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Conversation Between John Statham and Bruce Hanks
- December 13, 1997
John Statham is an artist and neighbour of Bruce Hanks..
||So here we are, trying
to come to grips with these images of yours, and almost every category,
or even word that I can think of is called into question. I don't even
know whether I dare call them images, but what else can I call them?
||Yes. I had a conversation this
afternoon with somebody, because the question came up, are these photographs
and, although they're not, they're displayed as photographs. It's really
a matter of expediency and cost.
||But any resemblance to photographs
is coincidental, so to speak, to the extent that they're photographs, the
photograph is almost a support....it's not the nature of the work...
||Yes, the other thing is coming
from a photography-based background, my previous work being black and white
photographs, of course I'm going to stick with it because it's familiar,
even though this is a departure from anything that I've worked on before.
I've never worked in colour. I've never worked with video, in the sense
of finding still moments from motion, which is one of the ideas behind
||Can you tell me how these images,
since I'm going to use that word, come to be? How are they generated? How
do you trap them and turn them into what we see before us now, in this
||I have a little Camcorder, and
most of the sources are fairly ordinary. It's just stuff that I'm shooting
with the kids growing up, days at the beach, walks in the park. I'm just
videotaping for no real reason other than that I have this tool and I'm
using it. But in terms of what we're seeing here, what I became interested
in was the fact that whereas photography freezes a moment in time, video
is in motion, things are always changing. That's the nature of the medium;
it takes a 30th of a second for the full image to appear because it's been
scanned line by line, and as one line is being scanned, it's also being
simultaneously erased to make room for the next. So, electronically, it's
intriguing. The medium is always in motion, and I wanted to arrest that.
I wanted to see what happens when you take the motion and bunch it, you
compile it over a space of time. I've found a way of playing with this
that allows me, in essence, to keep the image on the screen but at the
same time, remove levels of luminance as the tape or video plays. Sometimes,
however, two or more images are compiled to create one.
||Which seems evident, from time to time here, but I'm
never truly sure whether it was a superimposition or not.
||Right. Because I think all things
are possible within the medium. There are no limitations, it's an exploration...
||Now give me the title of the exhibition again, in full...
||"In the Perceptual Field: Sidelong
Glances at the c.r.t."
||O.K. To me, "Sidelong Glances" says a great deal, and
I have a sense of just that as I look at these images, because everything
seems fleeting, fugitive, forming and dissolving.
||Yes, it is, and I think that maybe
it's my way of dealing with the world in which systems and structures are
presented as permanent and absolute, and I have difficulty accepting that.
The desire was to see just beyond appearances into process... very much
||Into fluidity and unfolding...
||Yes, and if it works at all, there
is that fluidity that one experiences when watching film or video that
is somehow frozen and captured in this body of work. I've always loved
video walls. I've loved the idea of a bank of monitors, but every time
I've come across one, it's been very frustrating because it's always moving,
and I just want it to stay still. I want to just meditate on the moment.
I don't want to see what's coming next. I don't want to be rushed. So,
here is my own way of creating that; I'm creating an illusion of a video
wall in which the motion is in the mind of the viewer.
||So, curiously enough, you've fixed all these images that
imply so much motion and change.
||If that works, that's part of what
I've set out to achieve.
||It seems noteworthy to me that, as we pursue our discussion,
we're not in the presence of the exhibition or the installation in its
final form. What we're sitting before are several images, one of which
is going to be very large as well as some of which are going to be in light
||Yes, and monitor shells...
||And three banks, each composed of nine images...
||And, what we're looking at, at the moment, is... variations,
if you like, of these images, which I've already seen in another form.
I've seen them before on a monitor. That was my first exposure to them.
Seeing them now in the form of these 4 x 6 prints, I have a sense of recognition.
And yet there's an element of surprise, because they don't look the same...
and I expect them not to look the same again when I see them in the installation.
||And they won't look the same on
the Web either.
||I trail off at the edge of my ability to grasp what this
is. Is there a single work here? Is there a single exhibition? Or is it
something that's susceptible to many forms of presentation; is that part
of what it means? I have a sense of everything refracting into everything
else, perhaps infinitely. How far could this go? Is there an exhibition,
an installation in a form about which we would traditionally say, "This
is the exhibition. Here's the painting. Here's the original."
||I don't know. Even within photography,
the negative is a reproducible object. One can make a million prints from
a single negative, and distribute them wherever. These images (sidelong
glances) are a digital file, and it would be possible to send the entire
show over the Net to a gallery, a printer, to a friend anywhere in the
world. They could download the information and recreate the show without
any essential loss.
||Now, as a painter, and I guess with a traditional education
in painting, and an attachment to it, I keep trying to apply some known
categories to give myself a frame of reference when I look at your work.
So, I think: abstract, representational, classic, romantic, organic, mechanistic,
image or pattern. I keep trying to get a grip on something - with great
difficulty. It's evocative, but ungraspable, disappearing and reforming.
And yet, I sense that there are themes and if I could stand back far enough,
or make some connection, I might read something specifically in them. Could
||It would be up to you. I'd place
no meaning on these other than what visually excited me at the time I was
working on them. Although I would never present a photography exhibition
that would mix, say, portrait, landscape, and still-life, etc. it somehow
seemed here that it didn't matter what the final image was. The whole process
of creation had a background unity, if only due to the fact that they were
all screen shots. But, they certainly are diverse, and there is no consciously
chosen theme....A painter develops a mastery of the stroke of the brush
that he or she chooses to use to portray how they feel on the canvas, and
I'm working with kind of an electronic canvas. It's a still canvas. It's
stretched over the frame, the edges of a t.v. monitor. But it nevertheless
is a canvas.
||Now, it's an interesting fact that you had no difficulty
handing over to someone else the decision about how they were going to
||You had a friend who took on that task, and once she
was convinced that this was how it should be, you accepted it.
||So there's a randomness to what you shot, and you weren't
overly concerned either about maintaining control, even over how they are
presented. It seemed appropriate to you, somehow, to invite someone else
to undertake the task.
||Well, the whole project was so
much process, and different people contributed various ideas along the
way. I took the photographs to three or four friends, and they arranged
them in different sequences, orders, patterns, according to how they perceived
them. Every one of them worked. The only thing that I needed to establish
was the map: Were these going to be horizontal? In groups of maybe two
or three? Were there going to be solo images? And at the end of the process,
I settled on three banks of nine, four duratrans and one large image. So,
the arrangement of the images, in the banks of nine, is arbitrary, very
||It works for me. I've walked back and forth among these
banks of nine for the last few hours....and keep seeing different things.....very
much as if they were still in motion...
||Then, if that is happening, I think
I've been on the right track. I work in a television studio environment,
and everything's in motion, and colour, and I've never really understood
it. I've never really figured it out. I was so much more comfortable looking
at the world through the lens of a camera, and printing black and white
images. But when you're faced with it day in and day out, looking at a
bank of monitors... every once in a while, something really amazing happens.
And it is that sidelong glance. You're looking at something obliquely,
and images occur on the screen that can never come back. And it's a moment
of infinite beauty. The same thing happens when you're surfing channels,
you're just getting these moments, these fleeting glimpses... and it's
in those moments between the frame, between the image, where it's happening,
and that's what's exciting. And that's what I tried to do here, I've tried
to recreate those moments that don't really exist, yet are just behind
the next image ready to appear.
||It happens that you have in your living room one of the
few paintings that can reconcile me to abstract art, a very beautiful painting
by your friend Gary Berteig. It's very much a painting produced by imitation
of a natural process; I remember seeing him at work on the series of which
that was one of the results....and, it was interesting to me that your
particular choice to frame that painting was to place it between two sheets
of glass, more as if it were a natural specimen than a painting....and
it leads me to think of how you take an interest in processes of evolution,
whereas some of us may be more obsessed with halting the becoming and getting
something fixed. As I was mulling all this over this morning, and looking
at your work, it occurred to me that these are like fractals of culture
as opposed to fractals in nature.
||They're from my own culture, what
I carry within me as I go through and perceive the world. The elements
of my past are the references, consciously or not, in the work. I think
the human mind, in its natural state, is quite chaotic; we're never thinking
one thought at a time. There's always simultanaiety; we process information...
||Stream of consciousness.
||I've always loved that term. We're
very lateral....so the essence of this body of work is - you're correct
in seeing it as fractals of culture, random moments I can extract from
my life history and work, play with pattern, and present in the form in
which they're constructed here. Perhaps somehow they take on the pattern
of my process of thought. I think you and I both prefer the human element
in our images, so I'm always looking for cultural elements, extracting
them and reprocessing them through layers of video... If I'm fortunate
enough to be able to continue the prcess I began here for another ten years
or more, I might be able to answer the question adequately.
Texts Index | Playing
in the black box | Playing in the perceptual fields:
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