Open Frequency 2006: Michael Cousin selected by Richard Higlett

Open Frequency 2006: Michael Cousin selected by Richard Higlett Michael Cousin, Zapruder Objectives, 2008. DVD

Richard Higlett profiles the work of Michael Cousin

To understand the reasons why Michael Cousin makes films and his interpretation of the mechanism of narrative we could ask ourselves a series of simple questions. When I say simple, they are but only at the outset, before we never truly know the potential meaning and consequence of our actions.

What time did you get up?

Whether early or late, you have an intangible window of fate, a facet in a chain of interactions and reactions which delivered you to this moment. The result of reactions that have been occurring for all your life, even before you came into being. It is a chain of cause and effect that goes back to the very beginning of the universe.

What did you have for breakfast?

When did you leave the house?

Did you walk, drive or take public transport?

When a term like public transport is introduced we empathise through shared experience, we become part of a grand primary narrative that we call society. This is the narrative that holds us in place with others, although it is no less an abstract construction than our own thoughts and aspirations. One place we go to view the notion of society is in the cinema. Stories are played out in linear clarity, in it's simplest literal form everything happens for a reason. Cousin's work deals with life and cinema as symbiotic as opposed to a catalyst in either direction.

In 'Cameo' (2008) Cousin manipulated footage from Psycho (1960) to include himself. When Janet Leigh enters her office, Cousin is sat waiting for her. Despite attempts to alter the narrative, he is dislocated and unable to engage with her. He is privy to her fate at the Bates Motel, yet she cannot respond and what will be will be. Cousin is not motivated by the primary storyline, his eye wanders to the edges of the screen, to extras and bit part players. Their movements on screen are no less important, a casual action may cause a completely different resolution, whether aware or complicit, consciously or subconsciously.

For 'Suspicion' (2006) Cousin invited a former Police Superintendent to recall the movements of an individual in the form of a police statement. The suspect - a male - could be sat at a desk, seen posting a letter, or taking a photograph. While commonplace actions, they reference the movements of Alfred Hitchcock as he performs a cameo in his own films. In the micro-worlds of cinema was his presence impacting on the scenes and situations? In Cousin's 'Cameo' it is Hitchcock who is stood behind him outside the window.

In 'The Spartacus Revision' (2008) Cousin takes Roberto Chiosso's 1914 silent version of Spartacus and erases the identity of Spartacus, the hero from humble roots that came to represent everyman in the struggle to freedom and liberty. Chiosso's original is a call to arms for Italians to fight in the First World War. Erasing the character subverts the message, while we could place ourselves in the space created on the film should actions and fate combine.

Hitchcock was once quoted as saying 'Drama is life with the dull bits left out'.1 For Michael Cousin the dull bits are moments of potential, intrinsic to the ecology of existence.


1 Quotation 268 from Michael Moncur's (Cynical) Quotations on the web

Richard Higlett, August 2008

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Artist's biography

Michael Cousin is an artist based in Cardiff works primarily with the moving image. Since completing his MA in Fine Art in 1996 he has continued to work prolifically. He creates both single-screen works, video installations and has undertaken several residencies abroad. More recently he has been working on a series of digital projects dealing with the subversion of original narratives. Cousin is also behind Outcasting, a website that streams artist's films on-line as a programme that changes bi-monthly.

About Richard Higlett

Richard Higlett is an artist/curator working across a range of media. Based in Cardiff and the West Midlands, he is a co-founder of Mermaid and Monster, an artist-led agency representing emerging and established contemporary artists at International Art Fairs. Mermaid and Monster also exists to curate exhibitions of emerging artist and commission new projects. He is also a co-founder Artists Resource Cardiff (arc) an artist-led networking initiative for the capital whose website hub went live in January 2008.

As an artist he is a previous recipient of a Creative Wales Award from the Arts Council, he has exhibited internationally as himself and as the imaginary outsider artist Wally French. His work involves the creation of various acts of folly and creating objects that are, in his words non-visual in that they do not demand to be observed and sometimes can remain unobserved by the viewer. He is currently writing a book of fictional first pages in collaboration with the writer Leona Jones.

He has worked as a project manager for Cardiff Council, working on the 2005 Cultural Program, involved in initiating the first Cardiff Contemporary Visual Art Month and was the education co-ordinator for the first Artes Mundi Prize in 2004. He is also an experienced lecturer who was recently invited by Axis to be a graduate advisor for the 2007 MA show at UWIC, Cardiff.

Open Frequency keeps you in touch with new developments in contemporary art practice from across the UK. The artists are selected and profiled by leading curators, artists and writers, presenting the work of artists to watch out for over the coming year. Open Frequency represents a forward-looking glance today of the artists who will be setting the agenda tomorrow.