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Anticipating Light

November 2004

There is a village that displays regular patterns of life for most of the year but at Christmas it becomes luminous. Really. Thousands of Christmas lights and novelties are laced throughout the neighbourhood. Bare trees are looped with cherry lights. Nets of white stud lights are laid and wrapped and hung. Behold the disco box-hedge. See how the papier mache headed, life-sized Santa sits bewildered in the fully functional snow-buggy. I do not want to suggest the people who started this light trend are in any way crazy. I don't. Because this lighting up has a purpose. Yes, this luminosity is for good-intentioned charity: the County Air Ambulance to be precise. This mixture of mild eccentricity and moral undertone is the kind of thing that gets publicity. Sadly, this attention sometimes deserves the protective prowess of PC Hornblower.

So with most of my family living in this light-filled village and my mum and dad being big players in the lighting-up game, it is not surprising I have been involved in creating displays. One thing that worked pretty well was coiling fairy lights behind opaque board with star-shaped thin paper windows. We strapped that board around the bay window to give it an ethereal glow. To see what I am making this year, along with fields of sound-activated snowmen and fireworks and drinks and disco and a real Santa who bribes children and no pressure to donate anything then please come along to Linton, at 5pm on November 27th. This and this are snippets of what it looked like last year.

Photographs of Linton Lights. Photographs of Linton Lights.

I have seen a few exhibitions recently. The Kettle's Yard has a Rear View Mirror exhibition which contains a box of palm-sized photographs of down-town cafes and fractured trees and slabs of grey building and steamy coffee counters and regular people who look like they are recovering from the night before. The artist is Tacita Dean and the title is "Czech Photographs". The sign next to the box invites the handling of the photographs. What do you do with an offer like this? Do the 326 photographs fit together? Is there order or arrangement to be discovered? I am asking this because I have this suspicion that when my life flashes before my eyes, as I am hoping it will before I die, the wacko dreams and pictures in my head will come together to make a fantastically revealing story. Surely the same applies for these black and white photographs.

The best thing I saw in the Rear View Mirror exhibition was a film by Elisabeth Subrin called The Fancy 2000 . I first viewed this film without knowing anything about its aims. I saw a collection of 20 or 30 second scenes, each containing one person showing a different pattern of body movements or positions in a different indoor location. Each scene had a date and sometimes a season at the bottom of the screen. The movement-people wore soft colours and jersey material and the rooms were bare in a sort of neglected rather than poor quality building type way. A shard of plaster encrusted wall-paper made staggered appearances as a prop. This all intrigued me enough to find out more. So, it turns out, The Fancy is a set of representations of the self-referential photographer Francesca Woodman. Elisabeth Subrin has the power to turn the viewers attention from Woodman's sensationalism, by subtly abstracting features of Woodman's life and photograph collection and presenting them as patterns of sounds and pictures. There are no pictures of Woodman photographs in The Fancy, but the movement-people show the different positions of subjects in the photographs. In another section of the The Fancy we hear people describe Woodman photographs over the top of shots of interiors. My favourite part of the film has the camera moving over Woodman's collection of symbols of Victorian values, such as ribbons of material in the same soft colours as worn by the movement-people but the fabrics are fragile with age. As the items are displayed, unsettling music plays and a woman with a confident voice describes a Woodman photograph of a nude woman holding a weed the length of her body and in the corner a barely visible dragonfly is resting on a box of soap. Next we hear how Francesca was told by her father that a dragonfly would sew her lips together if she ever laughed. It is unsettling but I maintain it does not give off sensationalist vibes, but rather explores patterns intelligently whilst acknowledging that Francesca Woodman died by her own hand.

The other exhibition of relevance was the Lucian Freud etchings at the Fitzwilliam Museum. I do not have much to say about this exhibition except during my lunch hour I happened upon a talk, given by an Egon Schiele doppelganger, about Freud's etching technique -- which I knew nothing about and which sounded extremely interesting if only I had not been distracted by the paint on the ear lobe of the boy sitting in front of me.

I have been testing out a drawing technique on plastic coated board. When I say plastic coated board I mean wood that fell off the side of my chest of drawers that happened to be plastic coated. I apply ink to the board with a rubber-tipped oil pastel smudger thing someone bought me once. The advantage of the board, as opposed to paper, is that I have finer control over the amount of ink applied and therefore obtain a greater range of lines. Using ink and plastic I drew a portrait and it looked nothing like the intended subject. Now I could pass this off in a sort of Charles Avery, 'Portraits of People who Never Existed' type way, but really, I am not as smart as Charles. Therefore, I think I will console myself with thinking that this kind of ambiguity is acceptable when you start a new technique. So, given that the portrait, accidentally, looks like a guy from IT Support in my old job than the I present to you the man from IT Support whose name I do not know because I never needed his IT support.

picture of an IT Support man drawn with Indian ink on white plastic
            coated board.

A month ago I alluded to a Peter Greenaway inspired categorisation project. So the plan is to do something completely unoriginal but, for me at least, educational. The project is to develop a collection of portraits and life drawing (if I can find a class that does not cost a fortune) which show a full range of expression. So this is what to expect in the future. Probably.

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