La Mer d'artista (First Movement), Single Channel Video, TRT 9:24, 2009
La Mer d'artista (The Sea of the Artist) oscillates between tension and boredom, action and stillness, narrative and pure abstraction devoid of recognizable imagery. There are moments of synchrony and beauty, as well as moments of dissonance and nonsensicality. The work uses the structure of the music, but loosely; there are no strict divisions of content, theme, or pacing. There is a progression, a becoming, towards chaos and destruction, much as in the music; but time slows, repeats, reverses, and narrative is largely absent or is at the very least inarticulate. The work, in the nature of its excessiveness, contains moments of pure beauty and moments which, on their own, could be concise, simple videos. But instead there is filler, randomness, time wasted, messiness, lack of clarity amongst these other moments. The chemical and digital interaction of the body with its environment results in the simultaneous expression and sublimation of the body.
The initial inspiration for the work is the incident of the shipwreck of the French ship Medusa in 1816 and the subsequent preserving of the moment in the important painting by Theodore Gericault called The Raft of the Medusa. A segment of the Medusa's passengers were isolated and abandoned on a raft to drift in the bleak tropical ocean off the coast of Africa; the political and aesthetic implications of this incident are multifold and have been analyzed repeatedly, and referenced frequently by many scholars and artists from Martin Kippenberger to the Pogues to Kara Walker. The incident has its staying power in part as a profound incident which displays the human for what he/she really is - with the potential for retreat to pure animalistic destruction on one hand, and determined transcendence of darkness on the other, showing the ultimate breakdown and transcendence of human systems of culture.
The video focuses on one key element of the raft, that of the wine barrels that served as the only source of liquid nourishment for much of the duration of the drifting. In particular the combination of lack of food, harsh sun, and dehydration meant for the chemical effects of wine to become exponentially powerful, such that when crew members broke open a barrel that was to be rationed and greedily drank the contents, a near instant mass psychosis occurred, resulting in murder, suicide, and pure violence. Throughout the time on the raft, even small amounts of rationed wine produced psychosis, hallucinations, and delirium amongst the survivors, who at some point before being rescued resorted to cannibalism.
The video image derives from a private, performative session in which I filmed myself gradually building up a set of canvas, fabric, a wine barrel, and various props, and then using these objects to paint on the canvas and ultimately destroy the set and props. I combine my own original filming with appropriated footage of ocean video captured by amateur videographers and posted on Youtube. The imagery ranges from calm, hot, bright seas, to moody sunsets, to violent storms. The use of digital special effects such as the chroma key and editing techniques of cuts, dissolves, and layers of opacity allows for a digital simulation of chemical and psychological interactions.
The soundtrack is Claude Debussy's symphony "La Mer," or "The Sea," and provides an incongruous, ahistorically jarring and yet cinematic layer to the imagery. To our ears at present, the score sounds narrative, but musicologist Jean Barraque (in "La Mer de Debussy," Analyse musicale 12/3, June 1988,) describes it as "the first work to have an 'open' form - a devenir sonore or 'sonorous becoming'... a developmental process in which the very notions of exposition and development coexist in an uninterrupted burst." Any Wikipedia search of the piece acknowledges multiple possible readings of the piece, relating to atonality, fragmentation, abstraction, and even noting the relationship to John Williams's eventual score for Jaws. The classical component is both seductive in its beauty but also challenging to the modern ear with its length and patience required; it is cinematic but also not entirely romantic. Using a classical music piece as the score in this way is both anachronistic and cinematic; both "classy" and "tasteless" at the same time.
The title uses Debussy's title, as well as referencing Piero Manzoni's work La Merde d'artista, or "The Shit of the Artist," in which he (supposedly) canned his own feces and sold them for the current price of the equivalent weight of gold. My title, La Mer d'artista, suggests the mental state of being adrift, and the primordial, chemical soup of the mind. Manzoni's work teases the perception of the significance of every element of the creative individual; this takes it further to not only the psychological but the psychochemical space.
This is the First Movement/Part 1 of 3, following the structure of Debussy's symphony. Parts 2 and 3 are available for screening on request. The entire piece is meant to be projected on a loop, in an installation using the elements, props, and products of the video including wine barrels, the painted canvas, and sculptures using the detritus of the shoot.
La Mer d'artista (Second Movement), Single Channel Video, TRT 6:45, 2009
La Mer d'artista (Third Movement), Single Channel Video, TRT 8:16, 2009