A Film of One’s Own [Archive Fever] (2015), solo exhibition, PhotoAccess Canberra, Nov.
Some words about this exhibition from the opening talk:
The title of this exhibition is important. It references Virginia Woolf’s A room of one’s own and Jacques Derrida’s Archive fever: a Freudian impression.
Archiving one’s self
The work in this show all comes from my abstract super 8 films literally sticky-taped into an old 16mm narrative film of mine. I cut out the middle of the 16mm film and taped the super 8 into the gap.
My idea was to ‘archive myself’ by putting all my super 8 films inside this 16mm film. This connects with the [Archive fever] in the title. Jacques Derrida gave a talk at the Freud Museum in London in 1994, translated by Eric Prenowitz into English as ‘Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression’, a text that has reverberated so widely for anyone dealing with culture and the past. A resonance for me from Derrida’s piece is his reading of the psychoanalytic process as one of interrogating one’s own archive. The article is much better known for the way it lays out Derrida’s thoughts about the formation of ‘the archive’ and its construction of power. For me he sets these ideas down in service of his reading of the psychoanalytic process as mining one’s own archive and the consequent perils and discoveries.
So in this work I double archive myself, nesting one era of work inside another. What I learnt from this is that Derrida is right about the hiving off that happens when we consign something to the archive. I had not realised before how dramatic the act of archiving can be.
The physical strips of super 8 that are inside the 16mm can not behave as they did. I can’t run them through the projector or put them on the scanner as I could before. But I do have access to them in a different, ‘archived’ way and that is all the digital surrogates you see in this exhibition – stills made from digital scans of the prints and a 4 image video work of the new 16mm strip that contains the super 8. The series of 4 single prints are the super 8 strips before they were archived into the 16mm. Those can’t now be recreated (the digital file remains of course) like that, the films are now taped in, archived.
A film of one’s own
On a simple level, this work archives my process as a maker and my shift from narrative to abstraction. The 16mm film is my 1993 student film. At that point I wanted to be Jane Campion. My practice evolved to super 8 and these quickly became almost film-less – as the digital prints show, they are made from paper, trace paper and shards of celluloid taped together.
The shift to abstraction came from lots of places.
Virginia Woolf comes in here. What I take from her text is that creativity needs resources. That still resonates powerfully for me. Resources seem to have gotten tighter and tighter for cultural production in general and my own resources never match what I’d like to do – resources in terms of time, space, things and because I collaborate a lot, access to my peers and colleagues is also increasingly restricted – they can’t spare time et al.
In a way, I have built my response to this limitation into my practice. Traditional film making is excruciatingly resource intensive. My response to this has been to construct a practice that is ‘poor’ – my mantra has been to work with what I have in a very literal way. It’s a ‘making do’ algorithm that is quite neatly mirrored in my use of analogue film – super 8 and 16mm (I have used 35mm just once). I read the material film tradition as one that is all about the algorithm of the machines that analogue film depends upon, in other words the limits of what those machines can do has been the leaping off point for what I still think is an amazingly rich field of artistic production. It also intrigues me that artists/film makers are still uncovering that power anew and for each person who makes that discovery it’s like a whole new invention. I think in part it’s this very literal algorithm that the technology sets up that resonates now with our experience of algorithms in all kinds of ways (most obvious is that most art students learn some coding). It seems to me that this means these film gauges stick around – practice in this area doesn’t shrink, quite the reverse it seems, as new super 8 film stocks are released and even new cameras.
So I’m saying the material film tradition grounds itself in the medium – those immensely rich explorations (let’s start with Len Lye) of what can be done between the film camera, the film processing tank, the darkroom, the film printer and the film projector (and continue to Paul Clipson, Sally Golding and Richard Tuohy). And we have to mention Stan Brakhage, American abstract doyen whose images lie so closely behind mine.
So there are a number of ways to read my practice as ‘poor’ – I wrote about this in my MFA and teased out the link to Arte Povera.
super 8 connects with home movies and things that happen at home. It is linked to human scale.
getting rid of the image – here I am moving further and further away from the photographic image. You can’t really see this in this exhibition. I decided to stick rigidly to my brief of archiving myself, starting at the beginning and you can see the image is there very strongly still in those early super 8s – check out the small prints with their obvious pieces of home movie (actually forged from photographs but good enough to be home movies). But you can see I quickly move away from those if you check out the big mural piece which has no photographic ‘subject’ as such.
the ‘poor’ approach connects with me as a female of my era – my approach is totally hand made. It reflects my response to the problem of sustainable image making practice and this practice carries me inside it – that I am female and over the course of this work have made decisions about the balance of income, art, life responsibilities. So this ties both ideas together as A film of one’s own [archive fever] – this practice uses myself, as an archive and a medium to make this work. In using myself, I stick as close to the bone as I can so that maybe my outline will be visible beneath the hurtling abstraction.
So there’s one final point – psychoanalysis mines the archive. My moving image works are always in tension between the torrent of images and this desire to slow them, almost to soothe them. In live performance, I quite literally do this with the super 8 projectors as I intervene on their speed and nurse them through the projectors. In a way, this image torrent, no matter how kindly slowed feels like a visualisation of the tumult of the internal human space that I connect with psychoanalysis.
I missed a point about repetition and media – we expect each play of recorded media to be the same, it’s laid down and fixed onto something so it should reproduce the same way, right? I discovered early on that the experience of recorded media is never the same twice. Each iteration is an event between me, the technology that’s needed to replay it, the performance of the thing itself on that technology and the physical environment in which I find myself at the time including the other people who are with me (or lack of them). I found my recorded works seemed to be entirely contingent. I have embraced this uncertainty about what the work is and its constant tension between being something and nothing – hence the liveness and the super 8 i.e. I most often show these super 8s in live projection with improvising musicians and with each iteration, I’m working with the projection element, working with temporary screens and the architecture of the room we’re in to make a projection event. Lying within this comment about the work being between something and nothing is also a commentary on cinema – for me the cinematic is unexpected and it emerges unexpectedly. At times I’ve thought about this as an unexpected plunge – as though snorkelling along a reef and unexpectedly it drops away and there are the depths. Lately I’ve been working with the narrative image – the photographic image – a bit more. I use the highly abstract image and I arrive at a point where I feel ready to encounter the photographic and all its potent, narrative power. It needs to be meted out quite carefully I think.
In the last week of the show, I changed some works over. I changed the works so that I could better explain what was going on the exhibition. I took out the four small works and I put in a landscape AO piece (far left) that is made from the 16mm that was removed to make way for the super 8, a portrait AO (centre) that shows the entire 16mm collage – this is quite similar to the 3 metre mural on the opposite wall but you can ‘read’ more easily that it constitutes the whole collage.
The final portrait AO (right) is the future. This is a recent collage and the composition works for me. The last time I made film prints was some time ago and they included a full frame scan like this but the frames were smaller. Peter asked me if I would consider printing them on aluminium – we have now resolved each strip should have its own annodised aluminium plank, gallery visitors can re-order if they want to.
Addendum 3 – Psithurism
On the final afternoon, saxophone trio Psithurism played.
Bolter and Grusin at work – Ellen captures the event for later remediation when she will maybe stick it in a different spot altogether, although she will probably tie it back to this event. Baby Freya is intrigued by John Porter. What you can see on Ellen’s screen is my standing over the projectors and you can vaguely see the super 8 projections on the back wall.
I used old work for this event – Blue Mountains positive (2005) and Two Screen NowNow also made late 2005. I enjoyed very much seeing the NowNow work. It is quite tightly structured as a two screen work and has all the techniques I had perfected up to this time. It’s quite dense with colour and image. The quest I went on after 2008 was to try to use as little image as possible. There are sections in the Two Screen NowNow that do this (sections of sticky tape on paper for example) and the thick sections where the film travels very slowly over the sprockets. The image that is the AO portrait (right) is part of this work of mine to get very minimal with the image – the colour is water colour and acrylic residue, it’s very subtle, there is no loud bold colour like this NowNow work.
Psithurism and onlooker: Rhys Butler (left), Tony Martin-Jones (centre left), John Butler (centre right), Richard Johnson (right).
The Psithurism performance works well with this material. It’s hard for me to listen and look at the same time but I’d like to hear and see more of this work with the trio of saxophones using mostly extended techniques who are one of Canberra’s best kept secrets.
A Film of One’s Own [Fugue Solos] (2005)
Curham, L (creator). A Film of One’s Own [Fugue Solos] (2006), solo exhibition at Nga Taonga Sound and Vision, Wellington, 24 Feb – 18 Mar.
Screening at Nga Taonga Sound & Vision, 2006.
2005: in ‘Reel Dance installations’, The Performance Space, videos by four artists, 13 -22 Oct.
2006: solo exhibition at Te Manawa Art, Palmerston North, NZ 29 Sep – 3 Nov.