Guy Sherwin, this friday at (S8)

We had a conversation with Guy Sherwin, who this friday afternoon will offer us, as a part of the Performative Cinema Season, a show of his fascinating work, that expands the frontiers of cinema. 

I am quite fascinated with your way of playing with time in your films; past and present are, in a sense, communicating among themselves. In works like Man with Mirror or Paper Landscape, did you plan to make that connection when you first filmed the images that are projected? How did this piece evolve, for you, from the ‘70s till now?
The works certainly have evolved since I made them, or at least I have (!)  I think it was Yoko Ono who said that if you bury anything and unearth it in 30 years time it becomes interesting. At the time I made Man with Mirror and Paper Landscape the central idea was around illusion v. reality, or outdoor space v. interior space (of projection). Both films were performed a few times in the ‘70s and early ‘80s and then dropped until Mark Webber invited me to perform them again in the 2000s. By this time I’d aged of course and I think have now become the central interest in the films!  This was not my intention at the time; I used myself as performer solely because I was available and free.

In works like Views from Home, you use the movement of light, stop motion and sound, to make, from my point of view, an afternoon that happens in a period of 18 years (am I right in this perception?). You keep on filming material thinking of this kind of time connection?
No, it wasn’t made as you describe it although I like your description. There are plenty of clues that Views from Home was filmed over a period of time; I think it was over a couple of summers 1987 and 1988. However, I do enjoy revisiting films and working some kind of ‘deep time’ into them and having made films for some 40 years there is plenty of opportunity to do this. At the time I shot Views from Home I had little idea how it would end up. I hadn’t considered sound at that stage. Fortunately I had been making sound recordings at the time in the spaces around the house and of Alan Wilkinson rehearsing his saxophone. The film came together much later in 2005 after I’d learnt to edit on computer. I had a lot of fun working on the soundtrack and its relation to the images in the film.

What is the importance of using film in your projects (instead of video)? Do the physical properties of film affect the quality of the film?
For sure. Film is a very tactile medium with particular qualities of its own. Its processes are photo-chemical, very different from photo-digital. In my performances (with Lynn Loo) there is no way that these could have been made on video. For one thing the idea of optical sound and its manipulation is not possible in video (although it is possible to write programmes that convert images into sounds). So, we are trying to push the boundaries of what’s possible with these analogue technologies (of film), working in all kinds of unorthodox ways, and partly with the intention of bringing 16mm projection closer to live music performance – we are effectively ‘playing’ the projectors during performances.

Why did you decided, after studying painting, to get involved with film? How are these two disciplines related, from the point of view of your work?
Both painting and film deal with illusion and material. A painting, of something in the world, creates an illusion of that thing, as well as being… just paint on a surface. I like to work with film that way, so I’m using the various illusory aspects of film but at the same time there is some kind of dialogue with the material properties of film or with its processes. The viewer can both read the illusion and see how it was made at the same time.I got involved in film having started out as a painter because I was very attracted to the idea of time and movement. At that time, late ‘60s early ‘70s, film was a very new medium for artists, full of unrealized potential. It was the avant-garde medium of the time, even though the art world has been very slow in recognizing this.

How did you start to perform with film? How did you stumble upon this idea for the first time? Do you have to make several “rehearsals”?
My formative period was through attending screenings  (and later working) at the London Film-Makers Cooperative. Artists such as Malcom LeGrice and Annabel Nicolson were already working with performance and film, and so it was quiet straightforward for me to get started and develop my own ideas using these experimental forms. However this approach, known as ‘Expanded Cinema’ dropped out of sight in the ‘80s and ‘90s. I have returned to it since 2000.Yes film performance, or ‘Live Cinema’ does involve several rehearsals although we’re not after a slick polished result , so we don’t rehearse too much, just enough! We’re always open to new possibilities, even things going wrong that can be turned to our advantage. Serendipity! Working with musicians who haven’t previously seen the work is one way of keeping it fresh and can take the work in quite different directions.

Tell me about your work with sound in your films and performances, and how you use the particular properties of optic sound. How is it possible to “improvise” with this material? Do you have some kind of jazz/noise improvisational form in mind?
I’ve used optical sound in various ways, by scratching marks or sticking shapes onto the optical track, also using a camera to record images that are redirected over the optical sound head in the projector. There is a distinct ‘language‘ of optical sound that one can learn, for example the closer you place horizontal lines together the higher the pitch of sound. Also changes in density will alter the volume. Improvisation with optical sound is possible by feeding sounds, usually from more than one projector, into a sound mixer and changing the mix and character of the sound in response to the ambience in the space and of course the images in the film. We often use loops in ever changing combinations. We don’t have a particular form in mind but as you suggest there are elements of jazz and of improv music. The sounds generated are often quite industrial and that plays into the mix too. My dvd/book Optical Sound Films (pub LUX 20007) describes in some detail the practices used in making the films.

Guy Sherwin
Session 1
Friday 3th at 17:15 h. Sala (S)
Session 2 (Performances)
Friday 3th at 22:00 h. Frontón
Venue: Antigua Cárcel