Bothering Myself

Ian Campbell

Abstract


Figure 1: photos by Ian Campbell

Figure 2: photos by Ian Cambell 

Figure 3: photos by Ian Campbell

Figure 4: photos by Ian Campbell

 

Bothering Myself

Bothering Myself is an ongoing experiment that originated in 2004. The latest incarnation of the project was presented at the MacKenzie Art Gallery, Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada in 2012. The work is presented as a series of single channel videos. The project involves a custom-built electronic/mechanical system that is designed to wake up a subject (the artist) and record the results on video.  Typical mechanical interventions include being sprayed with water, having objects (shoes, paper, clothing) land on the subject’s head, being hit with a large Styrofoam hammer, and other absurdist performance actions. 

Project Themes

Portraiture

Bothering Myself is a way of approaching the body at rest as a method of uncovering the possibilities of consciousness. One of the main questions at stake was: How can one capture the moment of consciousness? It was decided to locate this question within the idea of the cinematic but also that of portraiture. The subject is alone and at the mercy of the technological system employed to trigger consciousness. Vulnerability was heightened through the use of the "medium" of sleep in order to present the human being at the centre of a system that is not under their control. There is a tension in that the body is both cooperating and at odds with the activity of being awoken. The aesthetic of the system, the visual parts that appear in the bedroom, are meant to be functional. The wires, lighting stands, computer peripherals, cameras and mechanical interventions that make up the visual landscape of the piece are there as props for an installation. This language of new media installation and objectivity of showing the means of production is meant to carry both a context of the art gallery and a scientific experiment.  

The "Absent" Body

The artist is both developer and subject of the project. This forced the investigation of several methods of working with a subject where there was no in site access. While programming the system and positioning the elements (cameras, lights, interventions) educated guesses had to be made as to where the body would be at any one time. The physical gesturing that happens during the night makes any precise positioning impossible. Experimentation with means of tracking the body was attempted (in order to guide the camera). Eventually it was found that employing multiple wide-angle cameras close to the locus of activity was an acceptable alternative. When the video was produced for the final installation, the use of split screen was employed to show two angles of the intervention simultaneously. Duplication like this underlines the idea of "coverage;" a term in film that is used to describe capturing successive takes for the purpose of continuity editing. Although these techniques are used for practical reasons, the hope is that they would add up to a feeling of expansiveness of the visual record. That this project is capturing more than the sum of the parts. That it might capture a slice of any number of things that it is investigating: transference of emotion, empathetic response to physical discomfort, interrogation of the point of consciousness.    

The Invasive 

Another aspect of working with the absent was making more intimate interventions on the body. As the project turned from an absurdist expanded cinema project to a faux science experiment, the project became concerned with getting closer to the biological. One phenomenon that seemed like an intriguing subject was R.E.M. (rapid eye movement). This involuntary reflex accompanies 20-25% of the sleep period of typical human subjects and is concurrent with vivid dream states near wakefulness. A kind of electronic "sleep mask" was designed that was a microcosm of my system as a whole. It contained a camera, a small light source, computer controller and video recorder. The camera and light source were positioned directly over the eye. Recordings were made of a series of time-lapse videos of an entire night's worth of eye movements. In the end the video proved unsatisfying enough that the immense discomfort of wearing this sleep mask was not worth inflicting on the subject. This dead end in the project points to the limits of physical invasiveness when working with the body. When the goal of the art is to maintain an emotional connection to the audience, you must use elements that are familiar (i.e. the language of film). In the end, abandoning this R.E.M. monitoring avoided the reduction of the body to its constituent parts and maintained the primacy of more traditional cinematic language.        

Cinema

Originally the project was conceptualized as a kind of "expanded cinema" performance piece. The artist's body is an actor in a mechanical film set. By completely controlling the movie-making apparatus (multiple cameras providing multiple angles, automated controllable lighting) the participation of human and machine could be contrasted. The human subject plays the role of the organic, changeable biological/social actor imbued with agency. The machine plays the role of the inflexible mechanistic logical system that repeats itself without deviation. The tension between what it means to be human and the function of the machine is what provides the serious message underneath the humour and absurdity of the situation.

Extending the Nervous System

For this project the idea of augmentation ties into the artistic project of "making a film." These short fragments or visual modules of Bothering Myself are the product of a technological system designed to make art on the cusp of consciousness. Much like the tools of media art making are extensions of the senses in a McLuhan-esque sense, the camera is to the eye as the computer network is to the nervous system. The communication signals that allow the director to engage with the tools of the film set are at play on a micro level in Bothering Myself. Instead of relying on sets of skills ranged across numerous crew members: from fine motor skills to adjust the focus of a camera to the cognitive activity at work in editing, the system at play in Bothering Myself is a hybrid of the pre-programmed and the immediate. By combining these two aspects of production, a record is created that allows for a single individual to create an impossibility without technology; to view oneself at the moment of consciousness. This is the promise and fear of technological augmentation and what makes it both exhilarating to work with and frightening to contemplate.




Copyright (c) 2013 Ian Campbell

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