Colour Fields is a series of lightbox works of varying sizes that display vertical strips of 16mm film. You may be asking ‘Why 16mm film’? To set the scene I’ll take you back to the mid-90’s and the film projection per-formances I was doing with Tim Dallett. We were projecting loops of film using multiple projectors, placed side-by-side or in various arrays, in galleries, bars, clubs, and other public spaces. We painted on the film and scratched into the emulsion as it made its circuit through the projector creating a continually evolving field of abstract patterning or used loops of film we had already scratched into. Recuperation was the modus operandi; film that came back from the lab black due to under-exposure or clear because overexposed (painted on with inks); heads and tails of piles of old NFB films – mainly lauding the merits of the metric system - that had been unceremoniously ditched in a dumpster; film that we hand-processed ourselves - all was fodder for the live shows whose primary goal was to capture something fleeting that happened in the moment and the re-use of ‘junk’ or never projected material to create these temporal experiences was both practical and political – we were drawn to a DIY aesthetic. It also harkened back to a generation of filmmakers who carried out radical experiments on the apparatus of cinema, investigated the materiality of film and who used the projector as a performative tool – Brakhage scratching his name into the film, Sharits’ flicker films breaking the medium down to its essence – the single frame.
In a short space of time we had amassed a great deal of this material. Laying out the film on a light table we were struck by how the strips of lush greens, blues and yellows and that were revealed as the emulsion was scraped away and the purple/black inked material that we had created in the performances were visually engaging in their own right, and we combined them with other ‘abstract’ material from the beginning and ends of the discarded films we had collected – the material that is there strictly to help load the film into the projector and unspool the film when the light has gone off. We collaborated on the making of a lightbox to display this material (and less than 24 hours later, and much to our surprise since we had simply wanted to display the film, someone bought it from us). Tim decided not to pursue this kind of work, but this hybrid form that bridged my interest in film and painting excited me and I went on to show lightbox works for several years, first at the Images Festival in Toronto and then through the now defunct Ottawa commercial spaces, the Invisible Cinema and Dale Smith Gallery.
After I had culled the best of the material from the performances, I began to experiment with various blades, surfaces and other techniques to scrape into the emulsion of the film. I hand-processed colour film and scraped into it when it was wet. I learned to control the blades to produce certain effects that were gestural and abstract, but also evoked natural forms. I was interested in the play of scale. Up close the sprockets marked the space of the frames and I thought of each of them as miniature paintings. From far they melted into each other to form a single field of colour. Up close I wondered how the individual, cropped frames would look passing through the projector one after another. From afar my eye could drift over the surface and play out any combination of frames. The work then continued this exploration and took a new path as I used material that I shot on 16mm colour film and hand-processed. I had long been attracted by the monochromatic material that can be found at the very beginning of a film – the stuff before the countdown that would never normally be shown. I tried to capture something of this minimalist elegance by filming single frames of colour and combining them to create dynamic movement that hints at their potential flow at 24fps, and which also echoes certain phases of modernist painting.
I stopped making this work in about 2010, but recently went back to the roll of film that I used to make two of my last pieces. I had the original negative digitally transferred and used it to make the video
Colour Correction System, where the two static lightboxes are finally put into motion.
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