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  • phildunn641

Life's a drag

I was away for a week and reflection, at least in the form of this blog, seemed to have come to a standstill. I've been making occasional sketch book and notebook comments and some of those may end up being translated to print here. Most of my thinking time has been taken up with consideration of work that may feature in the MA group's forthcoming exhibition and the research and writing for my Critical Debates symposium paper.

There was some brief respite from this in the form of an artists' films workshop in place of our normal fine art seminars this week. Led by Dr Anne Robinson, the workshop delved into film making, looking at the history of film as art with a focus on the frame, and viewing examples of experimental and contemporary film making including works by Robert Breer, Steve Farrer (The Machine), Sarah Wood (Here is Elswhere), Christian Marclay (Quartet), Sam Taylor-Wood (Still Life), Tacita Dean, William Wegman, Andrew Kotting (Jaunt, Gallivant), Margaret Tait, Rachel Maclean and DJ Spooky. We also had an opportunity to try out some techniques using Photoshop to separate video into individual frames, allowing frames to be edited and re-rendered as new film, and Premier Pro to edit film and overlay different tacks of film.

We had a go at rotoscoping for animating live action - time consuming, but the results are effective, particularly when combined with with overlaying in Premier Pro.

I've previously strung together bits of video into film mainly to create a record of some of my work, but I have also created a few pieces of work where the film or video is the final work and it may be that I'll use film as the medium for one of my current projects. As a minimum I will be stringing together some images and video as documentation of what I've been up to and some of these techniques could be useful. As I find with most of the media with which I work, I'm thinking that I'm probably missing something and that people who have studied photography, film making, sound etc., must consider my work startlingly amateurish, derivative and clichéd.

Back to the other stuff on my mind... I took my cameras obscurae out on another field trip at the weekend. There were two particular sites that I wanted to capture, the first office I ever worked in (now a boutique hotel - closed for the pandemic) and the last office that I worked in. It's sort of a homage to the office as the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed forever our relationship to offices as places of work. It is also part of a personal story as I felt I had a fairly complex relationship with my chosen career and the work that I'm creating is evolving based on my reflections on that, taking account of memory, place and particular elements of the jobs I was doing. I'll ramble on about the overall context, the specific locations and other elements of the work elsewhere.

As I noted in my last last blog, I was trying out a new configuration of the camera obscura and phone camera in an attempt to get larger, higher resolution images that would be suitable for printing. However, this did not work out as planned - the phone camera struggled to achieve the sharpness of focus that I wanted on the camera obscura's screen and I'm going to have to try something different.

I addition to photographing both sites, I wanted to record the sound of me walking from one site to the other dragging a wheelie case... a distance of 31 years, 5 month and 19 days. Of course the wheelie case is not solely the domain of the business traveller, and it became clear that as country is opening up, I was not the only person dragging a wheelie case around the streets of London. However, I was probably the only one dressed in a suit and tie (my standard business dress for most of my career), and with a microphone rigged up to the case to record its trundling throughout the journey. Wearing the suit turned the walk into something of a performance and my partner came along with me to document the event on video.

The route I'd chosen was not the most direct and was influenced by a couple of factors outside of my narrative on my working life and the uncertain future of the office. These factors were both on the subject of walking in relation to art. The first was that Francis Alÿs, known for a number of walking related works including pushing a block of ice around Mexico City until it melted to nothing (Paradox of Praxis 1 (Sometimes making something leads to nothing)) and The Green Line where he dripped a green paint along the Jerusalem section of what is known as the Green Line (the demarcation line set out in the 1949 Armistice Agreements between the armies of Israel and those of its neighbours (Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria) after the 1948 Arab–Israeli War), completed a number of walking works in collaboration with Artangel in 2004, one of which was Fitzroy Square - close enough to be on my route. The other was from reading a chapter of The Flaneuse by Lauren Elkin where she described walking in Bloomsbury while reflecting on Virginia Woolf's association with the area and walking around here and beyond. On the basis of this I felt that Gordon Square and Tavistock Square should also be on my route, The rest I would just make up as I went along.

It was a beautiful day for a walk and London was looking at its best in late May sunshine. The gardens of the squares were bustling, but not too busy and it would have been such a pleasure to stop off and relax in the sun for a while. But this was not a time for leisure, I wanted a continuous recording of my walk from first to last office, so no breaks. The only short break I allowed myself (other than crossing roads) was to retrieve a sturdy paintbrush from my bag to rattle along the railings in Fitzroy Square as Rafael Ortega had done in Francis Alÿs's work there. I also could not resist a short detour into the gardens of Gordon Square to record my wheelie case being dragged over gravel and grass - I had already made a point of seeking out pavement and road surfaces that would create a variety of sounds.

It took 44 minutes and 11 seconds to complete the walk (according to the length of the sound file) and I now have a selection of photographs to review, a very large WAV file, a lots of video clips taken by my partner. There is more to come on this one as I reflect further on the work I'm producing from this and previous trips. By making the walk and documenting it, have I already performed the work and the video and sound recordings are just documentation? Is the sound recording a piece of work on its own? Do I compile all the recordings and photographs into a film and that becomes the work? Where do my camera obscura photographs fit into this?

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