- Mobile Performance
- Electric Speed
- Schematic as Score
- (Re)purposed Clothes
- Collaborative Spaces
- Device Art
- Digital Dub
- Rise of the VJ
- Sample Culture
[Ghost Garden / 2012]
My recent film Hoad and Mickey in the Sky was made on iPhone with 8mm emulators. It was made unexpectedly during a train journey to my friend’s funeral, triggered by me gazing at a bunch of flowers reflected in the train window. Making films using a mobile device was a logical progression of earlier work with mobile media and moving images. The mobile camera gives me the ability to be spontaneous, and be able to react and engage with places and locations without prior planning, and make moving images. By having the possibility of shooting at any moment, it changes how you relate to your surroundings and what you decide to record and share.
Alongside the content and themes, my work explores film and media technologies as a continuum. Each film or video examines elements of process and production – not always intentionally, but as a consequence of the era I’m working in, resulting in an interdisciplinary approach; anything from iPhone to 16mm and therefore each work brings enforced restrictions, codecs, aspect ratios, and distributable formats. As technologies change, you leave a trail in your wake. Some things disappear, software changes, affecting results and working methods. Previous eras had format changes U-matic, Super 8, Hi 8 or 16mm, but now this straddles production and distribution, in turn developing new aspects of cinematic language.
Mutantfilm started in 1996, as my site to collate work, exploring the intersection of film technologies within the context of personal computing and emerging Internet. In 1996, I was editing my first 16mm film on a Steenbeck in a squat, whilst working in a Research Post at Institute of Contemporary Art, London, then a field quaintly titled “New Technologies”, but it was basically the Internet. I was writing HTML, designing ICA’s website and curating early net art projects.
‘Cybernetic cinema’ became a big influence on me around this time, influenced specifically via Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema, and filmmakers Jordan Belson, and Whitney Brothers, which influenced my first computer film Artificial Sentience and these connections were explored in an article in Filmwaves Issue #2 in 1997.
Many phones didn’t even have cameras then, but you could sense that film and video was at the brink of a new era. I thought it like a mutation of film language, a shift in aesthetics and possibilities of production, and I wanted to explore this specific intersection as a continuum. The mutantfilm manifesto went on-line around 1997 and one of the aims was to ‘make cinema for commuting’, which then sounded pretty ridiculous. This was all happening against the backdrop of the early Internet scene in London, specifically the seminal net lounge Backspace which was frequented by artists and practitioners of what became net art and many other people.
[Artificial Sentience / 1997]
James Stevens was regularly webcasting streaming video experiments at Backspace (circa 1996) and we made really low-resolution video images; broadcast to the world but probably with no one watching. You could count exactly how many people were looking at the live stream. We would just light or found video and play with it, using streamed pixellated 160x120 pixel Real Player image but playing full screen. That was one of the only ways to see moving images online at that time, apart from animated gifs. This pixellated aesthetic re-appeared in my films Artificial Sentience, Cycle and Phantasmaton.
The Cinematic surface is a constant preoccupation for me – grain, pixellation, superimposition, split screens, travelling mattes, analogue video synthesisers – and experimenting with the hierarchies of surface; specifically the way the technical quality of production effects how the work is seen and where it might be shown and in turn it’s perceived ‘professionalism’.
These are hierarchies of codec or format; how mpg compression or H264 or other formats have come to dominate and set a standard and expectation based on quality. This exploration of surface, colour and texture is in some respects akin to painting. It’s the psychological effect of these different textures that intrigue me. It’s like a form of instrumentation.
[Location, location, location / 2004]
Current technologies often act as a kind of prism for the ideas I’m working with. During the formative era of Wi-Fi, I made “Work, Place” (2002) – in the street outside the Architectural Association and “Here, here, and here” (2003) outside the Institute of Contemporary Arts, both are now considered ‘Locative Media’ works. I was actually exploring in the fusion of performance, mobile technology and architecture – but always rooted somehow in exploring ‘Cinema’. I thought of it like an ‘urban mise en scene’, using synchronised split screen video extensively, exploring how mobility and cinematic practices might affect each other using simultaneous points of view. This work culminated in a solo show “Location, Location, Location” at Event Gallery curated by Colm Lally in 2004.
My interests were in the locative concepts and their relationship to cinema, and what I called ‘Geo-Cinema’ rather than the technologies themselves. I used more chalk drawing than I did computers. The term ‘Place Code’ was my way of coining a new term that mainstream film and video makers might connect with, coupled with ‘Time Code’, ‘Place Code’ made perfect sense. I do remember Ben Russell (locative visionary author of the seminal Headmap Manifesto) and myself didn’t even own a mobile phone. Most arts at that time and the arts culture in general was still pretty rigid – technology was marginalized from art – you were either a media artist or performance artist and so on. It is more flexible now.
Between 1999 and 2004, my work often explored ideas of what became the iPhone, but done in a sort of DIY way. I called mobiles ‘the device’. When “it” finally arrived, as an object, and smart phones started actually appearing, I couldn’t afford one, and I stopped chasing technologies altogether. Around 2006 I willfully rejected those technological frameworks, travelling in remote areas of Madagascar, which resulted in some video pieces and the performance/map ‘Littoral Map’ – with much of that work, yet to be exhibited fully. I returned to very basic cinematic ideas: shooting, editing, acting, drama and totally ignoring what became social media until about 2009.
Another on-going thread in my work involves choreography, specifically the three major stage collaborations with Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company – involving directing film and video, the exploration of location, as well as gestural movement, using colour webcams fastened to arms for example and again surface – the mix of architecture, the body, location, performance and the camera. My fourth choreographic collaboration, premieres at the Royal Opera House in March 2012 and is shot on Super 16mm film using chemical lab process to manipulate the image. I don’t really fetishise celluloid, but see it as one element of a possible palette of textures, surfaces, concepts and techniques–a toolbox.
[Hoad and Mickey in the Sky / 2011]
Until recently, pixellation was not acceptable on mainstream TV. Events filmed by the public from phones, Skype and pixellated videos have become an acceptable form of documentary aesthetic, but broadcasters still apologise, calling it ‘amateur footage’ or ‘mobile footage’. It becomes judged within a hierarchy of surface or format. The mobile video aesthetic is often associated with shaky camera work and bad technique – but this doesn’t relate to the format at all. The new generation, with cameras in their pockets, will start learning what works. It’s more interesting to view it timeline of cinematic technologies – the continuum of production and aesthetic. Hoad and Mickey in the Sky only happened because of my mobile. I had been looking at what video apps were available for iPhone and became interested in 8mm emulators or film apps for mobile phone that mimic 8mm celluloid film, change film stocks, and digitally emulate dirty and scratched film, altering the colour and look of video. This tiny mobile computer device was emulating textures and colour from an almost redundant analogue format. It’s a kind of host. It is not film. Shooting celluloid 8mm film has been constant in my work since I started filmmaking, usually shot ‘in camera’, or without editing – a disciplined method where you must be aware of each shot, without being able to review it. I never owned film projector or usually had budgets for transfers to video, so it gave me a restrictions; a rule set. Sometimes I have to wait 5 years to see a film I shot when I finally got it transferred.
A funeral is probably the last possible place you might take a video camera. The film started in part to relieve anxiety during the journey and an attempt to express the complexity of my feelings. Gazing through the window I was mesmerized by the shroud like reflection in the window and started shooting. In hindsight, I treated the iPhone like a more sophisticated camera, setting up shots and sequences before shooting. All the colour and black white effects were shot in camera at the time – using filters in the app, so it was similar to my 8mm approach – but with an emulation of 8mm – a stylistic parasite, clutching to the iPhone like a host. I shot the entire sequence in 30 mins, making wipes, filming each black and white and colour section, varying stock types, knowing exactly where I was going to edit every shot. I realised that it should conclude at the point I arrived at my destination, so I had to switch the camera off and leave the train. The film came spontaneously being totally unplanned.M y friend Mark Hoad was an artist and the first person I had ever shown a film to. It was shot on 8mm, and he told me to “be a filmmaker”. So the use of the 8mm app and the surface became integral to the film, not just a stylistic device, but relating to time and memory and other personal connotations. I think of the film as ‘a memento’ – of a person, and my psychological state.
During editing, this layering of formats and textures threw up unusual aesthetics: low-res pixilated video, fused with a pseudo film surface, including digital faults, dust and scratches – a form of patina or an odd strata of cinematic eras. I was interested in seeing what this surface contained – the psychological effect of texture on the viewer. 8mm or old scratchy black and white film can signify the past, but this odd hybrid had no precedent, it was a stylistic conundrum. The soundtrack is recorded with the phone mic and mixed with material from You Tube, relating to Hoad’s love of Mickey Mouse. It is a personal film, but for me it has many layered elements. I mastered it back to 1920x1080 HD – another contradiction of many format prejudices.
With all this in mind, owning a smartphone with apps has changed the way I shoot. I have been using time-lapse and stop-motion phone apps – which is like an intervelometer on a larger camera – shooting single frames and many effects. The stop-motion animations are of the city and shot with filters, and again, need no editing. One of my feature film projects is a drama Placemaking, about the return of three characters to a city, with one actor, a teenage girl, uploading and making movies ‘in character’, as part of the production and story.
Future mobile video platforms will totally blur the delineation between large and small cameras. My full HD kit is a laptop, camera, rucksack and tripod – quite mobile, but not as mobile as I’d like to be. Even mainstream news is moving towards a ‘shoot and edit anywhere’ approach – camera, shoot, post-production, distribute.
Mutantfilm functions as an artist-run production company with artist-led, independent filmmaking. Self contained. Even as recently as 1990’s, making video or film and editing was expensive and took a lot of begging and favours – always an elusive goal with shooting and production out of most people’s reach. That has really changed, but there is a lot more to come.
I’ve attempted to tread the path that links two eras and many formats – a sort of ‘pre’ and ‘post’ Internet, which is very different to the new generation of digital native artists, growing up with mobile and social media. I’m part of the generation of artists who straddled that emerging Internet period and the beginning of media art and we all came from other arts disciplines. There was no formal media art base at the time. For me, social media and the Internet were born conceptually at Backspace (see link below) in London – I still aspire to the spirit of . The impact on London and Europe of that place and its innovations has yet to be fully comprehended. It has a very rich, underexplored history.
I’m never drawn by technology in itself and can be a bit of a technophobe. It’s human psychological states, emotional shifts, and ideas in relation to this incredible period, that constantly fascinate me. My current interests are directing actors in performance and drama, and developing my feature film projects. The emerging work is very actor and character centred, returning to longer narrative form.