At the end of September, I showed new work at Cinecycle in Toronto, created through the artist residency at LIFT, including a 35mm colour film loop, a super 8mm film projector sculpture, a 16mm black and white film and a 16mm experimental film performance in four stages involving recorded sound, spoken word, live light and shadow play, and of course film projection with optical sound. Terra Jean Long took fantastic photos of the evening. I even had time to realise I was enjoying myself during the performance which went without any hitches. A very fulfilling end to a life changing artist residency!
Tonight is the night where I share my work at CineCycle followed by a short talk and Q & A. I’m really excited to experience the work with an audience. There’s going to be work across 35mm, 16mm and super 8mm formats, sound, sculpture, live action, spoken words and more… These images are of 35mm filmstrips to be shown as a loop from Martin Heath’s amazing projection booth. Cinematic treats are afoot. This morning I’m finishing off some sound recording and then…wish me luck!
The presence of filmmaking and textile apparatus is revealing itself as of central importance to all the work I have been making at LIFT. Alongside a focus on cameraless filmmaking with black and white 16mm film, with access to cameras, editing tables and projectors of all formats, I’ve also been fully engaging with the excited kid in a sweet shop approach. I’ve been able to test out ideas that have been floating around in my head and sketchbooks for a long time. Above are photos of a super 8mm set up I worked with exploring film as thread. I enjoyed the arrangement of the equipment and their shadows and reflections, almost like a temporary sculpture made from: portable wooden step; film rewind arms; cotton spools; coloured cotton thread; black paper; wrist watch; super 8mm film box; super 8mm camera; scissors; sellotape; tripod super 8mm camera; shutter release cable; sandbag; mirror; grip; and old lighting stand. The films I have been testing are shot in one take, recording an action performed for the camera. They are made to be shown as sculptural projection performances. I’m thinking of them as sketches where I choreograph the materials and technology to perform, bringing apparatus out from behind the scenes and placing it centre stage.
There has been significant developments as I figure out how the performance will work at the underground film venue Cinecycle with much pondering, testing and adjusting of my approach. I know all the elements to be included (light, shadow, sound: optical, recorded and live spoken word, film projection, sculpture) and a loose structure of how I want events to unfold over time. Martin Heath of Cinecycle has been a saving grace with his technical knowhow and willingness to find ways of making possible the ideas which I was scared are beyond a realistic grasp. I love his collision of film and cycling languages. Nuts and bolts are stored in film cans, exercise bikes power film projectors and bike chains are rewind arm innards.
Excitement swirls and builds in darkrooms and across light boxes. There’s a constant tension between needing to focus on specific tasks and being a kid in a sweet shop with all these wonderful filmmaking facilities around me. This morning I’m off to shoot some colour reversal 35mm film with the hope of making a 35mm film loop/sculpture. I’ve got other plans for projector sculptures shot using a super 8mm camera and if possible 16mm, which record a performative action in one take exploring the shared materiality, terminology and apparatus of film and thread. I’m determined to realise my ideas and keep telling myself: “It’s ambitious but not impossible!” This afternoon I’m going to change my approach to film editing, working in the darkroom with 50ft of film, avoiding splices and speeding up processing time using a Lomo tank. So much to do, so little time, but oh how I am loving it!
My background in textiles and photography has led to a distinct way of working with film. I handle the filmstrip like a piece of cloth or a photographic print. I’ve been working with tiny pieces of film, watching each fragment develop in the chemicals wondering what will it sound like? Each small strip has been given consideration and a slightly different touch. I was concerned about the different exposures and varying levels of contrast in the filmstrips I’ve been making, but when I tried them in the projector the lighter filmstrips make a softer, quieter sound and the more contrasty filmstrips create louder more distinct tones. It’s tempting to try and change as I am around so much amazing equipment and unrivalled filmmaking facilities, (there’s also perhaps a layer of feeling slightly intimidated!). But I also have to take ownership for the methodology I have developed in relative isolation in the UK and embrace it. What’s really important for me about the residency is creating a performance over time and in space, and the projected image is only one element of that, so I don’t want to spend lots of time trying for precise perfection. In some ways I don’t mind the soft greyness of the images; the process is not creating black and white contrast, but blurring boundaries between disciplines. There’s also the possibility that the exposure variation of the filmstrips could become a structure in the performance, moving from soft to harsher contrasts and back again.
Terminology is a key aspect that connects filmmaking and textile practice: reel; spool; loop; cut; thread and lace the projector. It shows their shared histories and the way filmmaking has appropriated the language of textiles. Language and words are also becoming more and more important in my studio practice. My notebook has always been important as a way to get intangible thoughts and ideas out of my head and onto paper. I use it to record technical data, catch fleeting moments of inspiration, ponder over problems and visualise spatial scenarios for performances or sculptures. I also write academically and creatively. I use text to think through complex ideas and recall embodied memories of past experiences.
Voice, noise and sound have become a central focus of what I am doing and this has been developing through the LIFT residency. I find my own voice through writing, cultivating the ability to articulate abstract sensations and tacit knowledge in words. I use the photographic process, film projection and optical sound to give fabrics a loud presence that demands attention. Through live and recorded sound, I am drawing attention to filmmaking processes that are usually hidden away behind the scenes in darkrooms and projection booths.
Since I’ve been at LIFT I’ve been making soundtracks using a loop pedal incorporating some of the notes I write. I’ve been thinking about playing with the spoken word and written text through filmmaking and performance. I like the idea that text might be spoken, heard and exist as physical echoes in objects and processes. Some words might be read as a glimpse before being snatched away by the projector’s claw.
I’ve been trying to imagine the shape of the performance that I want to make and how I want people to feel. I find this quite a hard question as I usually follow my intuition and have a vision in my head or a drive to make something a certain way without necessarily considering the audience. It’s been more about transporting my studio practice into a public setting, which can be quite nerve wracking as I’m not presenting something I’ve made as a finished product, it’s a live testing of a process which has often been relatively private up to that point. Things can go wrong, they are not fixed and that is quite terrifying. And somehow I don’t want the audience to be confused or bored, but enchanted and delighted at what they are experiencing. I want to hold their attention and guide them through an experience where they are aware of all their senses. I know I want the performance to build from subtle, quiet sounds of the filmmaking process into louder noises of film projection and optical sound. I do not want to launch straight into projection. I want to show the audience how film is about so much more than just a projected moving image. The filmstrip is a physical material form, it relates to our human bodies, its surface reflects light, it makes sounds in the projector, but also as it is handled and touched in the darkroom and at the edit bench.
I’ve spent some time swearing in the darkroom but I have to say the last twenty four hours has reached some new levels. My makeshift buckets, pots, pans and torch is usually consistent in yielding results, granted not industry perfect but that’s not my aim. But time and time again I nursed small chips of film only to reveal a pale cloudy image or complete blackness. Sometimes there’s nothing to do but sleep on a problem. The faint chemical smells on my fingers crept into my deep dreams.
This morning I was determined I would find out what mischief was at play. And lo and behold when I worked with my trusty Kodak 7302 high contrast fine grain release stock results came a plenty. I’d been testing with different film stock from LIFT thinking it was the same type of film, as they are both used for sound recording on film, but no the film is NOT the same. Despite the residency being four weeks, I’m really feeling a sense of urgency. What’s important to me is discovering the types of sounds I can derive from different fabric patterns through filmmaking. I just want to hear what they sound like! The filmstrips are one part of a performance which will involve elements such as optical sound, live sound, the filmstrips presented in a specific way and how this reflects light around the space. I really want to begin to play with all these things together in the darkness soon.
At LIFT I am so lucky to be given a studio space with equipment provided beyond my wildest dreams. Some of the kit I’m most excited to see are the edit benches and trim bins which have fabric bags to protect filmstrips from damage during editing. Before I left Manchester, I collected lots of different lace ribbon with the idea of printing it onto film to create different optical sounds. I also have a selection of samples from a Schiffli lace making machine. The machine was dismantled at Manchester School of Art recently due to it being seen as obsolete. One of the first things I did was to hang all of the lace ribbon on the film trim bin and lay out smaller pieces of handmade lace on the light box creating a collision of filmmaking and textile practices with their materials and apparatus in direct juxtapositions.
I’ve also begun experimenting with creating soundtracks using a loop pedal and have been recording some delicious sounds: the rewind arms turning and clicking; the beautiful tinkling of the metal hooks on the film bin; the clack clacking of a tape measure being pulled and a film rack being strummed with a Steenbeck brush. My own voice crept in as well. I began reading from the instruction manual for the loop pedal and from my notebook filled with ideas and technical notation about my process.