MA Digital Arts – Midpoint Review Presentation and Evaluation



Hello fellow MADA 1st year students !

For optimal results, please watch the visual presentation on you tube before reading the written evaluation. (You just have to read this post linearly from beginning to end.)

Thank you !


Visual presentation

I am of course interested in your thoughtful feedback as an artist/academic with cultural references, but also in your instinctive reactions as an individual. This is why I am asking you to watch the visual presentation before reading the evaluation of my project. I want to recreate the conditions in which a random passerby may see an artwork on the internet or in a gallery window, without knowing anything about it, without having even looked at the title yet. This person may not know anything about contemporary art. They may be walking down the street and notice a picture, or have randomly found a video on youtube. What will this person see in the art work? Will the image grab their attention? Will the image awaken feelings/moods/questions in them, despite the absence of cultural context? Making artworks that are able to establish direct communication with the viewer, without the need for explanations or comments is a big concern in my practice. This experiment is designed to find out in which measure I have succeeded or failed so far.

In the visual presentation, you will be shown excerpts from 2 videos, stripped of title, music and context. These videos are made from edited footage, but have no special effects yet. I would like you to watch these videos candidly, without a priori. For the 6 minutes of the presentation, please try and forget (temporarily) about the academic context and watch them not as coursework, but as your Friday night movie or a museum on holidays. This is the closest way I could artificially recreate the situation described above. Please focus on your subjective experience as a viewer. Do the images grab your attention or fail to do so ? Do they create any feelings/moods/reflexions in you? If so which? Do the 2 videos have different, identical or similar feelings to you ? Please tell me anything that crosses your mind.

Watch the visual presentation on youtube


Please do not read anything below until you have watched the visual presentation and followed the instructions !

Thank you !

500 word auto-evaluation


My project is about the relationships between places and individuals, observed through 2 main viewpoints:
1) how the physical world is subjectively perceived by individuals, and intersects with their inner world.
2) how space influence individuals’ psyches. This may take a more political aspect by exploring themes of imprisonment and deprivation of private space.

In the theoretical research, I got mainly interested in:
1) Documentary-type (i.e. not staged) photography, both through its link to Surrealism and in its contemporary form. Surrealist documentary aims to physically reveal “surreality”, the higher perception where dream and reality merge. In contemporary practice, the concept of subjective documentary, that says more about the person that makes it than about the documented subject itself.
2) The concept of “chronotope”: the way space is intrinsically linked to time in the context of memory.
3) Manipulating the viewer’s perceptions/feelings using moving image techniques.
4) How much the meaning/impact of an artwork comes from the raw images themselves, and how much comes from the critical comment accompanying them.

In practice, I have mainly edited raw footage shot in abandoned buildings last summer (in prevision of the MA), aiming to use editing techniques in order to create specific atmospheres that would trigger specific feelings.

Work plan

Issue 1: I come from photography. I have lots of references in cinema but know little about video art. In photography, striking symbolic images stand by themselves. In cinema, such atmospheric images come in between bits of informative narrative. I am still unsure about video art as a language: is it a succession of symbolic sequences deprived of narrative ? Or am I missing something ? Do I want to make pure visual video art or do I want to tell stories (even ambiguous ones) but do not know yet how to do it ? Do moving images without narrative get boring for the audience ?

Issue 2: So far I have only used unstaged/documentary type footage. I planned to incorporate staged images, mostly in order to depict dreams. How do I make the staged images ? I am concerned about them looking kitsch (due to lack of budget), too litteral or too didactic (textbook symbolism).

Issue 3: How can I use new digital technologies (rather than pure traditional still/moving image) to serve my purpose, not just for the sake of being modern ? The main idea is to make immersive installations that make the world of the moving images more real to the viewer than traditional projection on a screen. I have not studied the practical/technical feasibility of installations at all yet.

Issue 4: Can I use the still photographs in an innovative way ?

Other practical tasks:
1) start using special effects on the video software
2) shall I try making my own soundtracks or continue using work from a proper musician ?

Further theoretical research:
1) the mechanism of memory
2) dream symbolism


Constructive comments

After reading this project evaluation, please submit your comments as a student/artist/academic as well as your comments as an individual viewer (as requested in the visual presentation). If your experience on these 2 different levels differs sensibly, please make sure to state clearly on which level you are commenting, since I won’t be able to request clarification of ambiguities while you are commenting on my work. Thank you for your help and cooperation!

For your information, the titles and commercial/critical blurbs usually accompanying the 2 videos were:

Video 1: Disciplinary Institutions

In “Disciplinary Institutions”, I explore places used to make undesirable and/or helpless people disappear discretely such as Magdalene convents (used to imprison women), mental asylums and workhouses. I am interested in showing how the long gone inmates keep imprinting these places long after they are dead, and the malevolent aura still cast by those buildings.

Video 2: Ghost House

The Ghost House series was shot at several abandoned houses in Ireland, whose last occupants probably left 10 to 30 years ago. Traces of their lives and aspirations, and of the disillusions and hardships
that made them leave their homeland, remained in the form of scattered personal belongings.

Do those blurbs influence your perception of the images ?
If so, do they:
– help you get interested in the artwork (while the images alone left you cold) ?
– change your perception of the images ?
– confirm your intuitive perception of the images ?

Long Exposures and Ghost Houses – Norwich Arts Centre

Long Exposures and Ghost Houses.

Friday 12 March – Saturday 24 April : 10am-6pm


Norwich Arts Centre is pleased to present the work of two contemporary photographers, whose current work investigates location.

Anthony Carr is a London-based artist. His work is often project-led, with photographic series produced as a direct response to a particular location or situation and much of his recent interest has been in capturing images taken during extremely long exposures. Typical exposures can last from anywhere between a few weeks to several months.

Melanie Menard is based in Cambridgeshire. Her ghost house series was shot at several abandoned houses in Kerry and Connemara, Ireland. Traces of the occupants’ lives and aspirations, and of the disillusions and hardships that made them leave their homeland, remained in the form of scattered personal belongings.

Private view Thursday 11th 5-7 pm ! You’re all welcome !

Donovan Wylie: Maze Prison (Long Kesh/ H-Blocks)

In his series “Maze”, Donovan Wylie was granted exclusive access to the Maze Prison when it was decommissioned in 2003. Paramilitary prisoners of both side were incarcerated in the Maze, sorted into H Blocks depending on their affiliation, and this is where the Blanket and Dirty Protests of the late 1970s and the 1981 Hunger Strike took place. The hospital, where prisoners on Hunger Strike died, and some of the H Blocks are protected buildings but other parts of the prison have been demolished, in order to build a football stadium among other things. However, in January 2009, this “redevelopment” plan was cancelled and what will become of the Maze site remains uncertain and subject to controversy. It is possible that Donovan Wylie’s photographs are the last memorials of the events who took place there.

I’ve done a bit of research ( source 1, source 2, source 3). From one source, it seems “The Maze” was originally called “Long Kesh Prison” and renamed to “H.M.P. Maze” in the mid 1980s in order to distantiate it from the brutal treatment of prisoners in the 1970s and early 1980s that tainted the name “Long Kesh” in collective memory. It is possible that the specific name that individual pick to refer to the prison may imply their political views on the conflict. From another source, it seems the prison was renamed from “Long Kesh” to “Maze” in 1976, at the same time as the prisoners lost their Special Category status (political prisoner as opposed to common criminal) and the H-Blocks built to replace former huts. I am unsure of the date the renaming took place but different sources seem to corroborate that using different names may have political connotations. However, given the sensitivity and controversy of the whole subject, I cannot be sure of the reliability of specific sources and do not have enough insider knowledge to guarantee the degree of truth of information I find.

This research made me more aware of the difficulty of creating artworks on a politically sensitive subject, because every little detail such as the choice of a word can spark unplanned controversy. I feel I must be very careful when creating artwork on a political theme, such as my Disciplinary Institutions series. An artist making political art must be very careful to thoroughly research their subject because if they unwittingly say something inacurate, or something that implies political leaning they were not aware of and willingly trying to convey, they can make a fool of themselves or even be used as an unwitting pawn in a political quarrel.


Identical cells painted various colors. I do not know if colors were specific to different H Blocks and, if this was the case, whether they had a political symbolism or were random.

The same place in the process of being demolished.

In an interview, Donovan Wylie comments on how he interpretated the place, its atmosphere and function photographically: “the trick of the project was to try to understand the psychology of it. The building is a hybrid between a civilian prison and a military prison, but the whole thing is a machine and every part in it is a component and it all works together. Once you understand it as a machine, you can deconstruct it as a machine, photographically. Then you fully understand the shape of it, why it doesn’t have any steps, why there are so many layers to it, why it is so uniform.”

Mark Ellis: Protect and survive

In his series “Protect and Survive” (this was the name of a 1980s UK government leaflet telling people what to do in case of a nuclear attack), Mark Ellis takes pictures of bunkers that would have been used if a nuclear attack between the UK and USSR had happened during the cold war.

I love how the documentary nature of the photographs is contrasted with the very cinematic look of them, mixing dramatic shadows and almost technicolor tones. This is the look I aim to achieve in my Ghost House series because I love the ambiguity it creates, causing to viewer to wonder whether this is documentary or staged fiction, and to feel awkward about this uncertainty. I think this look is a particularly clever choice is Ellis’ series because it touches on the subject of State propaganda, a domain where the ambiguity between truth and lies may lead to the most serious and deadly consequences.

Disciplinary Institutions

In “Discipline and Punish”, Michel Foucault defines “ Disciplinary Institutions” (Institutions Disciplinaires) as places where people are made useful and obedient through the repression of any deviation from the norm. Foucault argues that, in medieval times, repression was focused on punishing one particular crime after it had been committed. The punishment was often bloody and spectacular and symbolically linked to the original crime (for example, cutting the hands of a thief). The tortures were staged as spectacular public displays in order to demonstrate the almighty power of the King and keep the people subdued. From the Renaissance onwards, however, the State turned to another strategy of moving repression inside closed walls, thus giving its power a menacing aura of secrecy. This new strategy had the additional advantage of removing the risk of the people taking the side of the condemned person during a particularly cruel public torture. At the same time as repression was moved inside closed walls, the forms it took were diversified. Foucault calls the various places where various forms of repression take place “Institutions Disciplinaires” (“Disciplinary Institutions”). These institutions include the prison, where the initial goal of punishing an already committed crime carries on. But they also include places where people are sent before they have ever committed any wrongdoing, such as schools, mental asylums or military training places. People are sent there “preventively” in order to nip in the bud any temptation or propensity to deviate from the behavioral norms decided by the State.

In my “Disciplinary Institutions” photographic series, I explore places used to make undesirable and/or helpless people disappear discretely such as Magdalene convents (used to imprison women), mental asylums and workhouses. Rather than purely documenting the buildings, I am interested in showing how the long gone inmates keep imprinting these places long after they are dead, and the malevolent aura still cast by those buildings in collective memory.

During my exploration, I encountered local teenagers who guided me in the sites and told me urban legends about them. I was fascinated by the aura of malevolence still cast by these buildings, despite them being closed for so long, and the way the teenagers associated them with some very contemporary anxieties, such as the fear of teenage pregnancy (associated with Magdalene laundries) or the fear of being labelled a “weirdo” (associated with mental asylums). Somehow all the horrible stories associated with these buildings were all related to the violence that the adults enforce on the young to make them obey social norms: by locking up young girls considered in danger of promiscuity in Magdalene laundries, or young people with too original ideas in insane asylums. It is as though those buildings had a cathartic function: they were a powerful symbols onto which the teenagers could hook their fears about their own place in society. Yet, at the same time these abandoned “no man’s lands”, out of reach of adult control, were also socialising landmarks where teenagers could meet and be themselves without the fear of adult judgement.

Disciplinary Institutions slideshow

An idea of home – The Photographer’s gallery

I’ve had 2 pictures selected for The Photographer’s Gallery “An idea of home” public call on flickr, responding to Jim Goldberg’s Open See exhibition about the experience of migrants.

One shows a ghost house with lots of booze, the other a glimpse of my grandma’s taste in interior design and an experience of time travel in the 50s … (pics at page 7 and 13)

Just before, I was listening to Alan Ball’s commentaries about the title sequence of his new TV series “True Blood”. The sequence, made by the agency Digital Kitchen who already made the beautiful credits for “6 feet under”, shows short clips taken from the daily life of the south of the USA, in particular scenes of “religious fervor” and going out to the bar to get drunk (and have sex). Alan Ball said that these 2 actions, usually considered opposed from a moral point of view, are in facts 2 manifestations of human desire to escape and transcend daily life. His opinion reminded me of how paraphernalia of catholicism and alcoholism happily coexist in the ghost houses I’ve explored in Ireland. And maybe it echoes too in the uncanny way in which my grandma placed some Church blessed palm (boxtree really) twigs alongside a orange plastic toy depicting a little boy that pisses …