Have you seen the Turner?
Thats the question I get asked, now that people see me as an artist who works in moving image. I get to the Tate to see the Turner 2018 shortlist the week before it closes, allowing two days to see the four submissions. Four submissions, but one artist with a half hour film, one with three silent (though noisy) films, one has two films taking three hours, and one is a short film with a giant installation of added information and explanation. The thing that always puts me off moving image work in galleries is that you have to invest so much time before you can even tell if the piece has anything to offer. I like the glance and move on behaviour I can normally do in galleries - I usually whizz around a whole show and then go back and spend time with the pieces that call to me.
I watch Charlotte Prodger’s piece three times. It is the only one of the submission that feels relevant to my practice - made with a phone, made without the slickness and technical process of the pieces by Naeem Mohaiemen, tells a personal story. Social phenomena influence her story, but it is the personal account that is at the heart of this film. It makes sense to me as a way of expressing thought. It also startles me in the way it is assembled, in the way the artist is visible in the making though almost invisible on the screen. I’ve diligently discarded all my film where my finger shows, where I stumble, where accidental intrusions affect the scene I’ve been recording. I now think how narrow minded I was. The key is not to use crappy film technique just because one doesn’t know better, but where it adds to the story. I reacted with some belligerence to a film by Julia Peck, where her shadow appeared, where odd angles were used - the type of work that reminded me of old home movies where people forgot that they couldn’t rotate the camera, or put it down on a wall while the camera was still running. Making the experience visible as a positive choice, placing the maker in the film, was something that I simple hadn’t thought of before.
The first time I watch. The second time I pay attention to the way the film is assembled, but realise I cannot recollect enough to be of any use. The third time I try to make notes, writing on a small notebook in the dark whole I sit uncomfortably on the floor. Each time I am struck by the challenge of seeing the movie, of really paying attention, because of the layout and facilities in the space.
There are four flat upholstery benches in the room. Twelve people can sit moderately comfortably and see the film (though the second row has their view obscured by the first). Not comfortably enough as some shift from on the bench to sitting on the floor leaning against the bench. The first day, as people leave, seats become available, and I sneak swiftly through, noticing another person moving from the other side of the room and sighing as I get there first. There is a gap between the benches so approaching through the middle is possible. The second day this gap has shrunk so I end up perching facing backwards and twisting to see the screen. I suppose the floor was vacuumed and the seats moved and no one cared enough to check the spacing.
Leaning against the wall is an option, though the sound panels stop just below shoulder height so that any lean gets a sharp corner into the back. People lean, sit on the floor, wriggle. The only ones who look comfortable are the kids under ten who are used to sitting on the floor.
The film has starting times posted on the wall outside the door. People come and go at anytime, and those who are planning to leave when the film finishes don’t know when it is time to leave as the gap is short and dark, and it isn’t until the film starts again that there is enough light to leave safely.
These issues make me wonder - is this intentional on the part of the artist, to make the coming and going and viewing awkward, as she found herself awkward in finding and being herself? Where does the line between making and presentation end when the piece is being viewed in the dark like this? Howard Hodgkin used to insist on the colours of the walls his pieces were displayed against, not limiting himself to the canvas and the frame. All four submissions are presented in different ways - who made that choice?
When I sit, painfully, through the third viewing, writing swiftly and hoping some of it is legible, I try to capture the patterns, where a sound bleeds from one scene to the next, where words are spoken or are written, where the audio and visual reference the same thing and where different. I’d have liked to be able to stop and start the film, rewind bits, look at it in detail, talk to the artist. Unable to do this all I have is my notes. As I type them up, struggling with handwriting, I begin to feel a fondness for the struggle that is emerging. To be in an experience and understand it. To focus on a film world and yet be in another world, that of the chairs and the air quality and the light and the people with the phones and beeping watches. The film is about the construction of a self, its mutability, the influence others have. In some way my attempt to see the film and cope with the interruptions and structural stupidities echoes this. Maybe it is the artist’s choice. Maybe it is intentional and not just the equivalent of the video recorder left running sideways on a wall.