Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Monthly Film: TESTCARD POLAROIDS




Looking back, twice.

In October 1995, Third Angel presented its first piece of work, Testcard. (You can read more about its origins, here.)

A pretty big show for a first project. A 72 hour durational performance for The Workstation in Sheffield. Two performers (Rachael Walton and Phil Richford) lived in the public gaze for three full days and nights; you could visit them live in The Workstation foyer, 9am – 9pm, watch them through the windows at night, as they slept, or check up on the via “CCTV” video links in shops and caf├ęs around the city.

They lived in long thin rooms, with clear plastic walls, separated by a corridor. Each had their own little kitchen area, bed, living room, TV. They watched endless rolling news channels, computer game animations, CCTV footage of each other and the audience; they had newspapers and pizzas delivered.


For one hour each evening, a ticketed, rehearsed performance evolved out of the durational piece, Testcard Stories: new video work, distorted film dialogues, long lists, quiet monologues.

A big project for a first show. We called in all of the favours we had earned in the two years we'd been in Sheffield, and spent a lot of favours we hadn't yet earned. We got a small grant from Sheffield City Council's much missed Community Arts Fund, loads of equipment and technical support from the northern media school, and trust and respect from The Workstation.

Somehow the show caught the zeitgeist and we found ourselves on page 5 of the Guardian, part of the local news questioning if it was art and discussing the possibility of hosting an edition of TV-am - which sadly (?) didn't happen.

Phil’s task was arguably the toughest one. Just live, and watch this weird TV channel we had created for him. Ignore the audience completely. Rachael’s task was to turn the gaze back on the audience, and to document the people who watched her. She took a Polaroid photograph of as many of her visitors as she could over the three days.

**
In 2002 Third Angel moved into our own studio space in Brookfield Yard in Nether Edge. Sorting through the hoarded gear from many shows, we came across the collection of Polaroids taken during Testcard. Chris suggested we document Rachael looking through them, remembering what she could about them, and the audience who came to see her.

Strangely enough, we’re now looking back at this film, over a longer time than Rachael was looking back at the Polaroids. A strange, genre-defying piece, at least in part about Chris’ exploration of form, and questioning of what can be documentary/documentation, as much as it is about the original show.

Naturally, I asked him to reflect on the film making itself. Over to Chris:
As you can probably tell, we shot it quickly with not much equipment. What you see was the end to quite a long process of working with the Polaroids and understanding how they could best be represented on the screen. Before we sat down in the rehearsal space in Nether Edge, a few days after the move from the Site Gallery, there had been a few attempts at making a short film based on the pictures. They were clearly all dead ends whilst I was making them and I didn’t show them to anyone else. I shot them on VHS and then degraded the image even further – shot them on dv and then saturated the colours to the point of incomprehensibility. Looking for a way of making sense of the images, their tactile quality and the aesthetic of the Polaroid* that is rapidly fading from our collective memory. 
It was clear, in the edit suite, staring at another dead end of ideas, that memories were the way into the Polaroids.  
I’m on one of the Polaroids and that Polaroid was in the film, then out, then in, then out. I don’t remember the final reason why I went out – it may well have been to keep the time to a certain defined length. 
With much of the film work, they often appear, in retrospect, to be sign posts on the way to somewhere else. Testcard Polaroids has echoes in the most recent piece, Postcards From Florence, that we screened last September in Sheffield’s Light Night. If you know some of the other work then you’ll be able to recognise its imprint on those as well. 
That’s not to say that this was the somehow the progenitor of the memory based pieces, it’s more of an early try out of ideas had been kicked about for a while. 
Watching it now makes me want to make another thing in 4:3 on low grade mini dv, before that aesthetic too begins to fade.
*Alex’s footnote: I remember that we got given a load of Polaroid film at knock down prices by Harrisons Photography in Sheffield. These are the “Party Polaroids” with the balloon borders…

**

Testcard Polaroids
A film by Chris Hall
Featuring Rachael Walton

Testcard was created by
Rachael Walton
Phil Richford
Alexander Kelly
Robert Hardy
Chris Hall
David Mitchell
Hilary Foster
Jacqui Bellamy
Emer O’Sullivan
with a lot of favours from friends and colleagues.

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