Author: Inga Burrows
Duration: 3′ 43″
Author: Inga Burrows
Duration: 6′ 18″
A life of fish
A chef’s perspective
The location of this practice as research project is Cardiff Market Hall, a grade 11 listed building situated in the heart of Cardiff city. I set out to explore the possibility of creating an artwork(s), in which multiple-subjectivities within a working community, would be the subject of exploration.
The size of the images for each of the related projections is 2 metres x 3.5 metres. In the context in which the work will be exhibited the screens will be shown opposite one another and screened sequentially. Screen resolution 1920 X 1080.
The Research Question
The research question formulated at the start of the residency was; What strategies could be devised that would possibly engage a work place community, in the process of the creation of an artwork? This question receded once the residency period commenced, to be replaced by the following question. How might documentary filmmaking extend its repertoire of formal and aesthetic strategies in ways that maintain the integrity of the documentary record? Or to put it another way: how might the strategies and approaches available to the makers of experimental fiction films and fine art practitioners be utilised by a documentary filmmaker working in a participatory [applied?] arts context?
The Evolution of the Project Aims
This question was seeded in an earlier PaR project that was completed in 2007, the outcome of the research was a video installation entitled Well I Never…? (www.wellinever.org). The installation consisted of 10 short films in a plurality of genres, each film a memory fragment associated with particular locations scattered throughout the town. My interest in documenting every day experience as a means of generating material for aesthetic experimentation, has surfaced as the key question in this new work.
Visibility became a source of tension between the stallholders and I.
In some instances the presence of the camera gave rise to hostility, and without a work space within the building, my activities were under constant surveillance. As a consequence of this sensitive situation of mutual discomfort, the idea for Folk Glance arose. In creating this work I hoped to attain two objectives. Firstly to use film grammar to convey the ambiguous atmosphere of the place, and secondly to engage the community as performer participants. Folk Glance is an exercise in revealing performance potential, amplifying the characteristic of the market place as performance space. In contrast, the location of the 2nd piece for this submission, Veil Trance is the Bin room, the backstage space within the market place. A static camera is situated in a cave like space, the semi opaque plastic curtain becomes the metaphor for the quality and limits of the relationship established between the filmmaker and the community. The punctuating rhythm of the bodies passing though the plastic curtain, are transformed through editing into a ritual dance. The stallholder’s bodies liberated from the confines of their stalls, cross the threshold into ‘off stage space’ (Goffman), a fertile place for uninhibited interaction between the ground staff, stallholders, and as documented in Veil Trance, the filmmaker.
In the field of video installation documentary form has a pervasive presence, particularly in relation to work, which explicitly engages with socio-political issues. A recent high profile exhibition Artes Mundi, Wales International Visual Art Exhibition and Prize 2010, exhibited a number of works made by internationally recognised artists, which utilised documentary filmmaking techniques. The research question which underpins this project was formulated in response to the ubiquity of televisual modes production, talking heads, re-enactment, investigative narratives, in the gallery space. How might artists extend the scope of aesthetic treatment of documentary material without distorting the material beyond recognition of participant subjects depicted?
The history of installation art practice encompasses a vast range of formally inventive work both in terms of screen aesthetics and in terms of the design of the viewer experience. Exemplified in the cine-installation work of Eija-Lisa Ahtila, Salla Tyke, Anna Tallentire, Pierre Huyghe, to name a few. The particular focus of my research enquiry engages with the genre of video installation art which appropriate broadcast modes of production as art practice. In the formal context of the gallery space expectations of cerebral contemplation, aesthetic immersion, or beguiling bafflement are diminished, in instances where an artwork appears as documentary made for television.
In a number works by contemporary practitioners, the subject of labour and identity, is explored through the interplay of documentary filmmaking techniques and the artist’s playful interruption/interpretations. Two examples of such works are Unsocial Hours (2011) by Estonian artist Liina Siib, and Helsinki Shipyard/Port San Juan (2003) by Finish artist Laura Horelli.
In undertaking this PaR project the intention is to nudge the field of documentary installation towards more aesthetically adventurous space. In exploiting the formal properties of the moving image, the medium’s capacity to represent dimensions of everyday experience, the subjective, the metaphysical, the social, within an artwork can be further exploited.
Over the past decade I have produced a number of community participation projects, which record experiences of objects and places, which consequently are interpreted for screen, as documentary narratives. ‘Lively hood’ continues an exploration of the themes of identity place and memory, in a challenging environment. In this PaR, behaviour in relation to space rather than the amassing of personal narratives becomes the subject of the artwork. Folk Glance and Veil Trance are two works which from the multimedia body of work Lively hood.
The accompanying works that are part of the Lively hood installation include Blue Line (8.24 mins). The camera in this work follows an 8cm blue line painted on the floor of both levels throughout the building. The line marks the edge of territory of each row of stalls, and is a cause of tensions amongst stallholders and between stallholders and management. A montage of vocal and ambient sound suggests the atmosphere of space unseen as the camera’s viewpoint captures only what is visible close to the ground. The minimal imagery documents not just the tensions within the resident community but also the tensions between stallholder and filmmaker, filmmaker and the market hall customers.
The installation also includes a series of documentary portraits of the stallholders, which explore the theme of identity and labour, in and outside of the market hall. In addition to these works I instigated creative encounters with a few of the willing stallholders. Products of those encounters include; a musical score for Folk Glance written and performed by the owner of D P Aquatics, a poem written by the owner of Keepsakes giftware stall and a contemporary interpretation of the Welsh National Dress, conceptualised in conversation with the owner of The Woolpack knitting wool stall. A further output was a solo live performance Home Landing, created in collaboration with performance artist Ailsa Richardson. Ailsa who wore a prototype national dress, I commissioned for the performance, which took place during the exhibition of Lively hood.
I draw on my education in the field of fine art, generating and testing ideas in a playful frame of mind, in conjunction I put into practice the craft skills I developed as an independent film-maker/installation artist. The director training I received at film school has equipped me with the know-how that is required to produce, manage and direct a moving image production, from conceptualisation through to completion and public exhibition.
Two significant outcomes of this research project, which may interest other practitioners, are:
- The appropriation and repetitive utilization of an element of film grammar as a conceptual, and as a dramatic device to motivate the screen action.
- Veil Trance shifts from actuality in the opening sequence to abstracted reality and back to actuality in the final moments. The static camera allows this seamless transition between modes of address to occur within the frame.
The work was partly funded by the Theatre Media and Drama Research Unit and the Arts Council Wales.
An exhibition of all the audio visual material produced during the residency took place in the Old Lbrary, situated opposite the Market Hall in December 2011
The works were screened at MeCCSA 2012, University of Bedfordshire
All reviews refer to original research statements which have been edited in response to what follows
Review 1: Accept work and statement
These two works, Folk Glance and Veil Trance although rough cuts at the moment, convey a real sense of community praxis, as well as revealing the difficulties of attempting to engage the community of stall holders in Cardiff Market in the process – the first, Folk Glance is arresting in its use of eyelines to join disparate characters together. I found the fact that we never saw the wider context of the market frustrating, and satisfyingly so – by remaining in close-up the piece is able to comment on the ways in which the viewer supplies the relationship between stall-holders, drawing on the ‘Kuleshov effect’ identified in early montage theory. As I understand the context of exhibition (from the research statement) that ‘establishing shot’ of the market is supplied by other pieces in the installation. What I liked, too, was the hint of the profession of each person through their costume or the mise-en-scene from the feather lady, the haberdasher and the DVD man to butchers or other food stalls wearing aprons or overalls. In contrast, the second piece, Veil Trance, operates from behind the scenes, using the frame of the doorway to what I now know is the bin room. This is a liminal space and the title captures the hypnotic swing of the plastic flaps as anonymous trader, after anonymous trader enter and exit the ‘back stage’ of the market. It made me think about the very public nature of trading and the boundaries between the public and private spaces of the market. The piece ends with an almost documentary audio snippet of a lady, off screen, discussing her small victory in refusing to clean the men’s toilets. I’d be very interested to see the final cut, with music, but even at this stage these works deserve publication on the Screenworks site.
The research statement is excellent and offers both a reflexive exploration of the research process and useful context. It was useful to see how the research questions shifted in relation to the pragmatics of working in the market and the works that arose out of that process reflect concerns about authenticity, privacy and participatory filmmaking. It might be worth updating the research statement with the more recent impact / presentations. Would it also be worth having a link to the Blue Line piece, if available, if not actually showcasing it on the Screenworks site, just so see the overall context of the exhibition? Any other links to documentation of the final exhibition would also be welcome.
Overall, this is an engaging and thoughtful submission both in terms of the practice and the research statement and I recommend that it be accepted for publication without amendment to the statement, but if there is an updated version of the films it would be preferred.
Review 2: Accept work subject to minor revisions of statement
The submission comprises two short videos, Folk Glance and Veil Trance which reflect a pair of screen-based installations which were exhibited in Cardiff Story Museum from 1st to 31st December 2011. The pieces address the theme of work, more precisely the relationship between work and identity and the way individuals negotiate with and are constrained within the workplace.
Burrows original research question was “what methodologies could possibly be developed to…secure the engagement of a working community in the process of making an artwork?” When the residency was underway she reframed the question. It became,”how might a community contribute to the making of an artwork, with minimal disturbance to their work routine?”
Folk Glance and Veil Trance are a fascinating pair of works whose impact belies their simplicity. They provide distinct and complimentary aesthetic and conceptual responses to the research questions.
Folk Glance consists entirely of a series of head and shoulder shots of stallholders in Cardiff market, with glances that appear to be thrown one to the next through editing. The framing and simple structure ensure that the viewer’s focus is entirely on the faces of the stallholders. As we watch we try to read the faces, to examine their emotional state, and consider how at ease they are in their general performance and in the act of throwing the glance. We scrutinise the sightlines and the edit which, through the artifice of film grammar, appears (more or less) to tie those glances together. The stallholders appear by turns accomplished, awkward, embarrassed, and this viewer felt moved by their participation, and interested in their complicity with the filmmaker. The tension over the filming which Burrows acknowledges in reframing her research question is expressed eloquently within the Folk Glance work.
Veil Trance records the comings and goings of stallholders as they leave the public space of the market for the backstage area where waste is left. The fixed camera position provides a shadowy view as people come and go, their activity “sculpted”, as Burrows puts it , by the editing, so that the piece lifts out of a realist framework. Ambient muzak makes up the soundtrack but gives way in the final minutes to a resonant backstage exchange, a woman stallholder telling the filmmaker how she triumphed, with the support of her fellow marketeers, in a dispute with the management over the definition of her duties. With that anecdote the piece returns to a realist documentary mode.
One critical question I have is about the absence of images which would provide a visual overview of the market. Is it a weakness if, in viewing Folk Glance, we don’t realise that at least some of the stallholders can’t in fact see each other. (I do know this as I am familiar with Cardiff market). While visitors to the Cardiff Old Library installation could also be expected to be familiar with the market and know its layout, this is not true when the videos are seen outside that context. Burrows mentions that there was other work in the exhibition – “a series of documentary portraits of the stallholders…in and outside of the market hall.” Do these provide that visual context? Should they be included in this submission?
Burrows supporting statement is thorough, well-argued and presented. She offers clear and relevant frameworks – both aesthetic and thematic. One question however arose for me in relation to the statement. Are Erving Goffman’s ideas about the performance of the self and notions of back and front stage an explicit conceptual backdrop to the work? If so I would suggest this would be valuable to mention.
Overall, the work is strong and I would recommend it for Screenworks. The conceptual strategies are effective. Burrows succeeds in her aim to provide an exploration of “the inter-subjective relationship between the filmmaker and the host community.” The works are thought-provoking and memorable as video art and successful practice-based research in screen media.