We like to do things up in the motion capture lab. Here we have 6 people crammed into an 8x8x8’ space, drawing in the air while slowly migrating across the space.
Thanks to the VR Troopers and the College of Engineering, and to Michele’s drawing students.
Initial attempts at using motion capture technology for 3-dimensional drawing! Thanks to VU’s College of Engineering VR Trooper team for being interested in collaborating with the arts!
Head and torso motion capture of conducting.
Dust was to become the single element in Xu Bing’s 2004 installation, “Where Does the Dust Collect Itself?” exhibited and awarded the Artes Mundi Prize at the National Museum and Gallery in Cardiff, Wales.
Xu Bing witnessed the collapse of the towers, and then collected dust off of the streets of Chinatown in lower Manhattan in the weeks following September 11. From this dust and the addition of water, he cast a doll, cast mainly for the sake of transporting conspicuous-looking material in an inconspicuous way. He carried the doll from New York to Wales, ground the doll back into dust, and blew it onto the floor of the gallery. The dust settled, and the wire-handled stencils of letters that he had placed prior to the dusting, were removed:
As there is nothing from the first,
Where does the dust itself collect?
The complete poem, a Zen Buddhist poem by seventh-century Huineng, speaks of Bodhi, or True Wisdom, and is a response to the poem of another Zen monk who writes that no dust should collect upon the soul.
Here, the dust settles, but the words are dust-free. They are non-words. These non-words employ absence, emptiness, but they fill the room with resonance. The absence itself resonates.
Meaninglessness and confrontation are the two most important premises of Xu Bing’s art, writes Gao Minglu, in an article covering many of Xu Bing’s pieces. “Xu claims meaninglessness as the goal of his art, a function all the more contradictory because he uses language or symbol-laden monumental imagery as the basis for his work.” And, it’s true—we’re left in a state of contradiction: the space, empty, is so full. We, empty, are so full. And there’s something here too, of inertness and action.
The concept that we all come from dust and return to it is shared by many cultures and religions, including Buddhism. The doll, an unassuming vehicle to transport the dust, then, becomes much more: it is a creation of something entirely unstable from something entirely stable. Dust is a nuisance. It gathers and lingers. Indeed, it will stay if you and the wind let it. Nuisance dust is inert dust. Inert dust doesn’t react. It remains.
But dolls are much like us: fragile, prone to break, never quite perfect even in their shiny newness. They don’t talk or they cry too loudly. They don’t walk or they careen around the room. Better and worse than dolls, we humans laugh and cry and talk at great length about what’s important to one of us, some of us, or, as we are prone to often think, all of us. Better and worse than dolls, we are miniature gods who caress and care, shoot and bomb. We are miniature gods frustrated by our limitations, and all too successful in our experiments in pushing those limits. Likewise, we’re all too successful in turning ourselves off when it suits us. We, too, can become inert, just when we’re called to act.
But it’s only when we slough away, when we die, when our bones turn brittle and we fracture our selves into tiny particles, that we’re truly inert.
In an interview, Xu Bing speaks of serenity, tension, and pain. He offers up the installation as his hope for our ability to coexist and mutually respect each other.
In the story of this artwork, we are called to contemplate what remains, and what it means to be swept up, and reborn and rebuilt, only to crumble once again. This is life. The nuisance dust we sweep up, trying, ever unsuccessfully, to keep our souls clean, or at least to appear clean. But even in its removal, the dust remains, holding within its inertness its was and will be.
The beauty of fictional documentary is in its truth-telling. Take Waiting for Guffman. The characters are our hyperbolic selves, and the town, in its longing for history to affirm its efforts, is our desire for meaningful lineage as individual and community.
On Tuesday, we screened Waiting for Guffman in my video class before embarking on our second project, a 3-5 minute fictional documentary. I’ve divided the students into 3 groups, and, from what it sounds, they’ll all be taking the comedic route—mockumentary.
Some snippets of storyboarding I’m overhearing:
“This all happened in the past.”
“Like Chariots of Fire.”
“Some guy sits in a cubicle grading SAT exams. I looked up the world’s most boring jobs.”
“If you’ve dedicated your entire life to beer pong, and you get injured…”
There are a lot of cultural references being tossed around and then explained—each group has 1-2 international students, some of whom have not yet been introduced to reputation-making drinking games, or the the iconic, sand-splattered, slow-motion runners (imagine animated gifs here).
An hour into it, the room has gone quiet. The rush of ideas has slowed to a trickle. A few people have gone in search of equipment, others are watching videos, trying to glean a few more ideas. The stillness in the room reminds me of the process of creation: the high, the buzz, the fall. Moving into production will help. That, for me, is an IV drip: slow and steady.
Will these fic-doc shorts reveal deep truths? It is a tricky project, to do it well. I’m excited to see what comes of this.
“There is a courage in any animal who forges his own destiny.”
So says a moose presiding as minister at a forest funeral, at perhaps the most treacly and didactic moment in the brief and pedantic short “The Funeral.” I use these descriptors fondly, because it seems impossible to me—graceless as I am as an animator, editor, audio mixer, color matcher, director—to approach these small woodland creatures with coolness, without sentiment. They’re very tiny. And arranging and photographing them, as I did for seven or so hours with Liz, made them precious and sad. Somewhat head-ache inducing, they constantly jitter in the frame. We didn’t think it sensible that they remain static, because then how would one know they were full of life, awful vigor, interior wilds? So they shuffle along. It’s maddening. The trees move, too. From breath. From too many mojitos. From kicking the table on accident.
I got A.J. to sit down three evenings back—the night of my dad’s birthday—and read over the eulogy in this continuation of “The Apostles” story. The eulogy pardons a small duck’s suicide, ennobles it. A.J. did eight takes, and I preferred the sixth, in the end, because it was the one where A.J. dipped into a more theatrical register (version “French-Canadian Bane” is how he put it). Still—he is very hushed, in his way. I’m hoping that by the time he has to orate any career-defining speeches, I’ll have pushed him along into a solemnity and deftness that will move listeners to tears. Until then, I have a lot of editing tools at my disposal to raise the bass. My housemate, Tori, also supplied lines, and she got her Anglo-American friend Elizabeth to contribute one line in a British accent, and our mutual friend friend Kobe supplied two, in what I suppose is an American-Ghanaian voice. (I met up with them in a crowded hall on campus, a collation of International Ambassadors for the international students.) All music is taken and modified from the wondrous Kishi Bashi, and used without his permission.
What I have imagined is an animal society that exists, to their bafflement, on the margins of a reduced foie gras enterprise. This vaguely apocalyptic world—where resources are drying up, animal alliances are arbitrary, shifted, and a dumb religion has begrudgingly ordered the lives of those waiting to die and meet their makers—has also given me some space, also somewhat arbitrarily, to employ the dialog that pops into my head as I fret about my actual thesis work on my evening runs.
Some context: Earlier this summer, I read Dana Goodyear’s dispatches from California, about the foie gras ban soon to take effect across the state. She came at the subject from many angles—from the gourmands who swear by the fattened liver; to the producers who have made their livelihoods force-feeding ducks; and, by paying especial attention the hardened animal rights protesters and animal welfare advocates whom pushed through the foie gras prohibitions. It’s really their victory, their show now.
In one of her later entries, Goodyear lingers on the mise-en-scene of the “contentious gestures.” She followed Guillermo Gonzalez, owner-operator of soon to be defunct Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, into his barn, where his worker Santiago demonstrates the rather banal particulars of gavage:
The ducks, on their thirteenth day of feeding, were going to be processed in a few more days. They were big-bottomed, gravid with liver; they huddled at the back of the pen. Santiago pulled up an overturned plastic crate and turned on the feeding machine, which whirred and clattered. (These ducks eat straight corn, not corn-soy feed like some other foie-gras ducks.) He took a duck and, holding it by the neck, put a metal feeding pipe down its throat. Its tongue was out: ducks breathe through a hole in the tongue, not through the mouth, as humans do. The process, which pumped some four hundred grams of corn into the duck, lasted six or seven seconds, and would be repeated in twelve hours. Duck anatomy, Guillermo’s wife, Junny, said, is designed to accommodate large masses of food. “They swallow big fish, they swallow frogs,” she said.
The fed ducks panted—thermoregulation, Guillermo said, as ducks don’t have sweat glands—and flapped their wings slightly. “It’s a natural reaction,” Maria said. “Satisfaction, really.” I cannot say for sure. They didn’t look miserable, but they didn’t look thrilled, either. They looked like animals in captivity, a few days from slaughter, and they looked very, very full.
When Liz and I came across a strange candle full of little yellow wax ducks in a second-hand store, I was still gestating the pathos of this half-lit world. 2,000 ducks live on Gonzalez’s farm when Goodyear arrives, a number significantly diminished from the usual 20,000. Still—what would such a flock sound like? How would it smell? It’s unreasonable, I know, to believe the ducks would have any awareness at all that their kind were the last of a certain generation, a process, the remainder. Tetchy vegans and soft-hearted culinary philistines were serving justice unto their industry! The ducks, for whatever reason, remained impassive, tottering, seemingly diapered and wind ruffled.