Saturday, 5 December 2009

Moving with the Times

On the subject of HD and artist friends - last week a friend and part-time colleague, Anne Bjerge Hansen, gave a presentation about her work to students and staff of the Fine Art the Photography department.

For more than a decade Anne's primary medium has been video - from Hi8, VHS and SVHS to digital. Throughout these changes Anne has been quietly capturing a diverse and extensive world of objects in motion: the materials, dynamics and consequences of movement. This movement comes in myriad scales and forms, from human and animal locomotion, to mechanical and fluid dynamics; from clockwork mechanisms to a brief puff of mist momentarily refracting a spectrum of sunlight.

On the occasions where energy is not directly propelling or transforming something, the image presented is invariably of an object which strongly suggests motion: which is in some way designed or intended to transport its physical form from one location to another. Cars, bicycles, planes, boats, trains, animals and toys therefore figure prominently. Humans on the other hand, whilst ever present, are only ever partially glimpsed participants – anonymous instigators in this panoply of motion.

The work is born of a photographer’s vision and the remnants of this approach persist through careful framing and the almost unvarying use of a fixed viewpoint. This lends a quality to the work which is strongly reminiscent of the early Lumiere brothers’ films. Like the Lumiere’s, Anne’s camera also transports a fine band of electromagnetically sensitive polymer through a carefully engineered clockwork mechanism in order to capture the fugitive images we call movies, and like the Lumiere’s, Anna’s camera records the world in the squat rectangle we more commonly associate with conventional TV images.

High-definition TV (HDTV) has come to replace the conventional 4:3 aspect ratio and with it have come a range of technologies which are casting digital magnetic tape to the editors bin of history along with the analogue tapes and celluloid films which preceded it. I asked Anne about this shift to HD and what this means for the future of her work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she was quick to point out that she’s not really interested in technology. I understood what she meant, but surely in another sense, one very important sense, all of Anne’s work is actually about technology: it’s about the many ways we exploit, harness, utilise and invent objects and processes to articulate and motivate our position in the world – our dynamic being and moving through physical space and therefore time.

Movement, of course, is inherently time-bound and the movie camera is our time-machine par excellence. But the newer this time-machine and the more unfamiliar its mechanisms, the more indistinct its history and the more vague its character. To know something is to have spent time with it, to recognize its quirks and to become familiar with its unique presence in the world. This is why people often refer to tools as old friends. The notion of choice is also important here. In a recent interview for DCA, artist Thomas Hirschhorn described his attitude to materials which he works with thus:
    “I think as an artist it’s important to love the material you are working with. But to love does not mean to be in love with one’s material or to lose oneself in it. Rather, to love one’s material means to place it above everything else, to work with it in an awareness, and it means to be insistent with it. I love the material because I decided in favour of it – therefore I do not want to replace it. Since I decided in favour of it – and love it – I cannot and do not want to change it.”
I’m certain this is why Anna is attached to the tools and processes she employs: she has chosen them, and this choice has acquired significance through use and familiarity.

Objects and processes also gain value when their existence is rare or threatened - this is why many people cling to faithful old tools, materials and techniques and it is also why many people continually seek the new and expensive; such rarity confers value and offers the promise of advantage over previous versions and iterations. These are the choices that artists face – most particularly artists who work with processes which are constantly evolving: whether to “move with the times” or stand by their faithful and familiar friends. In truth we need both. We need the pioneers who seek the new and unfamiliar, who tinker and tamper with technology and uncover it’s foibles and deeper characteristics and we need the stalwarts, like Anne, who understand their tools intimately and have the perseverance and vision to create poetry from the motion and interaction of moving experiences.


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