Saturday, March 6, 2010

Interview with Siân Ede, William Shaw

Use and beauty | Siân Ede unravels preconceptions about the purposes of art

Siân Ede is Director of Arts at the Gulbenkian Foundation in the UK. There she initiated a ground-breaking Arts and Science programme, encouraging artists from all art forms to engage with science and technology. With broad experience in fine arts, drama and literature, she frequently chairs and speaks on panels about science and art. She's also the author of Art and Science, and the co-author of Strange and Charmed: Science and the contemporary visual arts.
What, we wondered, did she think of the objectives of the RSA Arts & Ecology Centre? How "useful" is art when it comes to creating social change?
Siân Ede talks to RSA Arts & Ecology's William Shaw.

In Art & Science you write about how scientists talk about the elegance and beauty of a project, but also from the 20th century onwards, you say that artists never do. How has that come about?
I think it's because scientists have a vision of the world as something that is implicitly perfect, and it is their job to find out how it works. This would be particularly true of physicists and mathematicians because they're Platonists, and you can't underestimate the effect of classical thinking - Plato and Aristotle being, in a way, the two sides. This is my philosophical take on it, but I can talk it through as well.
Plato does have this idea of the perfect world that came with the ideal forms. And in mathematics you get people like Marcus du Sautoy, all the time saying he's looking for pattern, and the pattern is an indication that there is a mega-pattern to be found. And I think they go off with a spring in their step every morning because they find things that somehow confirm this and then sometimes don't. But even when they don't they're still finding it. I think that biologists are more Aristotlean and they are more about, "What do my senses tell me?" and "How do I find things out every step of the way?" But I still think there's an implicate way of thinking about things, even though evolution, as we know it, is what biology is based on, it is about the accidental. Physicists would say that it's only responding to the implicate universe.
In the arts we are rooted in the experience of being human. It's a subjective experience. And ultimately we know we die. That is at the heart of it. And so even a concept of beauty has a kind of sense of time passing in it. I did an event at the ICA the other week, Can Art Make Us Happy?, and I said, "Look, there are four latin phrases: tempus fugit, mememto mori, carpe diem and vanitas. And they are all about the poignancy of time passing."
Even though the Romantics were interested in science and enthusiastic about it, Keats' Ode on a Grecian Urn is a central poem for me. It's absolutely central! The people frozen round, "For ever panting, and for ever young", on the point between one thing or another - yet in life we're full of grief. There's this terrible contrast between the ideal and a fantastic sadness.
Then you get the 20th century and there's an awareness that the world is full of grief and wars – I suppose there's always been an awareness of that – and then since Duchamp, a world full of irony. So if there is humour, if there is a lightness of heart, it's tinged with irony and misery.

People think there must be a use for art in issues around the environment – and we believe there is – but quite often they misconstrue what that use is.
Yes. Artists never use the word “use”. What Kant says about art is it's purposiveness without a purpose. And it is a response to the world in any number of interesting different ways because all the artists are looking at it slightly differently. So there is a fundamental problem for me, and I think for the RSA too, and for the Arts Council, about asking artists to make things that have a utility, that are issue-based, in the jargon. You'll get people like Cornelia Parker saying "as an individual I am very moved by the politics and the ethics of environmental issues, but I can't do that in my art." It's not how it works. Because the arts are much more complex and do not have a particular purpose.
Obviously there will be some artworks that have a particular purpose, and interestingly the attitude to nature that we hold enshrined because of Romanticism, means that we are now aware that nature is no longer the nature that it was. Romanticism came about in response to the industrialisation of the countryside. Now we know nature is no longer the sublime, the transcendent, the beautiful, the God-given. It is tainted. It is sad. It is ending.
You can't say, "Hail to thee, blithe spirit!" any more like Shelley did, without being aware that the lark is in decline. If you read the Shelley again you read it with this new awareness and you bring this awareness to it.

Is there a problem then with a project like Arts & Ecology - or is there only a problem if you think about it in terms of "use"?

Oh, subtle question. I mean, you could say, arts and sport, or arts and economics, couldn't you? And arts and anything? In fact my book Art and Science is part of a series of books that are art and anything... Art and Medicine, Art and Sex, and in a way you're just making an interpretive selection. "Ok, let's look towards all the art that looks at the environment, and look at environmental issues." Which is different from being an agenda given to artists. Of course, how can you not make art about the environment? Nobody's isolated.

So Arts & Ecology, or Art and Science, gives you a pair of critical glasses through which to look?
Yes. Yes it does.

I'm going to eat away at this some more because it's obviously of huge concern for us as a project. Matthew Taylor asks the question, "Given that artists are publicly funded and educated why should they not then be obliged to look directly at a social agenda?"
That is an enormously utilitarian question to ask. And it's not one that I could possibly ask because I think art just is. I don't think anybody said to Shakespeare, "What are you doing this for?" I don't think anyone said to Samuel Beckett, "Give us a list of your aims and objectives." Or, "What are the outcomes?" I would never expect artists to answer that even though I think every brush stroke or word is going to be influenced by the politics of their time.

Another argument in relation to social change is that artists are individualists. It's an individualist practice. And it's justified by art. You've got to let them do what they do because they're artists. But we're in a crisis of individualism right now; you could say it's individualism that has got us into this mess.

That's very interesting...yes.

So artists have to change at this point? Do they have to think more collectively? Is there a possibility of a different culture? If art is what it is at any time, can it change?
I think what you say is a profoundly interesting observation, because art came out of human development about 60,000 years ago at the same time as religion and it had a function - if you want to call metaphysics a function. It had a function in giving you a vision of the other world, side-by-side with religion and probably was shamanistic. And it was cohesive; it was there to keep the society together.
I think that one of the great turning points in English literature – we're talking about the beginning of modernism – is Hamlet's "To be or not to be" speech, because I think that's as much to do with the individual as it is to do with the social responsibility, and the rise of the individual is something that happened in modernism.
Until then art was about the collective experience, even if Chaucer and others wrote about the individual. The rise of the individual went through to Freud, which is of course about the "me", and in the 20th and 21st centuries we have been in the centuries of the single person - the outsider. "What is my role?" was enshrined by Sartre and Camus and existentialism. "I have nothing to do with anyone else. I am not part of anyone else."
I am enormously interested in trying to see how far we really are collective and no longer individual and I think it's very interesting to look at neuroscience. That's why I love this question. I'm a bit sceptical about evolutionary psychology. I think we are far more about collective biology than we are willing to acknowledge.
Just before Christmas I did a symposium called Embodied Mind on the neuroscience of performance at RADA, and Antonio Damasio, who is one of the experts on neuroscience of emotion and feeling, was there, as was Raymond Tallis, who is again very interested in the phenomenology of the body, and the playwright Caryl Churchill. We were talking about what's going on in the mind and the fact that the body and the mind are as one. The body expresses the mind and the mind expresses the body. Somebody asked Antonio Damasio about collective behaviour and swarming in animals and he said, well actually that is what's going on in the brain. There is no ghost in the machine, it is all a mass of signalling. I think it's the most interesting idea - that there is not a me. There is an illusion of a me, but it is all swarming and it is better seen as the sum of its parts.

What a great metaphor, at least.
Isn't it? Now it's quite difficult to analyse a society that is complex. We're not living in a village any more. I think there's a lot of interest in the way in which we communicate and act as a body.
Now, your question had political undertones. You're saying it's the responsibility of artists as social creatures, in the global village if you like, to be the voice of conscience. I think that's a fair comment. They probably are. They wouldn't.... express themselves as such. (I'm worried about the word express because people think artists are "expressing themselves". They're not. They're making art.) But I think their interest is very often in collective issues. Very interestingly at the last Venice Biennale - two years ago - there was a huge amount of documentary work, photography, art about the Middle East's problems, the world in environmental crisis. This was shown as art. It's already becoming the collective responsibility as opposed to the old-fashioned idea of the artists communing with his muse.

When it comes to discussing the environment, a lot of art becomes naturally apocalyptic and dark. Is that problematic?

I think what artists like doing is setting up a scenario and then trying to work out what will happen. It's no accident that a lot of writers at the moment are writing books set in the near future, Doris Lessing, Paul Theroux, Margaret Atwood. Lots of writers are projecting into the future and it's almost like they are saying, "Ok, let's imagine what's going to happen?" Faye Weldon's wonderful at this.

Finally, with the economic crisis, do you see a change coming in art?
Well according to the Art Newspaper, which is my Bible in these things, of course there will be because a lot of people who buy art are very rich people. You could argue it's not all bad because some investors - caricatured as the Russian oligarchs - overinflated the price of art, and bought thoughtlessly. I tend to hope some idea of the idea of value and price would be separated off. Apparently the historical art marketplace is holding very strong and it's the more frivolous art pieces - fashion really - which are losing value.

Siân Ede is the Arts Director of the Gulbenkian Foundation and is author Art and Science, and editor and author of Strange and Charmed, Science and the Contemporary Visual Arts.
Above copied from:

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Conversation with Anouk De Clercq, David Berridge

This conversation with Anouk De Clercq took place in Foyles cafe on Charing Cross Road, London on October 2nd 2008. The previous night she had shown her film Building, along with work by the three other members of the Brussels based collective Auguste Orts, at Tate Modern. With each artist showing individual works, the Q&A had prompted much discussion about the precise workings and purpose of the collective, and this was also the starting point of our conversation...

ANOUK: ...Every time we have to talk about this collective - we always look at each other, we are a bit like rabbits in headlights because, I don't know, we are starting to find out what it is because it's only been a year and a half and it's only now through writing these letters to each other that we really go to this level of really talking to each other and really trying to see what the other is all about. Before that it was much more inside our heads and not really said. We felt that there were affinities but we had never had the time to sit down and talk about it so it is really amazing that we have. Then there is the pragmatic level of joining effort.

DAVID: Some of the questions last night seemed like rebukes for the way you were up front about being a collective for administrative reasons to do with arts funding, rather than having utopian, collective goals.

ANOUK: We don't pretend to be anything. Maybe it's the time for something - within visual arts it's not so common that people would start together and join effort. It's much more of an individual approach. It may be related to living in Brussels. In Brussels you have a community of artists coming from all over. So in the Manon [de Boer] film [Two Times 4'33" (2008), which involves a slow pan around the audience for a performance in Brussels of the John Cage piece] the audience includes dancers and musicians - there is this mix. Last night was the first time I saw that film.

DAVID: Seeing Building last night, I wanted to start by exploring this distinct visual language in all your films. What for you does that language consist of?

ANOUK: Well it's changing. Most of the work on the website - like Building - dates from a couple of years ago. Now I'm moving away from screen based work only. But back then I was coming from a classic, experimental film background, New American Cinema, Anthology film Archive, all that. Then with Whoosh I got into 3D animation and that was because I wanted to make text visual - visually interesting - but also keep it readable. I wanted to animate the text.

But when I got into the 3D animation area I was so intrigued by this empty box. You have to build something so it is very close to architecture. So this idea of empty space that you have to fill in, that became a core element of the work. Also, I am intrigued by this idea of other places and wanting to build other places - be it a building or a landscape.

DAVID: And that empty space on the computer - does it have a particular feel or potential or emotion for you?

ANOUK: The strange thing during the process of making a new piece is that you start from this empty landscape or space and slowly you fill it up and build something. But I want the space to be empty enough so that people can still wander around and have their gaze dwell in that space. Not completely fill it. So it is empty space, filling it up, and taking it away again, remaining with a concentrated presence of very little. Something like that. You start from emptiness and you end up with not so much more (laughs). Emptiness again but a different kind of emptiness.

But now I try to relate this landscape or this space that is in the image, to the space that is around the image. So in more recent work the projected image is just one of the elements of the whole piece. I think I would say I build environments now. I wouldn't consider myself a video artist anymore. There's been this evolution from a really experimental film base, 16mm and super 8, to video and 3-D animation, virtual spaces, and then to building environments, with video, music, text, and with architectural elements.

One of the recent pieces I made was called Echo. What I did was make an echo of the actual space in the museum. So there was a screen for which I made an image - a mirror image in 3D of this space, that also transformed the actual space, obviously. It was a very large, white cube space twice this size [of the Foyles bookstore cafe] and I made a revolving door for the opening, as if the wall continued but you could push it around. In the door was a speaker - the door was a medium for sound.

The screen was really big and there were four vertical windows. I made a video image of four windows with a landscape behind the windows - a mirror of the actual windows in the space - so there was a dialogue there. All around the space - thirty five metres of wall - there was a sitting bench I made according to a rhythm, a pattern. The bench continued even behind the screen. All around the space were speakers...

That's what I mean by building an environment: spatial sound, video, architectural, all one big thing. That's what I mean by moving away from the projected image.

DAVID: Do you have a conscious sense of choreographing the experience people have in that space?

ANOUK: It started from this drawing in an old French magazine of the 1930's of people in a boat listening to a concert on the radio. I was very intrigued by the looks on their faces, by seeing people listening. That's what I wanted to see. So I built this environment because I wanted people to listen, and I wanted to look at how people would give this attention to listening in a museum.

The whole spatial sensation of the sound was very important - there were thirteen hidden speakers. Writing the sound for the space was very important. The stories that I heard after and during the show: people would go to the space to be really away, like people would go to a chapel. They were completely inside themselves and very quiet and very.. it's like these in-between spaces, going to a sauna, a cinema, a museum, or an elevator. Those are the spaces that interest me, the spaces that I like building too. So you could say other spaces but I would rather have in-between spaces.

DAVID: You talked last night about films to listen to. How does that inform what kind of visual image you create?

ANOUK: Well I think in my earlier work you could see sound as a way to help look at images. Like how they use soundtracks in classical cinema. The sound is used to make the flow from one shot to another easier or something. But in Echo the image is like a resting point, a focus point to be able to listen. So that makes me, at least in that last piece I did, less and less is happening in the image. Its much more like a space where you could just be. It's not something - there's nothing that I impose. It's like a focus point to be able to listen and wander around in your own head. That's it.

Before there would be more like a narrative flow. In Building - I consider that as being one of my most narrative pieces. It's called Building which is a building and also a verb, so I really wanted to tell this story of architecture which is that you have this line and then you have this surface, then you have a volume and then you see space and then you see that it is an actual space. That is very narrative. Now I am not so interested in that anymore. I am more interested in images that have no beginning and no end, that have a continuous flow, being part of a bigger ensemble of an environment. So it means that the image imposes less. I don't know if that is the right word.

DAVID: My experience of Building is this balance between abstract shapes and patterns, then points where it becomes representational. That tension between establishing one condition and then immediately wanting to get away from it, and so on.

ANOUK: That's the whole play. I draw from reality. You could say in a 3D program you have almost a dictionary of forms. A library of forms, that's what I want to say. So if you want to have a tree in your 3D landscape you can look up and there's a whole bunch of trees. But sometimes I take the form of that library but I completely dismantle it.

For instance in Kernwasser Wunderland you have these flower like shapes. Well that is from the library of the 3D program. It is a palm tree that we put upside down so the leaves are in the ground. What you see is the root of the palm tree. We made the trunk very thin and elegant but what you see and think is maybe like a flower shape is actually the root of the palm tree...

It's like fooling around, playing around with reality, I don't know. It's not only the play between the remains of reality and abstraction, but it is also the whole play between 2D and 3D. In building there's constantly a tension between is this a surface or is there a depth of field - as there is also a friction between the sound and the image. Sometimes it would be synch and sometimes it wouldn't.

DAVID: Are you drawn to using the program because of its restriction?

ANOUK: I feel there's no restriction. I used to film and shoot footage but I like this idea of having a palette of possibilities, almost like you would have a palette of different kind of colors to paint, and then by pushing the right buttons and sometimes pushing the wrong buttons... the machine surprises me a lot.

It's a constant dialogue between me and the machine. I push a lot of wrong buttons (laughs) and then something comes up that wasn't my intention. An image comes up, or a form comes up, and I think I wouldn't be able to think of that. An example would be the bird in Portal. Actually I had this other shape in my head, but pushed some wrong buttons, and something like that came up, and that made me think of another possibility. It's a constant dialogue, keeping it open enough. I do work with drawn storyboards but it's a dialogue. It changes all the time.

DAVID: And images like the birds or the mountains offer a very particular blend of the artificial and the natural, human and machine -

ANOUK: Of course I am very, er, influenced or something by Japanese drawings of Hokusai and Hiroshige, these very minimal drawings of landscape, a couple of lines and shww! you have a landscape, you can just dwell in it. Also not so much the aesthetic quality but more like the feel of romantic paintings of Caspar David Friedrich and this whole idea of wanting to surrender to an environment. I'm very grateful that those guys were there.

DAVID: But lots about those examples, of course, is very different to your own work. Aren't those artists in lots of ways offering examples of things you want to avoid?

ANOUK: I guess it started off... (looks through files on lap top)... I'm looking for a good example. Take Portal. That was made as answer to a question of a curator. He wanted people in different disciplines to make a secret garden and make it public. So I wanted to map my secret garden - an inner world. I wanted to portray my inner world in sound and image. Why I would use the digital: I feel that through abstracting these emotions, also this whole digital approach is more distant - it's not me and a pen, it's not human - there's a machine in-between - I hope that my inner world becomes more open. It becomes like a public park. From a secret garden to a public park.

Because there is this machine, this software in-between, it becomes just a little bit more distant, it becomes less mine, it becomes universal, or like a group experience. I feel most comfortable working with 3D animation to have this openness because otherwise if I would draw or write it the space would be too closed.

DAVID: And part of that open space is a real co-presence of extremes. A sense of apocalypse, flare out, and entropy, yet also something more pastoral and contemplative, generative -

ANOUK: It's very conscious. I'm not so much interested in apocalypse per se, but in these in-between spaces. In Portal there's an edge of that world - you glide off the end of this world we created in 3D into nothingness. In Building at the end - that's my favorite moment. There's this whole trip through the building and at the end you go into a blackness which is not a fade out, it's absolutely not a fade out, it's about going into another space, because coming from where you have been in the building this darkness is a space - it's not just a black surface. That's my favorite moment.

Again, I think you could relate it to my fascination for in-between spaces: Alice in Wonderland falling into another world; going to a sauna, an elevator, where time and space stops for a bit. A chapel. Weightlessness. I think those spaces are very healing. In Echo looking at the faces of the people listening and being in that environment they were very relaxed I have to say. They were inside themselves. It was beautiful to look at. I was very happy to be able to see that happening. That was my film. I wanted to be able to look at the people. I think it's healing. I like to be in these spaces.

DAVID: Healing in what sense? Calm? Peacefulness?

ANOUK: Something like that. Being very safe, comfortable, confident. Yes, comfortable spaces.

DAVID: Which could relate back to your interest in constructivism. I was thinking how your work used the language of constructivism, but where is the utopian revolutionary politics? It's about calm and healing.

ANOUK: It's also about.... If you're thinking about constructivism then I think about my - I don't know what you'd call it - heroes - which is Malevich. Or Rothko. I just try to reduce and go to some sort of essence and remove everything that is anecdotal but just try to go to the core of things. That's also maybe why using the 3D animation: I have an empty box. I am building something. I take away a lot because I want to have this concentrated presence of very little.

Nothing too clutterly. If you have a blank space and you have this one black line as a viewer you have a lot of room left for your own mental projections. In Bachelard's The Poetics of Space - which is my book! - he says that for a writer it's not your talent to construct beautiful sentences that is important but much more your ability to withdraw enough to give space to the reader. That's what you do when you read. You have this whole mental world that you construct from reading someone's words. Your talent is revealed by withdrawing - a talent for withdrawal - and not by filling up worlds.

I like that whole play. I think that's your job as an artist: to balance between that - portray your inner world and at the same time it's a gesture towards other people so you have to be able to take away to let other people in. So this whole - it's a balance act. That's work. It's very conscious.

DAVID: I was interested in End, the theatre piece you've been working on, partly because I'm curious what happens when you re-introduce a body into this virtual space. What happens?

ANOUK: This piece was a collaboration between me and Kris Verdonck, a Belgian performance artist. He asked me to do a video piece for a performance. I'm always a bit skeptical. There's a lot of shows that have video in them and I never really know why. It's a kind of fashion, I guess, but it's seldom that I say "okay, that's why they had video in that show." But I really appreciate his work so I wanted to do this effort of thinking how it might work.

We linked my image to one of the performers. One of the ten figures was pulling a rope. As he was pulling he also pulled the image which was a mixture of 3D and films of clouds. Clouds, smoke, blackness, that kind of feel.

So he pulled clouds basically. The clouds moved really slowly from one side to another. The projected image was twelve metres wide and three metres high. It was very panoramic - really like old days of cinema, old days of theatre, with this idea of having a panoramic background and all the characters in front. He made the clouds move as he moved. You could make this connection with Atlas carrying the weight of the world, with the worker, almost the Russian mine worker, that kind of thing. But at the same time he was pulling clouds. I think it worked. The presence of the image was very organic linking in to this one character and the theme of the play. It became more and more black.

DAVID: I imagine the flux and variability of live performance is a contrast to the control, order and solitude of working the animation program on your laptop?

ANOUK: In 2002 I did a live video performance. I come from a music background. I thought, jesus, this work I'm doing is all so controlled! I want to see what it does to me if I do it live. It was a disaster. (Laughs) I worked with two musicians and they were making music and I had to play with the images. It didn't work for me at all.

DAVID: What was wrong?

ANOUK: I had this.. I still had this narrative flow I wanted to follow. I felt that every form had to have its time to evolve and grow, then grow into something else. Sometimes I felt I had to move too quickly. I had to impose an evolution on the movement of the form. I didn't want to do that. I wanted to give it the right amount of time. The musicians had to laugh. We had fun - God! they said to me, this is really not your thing. I was so miserable after each show. I like to give things its proper time.


ANOUK: But with this performance [End] in 2008... maybe it's an age thing. Since 2002 I've let go of the whole linear approach, that there's a beginning and an end, so now I make images that don't necessarily have to have clicks and stages, plot points and turning points and all this almost classical narrative language that's inside my head. I let go of all that. It's much more an experience. So with the clouds it's a flow that can have the presence of another human being. Allowing this guy to pull the images, to choose the rhythm of the cooling. It doesn't work if you have a linear approach to images.

DAVID: So if it's not narrative what provides the structure for pieces now? The space? Duration?

ANOUK: I constantly go back to Echo - it's one of the last things - I was very happy with it - it's a flow, like a bubble, an environment. You can step into it and step out of it. It's so much about architecture, you step into a building and you step out of the building, that's the idea. It's not like you sit down in a cinema, the light goes out, the projection starts and you watch it from beginning to end, that's not what I feel is very rewarding for me now as an artist. As a viewer and spectator, yes, but not as an artist.

It starts in my work with the revolving door in Echo: you flow into another space and then the light is different The sound, too, is so choreographed. We made sacks of sound, a mix of focal speakers and broader speakers, a work of months, choreographing space. So you just flow in and you flow out...

DAVID: Flow sounds very... experiential. Your images also evoke measurement, surveying, and a more mathematical sense of space...

ANOUK: Isn't that what architecture is about? I work and talk with architects. You create a space for people to move in but of course it's measured spaces. That's architecture. I don't think you can have anything more controlled than putting up a building and almost forcing people to go up and down the stairs. A choreography for people to move into - that's what I do - I'm more architect now than a video artist.

DAVID: But Bernard Tschumi, whose work has a lot of resemblances to your own, also has as a key assumption that there can be no simple predictive relationship between the space and the activities that take place in it.

ANOUK: Of course it depends. I worked with architects Robbrecht & Daem on the renovation of the Filmmuseum in Brussels, finding a new way to present their collection of classical film in the digital age. We discussed and drew the plans together. A new experience. (Laughs) Quite controlling I have to say.

In Echo, except for bench, revolving door, and screen, it's not that I impose so much in that space. It's much more putting up walls with the sound, one sound space into another. Sound is never - even if you have the most focal speaker - you can never close it in, one sound fades into another one. A good lesson for me!

DAVID: In the films how are - were - you working with sound? At what point did you combine sound and image?

ANOUK: Here too there has been a big evolution. In the beginning I was much more interested in synchronicity, particular in Sonar or Petit Palais. Both are tracks by Ryoji Ikeda, a Japanese electronic minimalist artist. Both were pieces where I had the sound first and then made the image. I don't think I will do that anymore. There's a tendency that you have the soundtrack and you hang the images on it like you would hang clothes on a clothes rack. It's kind of like translating sound into the image, possibly.

I don't feel that that is very interesting any more for me. In the beginning I was very interested in that because I come from music. I wanted to connect both worlds, image and sound, and also dancing, making it connect through synchronicity.

As I got more confident, maybe, within image and within music, I was able to let go of synchronicity and much more play with frictions, with how if you have a sound-layer and an image-layer then with these two layers you can... Something you can't tell in the image-layer you can tell in the sound-layer. I see layers as much more independent, and I have no sense that because the image does this the sound has to do this too.

DAVID: So now you develop sound and image separately...

ANOUK: Now it's going like bricks. Now it's .. I work a lot with one sound artist, Anton Aeki. Of course if you work so long together you can experiment much more. You don't need to explain so much anymore what you want to do.

DAVID: So you discuss, work separately, come together...

ANOUK: Exactly. Its really a dialogue. A strong dialogue. I start with this whole description of the environment I want to make. He starts to propose sounds, I start to propose sounds, and so it just clicks, clicks, clicks. Then I give him the image...

DAVID: In the discussion last night people talked about anti-cinema. Is the development of your work based on the refusal of certain conventions and practices of cinema?

ANOUK: I don't see it as refusal. Have you read Breaking the Narrative, the book of interviews by Doug Aitken? [ Noel Daniel, ed. Broken Screen: 26 Conversations with Doug Aitken: Expanding the Image/ Breaking the Narrative, 2006] I think the cinematic experience is much more than only sitting in a film house and having a classic film approach. I don't think cinema is dead. I feel much more comfortable with a cinematic experience that is very broad and that implies architecture.

In the filmmuseum work, for instance, I proposed a series of flat screens. Then there is a Muybridge like scene going on so to see it, you have to walk from one end of the screen to another. Plus, on the image - there are touch screens with abstract black forms you can move to see the image behind them.

That's a cinematic experience, and it combines screen cinema with an interactive experience so it's just so much broader. But it's nothing to do with refusal. It's not a negative thing. The possibilities are there to create a cinematic experience that is may be much more illusive when it is not kept only on the screen. Why would you? You have surround sound, so why wouldn't you have a surround cinematic experience in general. It's just grown.

DAVID: I guess the idea of anti cinema is also engaging ideas about spectacle, celebrity, a visual experience that is oppressive so there's a critical move to create new notions of image, new situations for the spectator-

ANOUK: That's also what became clear yesterday [at the Tate Modern screening] - the four of us: we ask another question to the audience, much more asking them to engage.

In classical cinema you have this film of Queen Christina with Greta Garbo. At the end of the film you have this long - such a long! - zoom in on the face of Greta Garbo, maybe three minutes, which is so long in the classical cinema at that time. She stands on the bow of the ship and looks straight ahead, nothing, a blankness- and so the camera just moves into the face and as an audience you can project so many things.

It's the end shot of the film so what you've seen, what you've lived with this character - she doesn't reveal anything. Her face is so blank but you just go in on her face and you just project emotions that you think - it's so amazing. To be given that time to do that and to be given that trust. This gesture of a director not explaining every emotion that goes on in this woman's emotions or mind but leaving it like this - that's wonderful. Kind of like... a blank.

That's why I like the end image of Building so much... the blackness is not an end... it's just another space.. you just go into another space...

DAVID: On your website you describe 20x20 as a work that involved finding "A strong poetic image as a metaphor." Does that explain your process more broadly? Metaphor for what?

ANOUK: An inner world. It's a lot about emotions, knots and frictions. Portal is a translation of that inner world. Or in Conductor: I made that during a time when I was extremely angry, so I had really strong emotions and somehow couldn't ventilate it in the real world. I'm an artist so there is a reason why you choose to communicate with images and sounds. That reason might be a little less there now but, anyway...

I tried to translate that anger into that piece. The clouds become darker and darker and there's this lightning and this release at the end. At the same time there is this little light - it's a presence that's there. It's a breathing a calming presence so even though the whole world around that breathing element is going crazy, the tiny element is really there.

A lot of the pieces you could really make a psychological analysis of it if you wanted. You could make a description of it as a painting of an emotion absolutely. That's how I work. Its not so much how the result is formal sometimes but the starting point is very personal, very emotional, very psychological.

Before drawing I make descriptions - a lot of words before making images. I write a lot before I start - random thoughts all around this one feeling I can't put my finger on. It's very vague, a sensation, and then I try to grasp it by writing around it, basically the whole editing starts with writing. I start deleting things: that's not it, that's not it. I keep this cloud of words, short sentences, it's never really a linear text. It's always more poetic.

Then I start drawing from those words also trying to grasp the sensation in images and in sounds. Slowly and slowly I get to the core of what that sensation is and then give a title to the work. There is that scene in Alice in Wonderland where she goes into the forest and then she loses her words for things and her own name and it's by living different kinds of stories and meeting all these creatures in the forest that she slowly finds again that, okay, this is the word for this and this is my name.

DAVID: I was thinking about writing about your films and how they were resistant to description. I didn't feel I could describe them because they didn't lend themselves to a simple fit of word and object. So either my attempt would become incredibly, ridiculously complicated or I would have to have some other, indirect approach to language. So it's curious that writing should be such a part of your own process.

ANOUK: It's something that comes out in the letter writing that we [the member of Auguste Orts] have done. I was writing to Sven [Augustijnen, whose film Johan (2001), a study of a man with aphasia, was also screened at Tate Modern] about language and how I felt. I told him that for me language is really a poor means of communicating. I am much more interested in reading between the lines. I was hoping I gave him enough space between my lines so he would know what I mean but in a different way, not through words only.

I felt so strongly about Johan, just because he focussed so much on hesitation, on the blank spaces between words. Usually on TV, documentary, a radio show, silence is a taboo - never let that blank space speak. It can reveal so much. There's a friend of mine who has a radio show. Each day she has a one hour conversation with an artist. She was saying one of her favorite shows was with a poet. She asked him a question and he was hesitating so there was five minutes of radio silence. It reveals so much that is not language, not words, that's, well... it's an attention. You just cut it out in cinema or radio shows. You cut it, move on. It's all words.

DAVID: The film about Johan was remarkable because he was so present, there was so much going on, and yet his spoken vocabulary was so small. It's an image for what we have been talking about.

ANOUK: I feel his struggle in my head. It's kind of recognizable in some weird sense. In a letter to Sven I wrote that music is much more direct ways of communicating.

DAVID: Why? Because it's less specific or vaguer or indirect in some way?

ANOUK: It's less direct. It's a sensation. It touches the soul much more directly. I didn't know you could feel the soul until I went to a really good classical music concert. That touches an area that isn't touched in any other way. Music, much more than anything else, has such a subtle way of entering. A composer has an idea in his head, but the way he makes it enter inside you, it's such... that's a work space for me.

DAVID: So you are resistant to using language in films? But you whisper in Me+ and there is the subtitled head in Whoosh?

ANOUK: I did it. I stopped. In Portal there were like subtitles. There was the idea of a secret garden and I wanted to have this vastness - but connected to this one person so it would be their inner world. The language was necessary to have this vastness. I put it at the right of the image so you don't have to watch it. Someone pointed out that it was really a pity I put that presence in the image because this person wanted to be completely free and go into the landscape and not be - not have this landscape be attached to one person. That's why I tried to let language go.

DAVID: So what relationship did you want?

ANOUK: I didn't want to make the landscape... it was like a guide. It is really a trip in Portal - constantly moving, very slowly. A guided tour through a mental landscape, an inner landscape. This presence of language is the guide - if you look left you will see blah blah blah. These words came from a blinking cursor. It was always there. The cursor was always blinking, like the light in Conductor. Almost like a breathing. On off on off. There is a presence and sometimes words comes out of it.

I like the macro-micro idea that you have a cosmos and you have this one little person. This dialogue. (Laughs) That's not a dialogue it's friction! It's friction and dialogue at the same time. It relates to your job as an artist - to go away from your own hermetic little world and open it up so it becomes interesting to other people as well and maybe also universal.... attempts. Trying.

DAVID: Universal? You mean...

ANOUK: (Laughs) Dangerous territory! Very dangerous territory! I have read Jung. This idea of collective memory, archetypes. I'm aware of that. I don't know if that's - I'm just saying these terms that are really very charged and very loaded. (Looks at watch) I need to go.

DAVID: We should finish. So where are you right now? No single screen projections. It's all space, environment, architecture and movement?

ANOUK: It's also public space. I get asked a lot to do pieces for public space, which is a weird question for someone so into virtual reality. But I get asked a lot and I really like to work in terms of public space...

DAVID: Using these ideas of calm and retreat and healing?

ANOUK: Absolutely. One piece will be an installation in psychiatric hospital that is also a museum, in Ghent. It's an amazing space already, a mixture of museum goers and mental patients, a former abbey. You go through this big wooden door into another world. I've been asked to make an installation, to turn it into a more open space, for both gallery visitors and patients. Also something else for a really big square - bigger than St. Marco in Venice. They know I'm not going to impose. I leave it empty. I don't know what I'll do. But it's an interesting question.

DAVID: And a project you haven't been able to realize but would like to?

ANOUK: So many. There's one I'm trying to realize: they asked me to have an idea for a water tower. I wanted to change the facade of the watertower so it becomes a mirror. If light falls on it it's a beacon and it's a reflection of its surroundings. That's an idea I'd love to see it. It would be very expensive though. But that's something I'd really like to do.

Above copied from:

Sunday, February 28, 2010

George Brecht's "Event Score" (1996), Elyse Nelson

George Brecht’s “Event Score” (1966)
Elyse Nelson
Art, Music & Theory Since World War II
Seth Kim-Cohen
October 16, 2007

George Brecht stands out among the Fluxus group as an innovator, pushing the ideas of his predecessors, Cage and Duchamp, into an open-ended, ever-elusive world of objects, sound, performance, and theory. In his 1957 essay, Chance-Imagery, Brecht seems to find art as a logical nexus among his interests in science, probability theories, and objects. He further stumbles into a career as an artist/musician while taking John Cage’s highly influential class at the New School for Social Research (New York) in 1958. The origins of his practice are significant in understanding his work as that of an untrained musician who embraces art in the light of expanding media of the 1950’s and 1960’s, and thus using it as an open arena for experimentation. Brecht’s chosen platform for such experimentation manifests itself in the shape of his “event scores” (a term coined by Fluxus artists). Among the dozens of situations that are sketched out in his “event scores”, perhaps the most beautifully understated yet loaded and paradoxical may be found in his 1966 “Event Score:”

Arrange or discover an event. Score and then realize it. (fluxworkbook 27)

In a short ten words, Brecht cuts through the material employed in his other scores, instructing that a non-descript ‘event’ be manipulated in every sense that he sees fit. The score stands above the rest as a paradigm of contemporary artistic thought in the 1960’s, critiquing – and simultaneously advocating – the nature of art as an ‘event’ (one brushing the fringe of reality) if only set aside as such by any one who chooses to do so.
To speak of his “event scores” in broader strokes, they may be seen as instructions for performances or guidelines for a particular situation, which he calls an ‘event.’ The use of sound and objects is typical, and he often instructs action between the two, such as in his “Drip Music” (1959) in which water is dripped from a source into an empty vessel (fluxworkbook 22). In other scores, he calls for the performance of specific actions by the audience and/or performers. Brecht blurs the distinction between the mediums by creating scores that call for ‘events’ that lie between object and sound, performance and reality, and physically exist as replicable paper objects written in miniature stylized stanzas. Higgins uses the word intermedia to define the in-between state in which these scores exist (4). They neither mix nor juxtapose media, but rest between them in a state of flux (thus the group name Fluxus). Higgins’ use of the term intermedia is the closest one comes to pinning down the proper nomenclature for the many ambivalent instances such as the appearance of the sound-object that Brecht calls for in “Drip Music.”

But among the many uncanny situations that unfold in Brecht’s ‘event scores,’ his piece “Event Score” (1966) remains evermore elusive. In cleverly giving the title of the piece a name that is synonymous with the entire body of work in which it lies, he speaks of the common principles underlying his work as a whole. To start, he uses the word ‘Event’ to suggest that the score draws out a situation. In reading it, however, one becomes aware of the fact that while Brecht asks for many different manipulations of the ‘event’ within the score, the event itself is left undefined. This ambiguity is intentional, and perhaps Brecht does this in order to encourage the reader to think more seriously about what constitutes an ‘event.’ Secondly, Brecht recognizes his work as a ‘score’, suggesting its likeness to a musical score and thus his role as that of a composer. His claimed authorship, however, remains paradoxical, as he otherwise seems to deny himself the designation as the genius behind his work. Dezeuze calls Brecht “one of the most self-effacing artists around,” referring to the way in which he leaves his scores exceedingly open and enigmatic so that those who come across them may interpret and perform them in such subjective manners that they become, in part, their own work (9). So in using the word ‘score’ in the title of the piece, while he in some ways calls attention to himself as the composer/author/artist, Brecht perhaps more importantly calls attention to the other necessities of any musical score – the performers and the audience.

In Brecht’s scores, and in this one in particular, the performer/audience relationship is left undetermined. Brecht himself being an untrained artist does not require any skill of his performers and never even designates who is to perform his scores at all, be it artists or musicians. His scores are left as open haikus printed as public statements and (preferably) distributed at large. The way in which he states the content of “Event Score” in imperative form implies that he speaks directly to the reader. So in reading the score, the audience and/or performer is confronted by Brecht in many forms, being asked to participate as the composer, performer, and audience of the score. To appreciate this notion, it is necessary to understand this score piecemeal, for each word is loaded with meaning and possibility.

First, he tells the reader to “arrange or discover an event.” The word ‘arrange’ has been carefully selected because the verb ‘to arrange’ can be interpreted in many ways. Brecht may be asking the reader to organize or plan an ‘event,’ to position objects and/or sounds and/or performers into a situation, or even to ‘arrange’ in the musical sense, to compose sounds, objects, or gestures into a situation. As Dezeuze notes, he chooses the word ‘arrange’ over ‘assemblage’ to differentiate his ‘events’ from the combines of other artists such as Rauschenberg (7). As stated before, Brecht is not interested in juxtaposing or mixing objects and/or mediums. He wants to ‘arrange’ them into new situations fitting between media. Brecht also gives the option to ‘discover’ an ‘event’. This may be interpreted as to simply call a found object/sound/situation of reality an ‘event.’ This idea was influenced by Duchamp’s readymades, such as his 1913 Bicycle Wheel or 1917 Fountain. Duchamp advocates through his readymades art as objects of reality that are placed into the art world by choice of an artist. Brecht takes Duchamp’s idea a step further, allowing the art to be not only an object, but also any sort of undefined ‘event,’ whether it be a set of actions, a sound, an object, or a situation between any of the former. In using the disjunction ‘or’ in juxtaposing ‘arrange’ and ‘discover,’ Brecht gives the reader the option between the two. The instructions are mutually exclusive, as he asks the reader to do one or the other. He is specific in using a disjunctive rather than conjunctive as to avoid the urge to both ‘arrange’ and ‘discover,’ which may lead one to invent, or fabricate, an ‘event.’ To invent a situation would be too much in line with the tradition of artists who feel the need to be creative. Brecht desires a more subtle art, one that exists as an intermediate between reality and artifice, what Dezeuze calls “almost nothing” (10).

In the second sentence of “Event Score,” Brecht directs the reader to “score and then realize [the event].” Here, he passes the baton to the reader, instructing for him/her to take his role as composer or artist. Brecht recognizes that ‘arranged’ or ‘discovered’ situations/objects/sounds are not actually ‘events’ until they have been legitimized by the author as such by means of recognizing their ‘event’ status in some concrete form. To ‘score’ the ‘event’, then, means to dictate or transcribe the situation into an ‘event,’ thus giving it status as a situation outside (or at least on the fringes) of reality. Next, Brecht directs the reader to “and then realize it.” Once the ‘event’ has been legitimized, it must be acted out, seen, or understood as an ‘event’ by the performer and/or audience. The verb ‘to realize’ is once again a broad term that Brecht uses to muddle the distinction between audience and performer. It is unclear whether Brecht is directing the reader to ‘realize,’ as in understand the ‘event,’ or to ‘realize,’ as in physically make the ‘event’ happen.

After treading through Brecht’s carefully constructed language, one seems to understand the options that Brecht outlines, yet may still be dumbfounded as to how to define the ‘event’ within “Event Score” and thus understand how it may be ‘realized.’ But with more thorough consideration, it becomes obvious that this ‘event’ is entirely capable of being ‘realized,’ and it is only the overwhelming degree of freedom that Brecht gives to his reader that confuses him/her. He truly values the risk involved in leaving such works undefined. Dezeuze sees this as an extension of his earlier experimentation with chance in art:

Brecht discovered that simply leaving performers to make the decisions usually controlled by the artist was an equally, if not more, effective way of introducing chance into an artwork.
(Brecht for Beginners 2)

Therefore, to ‘realize’ “Event Score” would be as simple as to ‘discover’ (or happen upon) an exploded pen, ‘score’ it in some fashion, and then ‘realize’ or understand it as art. Brecht would argue that this specific interpretation of “Event Score” would be just as legitimate as any other interpretation.
So, “Event Score” can be readily realized, but still the question remains whether it needs to be. In a sense, the score has already realized itself as paradigm for all scores by Brecht and thus does not need to be further realized. It is as if Brecht writes this score as a way to divulge his own valuable process in writing scores. On the other hand, “Event Score” seems to need to be realized by its reader because Brecht never justifies language as an artistic objective. In fact, in his text Chance-Imagery, he writes, “words about art are so indefinitely inferior to art itself” (4). He does not write scores as products but rather as a means to a more material end. He is specific in “Event Score” that it is to be “[scored] and then [realized].” He does not give the disjunctive connector or as he does in the former part of the score. He uses and then to imply that a score is nothing without being drawn to completion, being both scored and then realized. Nothing in the score is to be overshadowed, for it is his brilliant and humorous economy of meaning within the ten-word score that marks its effective power and signature as a paradigm for all other scores.

Works Cited

Brecht, George. “Chance-Imagery.” A Great Bear Pamphlet, Something Else Press, 1966: 1-29. 14 October 2007

Daneuze, Anna. “Brecht for Beginners.” Papers of Surrealism. Issue 4 (Winter 2005): 1-11. 14 October 2007

Friedman, Ken, Owen Smith, Lauren Sawchyn, Excerpts From: the Fluxus Performance Workbook. Performance Research e-publication, 2002. 15 October 2007

Higgins, Dick. “Synesthesia and Intersenses: Intermedia.” Something Else Newsletter 1 No. 1 (1966): 1-12. 14 October 2007

above copied from: