"I’ve always felt we don’t hear enough about female artists from the Caribbean and it’s been great to see Sheena Rose be discovered by the US press. I loved the honesty and fun of her “Sweet Gossip” series which really convey raw moments of human interaction really well."
Emma Watson - Vogue.com
Ben Rivers in conversation with Jordan Baseman.
This interview between Ben Rivers and Jordan Baseman, filmmakers who both whose work often focuses on personal narratives, it was first published in the A Foundation newspaper in 2009.
Can you please describe your films for me, and perhaps why you make them?
When I start shooting they are closely related to documentary, but they are not about facts. I’m not just documenting I am of course recording actual people in their living settings, but I always think of that as a starting point. It’s a catalyst for what the film is going to be, which is worked out while being made and even more so while being edited. By the time I’m at the editing stage I’m not thinking of the work as much as documentary, it’s become more fictionalised. I am doing so much construction, particularly with sound, I am transforming it, somewhere between dream and fiction.
When I’ve looked at your work, some of it seems very portrait driven, would you use that word to describe it?
I would, I’ve talked about all of the films of people as portraits, but somehow I’ve tried to move away from just creating portraiture, I do hope that an element is still there in the finished film, but at some point it moves away from being a portrait directly and becomes more about something else I’ve seen in that space. I want to be truthful to that person and sensitive to their way of life, but at the same time I’ll discuss with them that the film is going to go off at tangents. For example with Ah! Liberty all the adults are left out, so the film become more fictionalised and unlike actually being there, but at the same time, somewhere at the core there’s a portrait of the family.
Does this something else really start to come through in the editing process?
That’s when it starts to make sense. When I’m filming I try and make more than one visit and that’s become increasingly important. So I will film and then go home and look at what I’ve got to get a sense of what the film might become and then return, responding to what I’ve done. The editing is crucial, that’s really where the work is made. The filming is gathering material, so it’s the fun bit, what I enjoy most. I get excited by travel and adventure, the work really starts when I get back home, when what I’ve seen and experienced has been transformed into something else by the camera and will undergo further adaptation.
I totally understand that. Can you please tell me about how you make your films, how you find participants and why you chose those people?
Generally I’ve found people through friends, the participants tend to be friends of friends and not far removed from my life really. I spend quite a bit of time in the countryside therefore I get to know people who live out in the sticks and they know people who live even further out in the sticks. As the film work grows I get recommended to people, “you know there’s someone who lives 20 miles down a dirt track, you should go and visit him.”
It’s been a really natural progression, the whole thing started by accident really, with This Is My Land, I wasn’t thinking about making portraits at all, I was making things in the studio without people and suddenly I felt I needed to put people back in my work.
There seems to be a clear shift in your work around 2006.
Right, yes I was really excited by the idea of filming people again and how would that change the work? I’d been making films about spaces filled with ghosts of humans for quite a few years so it was half a holiday when I visited Jake Williams, the subject of This Is My Land. I had my camera with me just in case there was a possibility of doing some filming, but as soon as I got there I knew he was a perfect person for me to make a film about. In a way it continued looking at hermetic worlds, these spaces I was looking at, the enclosed house or village, so this person who’d created his own world in an acre in the centre of a forest seemed like a natural move.
The relationship you have developed with these people seem cultivated and not manufactured. Your relationship with the participants are very clear throughout the films, even though we don’t see you we’re aware of your presence.
I’m really happy about that, the awareness of the filmmaker I knew was the key right from the start and I wanted to make an audience aware of the film. If we come back to the documentary term, my dislike for it is because of those negative reasons of not wanting to be involved in that supposedly objective view. I want to be seen to be involved, being there and affecting the situation. Building a relationship with those people is really important, talking to them about what I’m doing and discussing what might happen in the film.
How much footage are you shooting?
Not too much , I tend to be quite tight, it’s about a four to one ratio of what’s shot and what makes it into the film. That’s the other advantage of repeat visits, you spend a lot of time just looking before you shoot. This is one of the reasons I like using film, you’re forced to make some editorial decisions while you’re filming. I don’t like to have too much footage, the editing is hard enough as it is, so if I had a five hours of footage I’d find it really difficult. I like to really consider what I’m filming and one practical side to using film is that it encourages that.
Because I came from a video background, I’ve made films where I shot over seventy hours of raw footage, you can make five hundred films from seventy hours. I’m learning late in life that it’s not always necessarily the best strategy. A lot of films seem to focus on people who removed themselves from contemporary, urban society to focus on an idea of and this is my word, the romantic hermit. I used to be a hermit when I was a kid, you know, you’d build forts and stuff.
That’s probably how I started, why I ended up going to visit Jake and not visiting somebody else in a city, it tapped into my own possibly idealistic notion of what it might mean to be a hermit, to live in the middle of a forest in a cabin. I mean these are fantasies I’ve had as a child and as an adult. I think in a way it was seeing how real that was and the possibilities. The more I’ve met these people, the more I respect I have for what they do.
What I really like about all those people is that it’s not straight forward, yes they’re living without a lot of technology, but Jake’s got a laptop which he powers with an enormous generator, him and Stuart both have diesel guzzling, black-smoke-billowing machines. There’s a lot of contradictions going on with all of those characters, they are not dogmatic, which is important, I want the romance to be undercut with a sense of unease.
And I think that comes across in the films you’ve allowed them to express a complex manner, you haven’t simplified what they’re doing or how they’re living.
Short Notes the first book by Hiromi Nakajima is available to buy at our bookstore.
I am counting the number of raindrops, I'm also counting consummations and incompletions. Sometimes I count the amount of snowflakes melting on a window, the temperature on a cold Summer's day, every tree in an orchard, imagine the weight of a mountain or an approximate height for someone in centimetres.
If you say it's not tall enough, not that heavy or just not enough, well then that's correct and I will totally agree with you, because it is as it is. Some things are written in text books but doesn't truth equate to the measure of work it took to believe?
Tokyo in Springtime, outside the temples are surrounded by flowers of Jasmine and pieces of cut paper that move gently in the breeze, maybe they are there to catch spirits accumulated in the stories of a city?
Before Sachiko Abe became an artist she was part of the Self-Defence Forces of Japan, this story did not begun here, but starts again in another time with an exposure. When sitting in a presentation by Bernd Behr that included a reference to Hiroshima, I remembered Paul Virilio in his book War And Cinema had articulated the idea of exposure, that is the exposure I refer to: a shock in history where ideas were released like stumbling prisoners onto a future world. In the measurement of time for an image to reveal itself we must always attend to the decay of meaning. To allow this memory to pass after 911 would be a cruel forgetting, New York City was still in shock when I first encountered Sachiko Abe at PS1 in 2004, in cutting the time between one story and another, we could ask whose story is a work of art anyway?
She said she stopped being a soldier because she did not like the act of simulated violence and could no longer push the bayonet of her rifle into a dummy. “The life of an artist seemed so free”, becoming inspired by Gallery Soap and the artists she met there, Sachiko Abe had decided on a new career. In her first performance Elevator Girlfriend, she wore the uniform that referenced the attendants who worked in the department stores during a boom time of the Yen economy. Many aspired to this dream job and the performance reflected such ambition with a noticeable twist: the hostess and her constant imaginings detoured the audience's mechanised journey and in so doing questioned our expectations of service industries and perhaps even relational ethics.
It was Brion Gyson who showed William Burroughs the technique of the cut up, in taking a thing apart is when something is revealed as absence, as in measurement this equates to the production of time. The reading of data streamed in the dead of night when other theories are half asleep, in this cut between scenes can an image remain?.
After the success of Elevator Girlfriend, Sachiko Abe’s next performance invited an audience to participate with a staged act of transgression. In Jub Jub people were asked to force blades into the body of a doll and in so doing perhaps reveal the feelings they have learnt to repress. One might be tempted to see in this a prediction of the new gothic that dominates mainstream media, Hiroshi Teshigahara’s Women Of The Dunes remixed by the half forgotten shadows of a post apocalypse. In 1948 Tatsumi Hijikata played the recorded scream of Antonin Artaud to Kazuo Ohno and the dance begun. In this Theatre Of Cruelty where The Ring can become a deadly feedback loop between fiction and fact, she cuts as if in a dream, the scissors begin at the periphery of a white sheet of paper and spiral towards the angled centre.
Rewind and play that again, about the time in the Self-Defence Forces, she speaks to neutralise the stereotype, to joke about the misconceptions of her and what her work means. She knows about the artist Yayoi Kasuma, so many have compared them, she laughs because for her creativity is not about beauty but instead a resistance to the will of others. In order to contemplate and be trained to take a life, one begins a process of self abstraction and within this is an understanding that this is an appropriate lesson for our world. It is a discipline of thought she explores as an artist, although having not formally attended an institution until later. I hear the artist speak and it is concise, playfully reminding us of the cultural tropes that are the norm, like the restrictions of objectivity placed on a woman's body or the precision needed to frame and identify a military target.
The story of a name Sachiko: a name that translates into English as smiling child, a name given to a baby found by a roadside in early Spring and raised by a family of Shamans. A disappeared story of a previous name, a world turned upside down in penance for the incapacity of this story to bear words. This is the reduction of a page to a line, a series of lines that turn the medium of communication into threads. The rhythm of the work seeks eternity in the echo that recedes to a place that can always be elsewhere: the exposure outside of time and the rupture of birth and death.
The artist defines their work through persistence, the critical texts sliced together between quotation marks are the noisy debris of a discourse. The work of art cuts up the world and leaves the relics of significance in it’s place. With the history of performance these issues become complex, the artist creates possibilities for an audience to loose the artwork in an effort to perceive it, there is nowhere to go expect within the experience. This concept of course has multiplicities and lingers in questions of perception, division and synthesis.
There is a hospital room where a patient is waiting for bandages to be removed, a pink bow holds a white tag in place, it has a name and a date of birth. These are the endless whispers that pulls everything together in stories, on a bed where she was bound for her own safety, where she used blades to free her arms from these ties. Now when performing the sound of the cutting scissors reminds her of the mask she wore that pumped oxygen into her lungs. A flight from hospital in a nightdress took her to the city where she wandered looking for signs of a life, instead she found a collage of memories that were not hers, we can only ask what had happened since her training as a soldier? It was here that she then became interested in telling stories, or rather in the performance of stories and the whispers that precede the plume of incense, before it is all over when the dead become names that disappear into time.
The white paper on a wall with the artist name and date of birth.
All stories are complicated, they are fiction, this one starts with scissors cutting into the page.
Sunrise With Sea Monsters + Q&ATue
11 June @ 12.00
Curzon Cinema 1
Sunrise With Sea Monsters follows a wandering desktop hard drive as it journeys through the British landscape in a quest to explore new ways to store and preserve human knowledge for humanity in the future. The film explores pioneering new longterm data storage methods and technologies through conversations between the filmmaker and visionary scientists, technologists, philosophers and a personal exchange with their partner. The film also questions who will be the future recipient of our preserved knowledge and if they will even be human.
Rubiane Maia Adelaide Bannerman
This voice cuts me off, removing my feet from their place – post-performance movement of thought.
Preceded in 2017 by the performance for camera, Stones across the Ocean: Northern Hemisphere (part 1) (digital vídeo 10 mins looped), This voice cuts me off, removing my feet from their place (2018) is the second work realised by Rubiane Maia in the UK. It is consciously minimal in its presentation of the mulitiplicious dislocations and familiiarities that script one’s personal relationships, movements and spaces taken up in the world.
Drafted intermittently between September and October 2018, much like its live counterpart, the following presents a conversation between Maia and myself around the ideas, development, choices and disclosure of the work, observing and sharing how it felt as a durational act, and how it sounded in translation. We would like to give our heartfelt thanks to Manuel Vason and his support during our exchanges.
At an early stage in the development of the work and during our conversations you created a space to incorporate other bodies, a tree, and another human being, can you perhaps talk about what led you towards deciding upon these features of the work?
The first element that was created in this work was the text. I started writing in January this year. After the birth of my son I didn’t have time to devote myself to anything other than motherhood, but I felt a deep need to express other urgencies. So I had to come up with a strategy that would allow me to do so. I then began to use the time he was sleeping to sit in front of the computer and write. I made a promise to myself to write ‘anything’ of any time, be it present, past or future without thinking of telling a linear story. The text ended up loose and fragmented. Soon, I realised that this process was becoming extremely cathartic.
For the performance I stitched different fragments of what I had written into a single text with the aim of creating a dialogue with an audience. For the first time I then re-read parts of these texts. At this point it became clear that what interested me was not a desire to affirm a self-identity or a personal diary, but to give space to a pulsating “becoming-voice”, one that was alive and vibrant. The willingness and opportunity to work together with a collaborator who could read the text as part of the action came soon after, so I invited you, Adelaide. For me, this other body in the performance becomes a temporary incarnation of this voice – a kind of spiritual channeling. Also, since I do not speak English very well, it was a perfect solution as it was important that the public could access the text fluently and accurately.
I believe the plant represents the poetic body of the performance. It is the strongest visual and symbolic element. The text speaks substantially about the feet and I wanted to work with roots so as to create a parallel between those two supporting elements. I chose to do the transplantation of the plant in an unusual way, because I wanted to use the same vase, but replacing the old earth with a new one; a procedure that is inevitably traumatic for the plant. But I tried to do everything very delicately and slowly, because the roots are a very strong part of the plant, but at the same time, extremely fragile. I have a lot of interest in plants, and this is not my first performance with ‘bodies-plants’. I believe that a kind of intuitive and silent communication between plants and people is possible. In this case, I chose a Ficus lyrata, a plant native of western Africa, a continent that is part of my history as a black woman descended from African slaves born in a colonised country. So I think ‘we’ somehow share aspects of that ancestral memory.
Our shared connectedness to Ficus Lyrata (the tree) became very strong. In fact, I found it amusing that I was over-identifying with her. Your invitation to narrate from the other side of the wall between us was very welcome in that it enabled me to draw psychically from a small ensemble of thoughts, personal therapeutic actions, and texts, specifically Audre Lorde Sister Outsider in particular ‘The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action’, Mlanden Dolar’s A Voice and Nothing More, the chapter ‘The “Physics” of the Voice’ (I’m forever enamoured with his re-telling of Pythagoras’ pedagogical methodology to teach from behind a curtain so that his students would attend to listening to his voice and words) and Through Vegetal Being, co-authored by Luce Irigary and Michael Marder, which I found to be very healing during a bout of depression. These texts have become companions. They came together in my sensing of your action.
Reading your translated text fully was bewildering in the sense of how it held together and alternated between perspective and persons being addressed. The pace of my cognition in understanding how to read each sentence and paragraph shifted constantly between certainties, doubts and revelations. To read it was challenging for my voice and relatedness to each scenario. Being amplified I did wonder, what could be heard? How faithfully did the translation to English represent the nuances of your text?
It was nice for me to hear your voice and feel your physical presence on the other side of the wall. We must remember that the wall in the performance also represented a significant element of the piece – connecting bodies, however separated by different perspectives. I think the issue of the translation has to do with exactly this: a playful game of proximity and distance between the two of us; between us and the plant; between your voice and the audience. I think it is essential to make visible the trace of my being as a foreigner who comes from a Latin American country. Inevitably this is a performance charged of many questions about language, but I believe that the strength of the work stands on the aperture toward other modes of understanding and different forms of listening. At the same time it gave me the opportunity of appropriating my right to speak. The text is purposely fragmented, has many layers and it is really difficult to absorb it from beginning to end, but I was surprised by the silence and the level of attention paid by the audience. The action created a meditative and contemplative atmosphere that encouraged each one to perform a dive into an inner connection.
I identify myself a lot with the idea you suggested: that certain texts and books have accompanied you or are still guiding you during your life, I feel it constantly. They are part of the voices that help us denunciate, reveal and question inspiring poetry and so much more. This year I managed to read only two books: ‘M Train‘ by Patti Smith and ‘Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions’ by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. They are both great for the sincerity and simplicity with which they deal with complex issues. I felt that ‘M Train’ influenced me a lot because I recognised myself in this person who leaves the house almost every day to sit at the same cafe, in the same table with the purpose of writing for many years, over and over. There is this subtle quality in revealing intimacy in so many things greater than us as human beings. Writing has been a strategy of personal therapy that I have encountered accidentally, as the daily exercise of writing has given me the perfect instrument to shake up very deep psychic aspects, enabling an intense updating of the perceptions that I have about my memories, especially those that mark a sense of identity. I am confronted with the countless narratives that my personal, family, professional, social, ancestral history are made of. Reviewing events, traumas, abuses, injustices, mainly caused by racial and gender issues, has been an arduous and exhausting process, sometimes emotionally unbearable, but of extreme urgency.
“Each of us is here now because in one way or another we share a committment to language and to the power of language, and to the reclaiming of that language which has been made to work against us. In the transformation of silence into language and action, it is vitally necessary for each one of us to establish or examine her function in that transformation and to recognise her role as vital within that transformation”.
Writing is challenging. To write, speak, live authentically without censoring is a singular and collective action towards finding ourselves. Your text was deeply entrenched and reflective of the differing circumstances one encounters and though your text was built over a period of time, it was fascinating that the fervour of it articulated itself almost as a stream of conciousness. I imagined the words guiding your fingers teasing out the roots of Ficus. How is she?
This statement is very powerful because it highlights the core of a great conflict: the non-fidelity of language and at the same time, our implication in the breaking of silence. It’s a difficult commitment to take on because it puts us on the front line of the battles. I have reflected a lot on this idea of breaking the silence, because I realise that we are living in a moment in which this disruption has become a collective urgency, I feel part of this. I feel contaminated by this need to affirm ethical and political issues that have long been invisible. The exercise of speech, writing and action makes it possible to take a position in this place of transformations. We are giving up a neutrality that never really existed, but which has always nourished the maintenance of certain privileges (which benefited only a few). It is a tremendous job to deconstruct the censorship that is embedded in our bodies, our minds, our emotions. The commitment to write every day without having a definite direction has put me in confrontation with some issues: the encounter with unexpected, dirty and perverse facts that interrupt the writing with an alarm. As a consequence, a part of me responded immediately by taking a step back. Unintentionally the filter of politeness, civility and defence emerges by saying: this yes, that not. Writing puts us at risk, and it hurts, but it’s a pain that makes you wake up and that helps cleansing the wounds.
I began to study the ‘Automatic Writing‘ of the surrealists, as well as the ‘Psychography’ of Allan Kardec’s spiritualism. Surrealist poets used this exercise with the intention of entering into a trance capable of subverting the conscious mind that controls and limits what is acceptable to be said or written. In Psychography there is this idea of ‘body-passage’: a body that opens to be crossed by a stream of energy. Both concepts interest me, because I’m just looking for strategies to access this crude, ungoverned language. I will continue, it will be a long-term job, but I want to create a kind of ‘performance book’. The idea is that each presentation will give birth to a new chapter. So, This voice cuts me off, removing my feet from their place was the first. Now, I am preparing ‘Chapter II’ with a new performance and a new text that will be presented soon in Brazil.
As for Ficus, she’s here, very close and I can see her as I answer your questions. Ficus is a mysterious plant that I am learning to know. Her appearance has not changed much after a month, although I feel she is not comfortable yet, needing a lot of attention and care. It’s too early to gauge the impact the performance has had on her roots, but she’s still standing with bright green leaves and is stronger than I could imagine. I’ll tell her that you send her a special and loving hello.
“Is what you see what I see?”
Waugh Office Productions is an