The Ghosts of Home Entertainment Artist's Talk Andrew James Paterson
At the suggestion of TSV programme coordinator and curator Jean-Paul Kelly, I accepted his invitation to present an exhibition branching out from my relatively recent videotape
A Typical Morning for Green and Blue. This being TSV's 40th anniversary, branching out meant looking back. This work in the studio or gallery space - from where did it emanate? Typical Morning consists of two strands of rather abstract imagery - it utilizes a split-screen format.
I am one of the few people in "the art community" who has a PC rather than a Mac. On my PC there is a rather crude video editing programme called Windows Movie Maker. I make little animations using this programme; the animations use my own still images that I compose in Photoshop. These images take their cues from abstract painters like Mark Rothko and Barnett Newman. Josef Albers is of course in the mix too - squares and squares and squares. My Albers fixation is filtered through Francisco Vezzoli with his serious knitting (Vezzoli showed at the Power Plant in fall of 2007). My rectangular fixation (in 2006 I made a video titled "Rectangular World") probably does stem from my paranoiac belief that underneath every seemingly free-falling surface there is indeed a grid. So ... I enter my drawings into a project file in this low-end editing system and make animations. Some of them are on my website at andrewjamespaterson.com
I had made a little animation called simply Green Movie and another called Blue Movie. I hit upon the idea of making a split-frame video with these files. The left side and the right side of the frames would, and then would not, be in dialogue with each other. Left side, right side... am I referring to the brain? Or to the political spectrum? Or simply to two trains of thought that cohabit a space but who really do live in separate worlds and have agreed to coexist while inhabiting separate worlds? Not unlike a relationship, of course.
So ... using the edit suites of Trinity Square Video, I imported these files from a CD-ROM into Final Cit Pro via Handbrake, a translation programme of sorts. That was a lengthy translation - I had to find reading material and then think of people I hadn't emailed for eons. Then I inserted the dialogue, which broke up the converted files and thus required lengthy rendering. I believe that Green and Blue themselves could be idling while rendering. Such is much of our lives, no? Idling while rendering. I should use that title somewhere.
I have been asked where this recurring use of split-frames originates from. Well ... it's true that I've used them before. Perhaps from a split-personality? Well, no, that conclusion is surely too obvious. From a mash-up of Socratic dialogues and Samuel Beckett plays? That's getting warmer. I have always liked the idea of self-dialogue, because here two heads can become either a synthesis or they can become three ... Or more than three. If I am A and also B, then I am neither A nor B. A and B are on the monitor behind you - in a 1994 videotape called Controlled Environments, which is one of the ghosts of A Typical Morning for Green and Blue.
Both of these videotapes involve two characters or bodies who are suspended in closed environments. These videotapes are of course quite different - Typical Morning is an animation. That word refers to the processes of bringing still images to life. Those still images are non-camera images - the camera is a ghost in my recent work. It's occasionally visible, but more frequently implied. Controlled Environments is a solo-performance piece of sorts, albeit not only is there a camera but there is obviously a videographer, the late Michael Balser. For better or worse, that videographer's presence is a departure from classical video self-performance in which the camera is set-up and static and the performer provides the motion. But Controlled Environments is certainly one of Typical Morning's ghosts. A and B are, by now, older. One has gone Green and one gone Blue. They have run out of subjects and/or arguments and now they drift. They become abstract, and they themselves become abstractions. Is abstractionism analogous to aging? I certainly wouldn't want to make that sort of simplistic declaration; but with abstractionism bodies do become ghosts. A body made these images but the body is not in these images. There is of course a parallel here with editing. With Controlled Environments, a highly skilled editor (Van Lapointe) salvaged performative source material. With Typical Morning, I edited on top of my original editing. The body is in production and then in post-production, but with my recent non-camera videos the distinctions between production and post-production becomes at least rather blurry.
An artist friend of mine watched Controlled Environments when it showed at YYZ back in 1994 and saw it as a self-portrait - my friend saw the grant-funding subject as almost a red herring. Well ...no, because if I was making a self-portrait then I would have to reference the houses on which I along with my contemporaries dwelled and still do dwell in many cases. But "portraiture" is an interesting word. It refers to a mode of performance which is not "acting" but which also not straightforward self-documentary or verite. Performativity is a conceit; or at least it allows conceits or positions. The large body of work by the late Colin Campbell was a huge inspiration for me and for countless others; and one of the many reasons why Colin's work was so influential was his performative portraiture. Another reason is a simultaneous exhibitionism or narcissism and reflexivity. The video camcorder allowed people to perform or testify and then watch themselves, or even watch themselves while performing. My first involvement with video as material and medium was when I was a performing musician for an inter-media theatre troupe called VideoCabaret, who are still active albeit with proscenium theatre. The performers in this troupe would address the camera as much as the audience and the audience could see this mirroring process. During this formative period of my life I discovered Colin's work and those of others, such as Susan Britton whose work can be seen upstairs at V/Tape. I'm A Voyeur is, for me, one if not the best examples of simultaneous playing and watching. And that is the zeitgeist or ozone that so many artists and citizens alike inhabit - a peculiar passive aggressiveness. Acting out while waiting for (and being dependent upon) the reactions - hoping the reaction is the one we see in our mirrors.
Artists and citizens alike self-documented themselves with their relatively-fresh camcorders and even higher-end equipment. In Trinity Square Video's Purchase Collection catalogue, running the gamut from 1982-1991 (the first ten years of the then ongoing annual purchase collection); Dot Tuer remarks on the contradictory origins of the video medium and particularly the camcorder. An apparatus contaminated by its association with the military and its surveillance was appropriated by artists and activists alike to document and testify to their body politics. If one browses through the catalogue on the table and the collection of collected videotapes, one can see parallels between performance and documentary impulses. One can also see antagonisms - in organizations like Trinity Video as well as certain artist-run galleries one detects histories of tension between self-affirming and self-indulgent, between the personal is political and the personal is just personal. Trinity staff and board often valued work on the basis of what that work was "about". Access centres must be access to as many as possible, or they are not access centres. Sometimes accessible meant popular or populist. Tensions between individualism and collectivism, between narcissism, and "community", were de rigueur, and not only in the late eighties and early nineties, when bodies truly were in serious trouble.
In A Typical Morning for Green and Blue the bodies are abstracted. As is performance, and also language. In this videotape one can see, not hear, the ghosts of perhaps a screenplay or even a stage play. Language is a ghost in the abstract images. Letters of the alphabet, those letters rectangular in their shapes, make sporadic appearances as images - separated from vowels or even other consonants that might at least begin to suggest words. Green and Blue are perhaps long-term lovers; or perhaps roommates (or lovers who have by now become roommates). One wants tea - it is simultaneously a request and a command, because it is routine. Sound is also abstracted since it has been minimalized or reduced. Either the refrigerator or the air-conditioner or the radiator or some other appliance has pitch in their drones. When a virus usurps the comfort zone and also the colour patterns, then the drone becomes staccato, threatening to break up or even explode. Viruses are ghosts because they surface and then resurface and do they ever go away? Medically, we hope so. Technologically the machinery is contaminated, so proceed to use at one's own risk. With organizations such as Trinity Square Video, fourty years later ghosts still tend to surface and resurface. What goes around also comes around. What is in either the collection on the table or in the archives in a back storage room might be simultaneously terribly dated and refreshingly fresh.
This video was made with some old machinery, not that much further advanced than the old desktops seen in the cubicles of the two bureaucrats in Controlled Environments. A and B may or may not write with them before their phone conversations. Do Green and Blue surf the net, read the papers, read books, paint, watch porn, have sex, kill time? Are they fascinated with their neighbours, or with each other, or have they tuned everybody and everything out? Do they imbibe substances much stronger than "tea"? Home entertainment can be about both regeneration and time-killing. How can one actually kill time, except perhaps by means of death? Well, one hopefully always has the option of "play".