Screenwork is a response to The Sensible Stage edited by Bridget Crone, and to a bursary I received from Picture This to attend an artists school led by Ian White at the Lux/ICA Biennial of Moving Images.
I had in mind that the Action would be a way of approaching a set of ideas about screens, viewers, image and performance, through doing rather than thinking.
As such the text is laid out in a particular way – lying somewhere between a score and an ingredients list.
This means the text is functional rather than representational, and I’m aware that this has limitations for a reader – a score or ingredients list is useful for materialising an event or object but is not a description of that event or object.
Bearing this in mind, this Foreword aims first at giving a description of how the Action might play out, and secondly (very briefly) to address what ideas are being investigated by the work.
(To move straight to the proposal, click here.)
The simplest description I can think of for Screenwork is an Action that stages the work (literal and cognitive, material and immaterial) done by viewers in relation to screens and the images they host.
Here’s a brief physical description -
In Screenwork there aren’t any rehearsed performers; tasks are carried out by eight members of the audience who consent to wear headphones at the start of the piece.
Throughout the 45 minutes of the Action recorded instructions are broadcast to these mobilised audience members.
The Action is structured as two separate screening events occurring simultaneously in different areas of the Picture This building.
The first is in the Picture This office on the screens of four workstations, where four of the mobilised audience members receive instructions to carry out simple administrative tasks.
The second screening event takes place simultaneously in the Exhibition Space. A large screen has a block of fifteen chairs laid out in front of it.
Acting on instructions four of the mobilised audience members go through a repeated cycle of rearranging the chairs, watching the screen, stacking the chairs to the side of the room, watching the screen while standing, laying the chairs out in front of the screen again.
On the screen a video is back-projected, presenting what appears to be a mirroring of the Exhibition Space. Throughout the Action four figures carry out the same tasks in the on-screen image-space that the mobilised audience members are doing in front of the screen. This mirroring of the image-space and the live space, and the mirroring of image-actions and live actions creates a kind of visual/temporal feedback.
These two screening events – in the office and the Exhibition Space - are interrupted continuously by mobilised audience members moving back and forth between the office, the exhibition space, and visiting the toilet and McColls, a convenience store across the road from Picture This.
After 45 minutes the Action ends without any particular conclusion or climax, and the mobilised audience members return their headsets.
Screenwork is an attempt at an expanded cinema work examining the spatial relationships between bodies and images, liveness and un-liveness at a moment when screen based devices (phones, laptops, tablets, games, cinema, tv) and digital networks are both pervasive and mundane.
It’s also a moment when the work/entertainment split in the functions of those devices and networks has been dissolved.
(In my job as a multimedia developer I spend many working hours on social network sites, youtube, iplayer etc. And in the evenings in our sitting room, three adults are often engaged with three separate laptops - as likely as not to be answering work related emails as talking to friends.)
Screenwork doesn’t present a programmatic examination of these contexts, but this social/technological/economic background is the affective territory the Action is engaging with.
Many expanded cinema practitioners in the sixties and seventies recognised the sculptural/spatial relationship of projector, lightbeam, image, screen. Artists including Schneemann, LeGrice, Nicholson and Sherwin stepped into the lightbeam, interrupting and becoming part of the sculptural relationship. Other works such as Lis Rhodes’ Light Music encouraged the audience itself to step into the lightbeam.
Screenwork shares with these works an engagement with apparatus and space, but a different spatial relationship is produced by self illuminated screens (as found in Screenwork) An axis is formed solely by the viewer and screen. In fact the viewer appears to be bodily held by the screen. A relationship that’s only negotiable within the area where the eyeline meets the screen’s surface.
In the office-based element of Screenwork the relationship set up between a viewer’s body and screen is one we’re used to. The mobilised audience members sit in front of the workstation screens, and on-looking audience members stand to watch.
In the Exhibition Space the static spatial relationship between viewer and screen is disrupted. On-screen, four figures set up, arrange, and pack away chairs in a video image that mirrors what is happening live in front of the screen.
When the on-screen figures sit down to watch, the mobilised audience members do the same. When the mobilised audience members arrange the chairs in a particular configuration, the figures on-screen arrange their chairs in the same configuration.
As the Action progresses it becomes clear that these on-screen and live events are not in fact mirroring each other, but have their own agency. They are two separate events running in parallel from the same software timeline. Questions of where liveness and un-liveness start and finish become complicated. The video images are being generated from a timeline. But the ‘live’ action of the mobilised audience members is also being generated by instructions broadcast from the same timeline.
A Foreword shouldn’t be too long, and I’m going to finish here with a couple of notes.
I mentioned at the start that Screenwork is intended to approach questions through doing rather than thinking. What is the doing that Screenwork does?
While Screenwork plays with the spatial properties and liveness and unliveness of the viewing situation it does this with a specific aim, and its purpose is active rather than representational. Screenwork is an Action not a performance – it exists to generate specific affects and energy fields in the audience not to represent relations.
And finally on the site specificity of this work. In late 2010 I worked as a part-time unpaid intern at Picture This coinciding with two exhibitions, Hito Steyerl’s Free Fall, and Ben River’s Slow Action.
Screenwork is inspired by the specific geography of the Picture This buildings; and Picture This’s function as a commissioning body/ producer/ exhibition space sets up a series of meanings that Screenwork is designed to intersect and resonate with.