, that’s a hard thing to do. When I’m scared of something, I generally close my eyes. I’m a visual person, if I can’t see the thing that scares me, I can cope. I do it when someone driving a car I am in takes a bend too fast, or when there is violence or blood in a film. I used to do it when I was driving if I thought I might hit a rabbit on the road – but realised that was dangerous, so have managed to control that reflex!

If only I could learn to control the compulsion to close my eyes when I’m being filmed, life could be easier!

Anyway, this is a story I felt compelled to share with you, making myself vulnerable but without looking down a lens. And now, the painful part:

PLEASE SUPPORT MY CROWDFUNDING APPEAL – THERE ARE ONLY 6 DAYS LEFT 

Note that pledges for cards and prints will be fulfilled at the special Crowdfunder prices, whether or not the appeal succeeds (if you still want them). Obviously, the book won’t.

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There’s something brewing next to the River Severn………

….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.

Now it all has to be gathered together to publish a book – but I need your help to do this. I’ve done most of the drawings and written many of the words, all unpaid. BUT I DO need to pay a talented graphic designer and a printer to put it all together for people to read.
There are some lovely rewards you can pledge for and some bargains in terms of limited edition prints and, of course, you can pre-order the book. The prints are of the Old Severn Bridge, seen from both banks. The entry, and exit, to my stories.
Have a look, you might fall in love with this idea and want to own part of it. I hope you do!
Thank you!

virtual reality, reality virtual? Matt Collishaw at Lacock Abbey

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.

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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.

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an early plate camera on a shelf projects a digital presentation onto the wall, with the concealed projector – Plato eat your heart out

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Film set, BBC website

 

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The main street in Lacock

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just a great shot of the big hall with the sculptures in!

 

 

 

 

 

 

news about upcoming exhibitions, crowdfunder & projects-in-waiting

EXHIBITIONS:

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.

UPDATING

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.

THE CROWDFUNDER

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!

THE PROJECT

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.

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5 soldiers and Naked Attraction – bodies, machines, humans

BBC Arts was live — with The Space Arts and Rosie Kay Dance Company.

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.

Beautifully.