‘Persistent vision’ - a film term for the production of moving images from still pictures. The process of creating a moving image is dependent upon the eye/brains persistence of vision, whereby the memory of the image is retained by the viewer.
Made from donated Super 8 material held by the Empire & Commonwealth Museum archives (UK), the project questions the construction of history and collective memory through the medium of film.
3 large floating screens, carry waves, rhythms, abrupt cuts, repeats and simultaneous images, moving back and forth, competing for attention, or providing harmonious vistas of complimentarity e.g. image of landscape or soldiers marching. The editing provides fluctuating experiences of ease and dis-ease, consumption and comprehension, disruption and disjointedness. This is further compounded by the materiality of film, its quality, showing of age, processes of replication, reproduction, failing, faltering, and disintegrating images. The work is mostly experiences without a sound track, in keeping with the mode of an interpretive space, which the work seeks, however there have also been versions of the work where this interpretive space has been disrupted by the inclusion of a response to the work. In 2006 a live soundtrack was played alongside the installation by the REMIX Youth Music Group in Bristol. Further collections of responses and interpretations of the work are currently being made.
Persistent Visions was made to create an interpretive space, a work in which the activation of the audience was key to knowledge production. Each showing is seen as a new iteration of the work. Most recently it was screened in Hong Kong to an audience who created a live sound track to the work as it played. Previously it has been shown within the NUS Museum spaces as a strategy used by the curators to activate new ways of thinking about the permanent collections already on display and the practices of museums to impart and construct knowledge. It was also instrumental in a series of south East Asian University museum conferences in which the invited speakers and audience, all museum curators used the work as an in-road to discussing contemporary museuological practices in Asia. Prior to this the work has had several appearances in the UK, Germany, Canada. In the UK there have also been attached projects where responsive sound tracks were developed for the work by specific audiences.
The Making Of:
Persistent Visions marks a pause in my journey through the Moving Image archives of the Empire and Commonwealth Museum and the histories encapsulated there. My initial proposal of “ illuminating hidden meanings and messages, unearthing personal and subjective histories hidden by the grander structures of empire” has not fully been realized, or indeed has changed. The actual physicality or materiality of the archive and the process of navigating indexes, accessing film clips, identifying content, moving between fast and present formats and meanings has been overwhelming. But even more so has the question of the archives status as historical ‘evidence’ and my ‘take’ on the imagery viewed.
A few decisions have been key to the way the work has developed. The first is the use of ‘amateur’ film footage held by the archives rather then ‘professional’ footage. In the main, this has meant working with less highly edited material and no explicitly over arching authoritative story lines. The material stretches across a time frame of about 50 years (1930’s to 70’s) and is geographically unbounded. The content acts as personal recordings of both the domestic and the public lives and contexts of the filmmakers. The development of film technologies and mediums such as 8mm, 9.5 and super 8 provided much more accessible and transportable cameras. This can be seen in the diversity of material and film locations.
My second decision was to try and include the materiality of the archive and the experience and process of research within the work. I became interested in both the status of the archival material in terms of its references to the past but also its material existence as fragile film, collated into ‘collections’, indexed, notated. Many of the film reels within collections have been spliced together, not necessarily chronologically, and jump from location to location. Without the guidance of a sound track or the original filmmakers intentions, or knowledge and experience of the specifics of a place and its history, the remaining ‘film evidence’ is left in a liminal state of indeterminacy.
‘Who is that person?’ ‘Where is this place?’ ‘What is happening?’ ’What status does this material have in terms of history and understanding?’ These are questions asked, but not necessarily answered in the work.
In fore grounding the actual experience of working with an archive and placing the materiality of the film as central, it has meant that rather than going into the archive looking for material to support a predetermined narrative, I have instead sought to explore the archive with an appropriate openness and respond to the narratives perceived within the material itself. What this has actually thrown up was not the ‘hidden meanings and messages’ as anticipated, but instead a persistence of visions, images that kept reoccurring over time and space, and remained with me on my departure from the archives. The piece has resolved itself to become a reference to the centrality of the film medium and to history as memory.
Format: 3 screen DVD work, silent
Duration: 23.48 min
Commissioned by: Picture This, in association with The Empire & Commonwealth Museum Film Archive, Bristol
Shown at: Chinese Arts Centre, Manchester, Solo Show, 2005.
Touring as part of Ghosting, a Picture This Touring project to Chapter, Cardiff, 2005 and Angel Row Gallery, Nottingham, 2006. A Bond Space, Bristol, 2006.
Centre A, Vancouver, 2006 - Mining the Archive, a 2 person show.
ICA/South London Gallery, A Round The World In Eighty Days. Thermocline of Art. New Asian Waves, ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany, June 14 – Oct 21, 2007. Curated by Peter Weibel and Wonil Rhee.
Publication: Ghosting: The Role of the Archive within Contemporary Artists’ Film and Video. J. Connarty & J. Lanyon, Picture This 2006. Essay contribution and essay by Amna Malik on the Ghosting Commission works, including Persistent Visions.
Technical Spec: 3 pioneer DVD players, 3 projectors, syncing device