2007 OVADA, Oxford

As part of the ‘Mediations’ group exhibition at Oxford Visual Arts Agency in collaboration with the School of Fine Art, Oxford Brookes University

brook & black text extract, written for Oxford Brookes University exhibition symposium.

‘….In this work; Still_Lives, the projected video, reflects into space, split by the right angles of the mirror, and falls upon two suspended sheets of drawing paper.  Lines start to be drawn on the papers, appearing to trace the arrangement of the objects on the table.  Eventually on one sheet the line drawn begins to describe the outline of a head, as it does so the 'real' back of the head begins to appear within the outline. Rather than viewing the front of the face, as in the Leiden work (Self) Portrait, we see only the back of Leora's on one sheet and Tiffany's on the other.  As the backs of the heads progressively fill in the drawn outline, the audience can make out that the women are drawing, roughly filling in, in pencil the space on the paper surrounding their heads. The layering of the process makes the sense of space here ambiguous and uneasy it is as if the heads are somehow in the paper.  Again their flatness is disturbing, somehow we expect on the other side of the paper to see the women's faces, but of course the other side only reveals the back again.

Digital Layering, which whilst giving the possibilities of flexible and diverse outputs finished and packaged to a high degree can compress and empty out visual information, potentially losing its direct appeal to the senses, particularly that of touch.

By creating splits in the video projection, layering the drawn self (albeit only an outline) with the filmed self that we never see (ie, the back of our heads), again, where is our head space? -The space that we both try to define as individuals and the space that is part of our shared thinking?  The organisation of the installation articulates the impossibility of ‘bridging’ that space.  But an ‘active’ space between the suspended drawings, between the objects and the obvious, simple mechanics…of the set up,  suggests the limits of the possibility of sharing our perception of reality.

This work presents itself in an almost heath-robinson like arrangement, a dinner table where conversation takes place, or the remnants of a still life set-up, it is an unresolved work.  The public move around and see a framed, static, drawn still life, two projected videos and the emerging presence of two people. In both works (here and at FADE) the location or sense of a studio, of traditional practice, is not far away and the site underplays any territory more normally occupied by digital art; austere white and black rooms, monitors, screens and large scale projections. Can those places that we go to, to sense the intimacy of a drawn line, of a worked-upon surface and a rough texture, to smell and touch and know of the proximity of both method and maker, be found in a digital environment?   Is the memory of those sensations, the phenomenology of that experience brought to bear in the process of editing, manipulating and also as viewer?

We have already said, in reference to our early work, that the digital medium offers a space; a place for shared collecting, mixing and editing.   In itself this presents a particular process, different from when there is only one author of the work who confronts a surface or journeys into the work alone.  With us, decisions are made in response not only to the ‘real’ but also to that virtual space that is imagined and occupied by the other.  This sometimes feels like the fourth dimension and is renegotiated in its location, by a constant exchange of phone calls and emails that offer ideas that can expand.  For us it hovers somewhere over High Wycombe, the flyover, between Oxford and London, is touched upon when reconsidering the places, both physical and virtual, that we have jointly occupied in previously made work. 

As our work progresses, the layers of shared memories, imagined or real, the images; static or moving, and the questions that arise as to how ‘we’ position ourselves in relation to, or in the work, become both more complex and then sometimes suddenly simpler as certain mental shortcuts are felt.   It sometimes feels like playing ‘consequences’ for three people, the third being unknown, playing hide and seek between the virtual frame and our collective memories.

Perhaps within our practice, unlike that undertaken by one digital artist, ( intuitively clicking, immersed in virtual creation), as collaborators we have to constantly bring things out for shared scrutiny and questioning.  Therefore this ‘real’ space, is something we are reluctant to give up.   Space between the easels, space between suspended papers…. Or perhaps our continual engagement with the 'real' is a sign of our reluctance to give it all away to the virtual, after all, we still (for the moment) all sleep and dream in real beds’.

The debate around authenticity, authorship, intellectual copyright and plagiarism have proliferated in the last twenty years, increased unquestionably by the advent of digital technology and the internet.  In the shrinking technological world it can sometimes seem to be rather missing the point, besides being rather small minded and petty to insist on ownership of ones ideas.  More and more it seems that our individual minds are linked in a web of communication, playing small parts in a larger ‘metamind’ whose neurons (our laptops and phones) are just beginning to start firing off.  In the collaborative process of our partnership we give up (ownership!) on a daily basis, to the extent that when people ask one or other of us, as they often do:  “Which bit did you do?", we have no answer for them.  We have transferred individual ownership to an agreed third party, brook & black; though we both probably feel we still have a traditional sense of ‘copyright’ about the work of brook & black, the day when artists will give away their 'stock in trade' still seems far off.

The exploration of the question of how to respond to the theme of Portrait in the context of Rembrandt's 400th birthday, led to this strand of our work which makes explicit certain questions implicit in the rest of our practice, questions about how art (studio) practice is changing, both in process and outcome with the augmented possibilities offered by digital technology. It is a question that we are both keen to pursue, discovering what may emerge from the process of playing on the borders between past and future, traditional and digital, and welcoming the input from and collaboration with other artists.

Leora Brook and Tiffany Black / February 2007.