People crawling into a huge pair of nostrils, middle-aged virgins and the power-play of a hotel room feature in some very strange but utterly captivating video works from Lucy Clout and Marianna Simnett, who scooped the 2015 Jerwood/Film and Video Umbrella Award.
The award saw each artist given £20,000 in April last year to develop a piece around the title What Will They See of Me? The works explore the slippery notion of “identity,” and Lucy and Marianna each looked to “how images of the self are rehearsed and relayed for others, and how the faces people project to the world are complex and many-sided,” according to the Film and Video Umbrella and Jerwood Charitable Foundation, who orchestrate the awards. It adds: “In their different ways, they both ask what shapes and constitutes a ‘subject’. Identity, like destiny, is supposedly in the blood.”
Lucy’s piece, From Our Own Correspondent, uses footage of interviews with journalists to try and get to the bottom of what the interview process is all about; showing the power-plays, falsities and preparations at play. It’s shot in the characterless, almost purgatory-like settings of hotel rooms and corridors, aiming to show how the power dynamics of interviews are perhaps prevalent in other relationships and conversations.
Marianna, meanwhile, looks to the mountains of Albania as the setting to examine the rites of passage of early adolescence in her film Blood. It stars Isobel, who refuses to be identified as female, and a middle-aged “sworn virgin" called Lali.
Clearly, the two films are very, very different, so we were keen to get to the bottom of what made them wow the judges. We had a chat with Steven Bode at FVU about what catches his eye and what makes a video commission-worthy.
“We want audacious ideas that seam to speak to something in our contemporary world but reach something that wasn’t really articulated yet. You know it’s there, but you haven’t found it.”
According to Steven, above technical nous or the ability to write a grammatically perfect proposal it’s work that’s “distinctive” that gets the judges excited. “One of the things we look for is something that stands out from the crowd,” he says. “The implication is that because the world of images is so crowded now we need something that really cuts through – something very distinctive and different.
“We want audacious ideas that seem to speak to something in our contemporary world but reach something that wasn’t really articulated yet. You know it’s there, but you haven’t found it.”
He’s hit on something that’s fundamental to a successful art form in any medium, be it painting, sculpture, poetry, music, video or anything else: the artworks that really stick with you are the ones that make you sit up and go “that’s exactly what I was thinking, I just didn’t know how to say it.”
While that’s all very well in a finished piece, surely demonstrating that you could create something so resonant must be incredibly hard to convey in a proposal? “The proposal is almost like an interview situation. Some people are better writers than others but you have to make the argument for the work,” says Steven.
“That can be done in a passionate way – not everyone has to have great writing ability or punctuation. You have to get a sense of the voice, and be able to convey the passion and excitement you have with the idea and let that radiate through in two paragraphs.”
Thanks to smartphone video recorders and the increasing ease with which everyone, artist or not, can create video works, Steven reckons that technical ability and production values are becoming less and less relevant in judging what makes a great piece of video art. “The playing field has been levelled – [making moving image art] is so much more affordable and accessible, so lots of people can achieve a certain standard of delivery,” says Steven.
“The things that make [work] stand out aren’t to do with technical completeness; it’s passion, innovation and audacity – something you can see in the world but haven’t been able to put into words. Most people can make something that looks good, but we’re looking for something that feels extra special.”
The two new works are on show at Jerwood Space in London until 26 April.
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