Grahame Weinbren was artist-in-residence at the Slade School of Fine Art in the Autumn of 2007. He developed two pieces during this period, in studios at the Slade Research Centre, Woburn Square and Wells Street (in association with CARTE, University of Westminster). Both involved recreating still life paintings as sets to be photographed over the period of his residency and subsequently rendered into moving image works. These pieces have been shown as part of a continuing suite of short films at several different events and exhibitions including the Berlin Film Festival, the Montreal Festival of Films on Art, Zero1 the San Jose Biennial, and the American Museum of the Moving Image.
Here are three paintings. What is their power? What pleasures do they contain? What is their point?
Portraying a living thing of any kind at its moment of fresh-bloomed maturity: does this practice not suggest that this is the height of its beauty, and all that can follow is degeneration . . . and finally stasis? Embedded in these still life images of luscious fruits and flowers is a sense of the moment, the idea something has been caught that will not continue, the whole ars longa, vita brevis / memento mori business. Photography on the other hand, loves ruins -- perhaps, because unlike painting, characterized by presence, the photograph always points to the past. The ruin realizes this fundamental and inescapable backward reference, and the photograph of the ruin is like a sexting self-portrait of the soul of the medium. However, one can no longer take a convincing picture of the ruins of an abbey or medieval castle: the view-by date is long past. But what about the ruins of a melon, an aubergine, or a celeriac? And if it's a moving image rather than a still one?
WIth the help of Slade students Ana Cavic and Anita Wernstrom, I combined the three images and we did our best to replicate the conglomerate. Our studio was the porter's room, right next to the entrance of the old Courtauld Building on Woburn Square, with a window facing north east and generous square proportions. We built the still life set against the eastern wall, placing all the elements on a bed of soil seeded with grasses and herbs. I set up a computer controlled camera to make an image every few minutes, and let it run, coming in every day to check the equipment and occasionally to sprinkle a little water here and there. The fruits and vegetables slowly decomposed in a splendid array of sepia, ochre, vomit green, and mustard yellow, flowers drooped and dried, while grasses and weeds erupted around everything, eventually almost obscuring the melons, celeriac and aubergine in new, chaotic, fresh green life. The victorious cycle of nature, even under these artificial circumstances, was joyful and magnificently beautiful, if a little odorous.
25,000 large digital files, shot over 10 weeks, were collected on hard drives.
I used digital software to combine the photographs into one short movie, varying the speed and the framing to highlight particular elements of change. The tendrils of art from the recent and distant past reach into the present, retaining some values, discarding others, and out of this soil bed, fresh ideas ripen and mature.
Grahame Weinbren is a media artist and filmmaker. A pioneer of interactive cinema his installation projects have been exhibited in museums and galleries internationally including the Whitney Biennial, the Centre Pompidou, NTT-ICC (Tokyo) and the Kwanju Biennial (Korea). "The Erl King" (collaboration with Roberta Friedman, 1983-5), the first artists' work to combine computer interactivity with cinema, is in the collection of the Guggenheim Museum
Weinbren has also written extensively about Media Art, Cinema, and Technology. He teaches in the graduate division of the School of Visual Arts in New York, and is the senior editor of the Millennium Film Journal.
Grahame Weinbren website www.grahameweinbren.net
Interview with Terry Flaxton at Slade Research Centre, Woburn Square: http://bit.ly/IC6JZK
Early version of the still life movie: http://vimeo.com/8749715