19
May
15

Annete Messager – Le Chapeau Sorciére (The Witch Hat)

from http://edar-messager.weebly.com/the-artworks-dates-and-materials.html

Annette Messager, Le Chapeau Sorcière – ‘The Witch Hat’ (2012)

I write first from memory.

Such clever, cunning simplicity. A wig, a black cone and a fan. I encountered it with surprise and delight. It was not what I had come to see and not what I had expected to find. Le Chapeau Sorciére touches on several pet elements; the unseen force of air made visible by the streaming hair, the absence of trickery (all engineering clearly visible), animation (in the broadest sense), a suggestion of a simple magic at work in the ordinary world and A WITCH. Immediately, I secretly adopted it as some kind of mascot, the perfect symbol of the unruly woman.

Hours later I refer to my own documentation.

I set my phone up by the computer where I am writing and hit play again and again on the brief video I shot. I get a sense once again of the scale of the thing – relatively small against the large installations that comprise the largest part of Motion/Emotion, the MCA’s recent retrospective of Messager’s work. It is contained – a one liner – but it is the work that resonated strongest and has stuck in my mind most persistently.

I hit play again and realise I have no idea what the cone/hat is made of. It looks like it may be heavy, which would prevent it being moved too wildly by the air current, which in turn means it is only the hair streaming wildly in the artificial breeze, not the whole object being buffeted about. I remember that I recently heard the fan+hair equation described as something requiring ‘hairography’ in the world of music video production.

Then I wonder if this work was pulled together quickly by Messager. Or did she go through several trials in the studio constructing the hat out of a variety of materials until she found the perfect stability. Or a selection of wigs until the correct ‘hairography’ was apparent.

I remember my own studio battle to create a ghost for a gallery from a sheet thrown over a helium balloon. In embryo it was one of my better ideas. I still think so. But the sheet needed to be so delicate so as not to weigh down the balloon that I couldn’t source a material both delicate AND large enough. The helium was never strong enough to carry any weight greater than the balloon itself and dissipated frustratingly fast. I spent more money than I could afford on balloons, gas, tissue and lightweight plastic tablecloths over two weeks before I gave up on the object.

I wonder if the wig is cheap or expensive…

I paint for a while, return to the computer and run an image search on the work.

I’m still convinced that hat is heavy. But a witch can cope with a heavy hat. To be a witch must bring a weight with it and you would become familiar. Responsibility, isolation…

To be honest I’m playing a game with myself now. When I next sit down to write I will refer to the catalogue and images, and then I will probably know what the hat is made of. But I won’t look till then.

I recently changed my Facebook cover image to a William Mortenson studio photograph from 1927 in which a young, nude witch rides her broom over the rooftops of a town. Her hair is relatively coiffed by comparison (no hat) and the lack of movement to it makes me feel she is simply hovering. Messager’s witch is either flying fast or staring into the face of powerful magic. My Mortensen witch is playful but static while Messager’s is exhilarated.

I leave these earlier words to marinate overnight and return the next day to open the exhibition catalogue.

 

Le Chapeau Sorciére – The Witch Hat

2012

mixed media, fan

 

Mixed media.

And to compound my frustration, in the catalogue images the hat looks as if it is made from a heavy felt (probably a better aesthetic choice) rather than the metal it reads as in the video on my phone. I realise I’ve been somewhat distracted by it’s materiality. A good magician never shows you their tricks. Maybe all the engineering is NOT clearly visible at all.

I read over the words I’ve written before now – add a word, take a word away – and realise the most relevant thing I have had to say about Messager’s work came at the end of the first paragraph of this text – the perfect symbol of the unruly woman.

It is this that draws me into her work time and again – the unruly woman, the unruly body, the unruly mind – here all three are clearly represented in Messager’s invisible witch.

The unruly woman – the witch is immodest, highly sexual and powerful.

The unruly body – that refuses to conform to standards of desire. This one is invisible, completely unattainable.

The unruly mind – that makes things happen with the power of intent matched with arcane knowledge.

An anecdote.

I attended a social pub drawing evening in February. I had dashed out the door grabbing a notebook and pen and when I arrived, sat down with a glass of cider in convivial company, chatting, laughing, some people bent deep over sketchbooks. My friend was taking the opportunity to complete some illustration work but I had come somewhat unprepared with a lined notebook, a green fine point Sharpie and no intent.

And after some hesitation I simply drew my recollection of Le Chapeau Sorciére over and over until it was time to call it a night. My notebook now contains 8 green renderings.

SR, March 2015

19
May
15

Invisible forces, known and unknown

  1. With matter, as with people, we see only the skin of things. We can’t see into the engine room. We can’t see what makes people tick, at least not without difficulty. And the closer we look at anything, the more it disappears. In fact, if you look really closely at stuff, if you look at the basic substructure of matter, there isn’t anything there. Electrons disappear in a kind of fuzz, and there is only energy. And you can’t see energy.
    John Lloyd, Inventory of the Invisible
  1. As a teenager in the 80’s I had a friend who was constantly shifting residence between one or the other of her, entirely unstable, parental households. Looking for a peaceful existence was for her a matter of finding the lesser of two evils in the present moment. The instability of both Mother and Father was also reflected in the fact that the cycle of moving from one residence to another, never turned back upon itself – for when it was time to move on, there was nowhere to return to – the parent in question had inevitably changed address; done a runner, moved in with a new partner or perhaps been evicted. I always visited with some trepidation – her mother, a violent and slightly delirious born-again Christian, her father an alcoholic known for ‘bothering’ the teenaged female friends of his kids.
  1. Some of the things John Lloyd lists in his inventory include gravity, consciousness, the stars in daylight (the universe disappears in the day – the more light the less you can see), time, atoms, gas, electricity, galaxies (out of 100 billion we can only see 5), radio waves and what he identifies as ‘The grid on which we hang’ posing the question that if we are entirely physically regenerated every 7 years – what then are we? I spend a great deal of time musing on the invisible – consciousness and cognition in particular and about how to give them form, either to emphasise their ‘knownness’, their indisputable ‘realness’ or alternately to suppose the existence of forces in doubt (spirit, telekinesis, voodoo etc.).
  1. As she watched, he climbed down and ran toward the rock band’s equipment. He caught hold of one of the microphone stands and was transfixed. Carrie watched, amazed, as his body went through a nearly motionless dance of electricity. His feet shuffled in the water, his hair stood up in spikes, and his mouth jerked open, like the mouth of a fish. He looked funny. She began to laugh.
    (by christ then let them all look funny)
    And in a sudden, blind thrust, she yanked at all the power she could feel.
    Some of the lights puffed out. There was a dazzling flash somewhere as a live power cord hit a puddle of water. There were dull thumps in her mind as circuit breakers went into hopeless operation. The boy who had been holding the mike stand fell over on one of his amps and there was an explosion of purple sparks and then the crepe bunting that faced the stage was burning.
    Stephen King, Carrie pg. 172
  1. Once I visited the aforementioned friend at yet another new address. I approached the front door, knocked and awaited a response. While waiting I noticed a ceramic insulator with fuse hanging half out of it’s socket in the fusebox. I pushed it back into place with two fingers and was brutally thrown by an electrical current backwards off the doorstep and onto the front path where I was knocked unconscious on the concrete. I know what happened yet in my memory the force is as much the energy of a troubled location and my own anxious anticipation of the door being answered as it is of voltage. I awoke to the curious face of my friends drunken father as he pondered what to do with a large, unconscious teenage girl collapsed on his front path and clearly visible from the nature strip, her assailant nowhere to be seen.

March 2015

19
May
15

Reconsideration, blue then green.

I have worked with moving images for the entire time that I have also named myself as an artist. For as long as I have defined myself as an artist, I have worked with the moving image.

For ease of exhibition, an artist working in moving images ALWAYS works with loops, even for a work that has a clearly defined beginning and end or sits amongst a program of other pieces. As a viewer you come in, usually part way through the cycle, you watch, and if you like enough what you see, you stay to see the beginning again.

These days my loops are short (a matter of seconds). My loops are so brief, that to place them in a stream amongst other works would be like dropping a pin into the ocean. They play alone, into infinity (or until a switch is triggered to shutdown) each as their own screen or projection. While they are still made of more ineffable substance – light and electricity – they now have an objectness too in their obstinate permanency or at least an appearance of same. I am fascinated by how such a short sequence (no time at all) becomes infinity (all time).

These works are video self-portraits, now augmented by handpainted animation that is free in form but draws close against, around and over the figure as if drawn by a force. I refer to two animation-industry terms often:

Rotoscope – initially a machine for (and later simply the term for the process of) tracing over live action to achieve realistic, filmic motion, usually of the human or animal body. I use a technique that is very close to rotoscope except that it’s purpose is to tie animation to and augment the human form rather than to emulate it. In animated + video form the paint buzzes and fizzes and crackles around the figure like an electric aura. Thought, as a subject and in analogy is reduced to pure energy.

Boil – a term that describes the effect of misregistration of line and form in animation. It’s a quality that gives away the handwrought animated image as much as it lends charm. In my work all animation is handwrought and partly out of control. I tend to work automatically and somewhat blind; only stitching the painted frames together to see the motion after all the painted work is completed. So the boil is cultivated through this blindness to a degree.

So between them, the studied rotoscope and the blind boil combine to depict energies emergent or inseperable from the human form. Haunt, emotions, thought, cognition all in varying degrees of harness or surrender. It is a reconsideration of the videographic image. An imagining of everything unseen, but held within the image frame.

The works could be considered an exploration of my own haunting (through artworks) by my own image. I have always made self-portraits and I have worked with moving images for the entire time that I have also named myself as an artist. For as long as I have defined myself as an artist, I have worked with the moving image.
May 2015

19
May
15

Words and words and words

I am required to write a lot of words for the ol’ PhD, which I’m sure comes as no suprise. And I have done it before for the MFA, so I know deep down that I CAN do it, but I had lost confidence with it. I used to LOVE writing but had become self-conscious and doubtful of my abilities. This was probably also evidenced in the shortage of blogging over here.

But recently Ruth Hadlow, an artist in residence at TCotA (where I am conducting my research) held a series of workshops in writing for artists. These were not workshops in academic writing, more like playful reading and discussion groups where we would take a style modelled in the weeks reading and try to apply it to our own work and concerns.

It got things moving and I got to commit some thoughts to paper that (while not in a form that I can paste straight into the exegesis) did at least extract thread-ends from my mind and draw them out to be examined and restructured.

The last piece of writing I had done before this was my artists statement for the Monstering And Other Thoughtforms exhibition which I think didn’t actually make it onto the Bett Gallery website catalogue in the end.

These works depict the energy of thought in various levels of ‘harness’, from a functional channelled power through to an uncontrolled force of disfigurement. 

Watercolour (used in animation and over photographs) makes a visual analogy equally as awkward to restrain and coax as the cognitive process itself.

Pretty dry, eh?

In one of Ruth’s workshops discussing artists statements, I got the feedback that an exercise I had written (and really struggled with) would make a great artists statement. Ruth even suggested I send it to the gallery and ask them to upload it to go alongside my show catalogue.  Halfway through the exhibitions run, staff are probably more concerned and busy with getting things running for the NEXT show now, so I thought I would post it here instead. And maybe even a couple more pieces I’ve worked up through the workshop.

Here they come….

19
May
15

Why animation?

Why animation?

Because it is endlessly enchanting. We can recognise that we are looking at a two dimensional illustration. We recognise the marks of pen or brush and yet it is alive. In combination with the photographic image – a way to place these living drawings in the world amongst us – I am even more easily convinced. Remember Bob Hoskins interrogating Jessica Rabbit? Tom and Jerry dancing with Gene Kelly? Dick Van Dyke and those penguins in Mary Poppins? It’s a delight to me to be reminded that we’re not so far removed from the audience who ran in fear from the Lumiere brothers L’arrivée d’un train en gare de La Ciotat in 1895. That we are persuadeable. Or at least willing to be under the right circumstance.

“Anchors Away,” Jerry the Mouse, Gene Kelly & Tom the Cat, 1945

Why animation?

Animation is the creation of life, life is energy and it is invisible energies that I want to give image to. Thought, emotion, cognition, intent – these things all have a physical power but, within the culture I reside, are generally considered as esoteric or abstruse. The things themselves are hidden but their effect is endless. What is more, these things I am making/visualising must move, must exhibit their power and flow, to be most present. I have tried to simply paint over photos but the result is something very different – the energy is caught in stasis.

Why animation?

In converting video to animation I touch every frame with my hands. I paint and I stain and I scar them and my thought is present in every gesture retained. There is some voudou in this. I strip video of life (by rendering it as single frames on paper before painting) in order to later resurrect it (as an augmented and intensely ‘handled’ version of it’s earlier self). It’s a brutal and uncanny technique when I think of it in those terms. These animations are shadowed by something reminiscent of a dark magic or a grim science.

Why animation?

Animation is a ritual process. You paint a frame and then another and then another and you exercise this process in repetition with commitment and sustained attention until the sequence is complete. There is no sense of the success or failure of the ritual until the entire process has been undertaken. This requires both a faith in the object being brought into existence and a preparedness to discard everything once the investment of this ritual process is complete. I am learning to surrender to chance, which also relieves me of some responsibility. It makes it easier to let go. The ritual is my framework. What happens amongst it has as much to do with the weather (meteorological and emotional) as much as anything else. It either works or it doesn’t.

Why animation?

Because time is illusionary anyway. The extended time it takes to create a sequence, is ultimately collapsed into a loop of a few seconds. You can see the extended time (it is visible in the labour flashing past your eye) but you travel through it at great speed. In this way each work is a kind of time machine.

Why animation?

I am more than my image. How else can I show this to you? I haven’t found a better way.

April 2015

02
May
15

The first review…

These women. All the skills. Go see their shows at Bett gallery now. Sally Rees and Amanda Davies. (r-l)

A photo posted by Tricky Walsh (@plebgrrrl) on

02
May
15

Monstering and other thoughtforms

I’ve become such a slow blogger! It’s all Instagrams fault. (if you’d like to hear from me more regularly you can follow me there. Look for @sallyr ).

But most of the news REALLY has been total non-news. Silent, dilligent PhD slog. So let’s blame Instagram AND the PhD in tandem.

HOWEVER, Monstering and other thoughtforms opened last night at Bett Gallery. It’s my second solo commercial show made up of a combo of animated watercolour and video loops and handpainted digital prints.

I’ve been working hard on it and I’m pretty proud of the results.

You can check out the gallery catalogue HERE but I’ve popped short video samples (such as the one above) up on Vimeo now so feel free to check them out there if you won’t make it to North Hobart over the next month.

P.S. Amanda Davies is the artist showing simultaneously at the gallery. She’s an amazing painter of wonderful work and totally worth the visit alone.




Like sands through the hourglass (AKA archived posts)

latest tweets

Blog Stats

  • 14,526 visitors

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 714 other followers