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"WE ARE SURROUNDED BY EMPTINESS, BUT IT IS AN EMPTINESS FILLED WITH SIGNS."
- Henri Lefebvre
"Tanith Gould invites her audience to question the issues of humanness, using sound and imagery to interrogate nostalgia and our deep routed connection to song." - Review by Seamus Denham
It would be wrong to say that my work is about memory, because it is not. I have no memory of my Grandad at all. The work isn't about memory, but about the lack of it. The absence of one another in our lives. I explore his character through the memory of a third person - but I do not know him and he does not know me. The work is disconnected but searching.
Degree Show Set Up
We have been lucky enough to have been given the whole ground floor of Belmont to curate a group show as The Belmont Collective. I have three films in one room within a square and one film in the centre of other room. My work XXVIII is situated next to Tony's work which looks at WW1 and remembrance. I feel like our work compliments each other well as the music from mine although from a few decades later, has a feel of a similar time and works as a good accompaniment for his work too. My work is also about the past and remembrance. In the other room, my film is set out on top of a coffee table with a comfy chair with a red throw (the fabric used in the video) - I was unsure about using it as I didn't want it to appear gimmicky. Originally I had the white piece of fabric over the top but I think it looked too much and Virginia suggested trying just the red one. I am happy with how it looks because it connects the chair and the imagery on the TV screen without being too OTT. I tried the set up in different places around the room. (the window and the centre) but I think it looked best off centre as it doesn't interfere with other people's work - when it was in the centre it was lined up with Emily's work looked clunky and interfered with her paintings too much. It also brings the room together (as it is quite a long room) and it breaks it up and makes it feel less intimidating for the public to walk into. Also, due to the layout of the room and the fact it used to be home and then a B&B, the comfy seat and TV brings a domestic atmosphere to the room which I was not expecting.
We ran into a couple of difficulties whilst hanging - as the screens were being tied to metal wire by fishing wire, both of which move or stretch, it meant that it was very hard to get the screens in the right place. Every time we tied it, because of the weight and the movement in the wires, it would bounce back into a different place. However, we got there in the end, and I am happy with where they are placed. Also, when I was planning the show, I wanted to have the films stretching out to the outside of the screens, but due to the format of the Matrox triple head, the films didn't stretch all the way and so there was a black frame around it. If I had cropped them to have the films filling the screen, the light from the projector (where the black boarder is) would have shone out and onto the wall opposite, obstructing Emily's work. Another thing that needs to be rectified is the stat of the screens which got a bit scratched whilst the show was being put up. The corner of one of them was also chipped when it was cut in the work shop. I think I might try and carefully glue a small piece of paper onto the corner so it isn't so noticeable. Once I have worked through all of these things, I think I will be happy with the final outcome.
We will be having a booth with a couple of tables where we can sell prints and small pieces of work. I am also in the middle of making a Belmont Collective Zine which has a selection of all of our work and a short piece of accommodating writing to go with it. I have a prototype currently but will make a selection of them to sell at the show. I also have had some business cards made.
My Updated Art CV
Short Test Films
These two films show some of the ideas that I was initially wanting to play around with. I was experimenting with different audio along side different footage. These two shots in particular really stood out to me. I liked their simplicity and colour and also their slight abstract quality. The film of my aunt talking, I feel, may be a bit too literal but I liked the anecdote that went with the footage.
In the old recording that accompanies some footage of my grandmother's wedding ring on a gold chain, my Grandad anthropomorphises and feminises a Bechstein piano in the most beautiful and poetic way before playing it. As music (especially hymns and songs of praise) was a large part of my Grandparent's relationship, the film discusses their marriage and their connection to the piano and their religion.
"The voice of our centenarian Bechstein. Her ivory keys now comprise part of a modern electronic organ. Her cabinet resides in the home of Mr and Mrs Hawker." - Ray Wyatt.
Whilst I was in Devon, I decided to have a play with different ways of projecting my films. I projected the film Following Him onto an old barn wall and this was the result. Unfortunately my camera didn't work when I was projecting so I had to record on my phone which is why the quality isn't great. I really liked the outcome, the patterns in the wall give another dimension to the work. However, I think that it was more successful as an installation and not as a recording to show outside of the context. If I had the means, I would love to show this film on a large, open air screen, maybe on Dartmoor to tie in the landscape and give the viewers an experience which is authentic to the film. I may organise something like that in the future.
This is a small film quickly showing some of the initial ideas I had for the project before it became about memory and family stories and relationships. The plan was to create a short film about my aunt and a selection of her interests as a follow on from the body of work about the menopause (however I was hoping for this film to be more visually enticing than the work before). I was very interested in her passion for dance and drumming and followed her to a light festival in Bristol in which she was a part of the procession. I recorded some footage and audio of the procession and was really inspired by the tempo and the energy and had ideas to create a film which changed pace with each topic that she spoke about. I stayed with my aunt for about a week and began recording different sounds that occurred everyday around my aunt, especially music as music is very important within the household. I have some nice recordings of my cousin playing different world instruments which I was planning on using for different transitions. Although I was taken down a different route, and I'm glad I was, I would really like to create this film in the future and learn and exercise a different set of skills.
Experiment with separate visual and audio
"Because we had this very religious upbringing, we had always been told that at any point in time, all the Christian people would suddenly be taken - if I didn't hear my mother singing, I would think that she'd suddenly disappeared and left me." - K.W
This video depicts slowed down footage of my aunt putting on my Grandmother's (her mother) jewellery. At the time, I wanted to draw some parallels between my aunt and my Gran, but after playing around with different audio, I found that this hymn worked really well with it and added a different and a more emotive narrative. I was reminded of what my aunt had told me about thinking my gran had be taken to heaven without her if she didn't hear her singing. The lady's voice at the beginning of the audio is my Grandmother. The importance of her wearing my Gran's jewellery is that it creates a connection between the two. There is a strange parallel between my aunt's childhood anxiety and her adult reflection as rather than my Gran being present but not heard, her voice is present but she is not physically here.
You can hear her speak about this in the audio below, it starts at about 4.20.
Thoughts On Memory
I have got a few books out of the library which are about memory. There is one in particular which has really gripped me. It is called 'Technologies of Memory in the Arts' edited by Liedeke Plate and Anneke Smelik. It touches on several good points that have made me think about my work with more depth.
“Objects retain something of the eyes which have looked at them… a thing which we have looked at in the past brings back to us, if we see it again, not only the eyes with which we looked at it but all the images with which at the time through those eyes filled.” – Marcel Proust. Does this also mean that by looking at an object (my grandad's dressing gown for example), that object also holds all of the eyes of everyone that has ever looked at it. Can we as human's sense an object's worth by an accumulation of eyes that have looked at it. Can we understand an object's historic/social/emotional worth just by looking at it? Is the dressing gown important to me because I know that it is important to my cousin and my aunt? It is obvious that the gown is important to my aunt because she would have had memories of my grandad wearing it. But why is it important to my cousin and I? Just through association, or something more?
"Artefacts from childhood serve as contribution to the collective memory, but many are also part of personal narratives and function as representation of a particular time and space of childhood." Although it wasn't necessarily an artefact that sparked the childhood memory of playing in the duvet in the sunlight for me (more of a feeling), this is very relevant to my collaborative piece and the importance of the fabric which symbolises the duvet from my memory. After a while, a memory breaks down and becomes fragmented until it develops into an abstract image or a feeling.
In a chapter named: 'Minimalism, Memory and the Reflection of Absence', they talk about the Word Trade Centre and how after 9/11 a memorial was built in place of the tower; a presence in the absence. It got me thinking about how 'XXVIII Years' is essential a memorial - a presence in the absence of a life and of a potential relationship.
"Pain is often experienced as absolute and timeless. It does not register as a changing product of specific periods and particular locations." ..."Pain can no more simply proceed from a body of an individual without ever engaging with another body." What I hope to achieve with the films is for the viewer t be able to relate to the emotion of my aunt and to have the viewer be able to feel and understand the pain being expressed by my aunt. "." No "we" should be taken for granted when the subject is looking at other people's pain" - Susan Sontag. - If there is no 'we' when confronted with suffering and agony, should we talk about sharing and transmitting the memory of pain at all?"
"In psychoanalysis, projection is understood to be a defence mechanism that allows the subject to come to terms with certain impulses by attributing them to someone else." - Perhaps I am projecting my sadness and disconnected grief of the loss of the grandfather I never met onto my aunt, and feeling my own pain through her pain.
Friada Kahlo represented different stages of pain within her work by painting her memories of her paint at different time during her life and healing processes. "She demonstrated that the self in pain undergoes many differentiated stages of being and states of transition. At the same time, this self is easily conceptualised and victimised and marginal." - My aunt makes the point that, although my grandad's death was 28 years ago, there are still certain triggers that bring her back to a certain memory. and she feels that pain again. But this pain is anole pain, one that is reflective and melancholic rather than fresh and destabilising.
"We shall never reach the past unless we frankly place ourselves within it." - This is what I am doing with my films, I am placing myself within history by taking and manipulating old, found recordings and placing it with an old dressing gown. I can't go back into the past, but I can bring the past into the present.
Hand Painted Dress (Witches Dancing)
Side project playing with different ways of presenting work
Test set up for degree show
My Degree show will feature my films back projected onto three pieces of frosted perspex. The larger screen in the middle will have Thou Art Near followed by the two smaller ones either side which will show Following Him simultaneously. Due to the frosted side, the light doesn't seep through but rests on the surface so it appears to be a floating screen.
(Here is a good example of different ways of using projection - obviously the content is very different to mine, but I enjoy the way the fabric moves around. Another possibility was to project onto weighted paper - but I thought it would be nicer to have something more substantial.)
I thought that this would be a good way to display the films as they represent the way that memories are transient and encapsulated within the mind of an individual. I thought this would be better than having them on box monitors for example, as they have the ability to sway and echo the movement of the dressing gown in the wind.
The reason behind having both of the films and not just one, is that I wanted to represent the different levels of memory being stirred. His singing acts as a catalyst for this - the more the memory is stirred, the faster the gown moves. This is why I want Following Him to come after Thou Art Near.
The first footage I took of Thou Art Near was in my aunt's back garden and I really enjoyed the way that it looked as if the dressing gown was breathing. The space within could be symbolic of the passing of time. However, the garden was too visually busy and distracted from the gown. The dressing gown in Thou Art Near (on Dartmoor) looks as if he is dancing, but the dressing gown in Following Him, is much more violent but illustrates the initial shock of loss as well as my own feelings about never meeting him.
XXVIII Years (Following Him and Thou Art Near)
Through the medium of film, I mix old family recordings with personal recollections. I explore the life and character of the Grandfather I never met and scrutinise my own detached bereavement. The work is drenched with religious connotations which illustrates his personal connection with his faith.
I mix the haunting sound of his voice with visual metaphors involving his dressing gown to illustrate a universal feeling of loss through the human attachment to music and objects.
I explore themes of absence and presence using the natural elements. I return to a place of great personal importance and use the wind as a suggestion of breath. The barren and spacious landscape around the gown signifies a reflective space and the passing of time.
I took two trips to Dartmoor to get the right footage. The first trip was during storm Doris and the weather was very changeable. One minute it was bright sunshine, the next it was hail and gale force winds. This was when I shot the footage for Following Him. I shot it on my small Pentax kr, which is nowhere near the quality of the Cannon that was used for the other films. However, I really liked the grainy and rough quality mixed with the grey and the violent movement of the dressing gown. I wanted to use the footage somehow but when I put it with the audio of Thou Art Near, it didn't work at all as the tone and pace of the audio was much slower and more contemplative. So, I decided to play around with different clips of the old recordings and found one of my Grandad singing which worked really well.
On my second trip to Dartmoor, I drove around a lot and tried the set up in several different places, as I had done the time before. I went back to the same place as before, a marsh with dead, black trees. I found the black outline of the trees mixed with the stark yellow of the reeds very dramatic and I felt it worked well with the red of the gown. I tried it on several different trees. It was strange how connected I became with the dressing gown, the way it moved was very human and I found myself referring to it as, "Grandad'. The shot that I went with in the end was actually the last shot. It was when something magical happened; the gown blew off the coat hanger as if to tell me that we had finished.
I tested out some panning shots but I didn't feel they were that effective as they became more about the landscape and less about the dressing gown and its symbolism. I took the dressing gown to some woodlands on Dartmoor which was a beautiful back drop but I get that the trees detracted from the dressing gown and over complicated the shot.
Norma's Colours by Florence Kennard
Norma's Colours is a beautiful film about a woman's memory of her mother through the bright colours she filled her life with. At the beginning and at the end there are several shots of her mother's bright clothes hanging off a tree in the dark. The footage is accompanied by a haunting, low frequency hum. This film was a big inspiration to me. You can watch it here.
Lynne Ramsay, Small Deaths
Lynne Ramsay is know for her stark scenes witch become adulterated by the odd splash of a vivid good red colour. Jacob T. Swinney has created a video on Vimeo which highlights all of the scenes which feature the colour red. It can be seen here.
Collaborative film (Tanith Gould and Katy Broad)
Artists Who Work With Memory
Szapocznikow, Alina's Funeral
"Szapocznikow (1926-73), a Holocaust survivor who died of cancer while desperately trying to preserve traces of her fading body." Was she trying to preserve herself in the eyes of others? By forcing people to look at her body as it fades? Or was she trying to remember the way her body used to be?
Her work features fragmented sculptures representing different body parts. Her work relates strongly to Frida Kahlo who also documented her body whilst she endured the pain of a serious accident. It also relates to Louise Bourgeois who made work about her painful memories in order to understand them better.
Frida Kahlo Louise Bourgeois
Tacita Dean, Michael Hamburger, 2007
(Link to a 3 min clip here)
This film quietly observes the poet Michael Hamburger as he speaks about his relationship to his apple trees. The pace is slow and reflective - something I have discovered to be a common trait with elderly people. As the article says, rather than talking 'of his past and his migrations, most especially fleeing Nazism in 1933, he talks poignantly, instead, of his apple trees, of where they have come from, and of their careful cross-breeding.'
In Memory | A mother’s journey through death and grieving in the digital age.
'In Memory tells the story of one community’s digital journey through the life, death and remembrance of PlainWhite Tom, a Chicago street performer who tragically took his life on January 1, 2013. For this community, Facebook was the stage for the events prior to and after PlainWhite Tom’s death.'
This beautiful film captures the bitter sweet reflection of loss and the haunting process of grief. The film is nostalgic and emotive - things that I aim to create with my own film about my Grandfather.
This film reminded me of the MOTH lecture (alongside Cafe Morte) last year which spoke about Facebook as being a graveyard for people who have passed. This film suggests that the community found on Facebook aided the grieving process. and poses to question the future landscape of grief.
"Chicago-based Armita Raafat performs an archeology of memory in evocative mixed-medium installations that draw on architectural motifs from Iran, the country of her familial roots. Born in Chicago, she moved with her family to Iran in 1980 when she was four, then returned to the U.S. in 2003. The Iran-Iraq War, which she witnessed while growing up, serves as an important backdrop to the artist’s multilayered works, in which personal and collective memory intertwine. Situated in the back gallery of threewalls’s newly expanded space were large wall reliefs and two sculptural pieces evoking severed columns, which together functioned as an integrated whole suggesting a mosque interior in a state of disrepair or damage." (Article found here)
Interestingly, Raafat also looks back into her roots and focuses on certain aspects of her culture such as religion. The way she uses space is really interesting, it is as if the viewer is standing inside a damaged mosque.