Vault Studio Practice

29 May 2024, Vault Artist Studios, Belfast

The first two of the three experiments with Maeve were a continuation of those we did on 6 May, this time in a studio and without the domestic settings of my house.

I brought a projector to experiment filming while interacting with the performer and her mediated performance projected behind her. Expanding the sense of ‘presence’ by adding the mediated screen forms and our shadows.

I extended the quiet atmospheric sound to around 10 minutes and played it in the background. I intended to also do a practice with no sound but we ran out of time and will do it next time.

I filmed using my DSLR, handheld without a stabiliser and I manually focused. I took off my shoes so I could moved more easily, with Maeve.

Below are my reflections immediately after filming each time, adding a few things I noticed and remembered as I watched back the films on my larger monitor.

First experiment: Intense intra-action with the performer

I moved with Maeve as I filmed, with the same slow movements. I was really struck by the changes in perspective when I and my camera were positioned very close to the edge of a part of her body and the rest were foreshortened. As I moved my camera to a position to see her whole body on the floor, motionless, her limbs distorted in the frame, while I then stayed still with the camera as she did, it felt as though we and time were suspended. The image in the frame was so interesting, she appeared not of this world.

I changed the focus of the lens and played with blurring the visuals, especially at the end, holding the camera still as she moved. Her limbs appearing and disappearing in the frame created a very ephemeral and ethereal sense to the experience and in the frame. Staying further away felt more like I was disconnected, a separation that felt uneasy, wrong. Coming closer felt like I was again a part of the performance, ‘with’ her, not watching her. Moving with my camera with her always felt more as though my camera/I are ‘in’ the performance.

Perhaps because this is a new location, a new space and unfamiliar, it took awhile to fall into a sense of presence and feeling moments of peak-flow, when I began to be mesmerised and immersed in the experience. But the floating movements of her limbs, in and out of the frame, in and out of focus, and the continuous fluid movement of my own body with and around her, were moments when I felt a sense of integration with the her performance, a lifting sense, a joy.

As I have become less concerned about accuracy and focused lens, I have found a particular resonance with the blurring of the images and lack of focus on a specific action. I decided at times not to to focus the lens deliberately to portray the ethereal sense I felt in some moments.

It feels like as our connection becomes stronger and more secure with our continued collaboration, we ease into the process more naturally and quickly each time we start to experiment. In each case, as the experience became more immersive, I became less aware of directing my body, it just fell into a fluid rhythm of movement, curiosity, ease and contentment.

Second experiment: Breaking the fourth wall, the performer interacts directly with me and the camera

This time I asked Maeve to interact with me and the camera directly and take it as she moved before returning it to me. I wanted parts of my body to appear in the frame occasionally, to add a concrete sense of my presence as I filmed, and challenge the boundaries between filmmaker, frame, performer.

I consciously moved in, I played again with changing focus. Presence appeared more concrete in focus, more a trace of it when blurred. At times my feet were caught in the frame and it seemed as it should be.

Filming her from above created a sense of separation, a witnessing with space between us, rather than integrating and a ‘becoming’ with her. When she looked at the lens, directly interacting with the camera, what was in the frame which I had rotated to the side, felt like she was looking at me, seeing ‘me’, right through me, though she was looking directly at the lens and ‘seeing’ the camera. Here I felt no separation between my camera and me. It never felt like an instrument, a different entity. My camera, just felt like a part, an extension of me.

I began to interact with Maeve, using my left hand while I held the camera with my right. This sensory interaction between my hand and hers, enhanced the sense of presence, while still appearing ethereal in the lens.

All the movements were intrinsically slow and the faint sound added a trancelike sense.

When Maeve took the camera (06:47-07:23), the images in the frame became abstractions without her concrete form, with parts of her clothed body appearing and disappearing. The appearance of the structures in the ceiling and the dark soft curtains that allowed in some light, were the only recognisable forms.

I felt the most peak-flow sense when we were intensely interacting. It felt ‘whole’, consciously sensing my body at times, but it didn’t really matter, mind/body felt unified, isomorphic. Especially when our three hands were connecting, seen in the frame, her two and my left, moving together, sensing one another with curiosity and wonder. It felt safe, graceful, kind and beautiful. We were both smiling. Even when we were not touching, I intuitively carried on moving my left hand around her body, remaining in the flow of moving with her, while I filmed with my right.

My gaze vacillated between staying with her physical presence and the frame.

We looked at the footage together on the camera screen before writing. When I close my eyes, I can still see and feel my hand touching hers, feel myself moving with her. IO feel transported by the memory and by what was on screen. It felt like a very intense intra-action and feeling ‘whole’ during the process.

Third experiment: Introducing mediated presences

I positioned the projector on a seat about 50 cm from the ground and around 4.5 meters away from the wall and projected one of the experiments on 6 May. I wanted the projected image to be as large as was possible to cover wall to ceiling. I tried placing the projector on the floor but the result became too distorted. The low seat was the most steady option available. There was no white screen, it was projected onto the dark, almost black wall. The result, when the lights were off was clear, rendering the footage much darker and more striking.

This felt completely different, unexpected and full of wonder! The introduction of the mediated performance to the actual performance as I filmed felt strange to see and be in at first. It felt eerie and very immersive. Our shadows added another layer of presence. The camera now was in the frame, as its shadow. It felt like there were so many presences in the experience, it felt at once confusing and mesmerising. It was sensory but the ‘sense’ of the mediated performer dominated. We seemed to be in a trance, under its presence. It felt like Maeve and I and the camera were at the bidding of the projected movements. It felt other worldly! I was so drawn in, I wanted even more to be near the ‘real’ concrete form of Maeve, sense her, while overwhelmed by her mediated moving form behind and on her. The darkness took me to another plane. The whole thing was so intense and extraordinary and completely bewildering but entrancing. Amazing! I was keen to have our shadows and Maeve and and the mediated moving forms in the frame. Seeing the shadows of me and the camera in the frame, brought a real sense, a visible sense of me in the work. Extraordinary. I was completely at one with my camera. There was so much wonder to feel, to see, to sense with my camera. I can’t write fast enough! I still ‘feel’ the experience. The ‘high’. My body feels alive, carrying and completely absorbed in the experience. I can’t think of how my individual body parts feel. I feel my whole body in the experience, not divided in parts, in limbs. A truly body/mind experience of wonder.

We stopped after around 7 minutes but we could so easily continue. It really felt like a trancelike. We only stopped because our time to use the studio was up. We were both buzzing! the energy in the room felt quite electric. But I asked us to first quietly write before talking about it. It was an incredibly immersive experience that I think could include both artists and viewers. It would be interesting to see what that may prove to be, what it would feel like to film it in the same intensely embodied and interactive way, what the frame would show and how an audience might find watching it.

Watching the footage of the three experiments later on my larger monitor, I felt almost immediately an intense curiosity and engagement. At times mesmerised. I was able to ‘see’ fully what was in the frame now that my gaze was no longer divided between the performer and the frame and my body stayed still, while sensing a desire to lift and move at times with the performer on screen. Meeting her gaze into the camera, again felt extremely personal and intimate.