Visual Intelligences Research Project

Seminars : Artists' Seminar : Rachel Lowe

Well, I think I’ve approached the questions in quite a different way and also I decided to bring in a video rather than a single image because most of my work involves moving images and it didn’t seem applicable to show a still.  So I’ll play the video first of all and we’ll see it and then talk about it

It’s called A letter and a known person No. 6.

The reason that I brought this piece of work in was really in response to the question which asked to choose one work to represent one from all that you’d made and why.   I chose this one although it’s from a number of years ago; it exists as a series, there’s eight of them, but it’s the first piece of work in which I used film. I’d never used film before and it became quite a seminal piece for my own practice.  It led on to a number of different works and seemed to crystallise a lot of issues that I’d been trying to deal with through still images or projections and bring them together. I thought I would talk a little about how this piece evolved because it’s quite relevant to the way in which I work.   

The first question asks “When you start a piece of work how much do you have an end in mind.    Do you start with an image of what it might look like or its effect/mood?   And when I read this question I was thinking, yes, I do quite often start with an image.  Images come up and I’m not quite sure why they come up but also sometimes I feel I have a block and I’m not sure how to make the work progress.   In the case of this piece I’d been making work simply to do with views out of the window.   I started doing drawings actually on my studio window, drawing over the view that I could see with a black marker pen.  In my mind I had this idea that they were going to coalesce, they were going to be really convincing, by tracing over it on the window it was a way of trying to contain the reality outside the window.  But in practical terms, when I actually produced them, they were a complete failure.  They were just really, really tiny and if you moved very slightly they completely went out of line, and they just looked really sad.   I tried photographing them as still images and they still didn’t really convey at all what I wanted them to say though they were more interesting as photographs. The fixed camera is one viewpoint, whereas obviously the way we see has two viewpoints coming together, which is why they completely didn’t work.  Through that failure I began to realise that it was the discrepancy between what I could imagine and wanted the work to be and the actual reality of the drawing or the process that I was trying to undertake that was interesting.  I decided to make a piece of work which extended this idea of failure which worked with that idea by filming it and making it even more difficult to contain the idea of the ‘real’, through the window.   I wanted to make the futility of trying to capture a moment in time become apparent and so that’s how I started to film it,  Someone’s filming me trying to draw and trace the outline of the landscape in a moving car.

  I have specifically used Super 8 film for this.   I have tried to use video but there’s something about using Super 8, the idea that there’s three minutes of footage and that you have to actually think about what’s going to be within that, that sets boundaries for me which I find really useful. I also like the idea that you can’t see immediately what you have, you have to send it away and then it comes back to you I’ve found this really useful.    I’ve continued to use Super 8 most of the time, even though I may go on to transfer it to video and edit it on video.   I find the immediacy, the availability of the video, and the fact that you can see it so immediately, sometimes stifles my creative process.   

I also work with Super 8 film a lot because I can view it as an actual physical material because I understand how the Super 8 works.  I’m interested in treating it as a number of single frames that then are projected at certain speed and give us an indication of movement.   With video, because it’s all so hidden it somehow doesn’t allow me to alter the material of the film so much.  


The next question - “Some artists describe the creative process in qualitative terms as a series of judgements about such things as aesthetic quality, communicative power, the work’s internal logic and so on.   Other artists are more procedural and systematic.   How do you negotiate and develop your process.?  What sort of decisions do you make?”     In response to this question I felt that I wanted to include the idea that actually quite a lot of my decisions are intuitive.  It’s quite unfashionable to admit that, but I think that definitely I make intuitive decisions about the work and that sometimes I completely don’t know what I want to do.  I might see an image which triggers something off which I respond to in a certain way and then I want to use that image to convey something.  But often I will actually do something physically, like film something or I’ll use collage or I’ll change an image which will then lead on to an understanding of what I’m trying to say through the work.  'What scope is there for unforeseen events occurring in your process? What is your attitude to them?'.  Well, I definitely allow for unforeseen events. 

 'What does the term Visual Intelligence connote to you?  Do you think it applies to the way you work?   In what ways is it appropriate and in what ways is it inappropriate?'  Yes.   I think it definitely applies to my work but actually I find Visual Intelligence quite an awkward term.  It makes me think a little bit about advertising, that there is a way that you can work with images but that there isn’t a sort of integrity behind it.   But I can also see that it has a good side, the idea of resonance for example. 

'What other qualities does art have that you admire have?' - I’m particularly interested in work that you actually can’t put into words. I think I would hope to take that as Visual Intelligence.  That side of it I think is very useful, that there is something about work which works which you actually can’t verbalise and I think that‘s really important.  That’s  one thing I’m really interested in that you can talk around the work and you can talk about it but you actually cannot speak it.  I feel that’s what keeps me making work, if there is a way which I could actually write down what I wanted to say then I would write and I think that’s the fundamental core of why I make work.

 RF: I’m interested in this thing about Super 8 versus video – super 8 you can actually see. What kind of processes do you use in terms of cutting things up/editing?.   Could envisage a time where might develop a comparable relationship working on the computer?

RL: Yes it is possible.   I do work with video as well but I like to use Super 8 as a starting point and I do do things where I actually physically alter, maybe actually change each individual frame.  I’m interested in the mechanics of how Super 8 works – the idea that it is like a physical material and therefore I can do things to it, manipulate it in certain ways which then brings out meaning. I’m just saying that, personally, for myself, I start with Super 8 maybe because in my head I  know how it works.   Although I know that video is a series of frames as well, Super 8 is more tangible and because I’m interested in the difference between tangibility and intangibility and almost making something like time become tangible,  I feel that if my starting point is Super 8 or a physical image, it  somehow it helps me in the processes.


RF: You used the word intuitive, and I wondered whether it was different being intuitive now than being intuitive ten years ago when you first started making work?  

 RL: Yes, I think it is different now.   I’m much more aware of the themes or the issues I want to explore through my work.   I’m very interested in representation and different means of representation and the difference between a still image and a moving image and the difference between the representation of the moment and the experience of the moment.   I’m much more knowing in my intuition now, but I still do allow for intuitive decisions.


MG: I wanted to ask you a bit more about what you understood by intuition.   Is it, as I seem to get from what you’ve said, the spontaneous occurrence of something in your head, an image or an idea, and you don’t know where it came from, or is it more than that?


RL: I think it’s more than that.  It can occasionally be that but it’s more than that because they don’t just come from nowhere and I understand that.   It’s a response to something I’ve seen and then that might lead to an image in my head.   Then when I actually make the work it very rarely looks anything like the image that I had in my head, it changes over the period of making.


MG: Would your intuition go as far as telling you what to make and what not to make?


RL: No.  It acts as a kind of spur and then when I’m actually making something, if sometimes, because you have to make a decision about every single detail, there might be something to do with the colour or something and I allow intuition to inform that. I made a piece of work called Carousel, which involved eighty images that I’d chosen for each year from 1918 to 1998.  I blacked out the figure in each of the images and they were projected, so that the figures were silhouettes. I actually actively chose one image for each year - it had to come from a film that was made in that year or  a documentary shot or it came from a book that was published in that year or a personal photograph that I’d found from that year.   I specifically wanted to choose them intuitively because it was to do with an excess of images and I wanted, the idea of the impossibility of being able to choose one image for each year to come across, so I felt that it was applicable to make an intuitive choice.


 AW: You mentioned a creative block at the beginning when you were talking. Are they useful?  How do you deal with them?    Because I think it’s a really important part of Visual Intelligence.


RL: Yes I think they are useful.  I think I do find them quite useful.   They may fill me with panic at a certain point but they then usually force me to  do something and then I might respond to that.   I also think they force me to look back over what I’ve already made and then reassess what I’ve made and try and think about how to go on from there.


AW: But do you acknowledge them at the time because most people, I guess everybody here as experienced it, but people never admit to it.

RL: I do actually. I probably don’t broadcast it.   It’s hard, you can’t always think of what to do, but overcoming it often leads on to something that is quite revelatory.  I think and it sort of forces you to question things more and more.


?  :      Just carrying on about creative blocks, what strategies or tactics or devices do you have then to open up a new body of work or push through that door into something more productive?


RL: I think I use the strategy of like I say actually just doing something, and I think I use intuition, I will find an image, because I use collage quite a lot as well, I will find an image that I respond to and I might not be able to articulate why or what it is about it that interests me but I just allow myself to think well I’m interested in that and it might even be that it’s aesthetically very interesting or beautiful.


?   :      Is there a heightened risk and chance of accident in there?


RL: There is a heightened risk of chance, yes.


?   :      Do you cultivate risk and chance and accident so something may happen?  Do you intentionally do the wrong thing?


RL: It’s hard to know, but sometimes I think I do.  Yes.   Putting two images together and then trying to work out why it is interesting, and then that might lead on to something else and it might be completely not interesting and it’s discarded.  But yes, I think that as soon as there is something to look at then I can respond to it, but if I‘m just purely thinking then it sometimes it doesn’t happen.

GD: You said that typically intuitions are a response to something but you didn’t really give us any indication to what that something may be. You mention time; the urban environment and the landscape were very evident.  Do they play a part in it?


RL: Yes, they do.  A response to what I see around me really.    Yes, definitely the urban environment.   I’m very aware of the amount of images that we see constantly on a daily basis.    A response to my general environment I suppose and everything really, a response to the news, a response to the films that I see, a response to literature.   I don’t think I compartmentalise it.   It just might be something quite unexpected that triggers it off.


GD: Do you have a hierarchy of things?


RL: No.