And here’s the video from the showing of Black Metal at Wiesenburg Halle on Sunday, April 24th. 33 minutes of bedroom metal idiocy plus mediæval chick music (that’d be Hildegard von Bingen).
I haven’t actually watched this all yet, just a quick cleanup edit (it was a showing, a bit of start-stop) – and thank you Dasniya Sommer for pointing camera very nicely at my highjinks. I tend to video most of what I do when I’m working, so I can be my own choreographer / director, and in the context of my residency in Wiesenburg Halle, this was just another day and first attempt at stringing everything together plus having a few people watching. Some of it I like; some of it I’m ambivalent about – writing through the whole thing is for another post.
Music-wise, yes, that’s Burzum; yes, he’s a white shit fucking Nazi. Other music was Gorgoroth, curiously not with Gaahl on vocals, as he is somewhat a primary part of this piece and his solo work, Trelldom has been fully thrashed while I was in Wiesenburg. More Gaahl; less Varg. And yeah, a conversation about black metal and Nazi fuckery is one I am both having with myself and putting aside. Also Sunn O))). And at the end, Hildegard von Bingen, who is metal as hell. Which is to say, the audio is a semi-placeholder.
Anyway, enough bollocks. Here’s the video of me, black metal bedroom. (It’s 462mb, so prolly not a good idea to slay it on your mobile phone or crap internet.)
Lunch on Friday with the glorious Charlotte Pistorius, who send me a bunch of pictures (and she has more!) from my showing of Black Metal 1 last Sunday. Much talking this week with friends who came along, clarifying somewhat where it needs to go next (sound and light design, thankyouvrrymuch). Next for me is the enjoyable task of watching the video and next week continuing bedroom rehearsals.
Before I get to watching the video from yesterday’s showing, and writing the crap out of my residency at Isabelle Schad‘s Wiesenburg Halle in Wedding, at least I can throw up some photos of what I got up to, thanks to Dasniya Sommer (who also filmed it, and gave some valuable coaching on ballet port de bras on Friday, as well as years of shibari and being a good friend). Also thanks to Charlotte Pistorius for costume and makeup help, Onyx (S.J Norman) for general metal-icity, and David Young, Melanie Lane, and Georg Hobmeier.
Medieval POC has a post today about one of the works I photographed in the Gemäldegalerie. It’s not a photograph I’m especially happy with, suffering from a lot of reflection and over-exposure along the upper half, especially visible in the closeup. My fault for not buying a circular polarising filter. But! Not writing excuses here.
Mpoc (yeah, I actually say, “Em-pock” in my head) compares that photo, Sebastiano Ricci’s Bathsheba with the one on Wikipedia. The latter is much darker, slightly more saturation, and bonkers amounts of contrast. So here I am, writing about photographing art and what I try and do.
Let’s dispense with the assumption I have a fancy camera (as much as I’d love a Canon 5D (Mk III, DS, whatevz) or … OK, I shut up). I took many photos I love, and learnt masses about photography with my Sony Ericsson K750c, a now ten year old unsmart phone; went from that to a Panasonic LX3 which taught me masses about working with a fully manual camera, and then to my current LX7. The LX series, not quite a compact camera, nor a mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, though when I first picked up a 5D Mk III, it was strangely familiar. I shoot mostly in Aperture mode, occasionally in Shutter if the light is too dim and I think I can get away with fixing a dark image (nope, not bloody likely). I use Available White Balance because even if the artificial lighting is the same in every room, the colour of the walls, the size of the room, even the position of the painting on the wall mean I’ll end up with something far further from reality if I try and be fancy and set it any other way. Oh, and I shoot in RAW. Probably the single thing that makes the most difference.
Having a stupidly amazing f/1.4 lens wide-angle lens (24-90mm, 35mm equivalent) means lens distortion, so I set the zoom around the middle, walk back and forth until I find the right framing (filling the frame with a bit of space to allow for cropping), then usually walk around again to find somewhere without reflected light glare. Being pedantic here, I hold my camera with both hands, like a two-handed gun grip, use the electronic level, and breathe out. I take as long as I like before squeezing the shutter, because half a millimetre off on the monitor corresponds to “OMG! WTF?!” once it’s on my laptop, and because museum lighting is deceptively dim so even with all that f/1.4 it’s a dance between limiting ISO to 400 and trying to keep exposure time faster than 1/30s. Describing it like that sounds slightly disturbed, but all of this is habit. This year already I’ve taken 4000 photos and probably half of them I’ve gone through this dance.
If I’m shooting details, I almost always use square format, otherwise I swap between 4:3, 3:2, and 16:9, whatever fits the painting or sculpture best. Something I’ve also been trying recently, and not quite sure if it makes things better or worse, but certainly allowed me to get presentable images out of the Alte Nationalgalerie is using exposure lock. Rather than letting the camera automatically set the exposure (and simultaneously white balance) on the painting, which particularly in works with a lot of dark colours or varnishing end up looking nasty, I set and lock the exposure on a neutralish spot on the frame and wall to one side, then move back to the painting. All this is of course relying on the LCD being remotely accurate to what the camera is doing. It’s not, but over the years of using these and other cameras, I have (I pretend to myself I have) a vague idea of the correspondence between what I’m seeing and what the camera sees.
What else? For particularly long or tall or large works where distortion is an issue (when a painting finishes 4 metres above my head, it’s an issue), or where reflection or light hot spots make a single image messy, I take multiple images and make a panorama from them later. Lots of work, yes, which is why the museum visit itself is not even half the process. But it is a museum visit. I’m going to see art just like everyone else, and part of that deal is not to be an obtrusive wanker, with or without a camera. I spend far more time looking at the pieces, reading the captions, listening to the audio guide than I do taking a few snapshots.
Home and sorting. I’m still using Aperture despite Apple canning it. Photos (the iPhoto replacement) doesn’t cut it, even though I only use Aperture for managing and not editing. Then to the Photoshop! I don’t do anything in RAW conversion, probably I should learn, but I find the tools in Photoshop itself better for the task.
The first thing is taking care of lens distortion. Even the sad mess of Hendrick Heerschop’s Die Mohrenkönig Caspar (it’s worse in the gallery) scrubs up surprisingly well. Usually a bit of vertical (and occasionally horizontal) alignment, removing barrelling, and slight rotation brings even what look like hopeless cases into line. Then there’s the skew transform to fix up the corners, and occasionally warp transform for asymmetric barrelling and pinning. It’s a lot of unavoidable manual work. I’ve tried plugins that claim to automate somewhat or speed up the process but the results are sad.
Cropping time. I always crop out the dark edges where the painting frame has left a shadow, they cause too many problems in the next steps, and anyway, doing this fifty or eighty times per museum when I already have a tendency to take things too far, it’s not like pissing around over 20 pixels is going to do the end result any favours. All this is only for the full painting or sculpture; for details photos it’s straight to ‘colour balancing’.
Inverted commas, yes. Photoshop’s default automatic contrast, tone, and colour balancing work on the assumption that skin colour is Teutonic. (Or it’s an automatic “LOL! Blackface!” generator, in which case, my bad, works perfectly.) Going manual is honestly no better (because the same algorithms underlie the process). Anyway, I try and do as little as possible, seeing I’m not working on images photographed with a colour chart and so only have my poor memory of the artwork to work against. First thing then, duplicate the layer. Knowing what I’m going to do later, mostly the auto contrast I can get away with, and auto tone about half the time (and half of that needing its own duplicate layer to wreak ‘balancing’ on). Auto colour though, oh am I laughing. Its interpretation of gilt, which there is no shortage of in mediæval art is something approximating copper when it’s oxidising and turning green. Then I drop the edited layer’s opacity down to zero and scrub back and forth until I’m not too appalled. Mostly between 27 and 36%, though depending on the conditions as high as 63%. It’s reasonably minimal. I’m trying to clarify what the camera saw, compensating for its slight under-contrast and colour softness, rather than making something up from my memory, or creating an idealising artifice. Sometimes it works, sometimes it turns everything to shit.
Save as tif, close, next. Repeat until finished. Unless …
Sometimes parts of images even without reflection end up with odd, horribly blown-out parts, or the upper half or one upper corner is significantly lighter. In that case, it’s duplicate layer time once more. I’m going to mangle things. I use curves and the ‘darker’ preset. Often twice. Then a layer mask to hide everything, and brush back in only the upper part. Then that opacity-scrubbing thing again until I work out approximately where the stygian upper parts match the original lower parts. More brushing and erasing on the layer mask, and repeat with more layer as necessary. There are some improvisational tricks I pull to deal with extreme reflected glare also, but eh … it’s kinda desperate and the whole time everyone in the painting is whispering, “Just fucking buy the fucking polariser already. Fuck’s sake.” and giving me the side eye.
It feels somewhat mindless, but without the luxury of being paid to do this, setting up softboxes, using colour charts, amazing camera and lenses, doing the editing next to the painting on a balanced monitor, the whole doodaa, this is what it takes me to turn what often look decidedly average coming out of the camera into something occasionally I look at and know what I’ve done isn’t fooling myself, and I’m like, “Yeah, that’s it, that’s what it was, that’s what I felt when I looked at it, that’s how awesome it was, that’s fucking art.”
Comparisons. First: Sebastiano Ricci’s Bathsheba as I photographed it, followed by my edited version, followed by the version on Wikimedia. (I’m not sure mine’s an improvement over the original RAW, but the real painting is nothing like Wikimedia version.) I’m often surprised how little contrast and how soft the colours are in so much art, and how seductive it is to bump but the contrast and saturation. Second: Hendrick Heerschop’s Die Mohrenkönig Caspar. A truly beautiful painting made nearly worthless by its glass covering and being hung opposite the windows, so all the subtleties in the dark golds and browns of his clothing, in his skin, in the background even, are lost.
Mars Attacks! opens tonight at Rote Fabrik in Zürich. Here are some photos of Berlin’s Das Helmi puppet theatre and Zürich’s Theater Hora from Friday and Saturday’s dress rehearsals. It’s a very good work and you should come to Zürich to see it (or Bern next week).
The train was somewhere near Wittenburge. It was Thursday evening and I was on my way to Streckenthin by Pritzwalk in the far north-west corner of Brandenburg, bike accompanying me and sun setting between trees and farmland far ahead. I was thinking about the land, how ordinary it is, flat, featureless, sandy, gently sloping seawards across hundreds of kilometres to the Ostsee, rebounding slowly over millennia now the irresistible weight of glaciers responsible for such smoothness have retreated, fields of rich, warm wheat split by timber forests edged with grassland rude in high summer exuberance. This land, absent of mountains or even hills, far from oceans, has nothing remarkable about it, just an unbroken endless plain of north-european farmland.
A forested stretch drew close to the tracks. I wondered, in a different turn of thought, if perhaps for some people this land stirred them as mountains and oceans do me, that after travelling through and living in such geological magnificence, seeing the last flattening of low hills reveal the horizon smooth and unbounded, they felt that magical thing, ah yes, home.
The train from Wittenburge was cancelled; the replacement bus didn’t come, and my phone turned itself off. Some forty kilometres north-east in Streckenthin, Dasniya and Florian were wondering if my last desperate message meant I might arrive in an hour or so or not at all, and be forced to retrace my steps Wedding-wards. A bus-van arrived. My bike squeezed beside me to Perleberg, the next town along the branch line where I stood and waited as the sun guttered. Aboard once more somewhere around Groß Pankow the trees gave way to fields ablaze with the last of the day’s light, the sun a fat, squashed orb wreathed in a family of clouds from cumulus to cirrus all layered upon each other and stained, radiant, blinding with that light. I just stared till my eyes saw spots and thought, wow, you could really get to like this place.
Pritzwalk. One of those many beautiful towns of Brandenburg slowly depleting itself of its inhabitants. Dasniya and Florian met me on the platform and we decamped to a Biergarten beside the central church for a meat platter, the German equivalent of a mixed grill, and of course, beer. It was fully dark by the time we embarked on bikes along narrowing roads and into dark forest, only one weak bike light between us, skirting fields and crossing a stream before emerging, rounding a corner and arriving at a proper mansion of a place, Streckenthin Gutshaus.
Some time in the ’90s, a theatre director who Florian knows picked up the house (though not the substantial estates) for Not Very Much At All. Brandenburg and the former East Germany states are full of such places, manor houses, castles, country estates, towns, villages, factories, all gradually earthwards falling as the populace flees towards the big cities and wealthier states. In a slightly different time, perhaps only years or a couple of decades away, these towns could well be rich with tourists, hobby farmers and city-escapees. In the meantime, artists like us get to stomp around several hundred square metres of multiple-doored real estate, that being the entrance floor areage, with cellar and first floor to match, and somewhere above an attic.
Dasniya and Florian have been having a semi-holiday-slash-rehearsal week, making sojourns around the house’s two small lakes, and further afield, where I joined them yesterday for some filming. Before that though was a lazy late-evening, a long sleep, breakfast on the terrace where a family of House Martins built a nest in the corner and were busy catching breakfast on the wing for the chicks, a long, book-induced snooze, coffee, general 24-hour holiday behaviour, then off to filming.
A field with a large central drainage depression, left forested around the basin and ten minutes distant was our aim. Some mud remained from the recent deluges, freshly turned by wild boars. Perhaps Dasniya will eventually blog our goings-on. I was on camera while Florian dressed in grass and ropes and Dasniya wearing the pants. We’d planned a further shoot, but this one went on for much of the afternoon, so returning for a late lunch, more sitting on the terrace above the lake and finally accompanied by Dasniya for a return ride to Pritzwalk and directly wheeling myself onto the train.
A lot for twenty-four hours, and a good reminder I need to see more of Brandenburg and out of Berlin. And so, photos.
There were three — no, four cameras around me on Sunday. One video camera which I forgot to push ‘record’ on, my own beloved LX3 (and having seen the LX7 seriously thinking of upgrading because I can’t yet afford a GX1), a Canon EOS 600D (I think), and the quite sublime Panasonic G5 with the power zoom lens, which I ended up using the most, and shot the video on. There was 15 minutes or so of video on my camera, but I didn’t want to deal with either rendering it to fit in with the G5 video, or doing any colour grading to get it to match, so from a bit over an hour of footage of a 3 hour 15 minute performance installation, I spent two days reducing it to 20 minutes.
I almost want to write separately about the camera, but shall avoid as I have enough to write and do already, though … It does suffer from the usual low-light problems, which could be somewhat ameliorated with a faster lens, though for video this wasn’t an issue. Slightly more irritating is that in quiet spaces, the stereo microphones pick up even light breathing if you’re using the viewfinder — and the lack of an external mic jack, especially as there is a TASCAM to play with is peinlich.
So, twenty minutes of rope anarchy, unshibari, proto-baroque, H.P. Lawrence recitaling, sleeping bags, and other things of the jute disintegration, attempt 2 kind.
Already some days in the past, despite my intent to write on both days of the weekend; in the meantime I’ve cut the video — 22 minutes or so, which will appear here very soon. This then is slightly a decayed and abundant memory.
Once again we were in Alte Kantine Wedding, very convenient for us dragging down several loads of rope, slings, costumes, food, and anything else possibly useful. This time also, we were ten — a couple more than last time, with many from the previous attempt, and a couple of new ones we’ve picked up in the ensuing months.
Dasniya and I took a few hours last week on Monday and again on Friday to put together something of a plan for Saturday, being mainly the rehearsal day. This went between a discussion of tasks and more generally what we might or might not want in the actual installation. By the end of Friday evening we had a fairly coherent plan, though knowing rehearsals, I expected to scythe off at least a third of them as time ran out. As it eventuated, we got through all of them, sometimes assimilating parts of one into another, so while not being explicitly done, they occurred nonetheless.
Alte Kantine Wedding is a good place to rehearse, large, a lot of windows, a proper kitchen, many sofas and tables, a dance floor inherited from somewhere, and courtesy us, five hanging points in the ceiling. On the downside, it’s aesthetically pretty grim, especially the ceiling, which makes for a lot of compromises in photographing and filming.
I dragged myself off to the market on Saturday unusually early so I could get down there before 11 and begin arranging things. My music of the day was Pulp’s Different Class, which is entirely irrelevant to the procedures of the weekend other than being excellent to shove furniture around to.
And so the arrivals, including one all the way from Brussels, who found the very comfortable brown corduroy-ish sofa and took a nap, and one from Paris, who took a nap on a different sofa.
Since the last jute disintegration, Dasniya and I have taught in Brussels again and at ImPulsTanz in Vienna, as well as together or separately regularly, and been involved in a couple of choreographic projects, all of which was reflected in the order of the day, and how we work together.
Back and forth, back and forth, a task from Dasniya, one from me, talking of something from one of us, then from the other. I’m not sure how it looks like from the outside but it feels somewhat different from the usual situation where either implicitly or explicitly one person is assistant to the other and there is a permanent deferral to the hierarchy. It seems we manage for an equality and work well together. It’s good also to find that in certain situations I can collaborate and that it’s better than if I was doing it alone.
Many tasks. Some very simple, and achingly familiar to anyone who’s worked in dance or theatre, which often get used to make truly awful work imbued with Meaning, which thankfully also are just good tools to warm up with, and to teach in an uncomplicated way some fundamentals of working in a group, spatial and temporal tools and relationships, and methods of working which discourage habits.
These tasks — like grouping together and following the person who is frontmost — turn out to get quite interesting in themselves once rope is introduced, and despite the various levels of performance history or formal physical training in the group, they all have worked with rope in both the more traditional shibari approach and with Dasniya and I.
Dasniya and I watched some of the video from the previous attempt and some of the Saturday tasks were explicitly aimed at not doing certain things that occurred then, or of encouraging being aware of one’s body and actions both within oneself, and in relation to those nearby and across the room. A lot to think about all at once, especially when keeping at it for three hours.
Now it’s Sunday and already a week since — and still trying to finish compressing the video for here.
So, tasks. These began simply and became more complex as Saturday passed; new tasks began to include the previous ones, and modified them, then repeated with further variations. We ended with what we’d noted down as “3-4 choreographies”, which were five or six by then, longer ones that were building single ideas to some kind of coherent or finished state.
Rehearsing reading and unshibari, some thrashing of legs and ropes from n+2, chest-face harness semi-suspension, and the weird one for this attempt, the equivalent of food from last time, table + down jackets and sleeping bags messy tying. Which arrived us at the end of the day, and so Dasniya, Gala and I ported ourselves into Barrikade for evening beer.
Whether it was from having done it last time and knowing what to expect, or just being more organised, we had a schedule and mostly stuck to it. An hour of talking after an hour of arriving, going through items from the day before; costumes, hair, makeup; organising and a final talk on what was going when and where; I disappeared to deal with multiple cameras, and dreading a mass influx at exactly 4 o’clock like last time, we started around twenty to four, almost without ropes at all, very simple arrangements of togetherness.
And for the subsequent three hours, I wonder if the video captures it better than anything I might write; the video which is rendering now. Maybe some things from the outside, then.
Quite a few people came by, and seemed to grasp better this time the idea of it being like an installation in a gallery, rather than a performance in a theatre. Some people stayed for the duration, others for 15 minutes or so. For me, there was a definite, obvious progression through the afternoon, and very clearly this time that is was working, making sense, getting to where it is we imagine it going. Far from finished though, and plenty of new things to think about that came out of surviving three and an half hours performing.
So we intend for a next round early next year, February or March, depending on everyone’s schedules. Images have arrived, video shortly.
As I am certainly tardy in either finishing writing about jute disintegration, or getting the video posted, instead here are some photos. The video does embody it more than the photos somehow, nonetheless, there’s something of it in them.