Harsh Light Panel Presentation Artist's Talk            Andrew James Paterson


I hear the words "harsh light" and I think of the spotlight — the glaring spotlight. I think of a performance situation that one has entered probably willingly but unaware of just how harsh that spotlight is — just how intense the scrutiny and how intense those audiences tend to be. When I was considerably younger, I entered a world of harsh spotlights that I couldn't really deal with. Perhaps I am too voyeuristic or just reflexive to be any sort of pure performer. Perhaps I have a nagging suspicion of anything without footnotes. I was always more comfortable in performance situations in which I could also watch myself, so it seemed an inevitability that I would graduate to video or media-arts production, albeit with a performative base that keeps recurring and returning. One of the either wonderful or terrifying things about ghosts is that they never really die.

I believe my suspicion of singular bodies — singular identities etc. — played a pivotal role in my prioritizing video over live performance. It's not that live performance doesn't allow space for problematizing singular identities — look no further than other illustrious individuals on this panel. But I found myself becoming more and more attracted to the concept of performative portraiture, and video seemed an ideal medium for this sort of duality and reflexivity. The work of the late Colin Campbell was pivotal here. An artist can perform or testify and be simultaneously "acting" and "not acting", as in much of Colin's work in particular. I also realized that self-dialogue or self-performance can create third and even more perspectives. I began writing self-dialogue pieces such as Controlled Environments, which is a self-portraiture of an artist navigating state and other forms of governmental patronage. For this tape, at first I considered working with actors, then I realized that I myself should portray two career arts-bureaucrats who themselves live in suspended structures not unlike their agencies' clients. Bureaucrats A and B both are and are not myself. They are representatives or characterizations of a landscape that I live and work within. For me, this work was a breakthrough and a necessary diversion from more conventional production and performance models. It allowed me a voice by problematizing my voices.

(Controlled Environments clip)

When I hear the word "sculptural" in relation to video or media-art, I think of the body. I think of how the body or bodies are positioned in relation to the technologies hosting the assembled works. My body of work definitely has its roots in self-documented performance and dispatch, and it has always been at odds with popular media and popular culture, even though I am no stranger to popular culture. Bodies which are not easily assimilable can and often are defined as being "queer", which is itself a useful word because it resists easy simplistic definitions. I have always been attracted to work in which there is something just not quite right about these pictures — about that big picture running throughout that work or body of work. "Queer" of course is a word that was reclaimed by activists in the late eighties and early nineties — it is a word with its complex histories of which some are exhilarating and some are quite negative indeed. "Queer" has been loosely-defined as both anti-assimilationist and anti-separatist, which is not a bad framework to be working with. However, there have always been fuzzy boundaries between refusal to assimilate and inability to assimilate. I believe a great deal of my work lies in a space or zone between anti-social and non-social. It lurches erratically between playing to audiences and hiding from audiences. The body-sculpture I appreciate and even identify with is never airbrushed. My life would be non-existent without Photoshop, but that is never a homogenizing or sanitizing programme as far as I am concerned.

The next clip I'm going to show you I believe is quite indicative of how my performing body has become positioned against both pictures and text. It is from Eating Regular (2004) and it refers to both the roles of the analogue in a digital realm and also to Modernism itself. The text references a monumental individual who had what could be described as an extremely complex relationship with performing and performance.

(Eating Regular clip — the analogue video meets Glenn Gould segment)

There are parallels between physical limitations of performance and limitations of representational possibilities. If boundaries have been demolished, then what indeed could possibly be transgressive? I've always had reservations about the word "transgressive". I've always considered this word to be contrary to "free" or "at liberty". In order to transgress a border or boundary, then boundaries must exist and the transgression industry is symbiotically dependent upon the preservation of those boundaries. However, "transgressive" is not necessarily synonymous with "shocking".

Over the last five to six years, my work has become more and more abstract. I have always appreciated abstract painting and also music, so this is hardly coming out of any left field. But where is the body within abstraction? Well, bodies think. And thinking leads more than a few complex and complicated individuals into abstraction. It leads into patterns which either sustain or loop or completely break up. Tendencies toward presentational performance have become displaced. The body is now in Photoshop and then Final Cut Pro. But the ghost of live address remains. The face and the mouth and even the body are occasionally visible, but contextualized among both public and private domains of images. As an editor I make associations or even montages, as an audience I hope you might also make associations. Much of my work from 2004 on begs questions of who is speaking and what does the speaker look like. Audiences rarely see who is speaking, which as far as I'm concerned allows viewers' and listeners' imaginations considerable licence.

If, in the 21st century, there actually is this post-post-post Second Life Buck Angel free fall zone, then does form disappear along with boundaries? On the contrary, I think form can create a liberating scenario by means of its constraints and its discipline. I also think there is considerable humour in formalist conceits. Seemingly arbitrary structuralist exercises can permit some astonishing, dare I say shocking, resonances if, of course, there is clarity of execution. This next clip is from a recent structuralist exercise I undertook. The first time I watched this videotape in a public screening situation, it played very differently than I thought it might play.

(Clip from 12 x 26).

Yes, this tape played like stand-up comedy. The poems were the jokes, and the pictures were the laugh track. Who'd have thunk it?

Since 1999, I have also been making a body of work involving Super-8 film and walking cameras. With these works, my body is overwhelmingly behind the camera which is always in motion. These films, from The Walking Philosopher to the recently-shot Halfway Home Comfort Zone, could be considered further examples of bodies recording and negotiating landscapes. One might or might not consider it relevant that this body of work is analogue in comparison to my work utilizing self-composed images, that there may well be a dichotomy between what is analogue and what is digital and where indeed the body lies with regards to these fields.

The panel Harsh Light: From Stage to Screen took place on Tuesday Mar. 23rd of 2010 at the Robert Gill Theatre at the University of Toronto. Panelists included Oliver Husain, Deirdre Logue, Andrew Paterson, Deanna Bowen, Tanya Mars, and Daniel MacIvor. The panel was coordinated and moderated by John Greyson.