Roughly once a month, we pose questions to artists about their work and lives. We recently asked a group of artists, What do you strive to capture when documenting your work? (And how do you so?)
Dug North, automata maker
My sculptures are interactive and kinetic. It is difficult to capture the essence of a piece unless you actually operate it yourself. The best I can do is show the stages of creation and a video of the piece in action.
When documenting pieces for my website, I include some of my initial pencil sketches, photographs of mechanical prototypes, and in-progress shots of the finished piece. Together with some descriptive text, I hope this set of images conveys that each piece is an involved process – an artistic and engineering challenge.
When documenting my art on video, I work with a talented videographer. We try to show the piece overall, then close-ups of the hand-cranked mechanism. This is followed by close-up shots of the figures animated by the mechanism. The aim is to show how the machine works and the level of detail I strive to include in each piece. We select music for the video to help convey the tone of piece. Quite often, a waltz seems to capture the mood, tempo, and time period represented by my work.
Jennifer Polins, choreographer
As video technologies become more accessible to the artist, capturing work on video is an evolving process and a new frontier physically shaping concert dance.
I was just visiting old friends in Zurich, where I lived from 1993-1998. We reminisced and watched our work from 20 years ago, digitized from old tapes, remembering the video equipment back then was almost the size of an elephant! Editing programs were in an infancy stage and cumbersome, transferring materials to computers was not happening, there was no vimeo! Promoters preferred wide single shots, there was little reason for creative editing and video dance. DV8 Physical Theater and Rosas was on the forefront of integrated dance for video.
For me, the final goal frames the strategies and focus of the video process. Similar to 1993, documenting work to submit to grants and residencies calls for a high quality wide shot with limited edits that represents the work in its entirety. For artistic/promotional trailers, the goal is to create a fast, seductive product that gives a feeling of the theme of the work and makes people want to see more. I tend to choose material from a variety of perspectives; rehearsal-performance, zooms, durations, textures, and images that are not in the final work but support the theme. I collect video material in process, capturing a rehearsal or integrating a camera in the rehearsal for alternate perspectives. For dance films, I use rehearsal materials, and set up shoots based on a storyboard. My favorite use of video is still real time projections during live performance. I am forever fascinated by multiple and alternate perspectives. I use time-lapse technologies, projecting trace from a half an hour prior to a few moments back. This live projected work is captured during the show and then used as materials for projects.
At the moment I am at the Ponderosa TanzLand Festival outside of Berlin. We will capture daily events and post edited clips on our facebook page weekly. Although it is an exciting endeavor, I question if it is of service to our ephemeral and personal dance form to make this unique place with its smells and feels so accessible globally on a flat screen.
Watch Matthew Mazzotta’s OPEN HOUSE
Matthew Mazzotta, conceptual artist
When I make a video I try to hit three different types of ways people perceive the world – experiential, mass culture, academic. I want to make sure that if someone is seeing the work with no understanding of art that they can still find something intriguing and captivating about it. And for those that view the work from a more academic or art-knowledgeable point of view, I want to make sure that there is something in there that also allows for this type of reading or entry point into the work. It is very much how I think about making the actual work that I create for public spaces, knowing that there are people from many different backgrounds seeing the work and it should be accessible to as many as possible on as many levels as possible – one point of entry, many interpretations.
As for collecting footage for my videos, I have a somewhat nice DSLR camera for stop-motion animations and stills, but it is too cumbersome and a hassle to have hanging on me all the time while I am working, so I actually shoot most of it with a little point and shoot camera that I can just pull out of my pocket and flip open and shoot with one hand. This way if I am in a tree, on top of a house, or just anywhere that a nice shot appears, I can just capture it.
In terms of how I structure the video, it is much like a thesis; right up front I want to give a great visual sequence of what will unfold and main point, that way if someone clicks on the video they don’t have to wait to find out what the video is about. Since we are inundated with so much media now, I think it is important to use this technique so that people don’t lose interest right away and move to something else. Then the rest of the video gets to more of the details for those who want to a deeper understanding of work.
Ariel Kotker, sculpture/installation artist
My project is best seen and touched in person, but of course I can’t invite everyone for a studio visit. So I keep a blog, to tell how I’m writing a story in sculpture.
I aim to present the different ways I write the story. Some sculptures are cut and colored paper, with stenciled or drawn words. These I show in photos, and post links to running drafts of the text. Some pieces portray, say, a rabbit’s foot on a chain, but made of gilded clay, malleable plastic, milkweed and wire. These I show step-by-step, from armature to finished “fur.” Sometimes (but not very often) people mistake my sculpture for found objects, so it’s helpful to share how my work is constructed. I want folks to know that all the items are handmade.
His Room As He Left It is a work in progress, and a blog is handy for documentation and marking time. I add artist statements, inspirations, pieces in-process and done, or video of my work “in action” (e.g., me reading from Drey’s diary; a rolling toy car; pants which I can fold and unfold). I often revisit what I’ve posted when looking for a spark-plug to get myself working more devotedly.
Chris Fitch, sculptor and inventor
We contemporary artists can’t just make art anymore. The art itself is only the first step. Then we have to document it; then we have to have a website to document the documentation; and then we have to draw attention to the work by getting other people to document it by dragging it around from show to show… In the age of digital media it’s as if the artwork is really a vehicle for documentary evidence of itself, rather than a thing in its own right. So I try to treat the evidence, too, on its own terms. Because much of my sculpture is kinetic and video is my documentary medium of choice, I also have to be a filmmaker. The video becomes a second artwork, with its own soundtrack which has nothing to do with the original sculpture. I have to make still images of everything as well. There it is mostly a matter of getting the lighting right and finding informative angles. Again, a photograph is never just a document. It had better show the piece (literally) in the best light, but it also exists on its own as an image and must function accordingly. For my own reference I also document the process of making a piece so I know how to fix it when it breaks. Most people assume that an artist’s job is just to make art, but it is sooo much more work than that!
Chris Fitch is a sculptor and inventor. See his kinetic sculptures on his Web site and in Vimeo. His work was featured in a profile article in Russian Popular Mechanics.
Ariel Kotker is a recipient of an MCC Artist Fellowship in Sculpture/Installation and the creator of the His Room as He Left It project.
Matthew Mazzotta is a conceptual artist who creates permanent and temporary public interventions. His Open House project has won awards from Americans for the Arts’ Public Art Network, Architizer, the Environmental Design Research Association, Architect’s Newspaper, Azure Magazine, and the Santo Foundation.
Dug North is an automata maker and kinetic sculptor. He currently has work in The Arts League of Lowell Gallery‘s exhibition “All Creatures, Real & Imagined” which runs through July 13th. Additional work is on display in his antique clock repair shop located in Studio 411 at 307 Market Street, Lowell, MA. One of his automata was recently featured on BoingBoing.net, and he will be profiled in the upcoming issue of MAKE magazine.
Jennifer Polins is a choreographer, dance artist, and performance artist. With Saliq Savage, she codirects Wire Monkey Dance, which has presented work at Jacob’s Pillow, DTW, Lincoln Center, Saratoga Arts Festival, Macua Fringe Festival, Ponderosa TanzLand Festival and Boston Center for the Arts, Cyclorama.
Images and Media: video of MEKANIKOS VS. THE MINOTAUR by Dug North, videography by Bob Quinn; still from RE, choreography by Jennifer Polins (pictured, with Saliq Savage); video the OPEN HOUSE project by Matthew Mazzotta; handmade pants and shoes from HIS ROOM AS HE LEFT IT by Ariel Kotker; photo of SPRING (2010) by Chris Fitch, wood, formica, aluminum, garolite, brass, hardware, 97x25x92 in.