a film about Kurt Schwitters
Worked a bit too much last night on editing the images and on the blog (thank-you to the Langdale Country Club down the road for the wi-fi in the bar - very cosy) and woke up at 6.30 feeling truly terrible. Sore throat, swollen glands, headache, foggy brain. But it was raining very heavily anyway so decided to stay in bed. Then suddenly around 9am the sun came out and I saw a woodpecker outside the bedroom window pecking away at a large tree stump. I dashed to get the camera and managed to film about 3 seconds before it flew away!
Here’s the tree stump without the woodpecker.
I was using my bigger camera (Canon XM2) which I haven’t used for ages as its heavier, old and not HD. But its got a much better lens and can do really nice shots when I use progressive mode that enhances surfaces and textures in an abstract rather Schwitters collage type way – something I have used a lot in the past. I couldn’t quite remember how to use it. And I was worried that it hadn’t been checked over before I left. Fortunately I intend to shoot on lots of different cameras (including my mobile phone if that’s all I have at the time). This is totally in keeping with the collage aspect of Schwitter’s way of working. He used everything as an art material and improvised with what he had there in front of him. For a recovering perfectionist this is a really liberating philosophy. And yes I have forgotten the lead which transfers the footage to my computer – a good thing really as I would be editing all night.
(Perhaps I should say that before I got M.E. I used to be a TV director who made arts programmes. We had all sorts of technical “specs” we had to comply with. Though things have become more relaxed nowadays.)
My energy picked up after I had some breakfast and I had a great morning shooting quite abstract stuff of the surface of the river outside the sleeping barn.
I am so lucky staying here. I can make work outside the door when the fatigue is bad. And the solitude is great as I can really think. I can also rest whenever I need to and I have set up the living room for editing and resting. I’ve brought my radio so have Radio 4 on in the background all the time. Listening to “Woman’s Hour” while writing this. Again, massive thanks to the Littoral Trust for letting me stay here.
Filming all this landscape stuff made me think about an email I got from the art critic William Feavor last night. He was involved with getting the Merzbarn restored and knew Schwitters’ partner Edith Thomas (I also worked with him about 25 years ago, though I doubt he remembers). A chance comment from him in the email about my film relating to Schwitters liking to pick flowers made me realise I have to be very, very careful not to make something that is pretty and twee. I consider myself to be a hard-core modernist (which got me into all sorts of arguments when I went to Goldsmith’s to study fine art as a mature student and doggedly stuck to abstract painting. At that time – about 12 years ago - this was considered to be tantamount to supporting Hitler by some of the younger tutors and I was accused of being a reactionary.) Of course that’s why I like Schwitters’ work in its use of abstraction (though he is also considered to be a post-modernist as he used found objects and popular culture) This is also why I like the extremely experimental musicians who like him. I painted to John Cage and Morton Feldman - exploring the concepts of chance and improvisation - when I was at art school. The last thing I want to make is a pretty landscape film. Which of course if why I have just spent the morning filming the light on the river!
Those years refusing to work with cameras and exploring texture, surface, mark-making, erasure, traces, etc. in paint, wax, marble dust and other materials – totally informs what I am now doing now. I’m back again working with cameras, because I can’t stand being in a studio all the time and I love travelling - and I think at the end of the day my favourite medium is actually light. Of course - I now see that abstract painting is back in fashion.
Went back to the Merzbarn in the afternoon taking all my gear in the car. It had been raining really heavily during the night and my ancient car was full of water! Decided to sort it out later as needed to catch the light before it went. Had great time filming the walls and stones of the Merzbarn - and the holes in the ceiling - in very low light with very slow shutter speeds with the big old camera. Like an old friend. The bird was still singing its heart out but a construction crew were also working somewhere in the distance and the dumping truck kept reversing…
Might get up really early and come back to record sound before they start. Pain.
Went back to the sleeping barn and spent an hour baling the water out of my car with a bowl and a big sponge. Still feeling pretty rough. Hope tomorrow I’Il feel better.