Tag Archives: interpretaion

‘Air’ projected in James Turrell’s Skyspace at Tremenheere

I’ve been thinking about Pauline while installing the ‘Air’ film in James Turrell’s Skyspace in Tremenheere Sculpture Garden near Penzance in Cornwall. Our collaboration has been so rich and all-encompassing, it was hard for me to install and to experience this installation without her. And yet she brought so much to the experience even through her absence.

Because her work has always been concerned with mortality and because the film was inspired by our reading of Rilke’s ‘Invisible Breath’ and because now, with her own health failing, my response has such a personal deeper resonance in relation to mortality… because of all this she was, and is,  present through her work, her life and her breath.

So I will write this to, and for, Pauline.

B wire smoke 2

Since I spoke with Neil Armstrong a couple of weeks ago and he offered us this opportunity to install our film in the Turrell Skyspace ‘Tewlwolow Kernow’, I came to realise how important it was to create an installation which did not deny the elemental nature of the sculpture itself. Projecting onto the side as if it were any old wall or screen simply would not do.

Tremenheere Skyspace

I think I mentioned that Robb Higgs recommended a friend of his who plays saxophone to create an interpretation to play live with the film? His name is Andy Marston and he invited Matt Thompson a trombonist to join him – and I had no idea if that was going to work either. But there’s been something about the Elemental Dialogues project hasn’t there? Right from the start. I’ve taken risks by working with so many different contributing artists, and I feel it has stretched us all and given us so much. There has been such a generosity of spirit. But it’s always scary.

So there I was in a panic, when thoughts from Bachelard’s ‘Air and Dreams’ which you introduced me to, came to mind, do you remember us trying to imagine how we could represent air, the invisible element, as a silent film? It seemed so relevant to consider again his idea of air (if I have understood him right) being within the reverie of ‘what is’ between me here and the distant tree over there… and then I remembered me reading the Death of a Moth to you. Virginia Wolf looking out of her window at the space between her life at the table writing, the dying moth fluttering against the window pane and the plough working the field on the distant hill. Here in the Skyspace the air resounds between me and infinity, captured in the ellipse which forms the hole in the top of the space.

Turrell has designed lighting which changes as twilight falls and the sky moves from the visible, to indigo and on to become a solid black velvet void, quite reminiscent of the early works of Anish Kapoor we saw at the Hayward years ago, but the lights are not on now. And it is night.

What would happen when our film was projected onto the wall? When music made by humans disturbed the sounds of nature? How could our film possibly add to what Turrell had already created? Or worse still, how could the film not detract from the Skyspace?

So, it’s Wednesday 18th November, 7pm. Pitch black.

Imagine yourself walking up the hill, through the wild, wooded garden with candles in jam jars lighting the way (those that hadn’t been blown out) and down an unlit tunnel into a vast white egg shaped space. Sit yourself down on the ledge which runs all round the edge. Lean back and look up, through an elliptical hole in the roof, into the void. An oval beam of moonlight falls on the wall. An owl is hooting. (Actually there were some magpies too, making an awful noise, though I’m not sure I’m supposed to say that about nature.)

We had decided to project the ‘Air’ film onto the curving wall at the end of the ellipse. The musicians stood, silhouetted below, looking up to follow the film and be aware of the sky. As the film began with the stars floating down and swirling around on the wall, astonishingly the real stars came out, (having been hiding all day behind a furious wind and lashing rain) glittering against the indigo sky.

What was happening was magical because the film interacted with the space and the space interacted with the film, changing my perception of the white walls, the void and the sky, whilst combining with the haunting breathy (and sometimes soaring) notes of Trombone and Sax. The flickering dancing momentum of the film, swaying from dark to light and back again, worked with the void to create a new site specific interpretation of both the film and of the Skyspace itself.

The sky at moments a solid velvet black and invisible as the film lit up the space below, then, as the film darkened to murmuring scratchy dewdrops in the black web, the sparkling sky returned beyond. Lost in this moment, when I thought it could not get any better, a circular wisp of transparent cloud passed low, just over the hole in the Skyspace, whilst the film went on dancing below.

At last I could stop and breathe. I leant back, absorbing the elemental sense of air in the space and in my body, feeling the presence of you Pauline and the terrible sadness of your being so very ill. Whilst all the while, the final words of your favourite interpretation of the film by Briony Bennet – played over in my mind:

 ‘a wisp remains, /  but you can only hold it  / for so long. ‘

A Wisp of You

Dust refracts, 

slows dark turns. 

There— the gap, 

between smoke-climb 

and the curtain. 

There is no chaos,

only roads travelled appear,

through electric windows.

 

Your code floats,

branches rise,

separating one light 

from the next.

Memories of the sea

carve footprints 

on the air. 

 

Cobwebs draft light pictures,

answer the gentle 

dispersion of stars.

Your particles delay, 

become fixed

from passing time.

 

Inevitable waves erode 

the glue-drop silk,

dilating your tracks out 

into the night.

Sometimes, to meet others,

dance parallel,

hollow unspoken curves,

falter,

for a moment,

that passes. 

 

A mirage,

no, reflection.

Waves ebb, 

but do not cease.

Breath is borrowed.

Rips primeval, 

before expiring across moments,

of abandon,

of repetition,

of occasional flourish. 

 

 You are tethered. 

A spectator,

watching false birds on wires.

A kite, 

reaching the limits 

of your view.

Tail slips, open palm,

a wisp remains,

but you can only hold it 

for so long. 

 

Jos said – a sky burial…

And I was thinking when that cloud passed over, of 21 grams…

So then,

we all went down to the restaurant and had delicious food and saw the other interpretations screened, with sound, in the café where Penny Florence also presented work about interpreting Mallarmé through digital poetry, so we had good conversations about interpretation with an intelligent and enthusiastic audience. Indeed it was an evening to remember (oh what a cliché – it was brilliant).

Neil and Jane who own the garden, and made it all happen, were so wonderful, we must think of a way to thank them properly. I will write.

Sadly there are no photos. There is no film, no record at all beyond these words. I was too tied up with both the technology of making it happen, and giving myself to the experience. I tell myself that it was not meant to be viewed through a lens (and I forgot to record the music even though I had a mic with me, sorry Andy and Matt). I admit there were inevitable technical hitches, but if you ignored them, it was an incredible experience. I would say that at moments it was sublime! (I’ve been angsting about all the technical stuff but Paul says that to achieve even a moment of ‘sublime’ is pretty good). When we come back next year with ‘Water’, it has the potential to be so much better, having learnt so much this time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Big transparent egos

So: the last question was: eyes open? Or eyes shut? Is it possible to interpret a film while not looking at it? Or by looking, then looking away? There has to be a space of not-looking in between the looking, doesn’t there? A space for reflection. When I’m thinking very hard, I often can’t make eye contact with people. It’s as if the invitation to be present with other people is difficult to reconcile with intense thinking. So I alternate between one and the other – between listening and looking, and thinking and responding. So maybe there is something important about keeping hold of both – eyes open, and eyes shut?

I’m writing about something different today though. Something that has taken me a while to write, and longer to post.

Something is preventing me from writing this next piece. In a great deal of the correspondence that Anna has been passing on to me, from poets and writers and musicians as they return their thoughts and interpretations to us, there is an undertone of worry. Worry that comes alongside phrases in the artists’ and poets’ emails like ‘doing justice’, or following rules. That said, the creative constraint of the process of embodied interpretation seems to be liberating to some of our contributors – though I also wonder whether the work that seems to flow so easily for some is a result of a thing that already was. I don’t mean to suggest that any of the artists who have given their time so generously to the project are just auto-producing a kind of Blue Peter here’s-one-I-made-earlier Tracy-Island. I also don’t mean that any of the artist’s involved are simply reproducing patterns of work that they have already established. In any case, isn’t that what the term ‘practice’ means? Isn’t what we do a result of repetitive acts of refinement in one way or another? And don’t things improve with practice? But I think I’m digressing here.

Some of the work-in-progress interpretations I’ve listened to and read speak very strongly to the artist’s own mode of practice. There is a sense of ownership of the work that comes through very strikingly as an extension of this. Steve Emmerson‘s conceptual poem, and Sebastiane Hegarty‘s sound composition based on the striking of a match both give me a sense that their interpretations become theirs because of the pathways their work has trodden in the past: the creative practices they have developed over an extended period of time. If I look for a sign of the artist’s own body in the interpretation, I suspect I’ll be unlikely to find it as bluntly or explicitly as that. This is not a criticism – after all, when we sent out the brief to our poets and musicians, we only asked if they could think about how their bodies might become part of the interpretation. We didn’t even know whether it would be possible to produce an interpretation ‘from the body’.

It is not an easy thing to do, particularly if one’s own practice as an artist takes care to erase the traces of a body from the work. After years of academic training, I certainly have found it difficult to find my own embodied voice in my writing.

Something else sticks in my mind about a recent conversation with the poet and writer, Sophie Mayer. I was asking about the presence of bodies and embodiment in translation and interpretation. Sophie, who wrote her PhD on comparative translation some years ago, talked to me about the ways that translation has been described as a ‘handmaiden art’. I can’t ever think of that word without also thinking about Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale, and the institutional violence that holds a Handmaid in check. We talked about the implicit gender violence, productivity and creativity involved in the art form of literary translation. Much like simultaneous translation or editing, translation willingly makes itself utterly limpid, entirely transparent, and therefore, completely invisible. Is this what we are asking artists to do? Or is there another way of thinking about it – about being with a work, through a body, where the identity we so often clutch to ourselves is somehow less important?

How many artists are willing to make their work – their practice – completely transparent? What would it take for the big self, the identity of ‘I’ that seems in so many cases to be the point of making art in the first place, to be invisible when held up to the light? So my question for today is a big one: are we wrestling with big transparent egos, when we make creative, artistic interpretations?

Close your eyes?

10 Days 2013Yes, now I come to think of it Gabriel often closes his eyes when he dances. He becomes totally absorbed in the atmosphere, in the air, the feel of the floor beneath him – he is in the place, this place. How can I ask him to interpret a film through movement? A film he would need to look at?

With his eyes. Open. So. Maybe I am wrong to be asking?

He has integrity in his every move. If his eyes close – they close. The film goes on around him. What do you think embodied interpretation is, when it comes to interpretation of film through dance? When you were taking part in the workshop and Gabriel asked you to close your eyes, it appears, or rather your words appear, embodied. How does, or how did, that transition happen?

I am trying to hold on to Lucy Boston’s words (she wrote in 1968)

‘…I would like to encourage children to use and trust their senses for themselves at first hand – their ears, eyes and noses, their fingers and soles of their feet, their skins and their breathing, their muscular joy and rhythms and heartbeats, their instinctive loves and pity and awe of the unknown…’

Yesterday I was in Cambridge in Fitzwilliam College chapel recording Aaron D’sa (piano) and Deepak Venkateshvaran (tabla) improvising to our film.

Air with Deepak Aaron 01071608

With Lucy’s words in my head, I asked Aaron to begin by concentrating on his body, to think with his body. I imagined he might close his eyes, but I didn’t have the courage to tell him to.

I watched, as he watched the film right through one time before he began to play. He watched intently, with his eyes open, his hands hovering over the keys as if he were hearing it in his head with his eyes … because they were open.

You say, you like the idea of ‘interpretation that cannot be pinned down, nor be made entirely free’. I like that. Maybe what is free for another is not free for me? Perhaps a translation is pinned down and an interpretation is not?

We have given our film to others to interpret in their own way. We have asked them to consider the idea of embodied interpretation, but we have not imposed it. The interpretations are beginning to arrive – will we know, instinctively, if they are embodied or not?

Maybe we don’t need to know, can’t know, maybe we are just at the beginning – thinking aloud about what it is to interpret and these ideas come up and we follow them like a puppy with a roll of Andrex (and yes Matu has done that) under the sofa where a delicious lump of fluff is waiting to tempt us, we throw it in the air, catch it, maybe choke a bit then spot a wily spider luring us into the corner…I feel as if I might be under the sofa right now. The question is, eyes open? or shut? Am I about to put my hand into the unknown space to feel what is there. Trust my senses Lucy says.

Oh now I’ve gone back and had a look at the beginning of what you wrote and it doesn’t say ‘close your eyes’, it says

‘what would it be like to close your eyes?’

Where does that take us?