Immersiveness (complications) > research folder

A draft post which looked like this has existed for almost a year. It arose around the conversations during BoW tutorials around immersion, the sensorial and audience engagement with site and work.

The discussion linked forward and into BoW 4 and 5 and Research 4 also. How to invite, entice, lure the viewer into the work, inviting them to step forward, and then to get a little lost, not quite knowing where they stepped into.

In conversations that ensued, I wondered if the work needed to be seductive to achieve this: the luring was close enough to entrapment, of overwhelming with the (visual) senses. And I realised that I myself stepped right back at that moment.

Pippilotti Rist’s (2005) Homo Sapiens Sapiens video installation at Garden of Earthly Delights (you lie back onto floor cushions, the projection happens on the ceiling in a round shape), came to my mind and that my work was not like that (and didn’t intend to).

I was surprised by my strong reactions here and further discussions with my Research tutor clarified some of the links about it (immersion = seduction = overwhelm = entrapment). It also clarified for me that HD video on large/multiple screens is not where my intention of the kinds of work I want to make lies (I think it’s been a no for some time, being invited to spend £10k for a digital back for a MF camera) — I am too little photographer for these approaches.

The works I turned to were these three — I have known them for a long time, they are datable, and dated as late 20c British contemporary art. I find myself however returning them at frequent intervals:

Bethan Huws (1991) The Lake Writing or The Lake Piece, 24 works on paper, ink, each 297x210mm.

Georgina Starr (1992) Whistle (Eddy, photography and Whistle, vinyl 7” record); installation, dimensions variable, https://georginastarr.com/eddyforwhistle1992STARR.htm, accessed 20 August 2021.

Gillian Wearing (1994) Dancing in Peckham, video, 25 mins, https://youtu.be/lQqZj7DhRzQ, accessed 20 August 2021.

None of them is immersive in the way immersion is currently understood as a multimedia surround environment where the view steps in. Huws’s photocopied handwritten notes on walking around a lake are in fact anything but: it is formally sparse, daringly challenging the notion of the artist’s hand (or tech) and yet affording a slow stepping into a sensorial and experiential register which affords precisely that transfer, transporting the viewer/reader around that lake with her, if they let themselves be seduced by 80gsm photocopy paper spaced on a white gallery wall (that I was told the visit was animated by a large open window that moved the sheets on the wall on a summer afternoon in London, helped further). Wearing’s silent disco before there was such a thing is of a similar register, here we don’t know what she is dancing too, the noisy VHS recording clipped to youtube dates it further. Starr’s eddies on Kings Cross station translated to her whistle tune recorded on vinyl is similarly introverted, marked by an innocuous act in public space (like Wearing and Huws also).

They are all fairly ordinary approaches towards making and then the act of transferring, translating moves the terrain and makes them extraordinary with simple means compared to the immersion at play today. They also are playful (both in production and in presentation), there is a trickster at play, a playing with the expectations of audience and curators. They are also quite introverted works, I come to realise now: they are solitary activities, contemplative, a couple a bit performative, while the headphones kind of temper the level of exposure.

None seduces, none overwhelms, yet they stay with me as a way of translating, relating environmental experiences of making (with/in) site that are effective and relevant to how I am engaging with site. I hope these will provide further inspiration as I move towards SYP and the concerns over audience engagement.

Oh, yes: the link to the haptic and the erotic in Marks: it lies again in the autonomy and ability to negotiate coming close and pulling away: of diving in and dissolution and then to surface and step out. The choice for one or the other is key here (what that means for the initial idea of letting people peer in and they get a little surprised what they discover remains to be revisited).

William Kentridge: Why I should hesitate at Deichtorhalle Hamburg

My first train travel in over nine months led me through HH and on the return I stopped and saw the first show since Shuvinai Ashoona’s Holding on to Universes at CCA Glasgow a couple of days before Lockdown 1.

I don’t linger too much around the earlier drawings and prints but enjoy the construction of viewing boxes and small rooms along with the studio space, the later hotel reception and the reading room.

I am sure I will have seen More Sweetly Play the Dance (2015), I thought it was a Documenta work but am corrected, so I am uncertain where I saw it. It, the scale of the relief prints that concern the Mediterranean refuge routes of the mid-2010s (Refugees (You Will Find No Other Seas), 2017), the work concerning the death of the African porters enlisted for the British war effort and subsequent silence (Porter Series 2005) are stunning and humbling, yes, I think that is the word.

The work is vast and serious about its sincerity and concern. I think that is what strikes me most with the scale of the print productions. And while I am often put off by large scale ambition, here I feel grateful for him affording the subject matter all that space and visibility (it enters a dialogue with my own questions of scale, encounter and engagement).

The work for the Istanbul Biennial a few years ago of Trotsky’s Hotel reception and the ghosts that would haunt that reception was sweet, funny and playful, I liked it a lot too (O Sentimental Machine 2015). The show almost ends with a large reading room and flower bouquets (Studio Flowers 2013) drawn in ink on found paper, each consisting of around 80 sheets pinned together. They framed a socially distanced reading room and library cabinet. That room worked for me so well and so did these drawings of such a quaint subject matter. Perhaps it was the earlier works that contextualised it and moved the flowers elsewhere?

Here a few images.

The exhibition site has many more videos, I am including a link to a digital symposium from Spring 2021: