Experimentica - Day 4 - On framing

Alongside the live performance programme at Experimentica have been a variety of film screenings and installations. These have been too numerous for me to give detailed consideration to here, but one common aspect which struck me was the relationship of the image to its frame – that is, of the relationship of image to itself as image. Soozy Roberts describes using deliberate ‘naivety’ and ‘stupidity’ as an approach to making her short film, and so they are a hit-and-miss affair. Some of the ideas which seem like interesting performance ideas end up being lacklustre in their filmed versions; but conversely, some seemingly simple ideas gain in complexity and richness from being filmed. ‘Divided face’, for example, shows a head-shot of the filmmaker drawing intersecting grid-lines on her face. Perhaps not a very interesting performance proposition, but rendered two-dimensional in the flat world of the film screen, there’s something very intriguing about the effect of her staring out of the image in this way.

Chris Holtom’s short ‘Camera Frame Experiments’ explicitly explore this relation of image to its frame, as the frame becomes an active, physical element in the world being filmed, rather than an abstract entity in the idea-world of the image. So as the camera pans through an image of a cup on a table, for example, the encroaching frame knocks the cup off the table. John Rawley’s ‘Do Something – Do Nothing’, described by the artist in a previous blog post below, expands the idea of frame to include both the experience of filming and of viewing. Individuals were filmed for an hour each, alone in a room with a static camera, with no instructions or prescriptions except that sound would not be recorded. The results are shown in one of Chapter’s small screening rooms, so one’s experience of them is that of being sat in comfortable cinema seats before the nearly real-size image of someone else who is both alone and aware of being watched. It’s a very strange relationship to have to someone else, and there’s a complex layering of permissions and power relations. These became even more apparent when, after having been alone in the screening room for some time, I was joined by another spectator walking into the room. The intimate one-to-one relationship instantaneously became an impersonal relationship of spectators to image.

Neil Davies’ live performance sets up a striking physical framing effect, covering most of the studio theatre’s floor with a large rectangle of salt. In what seems to be a largely improvised performance, he makes tense, muscular movements exploring the lines of his body’s rotation and strength. As his hands make sensuous contact with his own body, his feet make parallel traces in the salt, exposing the black floor beneath. It’s very self-involved work, and there are possibly too many different ideas being pursued here, with some of the most effective ideas being also the most simple ones. The visual effect of the lights slowly rising and falling on his lone figure against the luminous square, for example, are very strong. One direction in which the piece could be developed would be to work with an awareness of its visual effects and how it appears to its spectators, rather than with the internal experience of the body and the salt, which only the performer can feel.

In Joost Nieuwenburg’s durational ‘Common Sense’, the artist occupies an even more restrictive frame: a 3 foot high by 8 foot by 8 foot square box installed in Chapter’s dance studio. Inside this space, only able to crawl, Nieuwenburg has a stove, a sink, and several kilos of onions. For four hours, he peels and chops the onions, adding them to a pot which is always cooking. A swimming pool ladder at one end of the box invites us to climb on top, from where we can see him through a small vented porthole placed directly above the simmering pot. Another small window on one of the sides gives a different view of Nieuwenburg at work. From both windows, the smell and the heat are overpowering, as is the image of Nieuwenburg sweating and crying inside. It’s an exquisitely well-crafted experience: the beauty of the object itself in the room, the seductive glimpse of another world, and the sweaty, pressurised labour going on inside.

Theron Schmidt has been writer in residence throughout Experimentica 07, and is part of Writing from Live Art (www.writingfromliveart.co.uk), a Live Art UK initiative.