RITUALS FOR VISUAL LISTENING: I. WATER & II. NIGHT
Live performances for the general public, performed in collaboration with members of The Asheville Darkroom, USA. Part of Re:Happening (8) celebrating the legacy of Black Mountain College (1933-1957) at the original site of Black Mountain College, North Carolina, USA. 2018.
Both rituals intend to embed the photographic process back within natural, organic systems: making photographs directly with the land, lake, trees and plants at site. Such an approach aligns with the open, expanded-boundary, multi-sensory approaches inhabited at Black Mountain College, where dancing, drawing, architecture, gardening, music, poetry, painting and photography (amongst others!) were taught via fluid, interconnecting experiential methodologies. This merging of form and discipline desires to both challenge the current separatist paradigm active in Western contemporary art education, and to permit traces of the site to be present in the works; whereby elemental, material and alchemical aspects remain evident and embodied in the resulting images.
Desiring a physical, creative dialogue with the agency and potency of the classical elements, making photographs with the waters of Lake Eden and the aura of site. Attempting to relocate photography into an expanded field of chance and gesture, performance, drawing, painting, and poetry, alongside vision.
Exposing light sensitive paper and textile to sunlight, bodies and found objects. Live developing the paper and textile in the waters of Lake Eden, drying the images in the sun.
4 hours duration.
1 x 111.7 x 400cm textile cloth; 40 x 21cm x 29.7cm images on cyanotype paper, each unique, created from performance.
From standing surrounding an open burning fire, members led the audience on a photographic night procession into the woodland and forest areas of Black Mountain College, using flashlight, fire and the tools of early photography. Performers made images as they moved; pressing, folding and placing light-sensitive paper into physical contact with landscape and the details of site, creating spontaneous photographic exposures. By the red glow of the safelight each photogram was then wet-darkroom developed outdoors in a live process-performance, transforming night back into darkroom. Taking advantage of the immediacy of the medium, the photograms were then revealed to the audience: relics of the performance, evidence of experience.
1.5 hours duration.
10 x 21cm x 29.7cm silver gelatin prints, each unique, created from performance.
RITUALS FOR VISUAL LISTENING AND BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE
The legacy of Black Mountain College (BMC) left indelible marks on the physical and artistic landscape. Desiring to “rub off” and “pick up” the auric traces of BMC, myself and members of The Asheville Darkroom guided audiences through the landscape in ceremonial multi-sensory day and night performances of photograph making, intended to gather and encounter the ghosts of Black Mountain College alive at site.
Black Mountain College’s innovative philosophies of photography and persistent themes of pre-vision; visual perception; ‘learning to see’ and the notion of the photographic object as an embodiment of emotional involvement, experience and adventure are all central to my current photographic artistic concerns.
Whilst living in Asheville 2014-16 I made photographic work at The Asheville Darkroom and noticed a resonant hum in values and approaches between The Darkroom and BMC. Both organisations herald creative practice as process-led, sensory-rich, experimental, rooted in chance, community, materiality. Both institutions nurture pioneering thought and question perception, asking how we see vs how the camera sees. Desiring to strengthen such a coherence of vision the performances encourage cross-organisation dialogue to celebrate the legacy of BMC in analogue experiential form.
Josef Albers desire to teach to open eyes is also alive here in the photogram, which inherently challenges visual assumption. Its lensless nature collapsing the distance between photographed subject and object and in such disorientation our usual visual hierarchies of what we look at/not-look-at are forced to be dismantled and abandoned and hence, our eyes are opened. Photogram-making was taught at BMC from the 1930s-through 1951 and both the aesthetics and size of Hazel Larsen Archer’s works were considered and referenced within this piece. Rauschenberg engaged with cameraless works post-BMC and the photogram echoes this refusal to ‘sit’ within one creative discipline, instead straddling drawing, painting, photography, performance, poetry and sculpture.
Relocating the private rituals of the analogue developing process into the public gaze is a radical act, desiring to provoke discussion and interrogation as to the very nature of the photograph, especially considering the prevalence of digital photography and the increasingly-rare experience of the darkroom and photographic film. The darkroom is a manmade version of night, when we relocate this back within the natural world, how are our sense of vision, sound and space transformed?
The Artist and Darkroom members were unaware of the specifics of where the traces of BMC lie exactly at the site, and were therefore almost double-blind within the darkness, forcing them to spontaneously ‘listen’ with touch and parts of their body as to where to make the photogrammic rubbings, transforming participants into what Barbara Morgan called ‘thinkers and feelers’ that she believed were required to turn photography into an art. The rituals relocate photography into an expanded field of touch and sound rather than just vision, evocative of Cage, Pauline Oliveros and notions of ‘Deep listening.’
Overall the performances intend to reveal the methods and ideas of BMC as active and alive elsewhere in the world, encouraging audiences to further envisage and understand life at the school and its myriad and continuing evolutions.
Thank you to both Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center (BMCM+AC) and The Asheville Darkroom, North Carolina, USA.