Deconstruct a magic lantern slide; Reconstruct a film …..Micro-film by Blue MacAskill
When I started my foundation in 1995 at Camberwell College of Art, my tutors in all their wisdom had designed a weeks workshop in the Design Rotation called Deconstruction/Reconstruction and it has had a huge effect on me, my thinking and the way I work. The process of reshaping and evolving a piece of work through various stages shifts the original idea into new forms that take on new meanings; these changes I call ‘layers’. I do not leave the interpretation of these layers to unconscious or subconscious chance. I try to control as best I can the process the work goes through and how it is read, to develop a closeness between the viewer and artwork or as I called them at the Library, Reader and Artwork. This fascination with layers is interpreted in a num-ber of ways. I love boxes. They have sides, a top, and a frame round which you can dis-cover what’s inside. There’s nothing bad about a box. I have always been intrigued by boxes, that is why I love archive research so much.
The Writing Case. - This piece of work was only ever seen as a photograph. In the origi-nal installation I projected a slide I had taken of my Grandmother’s writing case over my own (old school) case. My case was young, very empty and without life, not many sto-ries and no archives yet. I have painted over this photograph in blue and some red acrylic paint. I made this work because I missed my Grandmother but at the same time I felt an-noyed that just letters remain, private letters – was I ever meant to read them? – was it rude and manipulative? – would she have told me their contents when she was alive? It made me think about why she kept some whilst others she might have burned or thrown away. There could have been so many more. This is how I often felt when reading pri-vate papers in The National Library of Wales. These are powerful, private things that their authors might not want to be touched.
I developed photos from negatives I found, I read her diaries and letters. I missed her some more. I like trying to fit inside her case. Trying to remember what she said, what she said to me and how she said things to other people. Here are our layers, layers of history, time, genes, family history, trees and private archives. The physical case becoming a slide, then being part of an installation, then taking a photograph of that moment and making that the artwork, layers and layers in a case, a box, a photograph 6"x4". My first real artwork.
Edge of the Photoframe; or in its original format; Edge of the Ektachrome.
Here I use the word ‘frame’ not to mean something you’ve bought but the boundary where the camera and eye has chosen to cut off the image from reality (REAL life) and to hide it away on film at the back of the camera to be eventually exposed into a new sense of REALITY. But is a photo a reality or an Unreality. I felt my work was developing an overriding responsibility to describe what happened beyond the frame and connect it back to the image from whence it came, at the moment of the Click! Projecting the image back to hover over the original source allows the READER the opportunity to examine the REAL reality and re-examine the artist’s belief in a reality created in the light of a powerful carousel projector throwing an image onto the wall bringing life to the room, but a life caught through the artist’s deliberate or calculating or manipulative eye. (case image) Here I talk about two photographs and I have an immediate problem. Is the art the per-formance/installation or the actual photograph? In retrospect, of course, the art is the photograph. The performance and the making of the installation reveals the processes, the ‘layers’ I was creating to get to the final work. Faire Toute La Lumiere Sur… is a French phrase meaning “to clarify completely” literal translation being; “Give us some light!” or “Let's have some light!”. I think I meant both those things. I was trying to discover how to cap-ture through film the energy of what happens beyond, behind and outside the frame of a photograph. I wanted to achieve for the viewer what would happen if you walked into the picture and encountered the scene. I was trying in this piece to clarify where I stood, where I came. Was I behind the lens, in front of the camera, at the edge of the film, be-tween the camera’s shutter?
(the black and white foot image)
The second photo is of an installation. Initially I wanted people to pass this Sculptural Installation in an office or hallway, see the glow of the original photograph and be whisked away back to when it was taken. I pinned the holiday snap to the wall, and with a very bright, powerful carousel projector projected the original negative that had seen that image in the camera on holiday in that foreign place with that foreign sun and brought it all the way back. I let the juddering, juttering projection of the warm orange negative slide over the developed photograph that it had given birth to in the photography shop. It was bringing the two layers together, making the negative part of the process and action after its use had passed. I was also fascinated by the orange glow of the repeated image; it was like LIFE itself powering out of the photo frame. I wanted both elements to have an equal role in the making of the artwork celebrating the process and history of photography itself and viewing of the finished processed photograph, detached from its origins and a free, independent image in history standing for only what it itself holds in it. (- the image of the photograph lit up on the wall)
The Micro-film - I was bewildered and so excited by the Magic Lantern collection at The National Library of Wales. I did in fact see MAGIC and wanted in every way to bring it alive again. So the layers for this mission began. The Magic Lantern is the first Slide Film. The Magic Lantern Slide Projection Scenarios were the first films that people could sit in front of in a darkened room together at the turn of the last century. These lay-ers took me back to the beginning of photography. In turn these layers took me onto con-servation and preservation issues to let the light shine through them again. So to be seen, the 21st century took over and I worked with conservation technique using a BOWENS Illumitran-3 and a camera attached for safety. A small, safe light was switched on for a milli-second to take one picture, maintaining the Magic Lantern’s conservation needs and enabling me to get the image on digital film. The beginning of photography story meets the end….so far!
Taking forward this idea, I wanted to make an artwork, a film in the true language of The National Library of Wales itself. It was important that there was no bilingual-ness, not in Welsh or English, so that it was beautifully universal. In the Library, you can read micro-film on a Reader in the South Reading Room. You just get a ticket for your reel, go and find it, wind your reel onto the reader and then, in your own private cinema, the infor-mation you have hunted for reveals itself in all its glowing, magical wonder. I wanted to make a NEW microfilm about the stories held in the Library vaults. I wanted the Magic Lanterns to be lit again and this was how I was going to do it. It was going to be layer on top of layer on top of layer. - Animated images (photograph) I started off by recording over 1000 images of Magic Lantern material from over 50 dif-ferent collections at the Library some of which were not digitally recorded at all, some were very delicate and broken which became an important part of their re-birth as I put them on digital. To make the images come to life and project their stories, I edited them on Photoshop to photographic film proportions 24x36mm framework and printed the se-lected images onto A4 paper. Then I gathered all the printed A4 photographs together to make a digital animated film where the slides were able to move and tell a story. I then spent 2 months editing my animated digital movie on Final Cut Pro. Then I needed to convert this back to film; I used 60 135-36-exposure photographic film to take still clips of my hour-long animation. After exposing all the film, I had a negative exposed story on photographic film that was the same size 135 film they use for Microfilm. I was kind-ly allowed into the Microfilm Department to process my negative film into a positive MICROFILM reel that would work on a READER; the microfilm reader where so many visitors to the Library find all the answers to countless mysteries, stories, tragedies, for-gotten histories, memoirs and research for books to be evolved into fiction or whatever other life the reader is looking for. Microfilm is only in black and white, which adds a special completeness, cleanness to the animation I had done. In my exhibition, the final work was installed on two Readers bor-rowed from the South Reading Room. For the first time, they no longer ran the reels from the Library collection but were transformed into cinemas projecting a new and orig-inal story made up of the Magic Lantern slides that had rested alongside each other silent-ly in darkness in Cell W4 in the belly of the Library. I hope they enjoyed their brief glimpse of light, their re-birth of movement. (title for image of the readers in the exhibition) Sitting in the exhibition you could roll the Microfilm Reader backwards and forwards and it would start wherever the last person had left it. People could launch into the work like that without my control, as if they were finding it anew. Falling into the magic of the Magic Lantern. I wanted the viewer to experience something of the magic of being inside and discovering the wonders of Cell W4.
Selected Biography - can this go on the back inside cover ???
Powys-based artist Blue MacAskill graduated from the University of Oxford Ruskin School of Fine Art in 1999 then went on to do a Masters in Fine Art at Wimbledon School of Art (2004). In 2006 she was awarded the Eisteddfod Artist in Residence Exhibition, and in 2008, the artist in residence post at The National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth. In 2009 MacAskill received a Fellowship Cultural Award, funded by EU-arts, for a three-month residency in Seville. Projects during 2010 in-cluded a residency and exhibition at Rhayader Museum and Art Gal-lery, Powys; The Inner Picture; an interactive show developed through a Chance to Create Award. Blue MacAskill is a fellow of the Royal Soci-ety of Arts. She lives and works in Newbridge on Wye with her hus-band and son.