Matthew Johnstone's solo exhibition at The Green Room (12th October - 18th November, 2012) Totally Unprofessional explores and dissects the layers of imagery we find popularised in contemporary image culture.
His series Autumn Autumn Winter, is created by taking photographs of glossy fashion advertisements, editing the advertising content out and revealing the now abstracted background layer, which, full of connotations towards 'traditional' art and filmic clichés, seduce in their captivating pensiveness. The AAW works materialise in forms both replicating the original magazines and in large format light boxes familiar to public advertising display. Johnstone has an ongoing fascination with fabricated realities, specifically in film and how their aestheticised forms can materialise in reality, even where technological and scientific development are concerned.
The digital slideshows in Totally Unprofessional, BBLOBZ, present segments from HD recordings, ripped from BBC documentary footage of extremely aestheticised, naturally occurring state changes, such as magnified rain droplets forming ice crystals in clouds. The stills from these high-tech high-budget productions are reduced to slideshow frames and treated as surfaces, on which intricately crafted sculptures, reproduced as images, make their debut appearance. The sculptures, in their dumbness, remain vacant from the exhibition, encouraging consideration of their most fundamental qualities and desire for their tactile form. The works in Totally Unprofessional play on connections and disconnections that can be produced in our relationships to reality, through our tendency to produce it as image.
Ché Zara Blomfield
Film and cinema are very important to you, and your early access to working with digital forms was in video, how do you see the two co-relate and/or how do you see the importance of video in your work?
When I started with video it was just a way of documenting things. I would record myself doing 'performances' of say, a fight scene in my back garden. My opponent would always be off camera...so it would just be me jumping around onscreen like a nutcase, hahaha, terrible. In fact my friend would be holding up a pillow out of shot or something else for me to beat up. Quick ideas like those felt more like experiments and usually left me with only the video document of their occurrence. It made me feel as though the 'work' could happen somewhere else. A close friend of mine was studying editing at the time and he'd help me record stuff and let me sneak into the edit suites he used and play around with it.
I think simply, the thing I admire most about film is its immersive power. I find it completely absorbing. I view it as singular in the way it can seduce and captivate me. I feel excited by the way an editing process can totally change the perception of an image, through simple manipulations of footage. I’m not as interested in the specific content of a film as I am in the way film presents a sort of framework through which we encounter images. I saw a project once, of this friend and he'd been given a movie trailer for a romcom and the brief was to take the footage and edit it to re-present the film as a horror. I saw the before and after and it had an utterly profound effect, the notion of achieving this transference of meanings I think is very empowering.
In 1994 I remember seeing the fatal crash of Ayrton Senna live on television, which made quite a strong impression. One year later Youtube was born, sporting disasters pop up a lot and I couldn't help noticing the 'tributes' to Senna that are extremely common among these videos. Always montages of the moment just before the crash, interspersed with still images of the person who's immanent death we're able to anticipate, followed by the crash, followed by the crash in slow motion, sometimes followed by the crash in reverse, followed by some facts/text about the scene/cause of death, usually followed by the crash a couple more times, ending with an image of the person, now deceased. I became very interested in how these videos, a phenomenon belonging to Youtube, create fairly specific cliché’s and in this instance of countless Senna tributes, reproduce 'death' in the way that it was previously aestheticised via dominant forms of media. In that sense these videos presented a new kind of image. In their DIY nature, Youtube videos can assimilate the way technology is employed instrumentally to achieve this aestheticisation. The materials to produce a critical commentary, or dialogue are already abundant on Youtube... They simply need re-arranging.
At the same time I was starting to think about how to develop the use of video, I was becoming more aware of the availability of material online clicking neatly in sync with the availability of software. Where knowledge of final cut, for instance, was safeguarded for the sake of keeping the editing industry specialised, the information required to learn industry standard software became available. I feel the internet gave me access to the tools that were already shaping my environment. Being able to understand images in direct relation to their technological means, coupled with access to software, means you can compete. It’s possible to really get into the technical mechanics of images and literally take them apart pixel by pixel. This helped me to understand images very formally, I think and view them more as a kind of surface. I felt very free to negate their content and contexts in sourcing material, which I would then try to use as some sort of container to channel other meanings and create a different picture using formal elements already inherent in the image. This meant the possibility of drawing the reality of the sourced image into contrast with that of it’s new found meaning. You would essentially get coexistent, but often opposing, versions of realities that could be seen in the same image.
Ché Zara Blomfield
Through your work you seem to being exemplifying and dissecting fabrications of 'reality' and pluralistically providing fantasy landscapes… what do you think your early inspiration was to 'perform' and how do you think that somehow led on to your interest in 'surface' ... Or 'layers'?
I'm very interested in the way film (and television) often represent an environment so well conceived we accept it as 'real'. In the sense the film provides a setting, fantasy or otherwise, where the story plays out and this setting ties in seamlessly with the events that unfold within the film. I really love this allegorical framework of film in the way it accommodates our fantasies, bad set design or props seem to have little bearing on a films immersive power. A few days ago I watched a low quality rip of Dredd 3D. There are some beautiful scenes and very hi-end camera technology in that film. Watching through the lens of someone’s camera which is poking out of their jacket pocket four rows back from the Imax screen of whatever cinema, it can bring something very special and very unique to the aesthetic of the film. Visually it becomes something different.
In terms of how we might ‘version’ reality, I think I mediate my world in a similar way to the operations of film in it's attempt to create a coherent image, which simultaneously presents itself as complete and conceals the nature of it's construction. For me, notions of pluralism, in how reality might present itself, relate strongly to an idea of otherness. I'm fascinated by the awareness of some kind of inner voice... Hahaha that might sound crazy. What I mean is that I hold a notion of ‘me’ in the way I know other people do perceive me but not how they perceive me, which I can never truly access without somehow escaping ‘myself’. There's also a voice in my head or the monologue I have with myself that can never truly be communicated. Perhaps this incommunicable space can be seen as the site of endless versions of perceived reality that necessarily coexist within this realm of ‘other’ and maybe in the way we approximate our co-ordinates, experiencing any and all aspects of reality in relation to ourselves. Naturally mediating the raw information of the world. My interest in film and images is in the way they are able to represent different versions of reality. It's probably more concrete to say our natural functions of mediation create images of reality that appear in relation to ourselves.
I think its fun trying to somehow locate the ‘construction’ of an image and where this might lie in relation say, to its technological means. I think an image can be representative of ways these means shape methodologies in the production of our environment and take on ideological significance. Perhaps these images manifest as prophetic visions of future technological realities influenced by projected fantasies, but conceived in our current technological climate. I love how these projections can reciprocate affect in the way a certain vision of the future is realised in relation to its idealised image. An image can be made obvious in its construction when seen in dated contrast to the world around us, that never became the reality of Skynet or whatever…hahaha, not yet at least. There’s an essay I really enjoyed, written by Aids 3D, Hubris/Nemesis/Whatever, which seems to be addressing ideological models tied up in our relationships to technology. Some of the cliché’s they raise through looking at this in sci-fi/fantasy film are fun examples. Such as Jurassic Park; formulaic in it’s basic principle: harnessing science in the advance of technology is fucking with nature, ultimately resulting in some form of technological doom. Throw a sinister corporation into the mix, who’s only interest in the advance of knowledge lies in ever more extreme forms of entertainment and the agent of your demise will, most likely be a T-Rex, possibly while you’re taking a shit.
I'm very interested in looking at how technological reality is aestheticised via its images. I try to think about operations like this through producing images that are, to some extent, reflexive in relation to their means and the recognisable systems that moderate how we're able to conceive and discuss reality. Thinking more generally about these conceptions, maybe through problems related to language, for example, is something I enjoy. Perhaps this means cliché's that result from archetypal associations we make with things. Alternatively images can represent versions of the world almost as a form of preordained experience, but even these images still bear openness to change. I think if the images/work I make can set up a scenario where different constructions of reality belonging to a kind of pluralism can be seen in contrast, then maybe that’s successful work? My interest would be in the potential this might have to open discussion that encourages trying to peel back the layers to look at how different systems of representation might be produced and also how they overlap and transform each other. How they operate now in relation to how we’re encountering them. I think where overlaps occur there's some pretty strange stuff going on. I'm not talking about radically readdressing language or anything but I think bringing the changeability of its established frameworks into focus is really important.
I’m interested to know how you understand the idea of ‘performing’ an action or an identity and how you think a work might be able to ‘perform’ itself in the relations it tries to describe between things?
Ché Zara Blomfield
Taking that question in relationship to what I have been thinking about recently, I'm interested in performing an identity, specifically in an art context that emphasises or plays on characters or stereotypes. Examples are Parker Ito, Ryder Ripps and Petra Cortright, also Ed Fornieles tries to exemplify this by subjecting others. Here actions become part of the fabrication of a work (or of a body of work), even if the action is specific to a tool... like 'clone stamp'. Every action informs an expression and vice versa.
Perhaps in order for a work to 'perform itself' a character needs to play a role to emphasise a perspective, I feel a certain genuineness is given to the work through this, even if the persona is fabricated.
Through this process I feel work can gain multiple layers, which I find so important to (good) art. I'm also interested in how performing influences and affects us, in that we are all versions of ourselves, in constant shift. Reflexivity and self critique are vital here, in order to dissect potential dialogue for an artwork.
I think good art should aim to provide some level of communication, perhaps there is more potential for this through new networks, but concurrently they present worrying participatory qualities. I have an issue with the memes created by intuitive notions of self-documentation such as the 'iPhone self portrait in mirror w gym gear on'. I guess this discussion could be about how we are limited creatively by the proscribed use, and/or projected "ideals" of our tools, including perhaps our characters or levels of "performance". They seem to be necessary in communicating in networks, and inevitably in (relevant) contemporary art practice, this is where playing on it all is interesting.
By dissecting inherent attributes when "art making" there is the ability to create a dialogue about how tools used; limit, inform, express and form work, as well as why they are being used and to what purpose/ effect.
This is why considering every aspect of a work is vital, such as the type of screen if its limited to digital presentation... and they way you dress D: (haha).