directors lounge special screening
Thursday, 27 Oct. 2011
Digital video works by Steven Ball 2003—2010.
These works travel near and far, across physical and virtual space using material collected en route.
Steven Ball's video work is radically contemporary in its appearance. He generally uses his own camera footage, his own voice as text, and with it a different layer of discursive material. His audio-visual material appears to be straight, clear and sharp, but the themes the artist is concerned with are less easy to encompass. In very short it may possibly be described as an interest in landscape and the politics of its reproduction.
It may not be immediately obvious that Steven Ball's work has been much influenced by his experiences in Australia. He lived in Melbourne for 12 years from 1988 to 2000, where he was a very active member of the local art and super-8 film scene. Upon returning to live in London, he made another decisive move to the then "new medium" of digital video. Another idea he brought in his luggage was the intellectual debate around native Australian thinking and the respect for traditional beliefs and myths. Earlier in the 20th century, Aboriginal beliefs, in spite of being studied by anthropologists for a century, were still seen as pagan superstitions to be overcome by "civilized world views". Ball's critical reflection on the seemingly unquestionable "truths" of the Western world may be related to this discussion.
With the introduction of DV-tape (mini-DV) digital video began to acquire the kind of uncanny "reality effect", which High Definition (HD-format) has enhanced in recent years. The images of Steven Ball's collection of shorts "Direct Language" often transmit a kind of uncanniness. The shorts were firstly made to be included in Ball's videoblog "Direct Language" (2005—2008). We could call them video etudes; Steven describes them as "opportunistic and experimental", without aiming for "high art". The simple and sometimes disturbingly clear quality may have something to do with Steven's history of Super-8 filmmaking. With Super-8 it is basically possible to point the camera at the most ordinary situations in life and they somehow turn into beauty. (Berlin artist Dagie Brundert calls it the Wabi-Sabi of Super-8) and it appears to me that Ball is still curious about exploring the transformative nature of digital video material used in the same straight-forward manner.
In "Metalogue" (2003) Ball has built the meta-story of a video archive around his footage shot on diverse travels, and depicting ambiguous body-space relations. The film is apparently organized by search key notes. The digitally registered search words and the data infos seem to structure the memory archive of the digital video clips and its playback. The film thus may give us the idea of futuristic mental access to externally stored video archives, possibly replacing biologically registered image memories. With "Direct Language" the videoblog has thus become a different video archive, displaying the postings consecutively, strictly in the order of appearance. According to Ball, blogging has already passed its peak, being replaced by so called "social networks" such as Facebook, however he continues to blog occasionally, using a mixture of writing, image and video posts. Steven Ball, has also taken his interest in direct audio-visual interchange to other contexts, creating live streaming video performances in collaboration with Czech artist Martin Blazicek ("Eutopia", 2006).
Reworked past projects appear in "The Ground, the Sky, and the Island" (2008). Super-8 material from extensive travels in Australia are combined with spoken text, the words creating their own layer, loosely related to the digitally reworked images. Occasionally the horizon is the demarcation of a divided image, as the piece also denotes the artist's struggle and discussion of the problems of representation. If we follow the implication of the film, the endeavour to document landscape in general must be considered as the generic creation of the artist, possibly as some kind of re-creation of his experiences, but not as a so called objective reality. The claustrophobic experience of an encircling horizon, which the artists bears witness to, may also be the result of the inherited European concept of landscape if we follow Ernst Gombrich's discussion of landscape, we can conclude that "depth" in landscape is a generic construction of 19th century English landscape painters. The film was first completed for a collection of landscape films from the UK and Australia that Ball has co-curated ("Figuring Landscapes" curated with Catherine Elwes) and screened in the UK and Australia, and may be taken as a confrontation of European ideas with a different reality born in native Australian landscapes.
With "Aboriginal Myths of South London" (2010), Steven Ball takes up the "opposite" side by applying "world views associated with indigenous people of Oceania" to his home town. South London is Steven's place of birth and New Kent Road the main road of the neighborhood he lived in. The split screen video shows the pavement of the road while walking East, first citing cultural customs forbidding any representation of dead people, then from the 1910 official Post Office directory of New Kent Road, without mentioning any names. The concept of respect for the dead by not depicting them or speaking their names obviously clashes with the Judaic-Christian tradition of shared memory. It may be interesting to note at this point that "commemoration" is the English word for religious observance of the Church of England. Further on, it is this kind of questioning the doxa, the common believes, which may have led to Steven's found footage film "Personal Electronics" (2010). "Personal Electronics is an experimental documentary tracing the experiences of victims of phenomena associated with electronic harassment," which are documented in online video archives like youtube. The video is composed of audio-visually recorded personal witnesses, not unlike those records of alien contacts or tracings of conspiracy theory, however less sure of an immediate explanation. According to Steven, those voices should be taken seriously partly for the individual efforts and risks of ridicule taken by these publishing their observations. On one hand these parallel the voices on the Speakers' Corner in London's Hyde Park, a traditional cornerstone of British "free speech", on the other they may also be a phenomenon only existing because of the increased potential for media to disseminate these "voices", similar to dated phenomena such as "grand hysteria" and the "grand arch" (French: Arc de cercle) photographically documented by physician Jean Martin Charcot (1825-1893).
While using the straight and accessible language of digital video, Steven Ball subverts easy consumption by cautious diversion of our viewing expectations. It thus will not only be an absorbing viewing experience but an interesting discussion is to be expected. Steven Ball is coming from London to personally present the program.
(Klaus W. Eisenlohr Oct 2011)
Metalogue (26:37, 2003),
Direct Language (10:00, 2005 2008),
The Ground, the Sky, and the Island (7:45, 2008),
Aboriginal Myths of South London (10:27, 2010),
Personal Electronics (26:00, 2010)
Public Water: http://www.publicwater.net
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