I am struggling to remember the initial seed of the idea for Portrait. Thinking about it now (in August 2014), it feels like the idea arrived out of the blue. Until the beginning of 2014, I had been researching a live piece that was an improvised composition of movement, objects and sound Figure (s).
However, on reflection I remember that earlier in 2013 I presented my work and interests to the MA Performance and MA Fine Art groups at Brighton University. During the presentation, I set up a camera that I connected to a projector so that I could project my live actions onto the wall. Finding words a difficult medium in which to express physical and visual ideas and the connections between them, I wanted to perform my interests in a show and tell format. My intention was to use the performative scenario to demonstrate my interest in the moving body and its relationship with various framing devices including the camera frame.
At the time Claudia Kappenberg remarked that the delay between the live action and the projected image caused the viewer to question whether the projected image really was a representation of me. This observation reminded me of Rene Magritte’s painting La Condition Humaine (1933). Magritte wrote of his painting:
“In front of a window seen from inside a room, I placed a painting representing exactly that portion of the landscape covered by the painting. Thus, the tree in the picture hid the tree behind it, outside the room. For the spectator, it was both inside the room within the painting and outside in the real landscape. This simultaneous existence in two different spaces is like living simultaneously in the past and in the present, as in cases of deja vu.”
Quoted in Torczyner, Harry, Magritte: Ideas and Images. New York, 1977. (My italics).
This expression of the simultaneity of past and present resonated with me and with some of the ideas that I had been researching, notably philosophers Bergson and Deleuze’s notions of simultaneous, but multiple durations. And also with Roland Barthes notion of the camera as a ‘clock for seeing’ (see my blog post here). Barthes talks of how the camera instantly creates the past out of the present, how it makes a ‘specter’ of its subject:
“Death is the eidos of the Photograph.” … “I am neither subject nor object, but a subject who feels he is becoming an object: I then experience a micro-version of death (of parenthesis): I am truly becoming a specter.” Barthes, Camera Lucida, 13
I started to think about how I could use the ‘simultaneous’, but different presences in the real space and in the projected image to express something of this property of the camera to instantly create an historic event, a present-past, something that immediately creates a feeling of nostalgia.
These musings coincided with an invitation to create a performance for an MA group show at the Marlborough Theatre during the Brighton Fringe. Being a filmmaker in the process of experimenting with minimalist live performance, I found the idea of creating something for a theatre space quite daunting. However, when looking at the different spaces that we were invited to make use of, the idea for Portrait arrived. Inspired by the Victorian bar space downstairs, the idea came to me that I would create a performance for that space in which I would become, to camera, a previous, Victorian, version of myself.