Saturday, January 6, 2007
A 2 week research project into live portraiture - Marbella, December 2006 - with Neil Bennun - Funded by The Arts Council of England
Subject One - Nick Daniel
Neil arrives in Marbella. Greg, Ant and Gemma have been here already for four days and have created the first 'live portrait'. The subject is Nick Daniel, an Englishman who has ended up on the Costa del Sol, as is usual among the ex-pat community here, via various bizarre and painful twists and turns. Neil has not met him before. He is taken to the beach and told to look for the subject. After a short time gazing out to sea, believing the subject to be in a boat, he notices a figure on a chair, out on the end of a rocky 'spit'...
Neil [the 'audience'] is able to scrutinize the immobile subject for quite a long time, as one might a portrait in a gallery. The subject is framed by the horizon, and the details of his surrounding landscape. It is as if he has been planted here.
After a while, umprompted, Nick Daniel gets up, turns towards Marbella and launches into a fast, looping succession of impersonations. With Ant, he had rehearsed a text based on his 'impressions' of other members of the British community in Marbella. After a while doing this, he sits back down.
La Otra Gente
Saturday 9 December 2006
Portraits in Puerto Banus: €1.00, One Minute
Every morning we spent a short time practicing simple observation / drawing skills by sketching portraits of each other. None of us are very good, but it was a good exercise. Sketching one person, we would do 4 versions - one in 30 seconds, the second over a minute, the third over 5 minutes and the fourth in 10 minutes.
One day we noticed a man going round offering cheesy portraits for 8 euros. We thought about what we were doing, and that for us, interested in the 'live' portrait, the important part of that commercial exchange [portrait for money] was not so much the result, but the encounter. So we decided to offer one-minute portraits for one euro. Our advertisment didn't promise much.
We headed for Puerto Banuss, an extremely rich port where millionaires moor their cruisers. We were invited on-board several very expensive boats. Our subjects were not used to using coins and found it hard to accept change for their notes, but we insisted.
Some comments to us, and overheard:
[in german] - 'You should be beautiful in your portrait. You're not going to be beautiful drawn like that. No, don't look so interested, he'll come over here...'
'Surely you're not going to earn very much like this?'
Subject Four: 'MC' or 'Broken Handle for a Locked Door'
A portrait of MC, a writer and rap artist who works in Marbella along the promenade and around the bars in Marbella selling goods illegally - leather belts, fake perfume, pirate DVDs, bracelets etc. He's one of many West Africans working like this along the Costa del Sol, mostly Senegalese and almost all in their 20's.
The performance was created by Ant Hampton with his subject, MC.
These photographs / videos were taken during the performance.
The space chosen for MC's portrait is on the rooftop of an 11-storey building. Blindingly white, MC stands out in contrast. The space allows us to play between MC's faceless sihouette at a distance and intense moments of close inspection, first of him by audience, and later of audience by him. Here, as every day for MC, the seductive beauty of our surroundings is evident but completely unobtainable: bars surround us, the sea glistens, and Africa is almost visible over the horizon.
Audience takes lift to 10th floor. A sign in the lift:
Once on roof, Ant guides audience around edge of roof space.
View over sea, the whole town and onto surrounding mountains. Bright sunshine casts vivid shadows over predominantly white, enclosed rooftop space. Audience pass outdoor swimming pool and jacuzzi, turn corner and enter covered area.
Ant indicates broken handle on locked door. 'Please look at this as if it were a sculpture'.
From behind - 'psst'. Audience turns around, subject has appeared 'from nowhere' and stands in vivid contrast against white pillar, immobile.
'Please look at him as if he were a sculpture'. MC smiles, and walks around and behind pillar, disappears.
Ant walks around the pillar and invites each to do the same: each audience member witnesses a time-limited 'flash' portrait of MC as they walk past him. The visual experience hints at cinema [the rooftop often feels like a film location as you walk around it), but such close proximity is something very different. This tension between the eyes (saying 'this is like a film') and all the other senses (saying 'this is very real') is present at various stages throughout the piece.
MC is from la Côte d'Ivoire originally, but has lived much of his life in Senegal. His journey to Spain was long and fraught; he describes it himself during the performance, standing behind us as we look out across the Mediterranean towards Africa. We don't see him, but we hear his voice.
'To begin with we were 40 people. The sea got rough. People started getting very scared, some wanted to go back, but I disagree: Either we get to Spain or we die in the water. The storm got worse and worse and in the end they turned the boat around. We were back where we started, we had to start from zero.'
When we turn around he's standing about 50 metres away down the other end of the rooftop. He stays there awhile, just a silhouette, before taking his top off and running at full speed towards us.
Audience is able at last to look as much as they like. MC's gaze is the same as ours before: through us, out over the sea towards Africa.
After about a minute he runs back to the far wall, waits, runs back again, and stands before us again, but breathing more heavily. We watch him closely as he regains his breath.
MC then breaks into rap, a mix of French and Wolof [Senegalese dialect]. He walks backwards, gesturing us to follow him. As we walk into the covered area the accoustics pick up and resonate the crescendo in his voice.
When he's done he touches the broken handle and disappears around the corner.
Audience follows him round into main roof area. Again, a cinematic feel:
MC appears from behind the far wall, and slowly walks towards us. He seems on his own terms, almost like he owns the place.
He gently inspects the audience, as individuals. We are able to look at him as before, but we are forced to do more than just look. The inspections provoked strong reactions from audience members unused to such close encounters.
The performance is over and audience heads off in the same way, towards the door to the stairs. When they get there, MC steps out. He's carrying DVD's and CD's, and offers them to the audience in the same way as he would in the street.
The final picture, a variation perhaps on the one we had before coming here. A body stripped of any identity, curiously alone in the corner, somehow trying to please, somehow trying to survive. We pass him, embarassed to look, unable to formulate the right gaze lest he happen to look back. And yet the simultaneous knowledge that this is a blank canvas upon which we're invited to project the portrait exposed to us over the last 20 minutes.
As with all the work by La Otra Gente in Marbella, this was an experiment in live portraiture and part of a research period. However, we were lucky to have a small audience for this performance. Two of them wrote afterwards:
MIKA, Subject Five at Bubbles bar
Location: Bubbles Bar, Puerto Marbella
Mika. Human, ipod, 27 mins
I had, after singing a rendition of Tina Turner's Private Dancer at a karaoke bar called Stars, gone out for some fresh air where I met an Israeli girl named Mika. I asked her if she would accompany me to a small archipelago and together we discovered the 'spit' seen later in Nicholas Ritchey (Daniels). I talked to her for a while discovering her provenance and making jokes. I was interested to know what a lone Israeli girl was doing on the Costa Del Sol.
A week later I had eaten a supreme dinner at a local place and was thinking about this and that and I ended up at karaoke bar Stars. Mika was there and during a conversation about La Otra Gente I made a portrait of her on a beer mat. Marker pen. We left. I bought her some food and walked her home. I asked her then if I may draw her, she agreed to a session in the next day or two.
A day or two later I took some breakfast to her. The plan was to make some sketches of her. I had often wondered about what it must have been like in the studio as those great masters were sketching the nude muse. Mika was not to be nude but I had decided to record the encounter - sound only and in secret. I felt incredibly nervous as I sketched her. She sat up in bed smoking and seemed quite happy to pose. I remember saying some fairly cheesy lines. Toward the end I shot a small video clip. I made two drawings. The subject complained that the first one didn't look like her and that the second one made her look too old.
Sketch on beer mat
"This is not like me!"
I had pretty much developed this work without telling my friends, the voyeuristic element was already apparent. We had been talking about the idea of the readymade, or the found, and how one could frame that person so that they could be viewed. I though that putting a sort of pre-made readymade together with secret footage of the act of making a portrait would draw the viewer in, examining their role, and although Mika would be aware that something was going on, she would pretty much be ignorant of her wider role, granting power to the viewer and playing against the confidence she held as the sitter.
I decided to use the ipod as a tool for a number of reasons: I had noticed the new Audio Visual guides at galleries (hand-held touchscreen media players) and was interested in gallery labels; I would be able to use video; some of the others had them so it would be possible to have several viewers at once or whenever suited the viewer.
The plan was to listen to the audio and watch the video as she worked one afternoon in a bar. She would be engaged in a task and the viewer would listen to the recording either afar or sitting at the bar. However, when the day came it happened that Mika was not working. I asked her if she would hang around at the bar anyway and not mind too much that people seemed to be watching her. This request was granted (some subjects seem not to mind at all...).
The viewers found a spot where they could observe the subject through a window that made a successful frame.
Listening and watching.
This sat very nicely with the short video clip to reinforce the voyeuristic intention of the piece. Mika drank coffee and smoked cigarettes and was fully aware of the viewers hanging on her periphery with headphones on. These viewers and the other intrigued people around the bar added much texture to the experience.
watching the video.
It later turned out Mika was on the run from national service in Israel and had no money or anywhere permanent to live. Her mother wishes she would return home.
This is the video after the audio. The intimacy is in contrast to the previous experience.
Subject Six: Self Portrait by Gemma Brockis
(The images are often round the wrong way. I will be changing this, but for the meantime, please bear with me)
Having been staying in a Marbella for two weeks, I was walking through a remote part of the town, and a hostellier asked if i wanted a room for the night. He showed me a room. It struck me as feeling strangely intimate - a place i could possibly sleep, out of nowhere. I started to look at hostels, for a room.
I found a hostel which appeared completely empty, but when i had crept in along its entrance hall, calling out as i went, i eventually spotted old socky feet lying on a bed inside the reception area. I spoke to Juan, the hostel owner, about a room.
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The next day, i returned and rented, for the night, a room with TV, bath and fridge.
The view was arranged for one viewer at a time. He (in this case, i knew the viewer would always be male but it was not designed with this in mind) would be given the card of the hostel, find his way toward it, and walk up the stairs past Juan, the hostellier, and anyone else who happened to be around.
He would have the key, and let himself in.
I had taken all of my stuff from my other hostel and set it in the same way within this room, as though i had been living there for two weeks.
The tv was on, my spanish tapes were playing. My sketch pad, with a half finished self portrait, i placed on the desk in front of the mirror. All available lighting was on. The bed was unmade, and my slippers were available. I wanted to create as much of a sense of life as possible. The idea was that the viewer would spend a while in the room (25 minutes) with the licence to relax within my private surroundings, and use my stuff. Even have a bath. The bath i wanted to fill with water to make it more enticing. But there was no plug.
On the dictaphone (which i had with me in Marbella for work) was a recording of my voice, which, if played, would tell the listener: "i've been here now for two weeks" - it described my time in Marbella, a fictional but realistic life, different from the one where i had physically been. This recording (apart from the Otra Gente information notice) was the only thing that was not directly lifted from my room. I included the notes i had made for the idea of the piece itself:
The material was a given (It was all i had in Marbella). The fiction came from the ways in which it was presented.
On the Mirror, this was posted:
LA OTRA GENTE
SELF PORTRAIT NO. 1
ROOM WITH TV, FRIDGE AND BATH
HERE THE ARTIST DEMONSTRATES THE ROOM IN WHICH THE SUBJECT HAS LIVED FOR THE PAST NINE DAYS.
IT IS SIMULTANEOUSLY THE SUBJECT'S SPACE, AS SHOWN BY VARIOUS BITS AND BOBS, AND A SPACE FOR THE VIWER TO OCCUPY, TO READ, DRAW, WATCH TV, BATHE, NAP OR OTHERWISE USE THE FACILITIES.
THE VIEWER WILL BE UNINTEPPURTED.
AT ANY POINT DURING THE VIEWING, THE VEIWER IS FREE (ENCOURAGED) TO VISIT THE ROOM DIRECTLY ABOVE.
NO SECRETS ARE HIDDEN.
When the viewer came up the stairs to the room directly above, he would open the metal door to the room, which was bent, so squeaked horribly on the floor, and come in. Where the room downstairs had tv and sound, all lights on, and stuff everywhere, this room was silent, cold and empty, except for the hostel furniture.
As the door closed, behind it was the bed.
By the bed there was a little stool, and on the wall, this was posted:
LA OTRA GENTE
SELF PORTRAIT NO. 2
WOMAN IN BED
HERE, THE ARTIST OFFERS AN UNINTERRUPTED VIEW OF THE SUBJECT, IN WHICH IS REVEALED A DESIRE TO STAY IN BED.
THE VIEWER IS ASKED TO SIT WITH THE SUBJECT, AT LEAST FOR A LITTLE WHILE. SWITCH THE LIGHT ON IF YOU LIKE...
PLEASE DO NOT DISTURB.
PLEASE SWITCH OFF THE LIGHT WHEN YOU GO.
PLEASE RETURN BELOW TO THE ROOM.
STAY THERE UNTIL YOU ARE CALLED.
(The only detritus in the room was the scribblings on top of the fridge)
The body in the bed was not dead, but sleeping, but not really sleeping. The viewer sat with the body, for a little while.
I had been thinking of both being laid out as a corpse, which was in my mind after reading Martinez' book on the embalming of Eva Peron, thinking about the fiction the embalmer imposes upon a real body, using the most concrete representation of a person to build a fantasy around them. (The papers front pages on those days were also full of Pinochet laid out in state).
I was also thinking of sitting by the bedside of someone alive, perhaps sick, and the intimacy and sometimes the calm found there, when you know all you are being asked to do is sit and not go away. I wanted the viewer to be just there.
After a while, i turned my head slowly toward them (over the course of about a minute) and opened my eyes to look at them directly. This was the only moment of contact in the whole piece. It was brief, and after registering for a second, the shock of having a companion, i returned to my previous state.
The viewer then sat (for a while sometimes) and afterwards went back downstairs to my things. While they were there, i called : "hello this is gemma, i'm in a cafe on the main road - an italian cafe with a green front. come and find me there"
The person left and i met them outside.
(Over the course of doing this three times, some of the details above changed within various showings - this information gives an impression of the piece and a few ideas behind it)
Subject Seven: The Family Dudley
Family Dudley. 2 parents, 1 daughter, Karaoke bar stage, 4mins.
The artists had decided that Karaoke was a form of self portraiture in that by providing the complex frame of the performance i.e the mic, the lights, the stage and further, the act of impersonating a voice - a viewer gets a very good look at who it is singing. We had witnessed both Graham and Danny singing and noticed how at ease they looked, doing this in their own bar.
I had been thinking about the family portrait. I had seen a large and happy family having an impromptu photo portrait taken in a beautiful square and it reminded me of a photo I have of my great grandfather and his large family. It is grey and stern but what interests me about these images is the way the viewer detects drama and imagines relationships between the members of the group. And in a practical sense, getting all these people to stand still at the same time and in the same place involves a distinct effort.
I approached Graham Dudley about the idea of doing a family portrait and he seemed keen. I later asked Maureen who also didn't have any major disagreements, and Grace, who at 16 immediately refused the offer to stand on stage with her parents in front of her friends. I wanted to ask the son Danny, but he was away in Morocco. This was a pity as the father and son relationship here was very interesting indeed.
I wanted with this portrait to do something simple and typical of the portrait. To offer a view of a family together in their own surroundings looking good. The payoff for the audience would be to watch this well known family standing still, together. I had hoped that this was not common and upon investigation found that virtually no-one had ever seen them all together.
Simplicity was the key. I chose a song to suit the taste of the bar 'We Are Family' by sister sledge. The Dudleys were to stand on the stage facing the wall as the intro played. Then they were to turn around with their eyes closed. This meant that the audience would not instantly have their gaze returned. At the start of the verse they were to open their eyes and through the rest of the song start to relax and look out to their friends.
There was great risk involved, the bar would be full of drunk people, any of the members of the family could be instantly distracted or removed by something much more important. There was a risk that the Dudly's would feel daft in their own bar and therefore not do it. Our work on the street meant that we had talked about what we were doing to many of the people there and so there was quite an interesting atmosphere at the bar.
I had requested the Dudley's not to sing and that the screens for the lyrics be turned to off. I prefaced the thing by explaining briefly that this was a portrait and the audience should view it like that and not be afraid to look etc.
The music started and everyone forgot what to do. Maureen screamed 'STOP' and 'Start again!' In that moment of her and her family quickly repositioning themselves and bickering sweetly about who had got it wrong the portrait was made.
They started again. This time it was fine. Grace was becoming more and more uncomfortable until she implicated the artist by pointing at him and slowly mouthing the words I. Hate. You.
Grace had requested that there be no video of the portrait. I was happy about this as we had been discussing elements of the live and the unrepeatable: having to have witnessed the occasion. The fact that this piece will never happen again adds a value to the memory of it for those who were there. And as it is talked about and relayed from person to person the actual event begins to grow into something else.
The Family Dudley
This research project was funded by
THE ARTS COUNCIL OF ENGLAND