Unit 1 Assessment

Develop your project proposal to plan a challenging and self-directed programme of study

The evolution of my project proposal can be tracked through the successive drafts. At first, my project was heavily influenced by Surrealism because I share their interests in psychoanalysis, psychogeography and the use of intuitive creative processes. I had however a nagging concern about merely emulating a past artistic movement.

After researching in depth the Surrealist theory of art, mainly through the writings of Andre Breton but also through other historical surrealist writings and contemporary critical texts, I understood that Surrealism was interested in finding the point of reconciliation where reality and dream merge, which they call ‘Surreality’, whereas I was more interested in pointing out ambiguous areas where dream and reality are still distinct but not easily distinguished, which creates doubt and confusion. I still felt close however to photographers who inspired the Surrealists or worked loosely with them without fully adhering to Surrealist theroy, such as Eugène Atget or Brassaï, because their photographs of cities had this aura of disquieting banality. Through this I identified Freud’s concept of the Uncanny as a key concern.

Having identified my interest in ambiguity in photographs, I researched how the same feeling could be achieved in moving image. I researched how to use sound design and camera placement and editing in a moving image work to cause feelings of doubt and confusion in the audience. These posts would later inspire the research paper.

Having identified this aim of using an artwork to manipulate the audience’s feelings, a core strand of my research now concerned the relationship between the artist and the audience via the artwork as a communication medium. For the Mid-Point Review, I devised an experiment where I showed videos to my classmates and asked them to tell me honestly what intuitive reactions they got from it, and whether those reactions differed from their ‘intellectual’ reactions as an art student. My wish to touch the audience on an intuitive level comes from 2 grounds: 1) make art that can be enjoyed by an audience without a formal education or critical references 2) take these viewers that have those critical references outside of their comfort zone, that is the ‘safe area’ of detached intellectual analysis.

I used my classmates’ feedback to determine in what measure I had achieved my aim, and develop a program of study to improve the weak points accordingly.

The first main area of improvement was to research in depth the technical means to cause ambiguity in moving image, where I felt I was not achieving my goal as successfully as in my photographs. This strand of work was mostly conducted through research about filmmaking techniques that culminated in the research paper. Writing this paper improved my understanding of moving image greatly and I learned many techniques that I plan to use in my own practical work through Unit 2.

The second main area of improvement was to research in depth the critical and theoretical aspects of audience response. I was particularly interested in Nicolas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics because he focuses on the relationship/communication between the artist and their audience via the artwork and makes central the question of the social function of art and its philosophical implications, something that I feel is too often overlooked in contemporary art. The other key influence was Roland Barthes’ concept of ‘punctum’ explained in ‘Camera Lucida’. The ‘punctum’ is the little element in a picture that gives it ambiguity and different level of meanings, which is exactly what I aim to put in my artworks to be able to consider them successful.

My interest in ambiguity also led me to research critical articles discussing documentary, fiction and the sometimes blurred line between them in artworks.

The whole of the different strands of my theoretical research can be found under reading notes.

Demonstrate a critical engagement with practice-based research and contribute actively to debate and discussion

Researching the critical and theoretical aspects of audience response made me more aware of the implications of producing visual/physical artworks designed to communicate ideas and concepts to an audience.

Having identified lens-based images creating an awkward feeling of ambiguity regarding their documentary or staged nature as a key concern in my practice, I attended Canterbury University Symposium “Video art: between documentary and fiction”. This seminar made me discover artists sharing my interests within the visual arts/experimental film making fields, such as Sarah Turner and Jeremy Millar and I took the opportunity to ask them questions. Their answers to my and other audience members’ questions are reported on my blog. Previously, my moving image references were all from cinema (David Lynch, Andrei Tarkovsky).

I am active in the chat sessions debates and also aim to assist fellow students by giving them references that I feel are potentially related to their projects. For example, I recommended the book Autobiography: Artworks to Maya (via email), the artist Shirin Neshat to Tahira (during chat session), Deleuze’s Cinema 1 and 2 to Matt during his MPR because he was interested in the frame and discussed the issue of political art related to David’s project on climate change during his MPR.

I regularly submit my photography and video work made for the MA to exhibitions outside of the university, in order to evaluate their impact in front of a ‘real’ audience and find out whether professional curators find them relevant or not. I find it useful to have a neutral source of feedback from professionals who do no know me personally.

Articulate a clear understanding of the methodology and context of your creative practice in both written and verbal forms

Because I work intuitively, a whole strand of research was about analysing what draws me to the work of artists I find inspiring, ‘reverse engineer’ the methodology behind their work and see what parts of these methodologies apply to my own work, and what parts are different. I did this process both for photography and video art.

By looking critically at the work of photographers Lars Tunbjörk, Stephen Shore, Robert Polidori, William Eggleston and Alec Soth and analysing my reaction to them, I found out that what draws me to an unstaged photograph is a cinematic look, with dramatic lighting and almost ‘technicolor’ colours, that creates an ambiguous contrast with the unstaged nature of the scene (I only talk about unstaged photographs because those are what I make so far; what draws me to the staged photographs I like may be different.) I researched the techniques of these photographers and found out that the combined use of natural light and long exposure creates these deep saturated colours and this very specific mix of a highly detailed picture that still contains dark areas that I call a ‘cinematic look’. I was already working with natural light due to an intuitive preference for it. I studied the technical aspects of photography in order to rely less on the camera’s automatic settings, and force longer exposures allowing more depth of field in order to attain this cinematic look. I experimented with re shooting some photographs with more manual settings. The results were mixed: I got some real good images, but others need further improvement.

The video artists I felt closest too are Jane and Louise Wilson, Eija-Liisa Ahtila, and Markus Schinwald. Their work depict oppressive spaces, and often show lost, alienated characters wandering aimlessly in them. I identified this particular vision of the human condition as the key appeal of their work for me. When I wrote the research paper, I linked this feeling to the concept that the experience of the modern man is ‘labyrinthine’ developed by Nietzsche, Benjamin and Sartre, and discovered that my favourite films used cinema techniques to make the audience experience this feeling of being lost. I broke down the techniques used into categories of narrative forms, set design, choice of colours and lighting, rhythm and editing and sound design and dissected each of them. I hope to be able to use them in my own video work during Unit 2. I had made 2 videos for the MPR and while I was quite satisfied with ‘Ghost House’, I found ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ too dry and descriptive. In unit 2, I hope to be able to improve the depth of feeling created by the videos by using more sophisticated techniques.

These technical considerations can be found in the category moving image techniques. Posts leading to technical conclusions about my own practice are tagged ‘methodology’.

All the practical work done during Unit 1 is filed under my practice, which includes two main projects Disciplinary Institutions and Ghost House as well as various independant experiments.

List of blog posts for Unit 1

September 2009

My background and practice in other media pre-MA

Project proposal as presented when applying to the MA

The genesis of the Ghost House project

Map of location visited in Ireland Summer 2009


Trying to isolate key points of what I do for project proposal. Methodology issues: trying to make sense of working intuitively. Trying to make sense of what attracts me in other’s work.

October 2009

Psychogeography, concept and early practitionners.

Project proposal draft 1. ‘Metaphysics of places’ and simulated madness in Surrealist practice.

Report of a ‘Psychogeography’ related art performance.

Photography practice experiment at my grandmother’s house.

Photography practice experiment: Dérive in Marcel Duchamp’s birthplace village.

November 2009

Project Proposal draft 2.

Project Proposal Final version. Explicit reference to Surrealism has faded a bit. The core of the research now concerns the relationship between the artist and the audience via the artwork as a communication medium.

How to use sound design in a moving image work to create specific feelings in the audience. This post will later inspire the research paper.

How to use camera placement and editing in a moving image work to create doubt and confusion in the audience. This post will later inspire the research paper.

January 2010

Photographs selected for an online show by The Photographer’s Gallery.

Short presentation of the work of photographer Jerry Uelsmann.

Parallel theory: explanation of the concept of “Disciplinary Institutions” developed by Michel Foucault in “Discipline and Punish”. My practice: how this concept influenced my new photography and video project: “Disciplinary Institutions” started in summer 2009 for the MA.

Presentation of the work of Swedish photographer Lars Tunbjörk, and how I feel his way of looking at his subjects reflects my own concerns.

February 2010

Cultural Blogging in Europe survey conducted by the European Cultural Foundation.

Presentation of work of photographer Paul Seawright.

Presentation of work of photographer Mark Ellis. How the look of the photographs creates an uneasy ambiguity between documentary or fiction, and how I aim to achieve a similar effect in my own photographs.

Presentation of Donovan Wylie’s photographic series “Maze”. Reflection on 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.

Presentation of the photographic work of the New topographics and Wim Wenders. Conclusion drawn from this post and the previous ones presenting other photographers: “I think what catches my eye in a documentary photograph is a cinematic look with dramatic lighting and colours that creates an ambiguous contrast with the unstaged nature of the scene.”

A photograph selected for the Women Art Show in Basinstoke.

Jaques Derrida comments on the ghostly nature of photography and fim.

March 2010

Photographs and video art in a joint exhibition in Norwich.

First edit of the Disciplinary Institutions and Ghost House videos, shot in summer 2009.

Photos from my joint exhibition at Norwich Arts Centre, showing how the work was laid out and displayed.

Screening of a pre-MA work of video art at a festival in Southend on Sea.

April 2010

Mid Point Review Presentation. Where I explicitly express my concern in communicating with the audience on an intuitive level, not just an intellectual art criticism level, and try to devise an experiment to find out how the audience reacts to this aim.

Report of ‘Decode: Digital Design Sensations’ exhibition at the V&A museum.

Comments from classmates on my Mid Point Review presentation.

Presentation of work of video artists Jane and Louise Wilson.

July 2010

First draft of the research paper abstract, focusing on the ambiguous nature of lens-based images, and to use use them to interact with the viewer on an intuitive/subconscious level.

September 2010

Reading notes from the Canterbury University Symposium “Video art: between documentary and fiction”, that discussed lens-based images creating an awkward feeling of ambiguity regarding their documentary or staged nature, something I came to identify as a key concern in my practice.

Theoretical research on photography and cinema within Surrealist practice.

Surrealist art theory, studied through historical surrealist texts.

Walter Benjamin on Surrealism and Photography (historical critical theory).

Review of contemporary critical articles on Surrealism.

The Concept of Chronotope and its relevance to cinema (Critical theory).

Review of various critical articles discussing documentary, fiction and the problem of truth, which I identified as a key concern in my practice.

October 2010

Reading notes of Freud’s ‘The Uncanny’ and ‘The unconscious’ (parallel theory). I am interested in psychoanalysis both because of its influence on Surrealism, and because of my interest in affecting my audience on an unconscious/intuitive level.

Review of lots of critical essays on David Lynch’s movies. David Lynch is one my key influences, I love the look and ambiguous atmosphere of his films, and share his concern with producing work that does not come with a ready-made explanation, that requires the audience to come up with their own explanation.

Presentation of the psychoanalytical theories of Carl Jung (parallel theory). Particularly his concept of the Shadow because it came up in critical articles about David Lynch.

Presentation of the psychoanalytical theories of Jacques Lacan (parallel theory). These theories are rather obscure and clear sources are hard to find, therefore this piece is research probably contains many inaccuracies.

Reading notes on Deleuze’s Cinema 1 and Cinema 2 (Critical theory).

Reading notes from the book ‘Madness and cinema’ by Patrick Fuery, with discussion of some arguments.

Reading notes from the book ‘Place’ by Jeremy Millar and Tacita Dean, which surveys different interpretation of the theme “Place” in contemporary art. I found a few relevant critical quotes and artists whose practice is similar to mine. Further iconographic research on these artists.

Reading notes from the book ‘Video Art’ by Sylvia Martin, and further iconographic research on artists relevant to my practice.

Various reading notes on critical theory loosely linked to David Lynch. Focussing on the genre of Film Noir and introducing the concept of the modern condition as a labyrinth via Sartre.

December 2010

Various quotations relevant to my concerns on place, cinema and art.

Long post containing full reading notes from all books read for the research paper concerning the concept of ‘mental space’ in general.

Long post containing full reading notes from all books read for the research paper concerning the concept of ‘mental space’ as present in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”.

Long post containing full reading notes from all books read for the research paper concerning the concept of ‘mental space’ as present in Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”.

Long post containing full reading notes from all books read for the research paper concerning the concept of ‘mental space’ as present in Alain Resnais’ “Last year in Marienbad”.

Link to submitted version of research paper. Removed sections presented for information, along to discussion as to why they were edited out. General criticism of my paper, what I feel I could have done better and why I did not actually manage to do so.

January 2011

Statistics of visitors to my blog, and discussion of what people seem to find useful on it and why.

The following posts were written ‘late’, that is they present research and practical work that I had done all through Unit 1 but had never blogged about.

Reading notes from Nicolas Bourriaud’s “Relational Aesthetics” and discussion.

Reading notes from Roland Barthes’ “Camera Lucida” and discussion.

Review of Exhibition ‘Surreal Friends’ featuring Leonora Carrington, Remedios Varo and Kati Horna.

Review of Exhibition ‘Myth, Manners and Memory: Photographers of the American South’.

Ghost House video shown at a video art festival in Australia.

Photography experiment inspired by Lars Tunbjörk.

A photograph selected for the RWA Open photography exhibition 2011.

Review of an article about Ghost towns in the USA (Detroit and New Orleans), their link to ‘disaster capitalism’ and their status of contemporary icons.

John Ruskin’s concept of illth.

Comparing the concepts of ‘flâneur’ (decadent and surrealist) and ‘dérive’ (situationist).

Robert Polidori, his visual style and philosophy, and why I feel my own photography work shares similar concerns.

Sarah Turner’s film ‘Perestroika’, dealing with memory, truth/fiction and psychogeography.

Preview pictures from the Catacombes of Paris, where I shot photographs and videos in December 2010.

Documentary pictures of a Raw Art House in Gravelines, 59, France.

Photographs taken at St John’s College Library, Cambridge. Architectural Photography experiment.

Preview of places visited in Ireland during Summer 2010, where I shot further photographs and video footage for the ‘Ghost House’ and ‘Disciplinary Institutions’ projects.

Street photography in Detroit, Michigan.

Photographs from the Heidelberg Project, an outdoor Raw Art environment in a Detroit neighborhood.

Research Paper ‘Director’s Cut’

Click the link and it will send you to a pdf of my research paper Mental space on screen: through the examples of Last year in Marienbad, Stalker and Lost Highway as submitted for the MA.

Research Paper: Mental space on screen (Melanie Menard)


This paper explores how the different elements of a film work together to depict the mental space of the characters, that is, give the impression that the events shown on screen reflect their subjective experience, and the space shown on screen is a projection of their mental state. Through the examples of Alain Resnais’ Last year in Marienbad (1960), Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) and David Lynch’s Lost Highway (1996), I show how similar techniques recur in films made in completely different cultural contexts, but that have in common to picture the subjective world of the characters. These techniques are: narrating events as the characters think about them, remember them or imagine them rather than how they actually happen; a labyrinthine set design where the inside and the outside contaminate each other; lighting and colours that reflect the mental state of the characters; rhythm that traps the viewer inside the characters’ subjectivity and, finally, sound that creates a mood of its own rather than illustrating or simply enhancing the images, with sparse dialogues becoming an integral part of the sound design.

Keywords: space, subjectivity, cinema, cinematography, sound

A few sections of the research paper were removed to keep word count down. Mostly I rephrased and condensed, which accounts for the somewhat dry style, and the lack of sometimes explicit transitions between ideas. The dry style is fine by me, it’s a research paper not a literary work, but I think more explicit transitions between ideas would have made the paper more reader friendly. However, I had a word count problem and decided to sacrifice a bit of fluidity in order not to cut out relevant ideas. I think the 2 last sections ‘sound’ and ‘rhythm’ are written more fluidly, with more explicit transitions between ideas. That’s because I wrote my paper backward so I was not so worried about concision when I wrote them (the last sections, more technical, were written first, and the first sections, more general, were written after).

However I cut out 3 complete paragraphs because they were interesting but not so directly relevant. I put them here.

1)This was cut out because it was a discussion where neither me, nor the person whose idea I was discussing, were really convinced of what we said. We were both formulating hypothesis to open up discussion, without being personally convinced of these hypothesis. So it was interesting but non essential.

Vida & Petrie (1994, p190) discuss Tarkovsky’s habit to shoot dream scenes in black and white in most of his films, and compare it to Stalker:

‘The choice of black and white for dreams may reflect the conventional idea that most people dream in black and white, but more probably implies, in line with Tarkovsky’s belief in the essential “reality” of black and white, that the inner truth of our experience is to be found within our dreams. In Stalker the basic pattern is reversed, with black and white creating the sordid reality of the everyday world of the future and color representing the potential escape from this offered by the Zone.’

This leads to an interesting issue. The only sequence in the Zone that contains monochrome shots (sepia rather than black and white) is indeed the dream sequence. If characters are dreaming, they may approach their inner truth. It is possible, then, that the Zone as a whole offers fake hope and illusion rather a gateway to inner reality, an interpretation that could be corroborated by the characters’ final decision not to enter the room. Maybe the Zone is, like in Lost Highway, the world of illusion and fantasy, rather than the world of hope and spirituality.

2)this was a transition between the ‘rhythm’ and ‘sound’ sections. It contained an interesting reference for further research, but was non essential to the subject.

Quoting Vlada Petric, Vida & Petrie (1994, p240-241) list ‘cinematic technique’ which can be used to simulate the experience of dream in films. Tarkovsky uses several of them, not only to depict literal dreams, but to ‘throw a dreamlike aura over virtually the whole film.’  ”Camera movement through space [contributing to] a kinesthetic sensation”, ”illogical and paradoxical combinations of objects, characters and settings”, ”dissolution of spatial and temporal continuity”, ”ontological authenticity of motion picture photography [which] compels the viewer to accept even the most illogical events … as real” together correspond to the combined action of discontinuity editing and slow rhythm described in this section. “Color juxtaposition [which] emphasizes the unusual appearance of dream imagery” has been discussed in the previous section. ”Sight and sound counterpoint” will be discussed in the next section.

3)In the conclusion, I discussed the philosophy of art of the 3 directors, and the way a film interacts with its audience. This was interesting but not directly linked to the subject, so was cut out.

When all these elements are combined, we get what Deleuze (1985, p35) calls a ‘conscience-camera’, that is a camera that ‘subordinates the description of a space to the functions of thought’ and ‘enters’ inside ‘mental relationships’. ‘Objective and subjective’, ‘real and imaginary’ then become ‘indiscernible’. The camera is no longer descriptive: instead it ‘questions, responds, objects, provokes, theorises, hypothesises and experiments’. This new nature of film allows new possibilities (Deleuze, 1985, p210): it ‘elaborates a circuit between the author, the film and the spectator’. This circuit has two ways of communication that work together: first a ‘sensory shock’ that ‘elevates the images to conscious thought’, then thought that brings the viewer back to the images and gives them an ’emotional shock’. This ‘coexistence’ between ‘the highest degree of conscience’ and ‘the deepest level of the unconscious’ is what makes, for Deleuze, the power of ‘Time-image’ cinema.

This vision of the dual nature of film, intellectual but also unconscious, sensual, emotional or irrational, the later allowing a direct connection between the artist and the audience, is shared by Tarkovsky, Lynch, and Robbe-Grillet. Tarkovsky (2008, p176) states that ‘cinema is the one art form where the author can see himself as the creator of an unconditional reality, quite literally of his own world’ and ‘a film is an emotional reality’ perceived by ‘the audience’ ‘as a second reality’, which ‘allows for an utterly direct, emotional, sensuous perception of the work’. For Lynch (interviewed by Rodley, 2005, p140), films are ‘a subconscious thing’. In an interview together with Resnais, Robbe-Grillet (Resnais & Robbe-Grillet, 1967, 170) says that art is ‘a reminiscence’ or ‘an illumination’ of ‘the world’ and that it ‘interests us because we find in it ready-made the things to which we feel impelled by the emotions reality has generated in us’, and Resnais agrees with him on that. Robbe-Grillet also says that ‘when an image strikes [him] in the cinema, it is always because [he] recognise[s] [his] own experience’ in it, and this shared experience is what makes ‘communication’ possible between the artist and the audience, through the medium of the work.

Research Paper – abstract draft

I aim to research how images created using lens based media (photography, film, video) are particularly well suited to act as an interface between the physical world and the viewer’s subconscious. To study this question, I will look at how lens based images have been used differently by artists coming from different artistic traditions but sharing the goal/desire to bypass conscious thought in the way they communicate with their audience.

The surrealists thought that lens based images were better suited than images created from scratch (painting) for “capturing a secret reality” (Dali). Because they are based on physical reality, however remote and/or distorted, they force people to look at the world differently, to look at it for what it is where they would be tempted to only see stereotypes.

Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch are famous for using obscure imagery in their films, and for distrusting words. How are their images crafted, how do they relate to the words in their films and why do they seem so meaningful to us while they rationally are quite obscure ? Obviously can’t study the question in depth, just take a few striking examples to illustrate.

The Surrealists were adamant that “Surreality” could be found in the most mundane of film/photograph, because it was intrinsic to the medium rather than created on purpose by avant-garde practice. Take examples of practical advices from “how to” cinematography handbook to show how mainstream cinema techniques communicate with the viewer on an intuitive/subconscious level.

The surrealists deduced from the previous point that surreality was created unknowingly and unwillingly by mainstream lens based practitioners. This opens up the question to more contemporary practice, and maybe discreetly challenges the current practice for artists to always have at hand a verbal explanation/commentary on their work. Do artist really know exactly what they are making, or are they merely channelling the Zeitgeist through the work they produce ?

Keywords: reality, lens based, cinematography, subconscious, intuition (???)

Comments on my work for MPR

Here are my fellow MADA students’ comments on my work for the Mid Point Review. I’ll write a response to them later this week (either edit in this post or post a separate reply). Thank you all for your suggestions and cooperation !

Melanie Menard (m_menard)
ok so I’m exploring individuals’ relationship to space using so far still and moving image, and I’d like to use moving image installation later how people subjectively perceive places around them (memory,
fantasies, urban legends to give examples) and in return how places affect people (the feelings of someone imprisoned so far, maybe after other forms of alienation)
now what I’m interested in doing, and unsure about because it’s difficult, is I’d like my images to talk to people on the instinctive level, not just the intellectual/art level
both because of the subject matter and because it’s important to me that the images are able to talk to someone without the academic background to be interested in the usual artist blurb
OK, I think that’s it !
Also I’m more interested in honesty/candid, so don’t be afraid to say what you think. Even if you upset me accidentally, I won’t be upset long so please don’t worry 🙂

Jonathan Kearney (jkearney)
the discussion here so far is around – why the abandoned spaces, what it the reason for using these?
they give a creepy feeling but is that too obvious – does it need more subtlety
for example a space that is usually filled but when filmed empty creates a different feeling

Christalla Kyriacou (ckyriacou2)
the first video i found really effective particularly that it was filmed in the way of leaving behind what I was seeing primarily , darkness provoked unknowns and fear and beautiful falling light in the empty spaces gave way to the understanding of life once preoccupying the space, the element of video though gave it a hint of cinematic movie , so this gave me a small impression of it being set up and not
actually straight documentary , even though the scenes shown are of true / real content , the video medium gave it that small hint of edited out realities

Maya Chami (mayachami)

David Tatnell (davidtatnell)
the videos are well shot and I felt a definite feeling of isolation

Satbinder Kooner (skooner)
The second video for me created more of a presence of memories, the past

David Tatnell (davidtatnell)
I think adding effects will enable Melanie to steer the viewer to other emotions

Satbinder Kooner (skooner)
that there was life there at some point

Maya Chami (mayachami)
For me, the blurbs at the end of the written part just located me geographically, but honestly didn’t need that bit. I was able to connect with the footage at once, for the pictures Melanie has taken
have a lot in common with post civil war places as well.

Jonathan Kearney (jkearney)
when asking what the instinctive reaction is – Ethel points out that you can only have an ‘instinctive reaction’ once…

David Tatnell (davidtatnell)
the use of camera angles in clever too some of them are quite intimidating

Jonathan Kearney (jkearney)
so are you asking people to think about these films or just ‘feel’ them?

Satbinder Kooner (skooner)
David – yes the angles differ in the two videos giving a different feel

Maya Chami (mayachami)
An artwork worked genuinely will be enough for the viewer to grasp or interact. There’s no need for the viewer to really understand what is happening, the effect of an artwork could be that of inspiring the

Jonathan Kearney (jkearney)
there is a danger that aiming just at instinctive reactions then it is short lived, maybe the focus needs to be more on the ongoing impact of the films

David Tatnell (davidtatnell)
emotions before and after

Christalla Kyriacou (ckyriacou2)
as for the images I see on your blog don’t give me the feeling that I am being edited on what I can see, I guess photographs have that special quality instilled in them , truth 🙂 I really find Melanie’s project very interesting and particularly that it plays on a level of insecurities of anyone who sees the images or video , abandonment is a scary thing , its fearful and haunting ,,, it’s almost like a new life starts in the rooms where the previous ones have left

Satbinder Kooner (skooner)
I agree Christalla

Jonathan Kearney (jkearney)
some here are saying – the idea of a photograph holding truth is contentious – maybe better to say ‘the illusion of truth’ in a photograph

Christalla Kyriacou (ckyriacou2)
that’s what I meant , its just that cause its a historical process it just feels more truthful ,, its a little tricky 🙂

Jonathan Kearney (jkearney)
some confusion here as to why the deep intellectual context for this work, but then you are asking for just an instinctive response
one suggestion here is filming the ordinary, ‘extremely’ ordinary – this gives room for the viewer to forming their own conclusions rather then just instinctive reactions
a bit like Hopper’s paintings
or the photographs of Martin Parr
also Arbus’ – slightly strange images
Ina suggests the angles of filming suggest to her a horror type film feeling but that maybe focusing on the ‘DNA’ of the space – what is the essence of a particular space, eg, is it colour, the shape – then
maybe take that ‘DNA’ and let that define the filming technique and use it to film a very different type of space
maybe use the colour profile of the outside space for the filming of the inside space

Andrew Stiff (astiff)
Times up
Melanie Menard (m_menard)
thank you people for your comments and ideas 🙂 I’ll reply to them on the blog once I’ve had a bit of time to think about them !

Andrew Stiff (astiff)
Thanks Melanie its gone down well here – lots of discussion around this work 😉

Additional comments from Sat:
Hi Melanie
Video 1 – A building uninhabited, empty, desolate, eerie, spooky – felt more factual / like we are being shown the inside of an empty building and the state of the inside of it.
Video 2 – made me think who lived there what was this building, the focus on images and belongings made think more about the people who possessed these, that they believed in religion, in Jesus. I kept thinking someone would appear in this video.
Hope this makes sense.

Additional comments from Matt:

Hi Melanie,
Below is some feedback on your practical work…
For me the two videos were similar in feel. I guess the feelings I get are isolation, desolation and tension.

The parts I felt were most effective were where the camera movement was quite erratic. Almost Blare Which project, but in a good way! The jogging camera I liked because I could only see glimpses of objects and spaces – a little more abstract and tension filled.

I also like the zooming out sections where a wider/ unexpected context was revealed (Especially the mirror where you are unaware of this at first). I think the zooming out shots would be much more effective if projected at a large scale – a bit more immersive (Obviously youtube is a bit restrictive).

The blurbs were very descriptive of the content. Maybe the text can add another layer. Do the words illustrate the visual work? Do the words and pictures send the same or different messages? Can the words add or amplify the image and vice versa? Can they work in parallel, following very different courses?

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 ?

My Project

Research Question

I am interested in researching the relevance of the concepts of surrealism to contemporary art using the new possibilities offered by digital media. In the tradition of Surrealism, I do not see my research as a rigid question resolved using a linear, predetermined methodology, but rather as free experimentation guided by a set of philosophical principles.

Important above all to me is the refusal to tell people what my Art is “about”. Most of the time, I do not know myself what the work is “about” anyway, all I know is the mental process that lead me to produce it. This mental process, I have no objection to discuss it in a academic context. It is an interesting and enjoyable intellectual game. I will also discuss some interpretations that occurred to me when I looked at the finished piece but these interpretations will be just this: interpretations from an external viewer and none the truer because this external looker happens to be the artist. They will be aimed at starting dialogue and discussion with the audience, not forcefuly imposing a meaning on them. If there is a “right interpretation” attached to a work of Art, the consequence is that only those people from the audience with “the right educationnal background” that can lead them to this “right interpretation” can enjoy the work “the right way”. The others are left out. I do not want my Art to be discriminatory. I want the audience to enjoy (or hate, or get bored by) my work in their very own way, the way that allows my work to strike a chord in their mind and, because my work is the very product of my mind, that creates a very unique connection between my mind and their mind. I believe that, once I decide that a particular piece is “finished”, stop working on it and show it, it aquires an independent life as a concept. I no longer have the right to claim sole understanding of it, anyone has the right to make it a part of their intellectual and inner life. Whether that process involves finding a political interpretation of my work or gazing at the shapes and color is equally fine by me.

Some of the concepts I wish to explore in my research are: the use of randomness and unpremeditated compositions, the study of the way our subconscious reinvents and transforms our surroundings and experiences, the study of dreams as worlds of their own independently of the interpretation of the symbols present in them.


My research is inspired by Surrealism in the wide sense. This includes previous Art movements which inspired or were liked by the Surrealists (Symbolism, German Expressionist cinema, Dada …) and later Art movements born from or inspired by Surrealism (Situationnism, contemporary cinema experimenting with non linear narrative or concerned with subjective visions of events).

For example, my interest in abandoned buildings refers to Urban Exploration, a contemporary subculture influenced by the Situationnists (although most contemporary Urban explorers are unaware of this parentage), the Surrealist’s interest in discarded and outmoded objects and places as highlighted by Walter Benjamin, along with the Celtic concept that places have a spirit. I am inspired by dreamscapes and strange scenes as pictured in the paintings of Max Ernst, Paul Delvaux and Dorothea Tanning. I am inspired by the films of David Lynch, Ingmar Bergman (Hour of the Wolf, Through a glass darkly), “Last year in Marienbad” and also by short experimental films such as “Meshes of the afternoon” by Maya Deren and “Dictio Pii” by Markus Schinwald. I am interested in Raw Art is it offers a raw (unprocessed, unfiltered, void of theorisation) glimpse into another person’s mind.

Generally, I am interested in the discrepancy between physical reality and the individual’s perception of it and the mental processes by which individuals reinvent reality. This could be pictured through fictional scenarios in literature and movies or studied within psychoanalysis or sociology.


I will continue the Ghost House project using photography and video. My process is about looking for compositions made out of discarded objects. However tempting, I never move anything to create an artificial composition myself. I look for beauty, harmonious and balanced compositions and cultural meaning into what, to most eyes, would be no more than heaps of rubbish. As the Surrealists would put it, this is about moving beyond the “manifest” reality of things to enter the infinite realm of the “latent”.

Here are some of the ghost house pictures with some examples of possible “latent” meanings:

The position of the chair, fallen pillow and the paint scaling looking as though nightmarish creatures are crawling down from the ceiling strangely evocate a scene of death by hanging to me, which oddly contrast with the peaceful eerie light and the childish apple green tone.

The “immaculate conception” icon discarded on an unmade bed is a very striking example of random occurrences producing a highly composed scene with heavy socio-cultural connotations. But can we be assured of randomness ? Could another visitor before me have composed the scene on purpose ? If so, did I unknowingly take part in some kind of Land-Art Cadavre Exquis when I took my picture ? Does randomness exist ? Or do we call random the events on which our limited perception was not able to impose a external logic ?

Death, crucifixion, nails. A box of pills: are they medicine to delay death or “opium” to forget it ? As soon as I stepped into the windblown white washed deserted cottage, I was overwhelmed by peace and contemplation. This particular scene irresistibly evocates an Ingmar Bergman movie to me.

I simply like this picture as it seems straight out of a David Lynch movie: the red curtains he uses everywhere (on stage in Blue Velvet, draping the corridor in Fred and Rene’s House in Lost Highway, in the red room and log cabin in Twin peaks) and the menacing stairs straight from Twin Peaks.

A picture of Jesus and a piece of paper bearing the word “ejaculation” ! If this had been done on purpose, it would be such a teenage cliché but happening randomly, it is rather fascinating, at least to me. I find the concept of a “randomly generated Cliché” highly entertaining !

Still within my practice of Urban Exploration, I have started a new photo/video/installation project exploring places of imprisonment, especially “unofficial” ones used to make undesirable and/or helpless people disappear discretely. Last summer, I have photographed and filmed inside abandoned and derelict 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 might have reinvented their surroundings and experience in order to make their pain bearable (fugue state), and how their presence keeps imprinting those buildings long after they are dead. I hope to gain access to more buildings in order to get more footage and images.

I will start sorting and editing the footage shortly, starting with the Magdalene asylums. I will start by making a video showing the inside of 2 abandoned Magdalene asylums in Ireland. Most of the video will be documentary-like, showing the derelict buildings and objects left behind in them. However, shorter flashes will disturb the documentary, as though a poltergeist phenomenon was manifesting itself on screen. These flashes may include: photographs and names of Magdalene inmates, newspaper clippings or official documents about them, historical documents concerning witch hunts and short dream-like sequences recreating the Magdalenes’ dream of escape and freedom. I may also use occult references to the figure of Mary Magdalene in the Gnostic tradition .

I am interested in using digital media to document my dreams, thus moving beyond the technical limitations of painting. I could introduce narrative through traditional video, and use animation if I need to represent a setting or character I cannot find/make in real scale due to budget limit. Still compositions using digital collage and photo manipulation would be appropriate for those dreams that are a vision without narrative. For this part of my work, I keep a Dream Book where I keep record of the dreams when I am awake enough to do so. The records take the from of a written description with subjective comments and very primitive sketches. The process of writing those down enable me to keep a rather clear mental picture, much clearer than any sketch that I could make in the limited amount of time available before I either go back to sleep or tend to daily business. I can then retrieve the mental picture later to work from it. If the mental picture is fading with time, I can revive it by reading the notes. I have discovered that if I do not keep notes, I either completely forget the dream, however vivid, if I go back to sleep, or keep the mental picture for a couple of hours only if I get up straight away.

Installation wise, I would like to create immersive experience inviting the viewer to experience a situation. The way David Lynch uses visuals, loops of events and rhythm to “simulate” the mental state of fugue and invite the viewer to experience it along with the character (in Lost Highway, mostly, but also in Mulholland Drive). I have 2 ideas so far, but am yet unsure about the technical feasibility of either. The first one would be some kind of corridor delimitated by drapes. The viewer would step into it and moving images projected on the drapes would give them the illusion to explore something, while remaining stationary. The visual could create the illusion of getting lost, thus causing disquiet to the viewer. The other idea is some sort of large box in which the viewer would be invited to sit. Visuals would be projected on the walls of the box, and sound played in it. The idea stems from the traditional child game of creating imaginary houses, castles, or other places inside packing boxes. It is also a reference to a (probably fictional) story heard in a movie or TV series, about a high-functioning autist who had created a machine in which they sat and that provided them with everything they need. I found the idea of such a self contained world fascinating. By stepping into the box of the installation, the viewer would be invited to experience a self-contained and self sufficient inner world.


Hardware: Canon EOS 500D digital camera, Canon HV30 HDV Camera, HP Pavillion laptop.

Software: Gimp for image editing, Serif Movieplus for video editing, Goldwave and Audacity for sound.


Definite: Photographs, Videos, Video installation

And possibly: Still compositions using digital collage and photo manipulation, animation (Flash ?), interactive elements.