Skin: the beginning

Artist’s Statement

Title:                Skin

Artist:              Christina Donoghue

Medium:          Digital video installation

Skin is a series of interviews that asked the participants to share the life experience of their skin. Skin was conceived from a desire to have a conversation about identity from a common baseline. By allowing people’s narratives and emotions around their skin to unfold organically on film both our sameness and our differences are discussed by association in a microcosmic fashion that relates to the larger discussions of personal, ethnic, generational, gender, sexual and minority identity. Travelling from the textural to the visceral Skin speaks to our awareness of self and explores the connections between our internal and external journeys.

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Influences: Installation film format

When trying to find the best possible, achievable way to present my film installation Skin, I’ve been looking for other ways that people have used a screen format to present documentary like film. I’m interested in how the format affects the way the content is received. How the aesthetics of the film effect the content.

FOUR – TELL from Kathryn Ferguson on Vimeo.

I came across this film called Four-tell by Kathryn Ferguson. The project interviews four influential women who are speaking to being woman from a space of power and influence. What was especially striking to me was the aesthetic quality of the film. How colours, geometrics, costume and shadow and light had been used to create interest for the eye, whilst subjects were being interviewed. The interviews were cut together so that all the subjects were responding to the same topic areas, within this subject area it served to bring more meaning or weight to the discourse.

I’m not as confident that act of cutting the interviews together would work with my work. But, I do plan on experimenting with that to see how it impacts the work. Whether my fears of creating conflict between the voices are realised or whether it just creates a pace or friction that is more stimulating for the viewer.

The animation between squares and movement on-screen is interesting. I would also be interested in experimenting with that approach to see if it adds or detracts from the quality of the piece. The idea of creating an aesthetic uniformity throughout the piece appeals to me, but I would like to look at doing this without losing any of the ‘everywoman’, ‘everyman’ quality to the documentary frame.

Under my skin

I suppose I should preface this post. There are no great theoretical discussions, just a relaying of my raw practice, which is all you are likely to receive after several days of interviewing and editing.

I’ve mixed down an advance version of my project for marking. But, as with all of my work, it becomes apparent once I start to put the project together, how much better this could be with time.  This project needs years rather than hours, this is where it is right now.

Interviews

The interviews have been pretty amazing. As expected the skin has been this interesting doorway with which to view a persons life, how they see the world and how they believe the world sees them. Perception of perception. There are many common themes that have come up, medical conditions, race, personal memories, sex. I am not sure how they would be if they were sorted into subject categories and then placed side by side. I felt like that would be moving toward the didactic, so I steered away from supplying the opportunity for comparison. The interviews were left edited, but untouched in the affect. I aimed for leaving them to be interesting in their authenticity and real consideration of the topic. They interviews are very natural and human. Presented in real time.

As interviewer, I find the process of interviewing each new subject both delightful and draining. Having to draw out the subject one by one. Interviewing on a topic such as skin can be arduous as no one considers the world through their as a matter of course. So it takes some prodding to reach beneath the skin (pun intended) of the questions and speak through our own bodily experience.

Format

The format is video split-screen. Ideally I think eventually I can see a series of handmade silk screens coming from the ground, encouraging the audience to sit down and experience them as a conversation, or to just walk from screen to screen, receiving impressions from each. The projector screen is split in three, the one large is a mid-length to full length shot of the interviewee speaking direct to camera. The subject was placed in the centre of the frame and cropped in post. In the small third I have placed a profile shot of the subject that is not in sync. The profile shot offers the viewer the chance to examine the subject of the interview unobserved. It also appears that the close-up profile shot is listening to the main interview and responding.

In the third split sect there is a range of loosely related textural images interspersed. I played with this frame seeing what impact it had on the frame as a whole. I found it interesting, and at times distracting which was not unpleasant. I found that the interest it provided pleased me visually and the interplay between the three frames was interesting to watch. It’s interesting to watch the ‘skins’ of other things living and inanimate. Juxtaposing the verbal expression of race or freckles with water or tree bark acts to ground and speaks to a larger truth and shared experience.

The larger truth of this work is that it is a work in practice. It needs the time to breathe and be massaged to allow it to express itself completely.

Completely aware of this 2am rant. I will attempt to dissect the piece with increased clarity in a future post.

Pieces of me: a film journey

Pieces of me from Christina D on Vimeo.

 

Project statement

Pieces of me was conceived thinking about multi-dimensionality and the idea that we energetically leave pieces of ourselves everywhere. This proposition is current in both quantum science and cosmology; as physicists grapple with our concept of time and the possibilities of a multi-dimensional reality. The exploration of our relationship to time and place and the creation of our personal narratives was foundational to this piece.

Pieces of me continued to pursue George Ella Lyon’s idea of ‘Where I’m From’ and took on board the expanded criteria to look at the idea through someone else’s eyes. I asked my daughter Kya to write a poem about where she’s from. What she wrote was a list of places and events that she identifies herself through. During the filming, we went back to some of those locations; back to Bondi where we lived till she was three; back to our first house that we left due to domestic violence and back to the city streets, before returning home to Bradbury (Campbelltown). The experience of temporal confusion was described as “weird” by my eleven-year-old daughter. Everything feels so familiar and yet a lifetime away.

The whole idea was born some time ago from the memories I have embedded around the city. While sitting on a train at Central Station, I looked out the window, in my mind’s eye could see myself walking hand in hand with my Poppy—chatting happily. The relationship between place and living memory is one that may transcend the grave as spoken about in the theory of cellular memory.

Technically I wanted the film to remain simple and lively. The film was about an eleven-year-old girl’s view of the world, so the vision was for the piece to be uncomplicated and clean and to communicate Kya authentically.

The entire film was shot on a Canon DSLR with an external directional Rhodes microphone. In the opening shots, the ocean was sped up to express the subject’s temporal relationship to place. The continuity of light within this piece was not important as it was not a linier storyline within the film—as with the tonality. It was meant to be a patchwork of places and people with the elements of continuity being the narrative, the image of Kya, the beatbox track within the soundbed and the films fluid treatment of time. The few shots that are not of the subject, make use of the Kuleshov effect to bring the meanings of freedom and connectivity to theme and place, to Kya’s spoken narrative.

I decided to use the ambient sound from the shoot throughout the majority of the sequence to bring the audience into the different spaces and add another aural dimension. My daughter has this oral fixation and always is making noises with her mouth. I translated that into the piece and recorded her beatboxing, which was layered within the mix. Voiceover narration was used over the entirety of the film apart from one break where Kya spoke direct to camera, this was just the choice to speak directly to the viewer, the real-time moment creates a moment of discontinuity.

The filmmaker Bernado Bertolucci has always influenced me in the way that he allows what is, to just be. He sees the details of life and then pays attention to them with the camera’s eye, such as the way someone’s hand falls when they are sleeping or the way people look at other people when they don’t know they are being watched. This intention made its way into my film. A lot of what made the cut was the accidental cutaways, such as crossing the road, or Kya watching the dancing at a community BBQ. It is the natural laughter, smiles, intrigue or loneliness that is interesting and beautiful to watch.

“A Statement” in Sound

Project Statement

Where I’m from – My statement in sound is a direct response to George Ella Lyon’s poem ‘Where I’m From’. My piece uses a chronological approach, moving from the beginning to the present. The whispered shame that haunted my existence from the beginning ties the past with the present. Beginning in Isfahan, my father flew helicopters for the US Army and our relationship bears the scars of war. The African djembe played by my eldest daughter references our ancestral roots, its rhythm drives us forward on our intergenerational journey. We are guided to a moment of singing a black spiritual, by an flowing Australian river. Layering techniques of both sound and meaning using conventions taken from film. The sounds are symbols, moving from background to foreground creating the nuance of the coexistence of temporal experience, shared stories and present being.

Sounds good

This week at uni was thematically sound bound. Much like my work on musique concrete in other audio engineering subjects, this was an exploration into manipulating sound.  The only difference in focus with this topic is that the compass is pointing to film down the road.

So the soundscape below is simply a quickly edited soundscape of sounds collected around the university campus on a Zoom mic and edited in Adobe Audition.

Now the scope of this project is towards producing a poetic soundscape that expresses the poem written in response to George Ella Lyon’s Where I’m From project.

Stay tuned as the plot thickens.

_____ enough?

For those who are none the wiser, this post is a brief description and proposal for digital art project form yet unrealised. For now it is a busy soup of ideas and potentiality which I am now charged with translating into a cognisant whole.

Power & Identity

Last year I undertook a writing work that was occupied with post-colonial theory. In this time I came across theorists such as Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak, Franz Fanon and Eduard Said and was already painfully aware of Foucault who seems to have something to do with everything across the humanities. What stuck with me was this idea of erasure of history and culture and therefore people’s concept of identity. Franz Fanon said it most succintly for me in Black Skin, White Masks, “Without a Negro past, without a negro future, it was impossible for me to live my Negrohood.” Fanon (1952, p.153) I had a similar experience when reading Spivak’s response to Macauley regarding the codification of Hindu Law by the British in Can the subaltern speak? 1988. Foucault refers to these actions as ‘epistemic violence’. A theme inspired by all these texts is the idea that ones identity cannot be known as it has already been erased or stolen. And all that you think you know about yourself, if it is based of misinformation or the space of erasure, how do we form our identity and authenticity.

The interaction with power in this space, is the power enacted by the dominant discourse to create a reality based of a context designed to support the dominant power.

Realising large concepts in finite space

Going forward with the idea of keeping this project reflexive so that it is doable within a shorter period of time, I plan on using myself as the subject. Growing up black/white biracial a subject of societal binaries I would like to explore the space that is unsatisfied with who we are and seeks to define and classify.

My idea at present is a combination of photography and video. I would like to use time lapse photography and apply make-up to camera and ask the question “am I _______ enough?” This comes from the experience of growing up in both Australia and the USA and being told by both Australian and African-American communities “where are you from?”, “You can’t be from here?”, “You’re not very dark?” or to my mother, “Oh, whose girl is this?”. Dealing with questions of visual displays of cultural identity and how the power is enacting on us.

img_0522.jpgThe Process

  1. Research – Together with my team I will be researching identity theory. Looking at the three main classifications of identity formation; individual identity, social identity, cultural identity. As well how as power interacts and/or influences the construction of identity. Research into other artists that are working with similar themes and mediums will be part of this body of research.
  2. Project planning – Final plans will be made for how to begin shaping the material to express the ideas cohesively. This will occur with the openness to the process of making quite often changing the direction of the project.
  3. Creation – creation of the material project in consultation with the group.
  4. Exhibition

Feedback and collaboration with ideas is part of my project model. For this we will be using in class time as well as Facebook groups and Google Hangout as well as face to face closer to exhibition time.


Video piece by multimedia artist Jessica Wimbley who deals with themes of erasure and identity within the American landscape. During the research phase I will be seeking more artists that have used these contemporary mediums within this space of inquiry. I also love her use of photography and film.

 

References
Bunch, A 2015, ‘Epistemic violence in the process of Othering: Real-world applications and moving forward’, Scholarly Undergraduate Research Journal at Clark, vol. 1, no.2, pp.11-18
Fanon, F 1986, Black skin white masks, trans. CL Markman, Pluto Press, London
Spivak, GC 1988, Can the subaltern speak?, Macmillan