Tonight I went to a screening of Almost Out by Jayne Parker at the National Portrait Gallery.
I have to admit that I’m not that keen on “performance” art but from the various synopses of the film describing it as being about the relationship of the artist and her mother, I thought I would give it a go. I was not disappointed.
The film or to be more precise the video was produced in 1984. With a backdrop of a video editing suite, the artist and her mother are nude amongst the equipment. The contrast between the human body and the technology of the time grew on me as the film progressed. I gave up wondering why they weren’t discussing their lives in a more homely environment. To put it into context, the year this was filmed is the same as the title of the book by George Orwell and also the birth of the Apple Macintosh computer with its “Big Brother” television advertisement.
As part of my day job, I was given training on video (a skill I very rarely use). And what I have been taught is that the sound is much more important than the vision. The tone of the voices, use of language and sometimes the lack of audio with the visual still running forced my sense of hearing to a heightened level.
At the end of the film, it dawned on me that even though the premise of the film was an in-depth study of the people in front of the camera, still after ninety minutes you knew very little about them. Yes, they may have been talking about some really personal issues but you have no idea if the artist has any siblings, what the mother does for a living or how the mother met the daughter’s father. Which makes you question the factors in really knowing someone.
It was a real shame that there wasn’t an opportunity to ask the artist questions at the end of the film. When Jayne Parker introduced her film and said that she had not seen the film for a while and would like to have heard what the audience thought, it was a real missed opportunity. Through a bit of luck, I was sitting not too far away from her and was trying to see what her reaction was while also concentrating on the film. It would have been nice to hear what that was. Before I left, I did leave her one of my business cards for this site and I do hope this post finds a way to her.
15 MARCH 2014 Now that I’ve had a bit more time to reflect on the film there are lots of questions that keep coming back to me. Was it necessary for the mother and daughter/artist to be nude? How powerful would the film had been if they had been fully clothed?
When the mother is in shot, you don’t see the daughter/artist but only get to hear her voice. And when the artist is in shot, the cameraman is never seen. However, there is a telling second or two in one clip with the mother when the daughter/artist reaches over to flick a switch on the equipment surrounding them and you glimpse that the artist is fully clothed. You don’t actually see the mother and daughter nude together. There are times when you do feel that her mother has made this huge sacrifice for the daughter’s art to be a success.
It goes without saying that being without clothing in whatever art form it may be, is exposing yourself to the world. The way this film was shot and I guess in part due to the technology used, there is a real CCTV voyeuristic feel to it.
The thing is the bodies may be on display, stripped of any barriers, but you don’t get a real deep understanding of who the people are on the inside. There is a desire to know more. I guess the holy grail of great portraiture is to be able to capture the essence of the sitter and not just the physical attributes. I suppose that is why the National Portrait Gallery decided to show this film.
The nude form is a powerful tool. But why is it that the art world is more interested in the female form than the male nude? How different would this film had been if it was a father and son? For me, the fascination of the film was the exploration that the female body can produce another human being and the bond between mother and child from embryo to baby to child to adulthood. Something a father and son would never experience.
There is so much more to think about, so don’t be surprised if I update this again soon.
15 MARCH 2014 (Update 2) I have no idea if the artist Jayne Parker now has a daughter or not. But I do wonder if she would allow herself to go through the same experience as her mother if asked by her daughter.
Maybe sometimes it is more interesting to leave things as a mystery than to discover the true facts.