N° 32 World Wide Video festival
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13 September - 19 October 1997
The Taste of Cherries
"How does a banana taste?" A girl asks a boy. He answers that he has never tasted a banana and opts for an alternative explanation to her quizzical query: "Different than a cherry but just as wonderful." She seems, for a moment, satisfied as if she has understood something new and then she asks: "like a peach?" "Like a nectarine but very different." He answers.
Experiences are told, translated, accepted, reused, rehashed to a point where they become shared stories. No beginning nor root, just joint instants. Like tales of a childhood that are told to a youth much to young in the story to have remembered the moments. Tales told so often that they become real and then are (falsely) recollected. We manage - naively? conveniently?- to (re)make them our own. And so (personal) history becomes shared property. And the private becomes collective; my cherry, your peach. Are we talking about built-up lies or mixed-up truths? Is there any difference? Maria Pask, Imogen Stidworthy and Fow Pyng Hu all work with the demands of their own (personal) limits, with their own (personal) histories, then, skillfully - and more importantly: `unknowingly' - they manage to surpass these and thereby create a new thing, a collective narrative...`Unknowingly' because the work, should it extend beyond the artists initial expectations, has to - can only - do so slyly.
Maxine Kopsa: Maria, in your videos you often force yourself to undergo something - an action - but at the same time the videos don't appear forced. They seem very direct and uncontrived.
Maria Pask: Hopefully. But I do control everything. The basic structure is set from the start. The light and the colours I use are often quite flat so as to create a dramatic effect. The space itself is generally confined. I feel that in a limited space feelings or emotions come across much stronger and a sense of voyeurism can be attained. In Hot Stuff #1 and #2 I started off with trying to imitate, or rather, to pose as if I were in an old Renaissance painting, a 15th century Italian portrait.
MK: How do you go about starting; where do the ideas for a video come from?
MP: It actually starts off very immaturely: I'll make a video about something I like doing or something I wouldn't normally do. For me it's very much an escape and at the same time it must be fun. I lead such a boring mundane life and I have all these horrible past experiences...Ones I make use of in the works: I excavate my memories, but use common experience to keep the video from becoming too obscure. The first thing I do is work with the actual process. Then I wait for a moment when the action will implode on itself. There always must be some kind of a climax. I hate watching videos and knowing right away what will happen. I want to hold the viewers attention: to destroy the story or make it go onto another level. Something must happen, it must be entertaining. I'm actually quite consumer friendly.
MK: How is eating sambal fun?
MP: It's a sadistic delight, a repulsion which seduces. This is an important element, but not the only ingredient in my videos. I'm interested in the violence that I'm convinced is in each person. In horror movies everyone is a monster and in cartoons violence is enmeshed in the otherwise innocent narrative. I think that these are both truthful to a certain extent. I want my works to be very real. Not acted.
MK: You wrote a curious c.v. for the Bureau Amsterdam newsletter, why would you list your illnesses instead of, say, your works? Or is it that the illnesses have had a direct effect on you work?
MP: Absolutely. Huge. I'm very much an artist who does everything from personal experience. It's all very much about me. Like Gilbert and George who are always appearing in their own work as the artists who are telling `it' to their viewers. I do much the same thing, I use myself because that's what I know. At the same time, a certain distance is essential: the subject matter is personal but the experiences are past and have been covered over, submerged in other memories. Then there are all the outside influences which come into play. The illnesses might come across as very negative. Abject, I like to call it, British abject.
MK: Earlier, you mentioned your interest in cartoons, and particularly in their often violent nature, that coupled with your c.v. - whether or not you meant it seriously - does show a certain ironic approach to aggression. There is a duality between the naively violent and the very real violence of daily life. Between sick and sweet...Maybe that can be applied to more of your work. The light mixed with the dark?
MP: That's very much my character. At times I can be very down and dark and then there's a side of me that wants to party and have fun. That element of paradox is certainly in my work. Like the workings of failure and success which I see as very much linked to the black humor. In a video I often feel like I've failed because I started off wanting to do something rather specific and of course it doesn't work out exactly as I planned. Then I feel like I've flunked it. And that in turn becomes a double negative because then the flunking becomes the subject: you set out to fail. But that doesn't work either because you can't be real about something if you're trying too much to achieve a certain particular effect. So at this point I don't know what to expect and that's good, that's the process. These are the things I like to deal with and confront in my videos. But most importantly, I don't try to analyse it all before hand, I just rather experience it.
MK: In the video installation To you worked together with your father. Is it important for the piece that the audience know the man is your father?
Imogen Stidworthy: No, not in any strict sense. What is important is the momentum behind it: the sense of how it should be dealt with is absolutely informed by my relationship with my father, but it is also very quickly being clothed in other, less immediately personal notions. These may come from things that I have read, things that I have seen. It is the way that you expand on that initial idea which becomes central. And to use other kinds of constructions and stories outside of your own immediate experience take it further, take it beyond my relationship with my father. The structure of To grew out of the idea of having two people in the same room in such a way that there can be a confusion between their two spaces, both a physical confusion and a psychological one. The work has to do with becoming aware of certain dynamics which are going on. One may always be conscious of them, in changing ways, but at a certain moment one begins to reconceive them to oneself making it possible to get a certain distance to things and thus be able to work with them. Later, once you actually start working on the piece it may give rise to new ways of perceiving the dynamics of a relationship, changing the way you feel about them.
MK: I did feel a kind of authoritative relationship between the two people. Between someone who maintains a strength, even though he is sitting naked and someone rebelling against that authority, undermining it: the sound of the typewriter becoming an insubordinate tick.
IS: Exactly. It becomes her means of disrupting his space. There is this saying that one 'weaves the threads' of the narrative. In fact, there are all sorts of metaphors for how a story is built up, how it seduces you into it. You follow it because you want to know what happens next. But at the same time as you are being seduced, there is always the danger of losing your own ground by falling into the other person's imaginary space - for a time. The woman in To does not try to maintain her ground by using his kind of language. It has far more to do with her engagement in her own preoccupations, in negociating a space for herself. The apparatus she has for making language functions instead as a kind of weapon, as a kind of machine gun. It threatens to damage the fabric of the narrative, makes it difficult to hear, and also seems like it might injure his body.
IS: Language and power or control are completely intertwined. The visual image and the sound of the voice are also connected, the identity of the speaker being carried by his manner of speaking...How quickly or slowly, how halting or fluid. You can work with these constructions of identity, of power and gender, but what I actually experience is far more dynamic and is constantly shifting. In To the narration becomes so cyclic that you start to get the idea that language is just as vulnerable, that it isn't going anywhere, has no developed progression. So in one sense I'm using language in its richest, fullest sense, without abstracting it, as stories with a capital 'S'. Yet, through time, duration, it - the narration - becomes more and more abstracted, a repetition. Details can be replaced by other details. Language becomes unprotected.
FOW PYNG HU
MK: I understand you made videos in the past but are now concentrating on film, what made you change mediums?
Fow Pyng Hu: I wanted to use that 'blurry' quality a film can have. And what also attracted me to it was the possibility the maker has, or can have, to create a realistic atmosphere. I want my public to be able to experience the film, its atmosphere.
FPH: Recently I've been interested in strange combinations. Bizarre associations where people find themselves in an alien situation, where the characters are placed, for example, in a 'wrong surrounding'. At the same time, it has to be a bit boring to watch, in the sense that such a film is really not 'allowed', in traditional terms. The boring becoming thus interesting or intriguing.
MK: Time itself becoming like a narrative?
FPH: Yes, and that there is no actual, concrete story-line, that a narrative remains always just beyond your reach, just beyond conventional comprehension. I think I can best explain it if I take the script I am now writing as an example. Normally, in a Hollywood film if Mr. Z. goes from point A to point B his movements are depicted as efficiently as possible. You see him having a telephone conversation, leaving A and, in the next shot, you see him at B. It is assumed the viewer can fill in the (unnecessary) blanks, that they are not crucial to the story-line. My version of the same story would include all that extra, so-called superfluous, information. I'd show all the in-between moments: Mr. Z. walking down the corridor; Mr. Z. scratching his head...
MK: Are you trying to make the atmosphere thereby more human, more realistic by coming as close to the real as possible?
FPH: I think that's exactly what it's all about for me. That is my content. A film is always a kind of lie. You can show things, details, which are very poignant in creating a mood or illustrating a character. Things that might be embarrassing but nevertheless very real, very human. In that sense, the characters do not become victims of the story: they are the story. Exaggerated acting, excessive movements are unnecessary.
MK: What is your new work, which will be shown in the Bureau Amsterdam exhibition, Sunny Afternoon about?
FPH: Right now I'm living in a sub-letted appartment which has its own, distinct feel. The owner has a very obvious taste. My girlfriend is Japanese and I see her, every day, walking around in the appartment...The two don't just doen't fit, don't `match' or `go together'. I thought it would be interesting to film her in those surroundings. The combination being also somehow sad, maybe even pathetic: two worlds which will never meet. But when I was filming her talking on the phone, I realised that she was actually very happy. The camera continues through the rest of the apartment and the point was to get a heavy, melancholic feeling from the interior but it all comes across as very sweet and pretty. Instead of sad the whole thing became quite happy and thereby also more realistic, unforced. The strangeness of the combination of the two cultures is still present but on a much more subtle level.
MK: Is it in fact about cultural differences?
FPH: Concretely, yes. But it just as well could have been about something else. The cultural differences are there, are apparent, but I use them more as a vehicle for the strange combinations, in order to create the bizarre atmosphere. I chose to use cultural difference as a kind of subject because it is something which is close to me, personally. Being born in the Netherlands, of Chinese parents, I also sometimes find myself lost or torn between worlds. But if I had only planned to investigate cultures I would have become an anthropologist. I always choose to work with what is close to me, why wouldn't I?