Sunday, 8 October 2017

October 15th Blog Post

2nd year MFA: First blog post October 15th, 2017

I admit that I was struggling when I came back from Berlin. To say I wasn’t lost would be a lie. Maybe we sometimes need to go through a time full of upset to see with somewhat clearer eyes.

I take Jean Marie’s comments very seriously: ‘Are you in the work? You have so many projects going on simultaneously and that’s a concern for me. I think you can hone this thing down, which will be the key’.

It’s not that I know better now. I am still confused after all the hard work I had put into my studies last year.  What I know is that I used to work on several projects simultaneously and now that I sit down next to my canvas (in my garden) I realize that I need to slow down to get to the essence.

Even though I know what causes the heaviness in my being, I cannot translate my own story yet into words or art. But I am starting to establish a status quo of what I know to allow me to work with and through the information. I have never done more personal work than the work of the past two months.
(I hope this is not disturbing to anyone in my critique group or my advisors. If it is please let me know.)

What I started with were some short films in which I put together thoughts about things of importance for me:

-       ‘Grenzueberschreitung’ - about Freud’s and my thoughts about personal boundaries
-       ‘Heimat’ - about Nietzsche’s thoughts on Heimat (home land)
-       ‘Gott ist tot’ - about my thoughts about the non-existence of God

(Please find the links to those and more detailed descriptions under point 3).

1.     The Video ‘A la recherche de Michel Foucault’

What I did then, was to take a step away from trying to be very literal and explanatory, trying to shift the work.

Again, I would like to take the opportunity of being a student to experiment with video.

Here is my 8 min film:

If you don’t have time to look at anything else, feedback to this video would be most important to me.
Here is some background information on the video:
The idea for this video started when I was trying to find a connection between my personal past and some of the writers and artists who had been of utmost importance to me in my life: Schopenhauer, Hesse, Proust, Foucault, Hegel, Kiefer and Nietzsche. (I will write about this more in my project paper).
I am interested in how we Germans deal with collective memory, with forgetting and suppressing the past as opposed to remembering and trying to come to terms with the past. My memory is not only what I remember from my childhood but it is also connected to the collective memory of Germans. My generation has no personal experience of the war and the atrocities of the Nazis. The memory we are trying to create, comes through media of all sorts and surrounding origins. It is important to me to discuss this past and to learn from it.
I knew the beginning point for my video had to be Berlin and my connection to the city.
Another thing I realized throughout conversations with Farid in Berlin, was that Foucault came up a lot. During my studies of French and economics at the beginning of the 1980s and while I became a translator for French, I discovered Michel Foucault within the translation work.

At that time, I was interested in thoughts about power and how people impose power over others. I was interested in the psychological consequences of those who had been overpowered by others and what happens if a child’s boundaries compromised.

When you don’t learn how to protect yourself in your childhood then, as an adult you have a constant struggle determining how to protect yourself. It is difficult to find a proper way to reject those who come too close to me and do not respect my privacy and necessary mind space.

Farid and I discovered our common interest in Foucault, especially Foucault’s very interesting discussions about power. We both have experienced people having power over us without our consent. Farid is a Sufi and I admire his ability to forgive.

I was interested in Foucault’s writing about power structures, I was interested in how people can gain power over others and also I am interested in those people who are not necessarily in a power position but who enable those in that position by assisting them. I was interested in the power structure of the church and the power certain individuals have over others, reflecting on sexual abuse experiences of my childhood.

Farid was interested in Foucault because he relates Foucault’s ideas to the situation in his country through the Assad dynasty and his socialist father’s years of imprisonment, and eventually being killed by the Assad government 5 years ago.

This film is a very abstract approach to both our interpretations of Foucault. 
When one reads Foucault one can discover that he asks many questions and formulates how questions should be asked differently to give different perspectives about different ideas.
In my video, I travel by train or walk through Berlin. I inserted some excerpts of the shorter videos I filmed in September and mentioned previously. (more detail under 3.).
I have tried to abstract the film, be less literal and have used images that have meaning for me. The German text I speak are different Foucault passages and examples of my interpretation of power. 
How do I dissolve my problems from the past? How do I cope with those memories? I leave, I must go to find space for myself to breathe and to feel safe. The ending of the film shows images of leaving Berlin and going to a different place. In the film, I always travel from east to west, eventually leaving the city by plane in that direction. My metaphor of the only way I can deal with all of this is to go away.

The title A la recherche de Michel Foucault, refers to one of my favourite books, A la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust (1871 – 1922). In Proust’s novel, he recounts the experiences of someone talking about his memories of this childhood and youth, learning about art, participating in society, and falling in love. The most fascinating theme in Proust’s work is that he tells stories of involuntary memory. One example in his books is the ‘episode of the madeleine’, that eating a madeleine brought him back to an otherwise forgotten memory of his childhood. Involuntary memory, also known as involuntary autobiographical memory, is a subcomponent of memory that occurs when cues encountered in everyday life evoke recollections of the past without conscious effort. 

I have strong, comprehensive memories related to smells. Certain smells and odors can take me back to memories and experiences of my childhood and youth. It was important to me to make that reference to Proust and his book.

The music in my film refers to the fictional music work in Proust’s Novel, the Vinteuil Sonata which also triggered involuntary memory. The Chilean composer Jorge Arriagada recreated Vinteuil’s violin sonata for the film Le Temps Retrouve (Time Regained) for Raoul Ruiz’s film from 1999.

2.     Painting

While I was in Berlin I developed a very strong wish to paint with black and only with black. I imagined huge canvases of raw cotton and painting with tar. 14 years ago, when I started to create, I painted with tar because it was the most obvious medium to me besides pouring lead on metal. At that time, when my work was just for myself, I wanted to investigate what would happen if I bring together different materials, using lead, a medium which was very important in Germanic mythology.

Even though I am drawn to lead still, I do not want to use it anymore for health and safety reasons, however painting with tar and black paint seems like the only obvious solution to me.
After my presentation in Berlin, Michel Bowdridge asked me where my color palettes were coming from. Now that I have started to paint with only black for some weeks and have been reflecting on this question for a while, I think the color too, was hiding what was underneath.

These are some of the images I took in the garden after painting. So these are ‘cut outs’ of the big canvases.

Here are images of the big canvases in my studio

After having worked on 5 canvases during in the past two months,
I have started to respond to one of the canvases. The only logical response for me presently is text.

Why text?
Text seemed like the clearest means of response for me at that time. Any of my former shapes and elements in my previous painting work, did not seem to correspond to my current concerns at all. I wanted to see what would happen if I respond with text to what is there.

The red text is a text I wrote about my discovery about the nonexistence of God. Then, I felt a way to respond was to cover my text with a text about power structures by Michel Foucault. In preparation for the video I had been re-reading Michel Foucault’s Der Wille zum Wissen (La Volonte de Savoir) from 1983.

The more I thought about how I could possibly approach my work this fall, the more it became clear that Foucault creates the perfect connection for me to the work. His texts and ideas about power allow me to discuss German history and structures of power under the Nazis. At the same time, utilizing Foucault allows me to reference my personal history without having to discuss personal specifics.

3.     The three short films
When I started making this video, I initially put together some short videos that talk about my past:
a)    ‘Gott is tot’
Password: MichelFoucault
– this film refers to Nietzsche’s ‘Zarathustra’ and ‘Die froehliche Wissenschaft’ texts. They are texts about why I think there cannot be a god. I discovered this idea in my childhood while I was counting the lines in the carpet during sermons in church on Sunday mornings. My grandfather went there every Sunday to have his sins forgiven.
As a young adult, I discovered Hegel’s thoughts and discussion about the death of god. For me, at that time, it was important to find writers who would confirm for me that there was no god. Hegel wrote about the great pain of knowing that God is dead 'The pure concept, however, or infinity, as the abyss of nothingness in which all being sinks, must characterize the infinite pain, which previously was only in culture historically and as the feeling on which rests modern religion, the feeling that God Himself is dead, purely as a phase, but also as no more than just a phase, of the highest idea.’ (Hegel, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich (1845). Philosophische Abhandlungen. p. 153).

b)     ‘Heimat’
– This is a text by Nietzsche questioning what home land means. I question myself a lot about what home and home lands means to me. I am German and live far away from my former home.
Nietzsche has a conversation with himself. In the first part of the poem he describes the view of the lonely wanderer in the winter who is without home land. The wanderer looks at his lost home land and in his answer he rejects that he might be longing for it, in the ‘stupid happiness of the main room’ which he left as a free spirit, which he wants to remain, always.

c)     ‘Grenzueberschreitung’
This video is about what can happen when personal boundaries are not respected in childhood. I utilize my own writing combined with texts by Freud about that subject. I filmed the visuals at the former east/west border in Berlin between the former GDR and BDR, at the remnants of the Berlin Wall. (I will write more about this in my project report).

4.     News

As discussed with you in Berlin, after the solo exhibition in Edmonton in November last year, I had decided to not have any exhibitions until I have completed my MFA, since the pressure of creating new paintings for that exhibition did not work well together with the work for my MFA.

However, recently, I was invited by the curator of Victoria’s The Slide Room Gallery to participate in an exhibition called ‘GERMAN HISTORY AND PERSONAL MEMORY’. I feel the preparation for this exhibition coincides with my work for the second year of my MFA. The exhibition will run from February 9th to March 5th 2018. It will include works by two additional artists with a German heritage.

My plan now, for the next two months, is to create a new film that touches even a bit more on the ‘Personal Memory’.

5.     Critique Group

The critique group has started to discuss work at the end of September. Besides my critique group I have also been/will also be discussing my work with JoMichelle and Robyn.

1 comment:

  1. Ira,

    Briefly, as I've a student arriving in my office in 10 min--but I'm very impressed & overwhelmed (in the best of ways) by your work.

    The videos, to me, are fascinating & successful as they offer a distinct and original means of contemplation & reflection--video essays (or essais, a la Montaigne) that blend your voice, painting, video, photography, text--they seem to me a multimodal, multigenre interior diary of sorts.

    The black & white paintings are exceptional--I especially like seeing the cut-outs, which to my eyes work on their own. The large canvas as a site for multiple new compositions all embedded w/in the original. (Obv I'm projecting here as this is sort of what I'm doing w/my outdoor installations.) The sense of space, and depth, and the fantastic contrasts--I think it's all working quite well. Also how they echo some of the video images, such as the rebar embedded in concrete wall. (And contrast beautifully too w/the infrared shots outside the plane window.)

    I think it makes all the sense in the world to move away, to find yourself at a remove from all the gunk that doesn't necessarily need to be discussed or analyzed. It's a very real and legitimate strategy of self-care. (In addition to Foucault I think you'd find a lot of work on trauma theory worth a look; Jennifer Freyd's Betrayal Trauma, for starters...)

    Okay, I have to run. But wanted to let you know how exciting and sane and energizing this work is you're doing...