Working with media representations

“An archive is a non-random collection of things, or the place where such a collection resides. The concept of non-randomness or purposelessness implies that archivists have a reason for archiving—that an archive is a meaningful project with a set of goals. It is possible to generate an archive by accident, so long as some party in the future can attribute meaning to this accidental collection of things.”
- James t. Hong, The Suspicious Archive

As our general theme deals with artists as digital archivists, the work that engages directly with media archives is of much interest. Within artistic practice, one is granted the agency to be deliberate in exposing the use or intention of manipulating preexisting material. We are interested in both what intention drives artists to work in such a manner, and to further implications surrounding the nature of memory or importance this action carries out.

What interest do you have when working with preexisting media or objects, knowing that they were constructed with particular intentions?

Elizabeth Withstandley
There's something intriguing with similar does one differentiate similar people or objects? When they are categorized you can go in many directions. I was intrigued by categorizing people and grouping them. I was interested in the viewer having trouble remembering the differences of these people. I could have chosen to photograph all of the band members in completely different surrounding and tried to play into each persons individuality but I choose to shoot them all in a similar way and asking the viewer to look for the differences. I was interested in using the band "The Polyphonic Spree" to catalog the band members like the natural history museum because I wanted the viewer to be challenged to think about whether they noticed the differences of if they just perceived the members as "the band" and not as the different individuals that they are.

Piotr Krzymowski
I’m also interested in similarities, hence the use of Google engine and most searched phrases, names, issues, etc. To me these online, communal search results become marks of our time pointing towards current issues, personal and public interests, fears and questions needing immediate answers. I’m interested in looking at how quickly they shift, influence one another and how they (mis)reflect our generation(s).
Emily Dundas Oke
Tom Richardson, your work not only deals with preexisting media, but recreates it anew with precise alterations. Could you speak to this practice, reflecting on navigating the possibilities of preexisting media?

Tom Richardson

My interest predominantly lies with reconstructing fictionalizations of actual historic events. These reconstructions create a sort of phantom text, you have the original account, the dramatization and then the artwork that subverts the dramatization. For these works I latch onto texts that I see as time slips for current political affairs, especially with Reconstruction 1865 and Rehearsal for a Synthetic Theatre (both 2017). Both these works I wanted to go back and problematize these accounts in some sort of way. I produced Reconstruction 1865 for a group exhibition at the short lived but wonderfully necessary space called Plaza that was situated in a semi abandoned mall here in a suburb of Vancouver. For this piece I was meditating on Abraham Lincoln’s premonitions of his own assassination for a show that opened around the time of Trump’s inauguration, as Matteo Bittanti ( ( said it was “a piece about the death of an American president coincided with the death of the American Presidency altogether”.
In terms of Rehearsal for a Synthetic Theatre I was using animation to investigate French and British meddling in the Middle East at the beginning of the 20th century as portrayed through the lens of T.E. Lawrence in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom (1926), and its subsequent cinematic adaptation Lawrence of Arabia (David Lean, 1962). The office scene in this animation is a recreation of General Allenby’s office from the cinematic production Lawrence of Arabia. The furniture isn’t exactly the same but in terms of architecture I attempted to recreate the set as accurately as possible from what is visible in the film. To build this set in physically, and to shoot the desert scenes would be totally impossible for an emerging artist but it was necessary to evoke the cinematic required in the work, hence the necessity to animate.
Animation also opens up creative possibilities, such as the decision in Rehearsal for a Synthetic Theatre to only represent the characters in terms of their wardrobing. When watching Lawrence of Arabia I am struck by the role wardrobing plays. Aside from the countless problematic depictions of white actors portraying Arabic roles, the film portrays a clear depiction of power and authority through clothing. Such as the hierarchy of military insignia, Mr. Dryden existing outside of this as a suited politician, and then finally the way Lawrence is viewed and harassed when he shows up at the military base in clothing gifted to him by Prince Faisal. By only rendering the clothing in my animation, the historical figures are removed and only the shady backroom deals remain thus portraying the situation as an inevitable act of colonial greed wherein the actors find themselves merely as cogs in the system of colonialism.
Currently I am working on and installation titled Big Industrial Zoetrope for a solo show at VIVO, a media art centre in Vancouver. The work consists of a 40'x10' projection that hosts richly detailed tableau's such as a Victorian London street and a coal mine, another more conventionally scaled projection, a mechanized, audio programmed zoetrope and an 8 channel sound installation. Their are 4 characters in the work that are based off archetypes, The Brain, The Brawn, The Beauty and The Fool. For this work I am digging deeply into my subjectivity growing up as a British citizen and laying visible class dynamics through the artwork. Points of reference in it are Musical Hall (a form of working class Vaudeville popular in England from the 1830's through to the 1960), My Fair Lady (George Cukor, 1964), Margaret Thatcher and the Miner's Strikes of 1985/85. The work is very theatrical with the characters inhabiting the 40' projection more like a theatre stage than traditional editing conforms to.

Emma Sywyj
The idea of using art, in particular video art for me as an artist is often as a way to archive visual material, this is an important part of my practice. ‘Breakdowns’ is a video art piece that has been chosen and featured in this project. It uses found film footage of bloopers from 1920’s black and white American films that have then been edited together. At the time in the 1920’s bloopers were known as breakdowns, hence the title of the piece.
The idea of using and archiving old film material actually opened up a dialogue of why and how a lot of people find connecting to black and white films quite difficult. Even though this time which is seen as a ‘Golden Era’ of cinema is so important. The jokes and outtakes are funny and even though modern day cinema has changed a lot, its still nice to know that cinema still has its traditions like bloopers/breakdowns.

Peter Basma-Lord
Firstly I wanted to say that the discussion from Tom was very interesting, particularly in relation to the depiction of class in the UK and the reassessing of 'normative' works for their time (Lawrence of Arabia) through a current lens.
Personally I see the use of existing media, in any form whether film image audio object... as another 'thing' a building block and a 'charged' device. Each thing carries with it an inherent wealth of baggage; its context and metadata. The maker, its intentions, the forum in which it was displayed or sold or produced or thrown out. As with all of us, as things, these things have their own collections of hereditary 'things' that make them up. Genes or memes that pass through but are not still, more constantly in flux in their reading and representation. In my own work, particularly, 'a body' the video I submitted as part of this project, I have try to cast portraits of people of places of things of the world through the things that exist around and within them. Looking back at this work I feel it is somewhat naive and in ways problematic; a young attempt at an objective position unaware of my own subjectivity. Re-reading this archive of described items they are arbitrary but also particular to myself. They reveal my own wrestling with identity and in doing so do not acknowledge elements that I would acknowledge had i made this video now (more around the intent in the maker of the wooden carving for example; who made this and why was it made and why was it bought). But in this way the archive collects a body of thought and serves as a subjective slice of a time or a person or a people. Attempts at objectivity within the archive only serve to highlight the archivist's subjectivity and belie their position - often of privilege - in a delusion about objectivity.
Moving forward I have began to make work where the items I produce are displayed on as flat a hierarchy as possible with pre existing THINGS. A soup made up of baggage and context that wiggles from our collective past and makes attempts at for-seeing the future through eyes that exist now. I am keen to explore the notion of archive in collaboration with people positioned differently to myself, how can one person's view of the same scene affect or interact with another's? Where to next?
I think its interesting to examine the idea of ownership as means of archive, particularly of THINGS and how we define ourselves through these, as a person and as the groups we identify with. The way this reflects on continuing colonialism in terms of the misery of 'civilising' and ingrained hierarchies; what has value what has worth. A fantastic piece is Fatima Al Qaderi's Mendeel Um A7mad in which they make absurd a collection of cultural tropes from Kuwait, focusing on the tissue box as a national icon; examining the great weight of THINGS that that box carries within and literally allowing the audience to enter into the box as a means of highlighting what it can contain. This resonated massively with me and reminded me of family gatherings with my Lebanese family, discussions of which family members were doing what in English and Arabic over gilded table lighters, Davidoff cigarettes and huge plastic trays of baklava. Where do these objects sit within me and what claim do I have to them; particularly as a white-passing artist? I'm not sure and find it troubling at times but is a consideration I am exploring.