Surveillance, voyeurism, participation and looking within oneself. The need for private space.

All of these ideas are encapsulated in George Orwell’s 1984 which I have recently seen interpreted by the brilliant and innovative Headlong Theatre Company.

Headlong Production of 1984

Headlong Production of 1984

This production explores the world inside Winston Smith’s head, as well as the world without, and catches the euphoria and bliss buried deep underneath the cold face of Big Brother. Headlong’s version explores why Orwell’s gaze is as relevant today as it ever was.

The series of short film screenings at Dilston Grove under the banner ‘Lawns and Hedges’ seemed very relevant to my interest in the manicured public space.

The programme was put together by Anna Gritz and Jennifer Teets as part of ‘Wendel! Open Your Door’ a Woodmill collaboration.

The films were chosen in relation to a text from the entry submitted by Lewis Masquerier in the 1858  competition to design Central Park.

‘To the Commissioners of Central Park:

I have planned purposely to effect a double object. Not only to give a pleasing landscape, but also an instructive one. For amusement and instruction combined, certainly intensify each other. I propose then to lay off the southern half of the park in a miniature representation of the continents of the earth.

Unfortunately, no one would ever get the pleasure to stroll through Masquerier’s vision for Central Park, as Frederick Law Olmstead’s proposal would be the winning one. Yet nevertheless his vision for a landscape that would promise both pleasure and instruction is very much in line with the history of garden architecture.

Frontispiece to l'Abbé de Vallemont's Curiositez de la nature et de l'art (1705)

Frontispiece to l’Abbé de Vallemont’s Curiositez
de la nature et de l’art (1705)

From the gardens of the antiquity, to the French and English landscape gardens and the park designs of Frederick Law Olmsted and Walt Disney, nature has been used to choreograph our physical movements and emotional states.

Azael José María Franco Guerrero and one of its 'living sculptures' in Tulcán Cemetery, Ecuador

Azael José María Franco Guerrero and one of its
‘living sculptures’ in Tulcán Cemetery, Ecuador

This screening looks at landscaping as a process of cultivation, one that creates sites suspended between exercised control and escapist diversion whilst offering the potential for political subversion.

Nature is featured here as a manicured stage set that guides and hosts the theatrics of the human condition. The environment is reconsidered not just as a dramatic backdrop that illustrates the psychological condition, but also as an active player in the sculpting of social unconscious. The individual films are entwined within a scroll of still vignettes, interlacing imagery and rhythm to mimic the peripatetic nature of human perception.

The screening opened with a rapid scroll through a selection of source material and images on the themes outlined in the programme.
I would have liked to have had longer to see each image and more information on the research undertaken as it looked extensive and fascinating.
The films shown were:
Julia Rometti and Victor Costales, Plantas Populares – Movimiento: Agitato, 2013, 14’56”
‘A film in black and white of tropical plants being agitated by the wind. These are ‘house plants’ seen in their natural habitat of the Amazon jungle.
Olga Chernysheva, Anonymous. Part 1 & 2, 2004, 19’
This is a film where a middle aged lady gradually plucks up the courage to change into her swimming costume in a public park.
It is sad in a way that she is obviously so self conscious yet ‘the public’ are oblivious to her trauma and exposure.
Deimantas Narkevicius, The Role of a Lifetime, 2003, 16′
Deimantas Narkevicius 'The Role of a Lifetime'

Deimantas Narkevicius ‘The Role of a Lifetime’

This film also on show at Tate Modern pans across a series of drawings from Gruto Park in Lithuania where a lot of old post war sculptures have been abandoned.

Should these murderers end their days in such arcadian settings. Filmmaker Peter Watkins adds a self reflective commentary on his personal creative journey.

Rosalind Nashashibi, Jack Straw’s Castle, 2009, 17’20”

Rosalind Nashashibi 'Jack Straw's Castle'

Rosalind Nashashibi ‘Jack Straw’s Castle’

Amy Granat, Landscape Film, 2009, 8’45”
TJ Wilcox, A Fair Tale (Extended Mix), 2006/2007 8’47”
Jessica Warboys, La Fôret de Fontainbleau, 2010, 4′
The exhibition ‘Surveillance’ at Gimpel Fils  had work by Seamus Harahan and Christopher Stewart who create work about watching and being watched.
Seamus Harahan Torch extended

Seamus Harahan Torch (extended) video still

Seamus Harahan films human behaviour from a distance, giving little away as to what activity we are witnessing but holding our attention as we become the detective searching for clues.

The long lens perspective gives us the sense that we are witnessing a private moment of an unguarded subject of our gaze.

Christopher Stewart

Christopher Stewart ‘Germany’

This series of photographs from Christopher Stewart are loaded with tension. This is not idle waiting and watching, these are covert operations.

Christopher Stewart Insecurity

Christopher Stewart ‘Insecurity’

At the Venice Biennale Dieter Roth presented video surveillance as a sort of diary to record his everyday activities.

The minutiae of his life, eating, sleeping and working in his studio over a period of a few years are shown simultaneously on 131 monitors.

Dieter Roth

Dieter Roth ‘Solo Scenes’

The effect is to condense a series of events into one happening, it is impossible to witness everything on the monitors at once. Scattered like memories,  the linear narrative of life breaks down into fragments yet produces an overall  essence. A self portrait.

Do it 2013 a group art show at the Manchester International Festival was billed as turning the notion of viewing into an active and performative encounter between artist and visitor.
11 Rooms which was staged at the Manchester Gallery in 2011 felt more engaging than this years show for me. 11 Rooms was secretive and beguiling. You had to enter an unknown encounter through a closed door into an intimate space. This year the open plan space gave participation a self consciousness.

do it 2013 consists of a growing series of written artists instructions, each reinterpreted each time it is enacted.

Some of the instructions have been written specially for do it 2013 and some date back to 1993 when the project first began from a conversation between Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist.

Manchester Gallery Do It Yourself

Manchester Gallery Do It 2013

Some instructions were absurd, some fun and some impossible to carry out.

Manchester Gallery Do IT Yourself

Manchester Gallery Do IT 2013

The re-enacted instruction I enjoyed the most was the live performance with a vulture.

Maria José Arjona a Columbian performance artist paid homage to her mentor María Teresa Hincapié
who died a few years ago with the performance ‘Second Messenger: Performance with vulture and writings’.

Manchester International Festival

Manchester International Festival

The film crew were on hand which heightened expectations of a performance but also killed any spirituality at the heart of the enactment.

Shadow the Vulture

Shadow the Vulture

The Amazon rainforest felt very far away.

María Teresa Hincapié left instructions for her student to go into the Amazon rainforest, drink only water and eat only fruit and obtain a spiritual experience.
So Maria José Arjona went into the forest with a shaman who made a potion from plant bark for her to drink. This potion gave her an experience which she described as ‘seeing clearly’ and she spent 12 hours writing messages while under the influence of the potion. A message that she wrote while in her transcendent state is delivered to the Manchester Gallery by a vulture, a bird of sacred symbolism in Columbia.
The message reads
‘ The future is uncertain. Words are traps for innocent animals. You must know that knowing too many secrets delivers some sort of damages.’

The ancient forests of Europe used also to be a place to go to for adventure, to confront the power of nature and to face danger.

Bear Collagraph

Bear Collagraph

I made a collagraph of a bear. Partly to see how this would translate through the cardboard of the plate but also as I was thinking about the beasts of the ancient forest.

Bear test prints

Bear test prints

The reaction in the studio was that the bear was cute not fearsome.