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Vermaak | Entertainment > Visueel | Visual > Onderhoude | Interviews > Katherine Bull reflects on her exhibition performances data-capture: LOST_& FOUND

Katherine Bull reflects on her exhibition performances data-capture: LOST_& FOUND

Kristine Kronjé - 2011-09-02

During her most recent exhibition at Blank Projects in Woodstock, Katherine Bull presented a series of watercolour paintings created while she was watching the first five seasons of the television series Lost. The sixth and final season was painted as part of a pair of drawing actions performed in the gallery space. This exhibition acted as the fourth exhibition of a performance-based exhibition series dealing with the personal as well as digital frontiers in which she attempts to engage the physical and virtual in dialogue. 

data capture_LOST & FOUND

Katherine, reading the exhibition statement I expected to witness a form of visual reproduction of scenes from Lost. However, observing your performance I immediately found myself searching for a connection between the visual references on the television screen and what you were painting. An attempt to capture something so rich in visual information and motion by hand seems like a completely unattainable objective. From the performance it is clear that the process requires intense concentration on your part. What were you trying to capture within these watercolour paintings?

I like how you refer to the “unattainable object”. In bringing the temporal medium of film into a closer dialogue with the physical through a process of active recording, there is the absurd attempt at viewing the temporal image as object, yet the process reveals another image entirely. In this process of recording the episodes of Lost I am attempting to capture what I see as faithfully as I can. To create a recognisable picture from watching the television does not interest me as much as exploring through the process of the analogue, recording the threshold of the visible and invisible in perception. If the brain and senses are occupied in recording what I see at every changing moment, what other senses are at work that express through the mark and colour accumulated over an intense meditation on time-based media?  So in the Lost watercolour process I attempt to make a mark to capture something only if it is visible on the screen. I start and stop the watercolour as the episode begins and put down my brush as it ends. As you say, there is a lot going on within the action and fleeting frames of footage, so I find my attention shifts between attempting to capture the action and elements of the scene. I would say what primarily guides my eye is the colour. I see a colour, mix it and then often by the time I have the colour mixed the scene has changed. I then ready myself with the next colour and wait for the “cut back” in the editing to return to the information I have just seen. So how I look becomes increasingly formal in relation to the colour, shape, form and the rhythm of editing. I am interested in seeing how time-based media reflects in two-dimensional media. Through this process the watercolours as colour fields of mark, although chaotic, retain the trace of that structure and narrative and take on a movement and changing depth as you view them over time.

A display of watercolours produced and archived during the data capture_Lost & Found exhibition performance
A watercolour in process from the Lost performance.

Why did you decide to use the series Lost as your visual reference for this exhibition and performances? Was it merely the title that seemed appropriate or does this series hold a greater personal significance?

Yes, the title is what seemed appropriate for my intention to set up a kind of ethnographic study in my data capture project to reflect on the genre and nature of television series. Initially it was selected as a generic sample to further my process of exploring what happens when attempting to record the digital back into an analogue medium. I had never watched an episode of Lost and remembered the hype and addiction around it five years ago. Many friends had encouraged me to watch, yet I resisted as I imagined the many hours of lost time. It sparked the idea to create an active process out of what is generally considered a passive activity. So Lost surfaced again when I began to formulate the idea of the show as a reflection on the desire to escape into television entertainment in a serial fashion. The serial nature is emphasised by the fact that Lost is a long-running series of six seasons (120 episodes). This provided the material to create a marathon of serial activity and produce a physical volume equivalent for the video. So the choice was made initially more on the form rather than particular content. The watercolours, for me, start to reflect the serial nature of each episode, following a formula that keeps the viewer hooked into the serial activity. The watercolours appear the same, yet each one is distinctly different if you spend the time watching them. In this performance I play on the role of the watercolour artist as ethnographer/amateur naturalist (18th century) and as middle-class entertainment (19th century) within a contemporary cultural landscape of television and digital projection. In this context the content of Lost does add another layer of reflection if chosen as a sample of our cultural landscape. There is the archetype of the exotic (stranded on a desert island); the jungle as metaphor for a journey into the inner psyche (Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness); fears of survival due to environmental changes mixed up with the spiritual quests for meaning etc (a microcosm of contemporary concerns mashed up, sampled and sound-bitten into popular cultural form).

Katherine Bull performing Lost.

The two performances embody the exhibition’s lost-found relationship: where much of the visual information in the first performance is “lost” within the watercolours, the second performance acts as a construction of the self or the traces of the self through mirroring. In both of these performances, however, I noticed a prominent reluctance within your mark-making processes. What is the reason for this uncertainty or hesitation within the respective performances?  

In the Lost performance, what appears to be reluctance is, in fact, my attempts to faithfully capture only what appears on the screen. Therefore I mix a colour and the image changes, so I stop. I start to describe a form or figure and then it is gone. I lift my brush and move to the next object that grabs my attention. In the Found performance the hesitancy is part of the process of attempting to both connect and capture what I cannot see. The woman’s image acts as a kind of “medium” to help me to travel inwards to a space of feeling and facing my shadows within the self. The medium of grease and black ink forms a repelling contrast to the watercolour of Lost.

Katherine Bull performing the Found performance in front of an edited film projection sourced from archival footage of Stacy Hardy.

I found the film used in the second performance very curious and captivating. Where did you find or source this film from and why did you choose this film/projection in particular for this performance?

 This is an edited clip from archival footage of mental patients (c 1920s to ’30s). I first came across the footage through artist and writer Stacy Hardy.* The footage records selected patients exhibiting different kinds of behaviour interjected with text describing the condition. The footage triggered a powerful emotional reaction in me and ties into a personal interest in critically looking at the diagnosis and classification of insanity. The woman framed in the footage I chose to work with displays a repetitive hand movement. In this repetitive action I see her reflecting the medium of film itself as if enacting the frames and drawing attention to the editing loop that has become integrated into our viewing language through the digitalisation of film. The blindfolds also intrigued me, as in some cases the “inmate” is blindfolded completely and in other cases masking their identity. This ties obviously into the doubling (Janus face) I create in the Found performance in which the mask echoes the mask in the footage while I face the other way blindfolded. On another level of personal reference I have been working with blindfolded processes within my own creative process and the art classes I teach as a means to access other senses of sight beyond the visual and as a connection to the expression of feeling.

I grappled with this footage for months as I wanted to use it, but in a way that would honour her across time. So I kneel before her and attempt to connect with her across time and medium. She helps me to connect with my own shadow and threshold between feeling and thinking, perception and embodiment of self in relation to the digital environment.

*You can find this footage on YouTube; it has been used and appropriated in many ways. The choice also reflects this sampling, looping and reappropriation of visual image that becomes disconnected from its source. 

Although being a public performance, data capture_Lost & Found seems more disconnected compared with your other performances. In previous performances you took on the role of the artist, entitling you to intently observe and engage with your subjects. However, in this performance you become the central object of the viewer’s gaze. In the second part of the performance, for example, you are blindfolded, which prevents you from returning the viewer’s gaze. Why did you choose to isolate yourself as an object interacting with digital media and reflectively?

I suppose that isolation becomes part of the inversion of my data capture process as I move from a digital recording of life to analogue recording of the temporal filmic representation. In my digital drawing performances I have explored the possibility of using digital media to enhance a physical connection and draw attention to the invisible/non-material parts of how we see, feel and engage with one another. By isolating myself in a dialogue with the temporal image I hope to stimulate a reflection on how we also do use digital media to disconnect (escape from being physically present). In Lost I hope to reflect, through the repetitive meditation of my process, both the banality and wasting of time and the potential to simultaneously explore ways to record whether this landscape of cultural entertainment offers a space for tuning in to other channels of feeling and experiencing within the body. Found has been a significant and uneasy shift for me into my “drawing actions” becoming more of a performance than being there as an artist merely recording data. So here I do take central stage, but my form is dematerialised by the footage projected over me. This more internally focused exhibition also reflects many changes I have made recently in my life in my work, living environment and occupation. I am in transition from the academic space to a space of working with creative therapeutic processes, while scaling down my living in order to make it possible. In no longer having a studio and living again in a room in a shared house, the domestic space becomes my studio ... So this show naturally reflects that in-between space of transition and self-reflection.

Within data capture_Lost & Found you break away from the use of digital media as an artistic drawing tool, returning to traditional watercolour (albeit not a traditional style). Within the other performances you captured something physical from real life virtually. Why did you choose to revert your practice in this exhibition by attempting to capture something of the digital/virtual experience by hand?

This inversion never presented itself as a clear decision, but evolved out of my creative investigations. The first performance I did was data capture_counterpain, which was part of a one-night-event exhibition, /+\=X at Serialworks, Woodstock (curated by Christian Nerf and Spunk Siepel, 2010). For this performance I was sitting in bed doing watercolours from the television from archival family footage (8 mm footage of soldiers practising a funeral march in Simonstown in the 1940s). I was reflecting on both a personal history of melancholy and the futile attempt at coming to terms with a colonial history. I really enjoyed working in the watercolour medium and the challenge of working from a moving source. So I continued from there working from film and video sources.

Katherine Bull’s first performance in anticipation of her recent exhibition, data capture_counterpain, was part of a one-night-event exhibition, /+\=X at Serialworks, Woodstock (curated by Christian Nerf and Spunk Siepel, 2010.
A watercolour produced by Katherine Bull from 8 mm archival family footage during her performance data capture_counterpain.

This performance could be said to comment on identity and the construction of the identity of the self within a virtual reality. The interaction within this performance takes place between the artist and the “virtual” as well as the artist and the “self”. How do you think these interactions or dialogues succeed in attempting to situate the contemporary self?

I do not know how successful I am being in “attempting to situate the contemporary self”, as this will take time to process for me as the show ends and it filters through for me. But it has been a successful personal exercise in challenging my attempts to bring the virtual and the physical into a closer dialogue in order to understand how we engage with digital media environments and how this impacts on our experience of the physical environment. I do believe that the digital environment plays an increasing role in impacting how we orientate ourselves through representation. Also how developments in technologies and the cultural use of technology as new forms of social engagement (YouTube, Facebook, Twitter) and entertainment environment reflects an attempt to connect and experience beyond the physical.

If your previous work investigates the “digital frontier of the database and its impact on knowledge production, dissemination and control”, do you regard this performance as an investigation of the contemporary individual’s capability of receiving, reacting to and translating this knowledge/information into a contemporary self?

Yes, my performances continue to explore how the digital impacts on how we orientate ourselves both physically and culturally within our environment. By sharing these personal investigations within a public space I do hope to stimulate a phenomenological reflection on our daily engagement with media and how this can be used as an active understanding of both exterior systems of knowledge production and how it links to inner systems of data-processing within the body. 

The archive still seems to be a central component within your work. Every watercolour painting and performance drawing is archived meticulously by using traditional storage methods as well as digital translation. How do the performances relate to the act of archiving these paintings and drawings?

A critical reflection on the archive and how they function as a reflection of how social systems engage with information systems to orientate ourselves in the world does continue to play a role in my work. In this case a traditional system gives physical volume to the temporal film medium in the watercolours produced in the Lost performance. Having a traditional archiving system representing a temporal video series hopefully reflects our changing relationship to representation, which is increasingly fleeting and multimedia. The animation of the watercolours adds another layer, taking the analogue back into the digital by compressing each 40-minute episode into a single frame of footage.

The Found performance, however, shifts away from these concerns into a more personal space of how we access internal “archives” of remembrance through connecting inwards within the body to sensation and feeling. More tangentially Found could be seen to reflect the attempted personal embodiment of digital information as internet systems and social network platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter provide a space of endless possibilities of re-possession and re-publishing of information for individual users.