ART VOLUME ONE PRESENTS:
AV: We are really quite honored to have you back Robin, thank you for accepting our invitation upon hearing of your news.
You have quite an important show ‘Cine’ coming up in just a few months, at Whitecross Gallery & I understand that the plan is to have it in conjunction- with the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London?
The ‘Cine’ series has been in the making for 15- 20 years, yes?
RC: We are still in the planning stages but the idea is to exhibit the Cine images at The Whitecross Gallery but to get the ICA involved- in some capacity.
The ICA cinema was my original source of all this material, from almost twenty years ago when I first moved to London.
Ideally, because there is so much material, the exhibit could run jointly with some works at the Whitecross & some at the ICA cinema, but this may be too much to ask.
AV: What a fantastic concept.
I would prefer the conjunction of both shows, quite exciting!
Especially, due to your artistic history & evolution, the role that the ICA has played in it, which is dually fascinating & quite a draw.
I must say, some of your ‘Cine’ work & it’s tangible history, how I register with the work emotionally & intellectually, parallels that of when I view & experience some of the artwork of the Kienholz’s.
Unrelated, in a few obvious ways, yes. Yet, their work has similar unique associations- with image & place as an experience.
Especially- your image of a ‘shadow man’ entering a bedroom. &, another image with a man, again- with his back turned to us, in a room with a nun, with the odd subtitle “I looked for you everywhere” I love those!
I wish to have more of these kinds of unusual visual experiences.
Surreal, at times confrontational.
Meaningful & multiplicand timeless sequences created for our analysis & somehow, intensely moving.
These moments are filled with so many possibilities & routes for intention, crisis, liberation & observation.
Do you understand what I am trying to get my finger on?
RC: Kienholz, yes!
I wouldn’t have made that connection but you’re right.
Not just in those ambiguous spooky places they built, but the way a lot of their work seems half-remembered and jumbled together.
& I too, love the shadow man entering the bedroom.
The scenario could be completely innocent in the context of the movie but, viewed separately, it has a creepy & predatory feel.
That’s what fascinates me about these images. We have to make assumptions about what is going on with so little information.
If anything we thrive on our assumptions as to these visual experiences, they get us to become much more introspective & perceptual about ourselves, others, the world & our presentations & constructs within it.
& psychologically, with unfolding dramas, anticlimactic urgency, disclosure, memory, etc.
When shall ‘Cine’ be shown Robin?
RC: Ideally, early Summer. This is the first time I’ve tried to get two galleries to work together so I don’t know how easy or complicated it will be.
AV: I do hope it shall include a union of Whitecross & the ICA. Oh ICA, you must make this happen, please do make this happen for us.
Since Digital Cinema is taking over theaters, where shall you find your clippings?
RC: Unless some kind soul reads this & invites me over, I doubt I’ll ever find an equal to the ICA projection room the way it was back in the late 80’s.
Reels of 35mm film are still used here & there but it’s rapidly becoming obsolete & I just feel I’ll never be in the right place at the right time again to put together such a grand library of discarded gems.
AV: I am imagining now, a film documentary for such an occasion.
You, in a wonderful old theater, a projectionist in attendance & loads of clippings to sort through, a light box, your interpretations. What a documentary.
There must be some lovely old 35mm theaters somewhere, loaded with clippings. Must be, any readers to this Volume, if you run such a place, know of one, please do not hesitate in contacting Robin to arrive & find his gems!
Hello, Music Box.
What do you think of digital cinema, & do you think there is a difference in the quality of the visual experience?
RC: I am not interested in nostalgia & I promise you I’m not one of those boring types who bemoans technology & gets misty-eyed about vinyl, gate fold sleeves & liner notes, etcetera.
But, without getting all ‘Cinema Paradiso‘ on you, I think there is- a magic in light passing through a strip of film & projecting a moving drama on a screen.
Digital cinema will produce wonderful things but, for me, that little bit of magic will disappear.
Digital processes replicate everything so well, I’m not even sure what I’m looking at these days.
So, sitting in the seat staring up at the screen, I don’t think I could tell one from the other.
AV: Yes we filter through & resurrect quite a bit of nostalgia don’t we.
So precious, our new millenium is! One minute it’s a meeting of the 1890’s & the roaring 20’s- then, ah it’s the 60’s meets the 80’s meets the early 90’s, in some of the most mundane, limited & clearly commercial ways. Too many Grungy Flappers or- not enough!? Perplexing, ironic. 1992, all over again.
Who are we, now.
What does it all mean.. I think we know.
It is specifically about your medium & your process- I believe?
Your artistic medium, film, has it’s own transcendental quality, which through application of your creativity, interpretation & understanding of these pieces of film, results in the works.
For me, the way you present a sensorial experience & what ‘presence’ can mean, has a rare verity.
I agree with you when you say,” I think there is a magic in light passing through a strip of film and projecting a moving drama on a screen.”
I am able to easily recollect times where I have watched 35mm.
Kiarostami, Bergman, Hitchcock’s North By Northwest, on the side of a NWU building last summer, among others.
With 35 mm I sense a films moments before projection, hands some times make shadows on the screen for adjustments.
& then it erupts, a little bit of soft ticking sometimes & it does have a magic light, yes, a transparent watery voyage which takes you into its thread.
Soon enough, I forget, just follow, entering the drama of a world & its inhabitants.
& oh! Incredibly hypnotic!
I never fall asleep during digital projections, but I must admit, some of the best small naps ever taken were from watching films. I’ll enter an ether of inky soft, ticking dream ‘film’ sequences intermixed with erasure! Dreaming, until I wake & realize I lost my way. Wondering.
How, on earth? Endings- are quite profound with film.
The experience somehow becomes so tangible, incredibly warm with depth, & then, time to take it’s memory home.
I suppose I enjoy both, but I think that Film should be able to continue to thrive & it does, just less so..
RC: First of all, you are so right about the moments of anticipation before a movie starts.
People preparing to escape their reality for two hours. It’s odd isn’t it?
All these strangers sitting together in a room staring at light flickering on the wall?
Laughing together, crying together.
A friend of mine who works in a hotel, told me recently, that hotels, with their wide staircases, distinctive scents & eroticism- are all about secrets, & lies!
I think the same is true about cinemas.
Maybe, it’s not particularly erotic (for some, maybe?) but it’s a place where people go to lose themselves for a couple of hours, let down their defenses, become vulnerable in the safety of the dark.
It’s an unusual little ritual. Quite intimate in a way…
As far as traditional film is concerned, although most film manufacturers appear to be either downsizing or closing up shop, I can’t see film movie- making ever disappearing completely.
Commercially, it may not make sense any more but I think there will always be a demand for it.
I’ve been thinking about buying a Holga recently, but every time I go to this shop in London they seem to be sold out, so there are obviously plenty of ‘Lo-fi’ photographers out there still.
We’ll see less of ‘old school’ cinematography- but it will continue to thrive within the communities that appreciate it.
AV: Yes, it is quite wonderfully odd, escaping reality together, in a room, laughing & crying together & really such a new- ritual.
“Hotels, with their wide staircases, distinctive scents & eroticism- are all about secrets, & lies!”
Places, really all places, yes, we often take for granted their hidden, undisclosed forces & storytelling, yes!
I agree, there will always be a demand for film & it’s quite reassuring that many great films are still being made & shown today in 35mm.
A bit harder to experience at most theaters however.
I certainly do hope that you will get your in demand- ‘Holga‘ I would love to see some resulting images from your working with it!
Can you remind us again of your first experience of the ICA & what you feel it is, as an artist, that kept on bringing you back there for your clippings?
RC: When I first moved to London, it was winter and I was broke & lonely.
I didn’t know a soul and didn’t have much to do so would spend most of my days just hanging around the ICA book shop.
One day, an eccentric character called Colin started chatting to me and it turned out he was the projectionist.
Shortly after that, I started hanging around the projection booth watching movies, drinking cups of tea & more from boredom than anything else- began gathering up bits & pieces from the trash can & making little collages out of them.
Eventually I realized they didn’t need me to ‘make’ art out of them.
They were glorious little found objects in their own right so I just started saving them & filing them away.
AV: I can identify with “broke & lonely” in a move!
But ah….. You started to attend to a creative focus, a focus with a co- conspirator!
Books, films & Tea!
& then over time, you started to master your- found object.
I love it when I have phases of experimenting with found object.
Do you know what film “All I’ve got are my dreams and you’ve made me blue.” is from?
It’s such a powerful image, as one is viewing this subtitle- below both beaming cobalt blue Tv screens! What a great message. It has an unusual incandescent beauty, visually- as well.
RC: I wish I knew!
I love that image too.
I have no idea, though.
In a way, that is something I quite love. I have all these lovely little ‘scenes’ yet have no idea at all of the ‘greater story’ which they are telling.
AV: I also want to know what film “those senseless & ruthless killers” is from!
Amazing- I love it, what is this film!? I wish we could find out.
Do you remember when you found this clipping?
RC: Yes, I love that too!
I think that was the first one I had printed.
I found the image so striking & the words so sharp & direct.
Again, absolutely no idea where it came from.
The ICA was extraordinary in the range of movies they showed.
Many were so obscure.
At the time, I was just a collector of scraps from a trash can. I never thought to ask about the provenance of any of these things.
AV: Your first ‘Cine’ print! Wow..
Film is so prevalent globally, in all cultures, in the arts, utterly profound the expansiveness of visual media & documentation. It’s ironic- yet completely beautiful, the anonymity of many of your works in ‘Cine’.
Really does something magnificent to my frame of mind!
My mother Monica, who is quite a talent in visual arts, has a vintage Cigarette Card collection that my grandmother Lilly had as a young girl.
Dorothy & Lillian Gish, & other stars of silent & ‘talkie’ films.
Whenever I’ve looked through them, I’ve often wondered, if all those involved in the birth of cinema, pondered upon- how expansive & influential, culturally, socially, politically &- economically, it could become. If only they knew.
Do you meditate on the histories of the pieces you find?
&, do your observations in thinking of the place, time & creation of each film, ever find itself as part of your inspiration & what results?
RC: Because I only find sections of film -usually very obscure films- I have no idea of the narrative so, yes, I immediately wonder about the context of these pictures.
Is the male figure here the lead or just an anonymous extra?
Where in the story does this picture belong?
I never know and that is part of the allure.
The ones that touch a nerve with me are the ones with subtitles: a child reading a note that says ‘if you are threatened, release these pigeons‘ is very poignant to me, as well as a hand calculating the cost of death: ‘coffin boards, 2.15 roubles’.
I also like the pensive Chinese woman subtitled ‘Women should marry, shouldn’t they?’
AV: I love ‘coffin boards, 2.15 roubles’ & ‘Women should marry, shouldn’t they?’ they are visually beautiful, of course.
These images meet my sense of understanding our complicity in control & lack.
They definitely make a philosophical display out of my thoughts on the subject- in such a raw &/or compelling way.
Control & lack of it, control alloted through rituals, the buying of the coffin board, certainly cannot be an easy thing to do.
& it is as well very ritualistic behavior, not just among us, but even Elephants, they have ritualistic displays & behaviors, they lovingly, bury their dead.
& ‘Women should marry’ confronts similar human issues, of control & lack.
For obvious reasons &, she is in despair, somehow alienated by her own feelings.
I also really like your ‘Cine’ piece that states simply- ‘ART ‘ it’s unique & some how empowered for being a personalized representation of such a universal term for creativity.
Did you find ‘ART’ with what could be either Korean or Chinese layered atop it, as we see it?
Or did you add the elements of Chinese or Korean?
RC: The ‘ART’ image was cropped from ‘START’, a standard ‘tag’ on most reels of film.
I cropped it to ‘ART’ just to make it a bit more interesting.
The overlays of random bits of text are what really interested me about it. I didn’t add anything to it.
This image was cropped but, like all the others, they are printed exactly as I found them.
AV: I find it amazing & important to wonder in your ‘Cine’ works Robin.
If one wishes, one can follow the incentive to explore, the why’s & how’s of our participation & perceptions through the works.
The impetus to challenge our own illusions. The drive to act.
This, I believe is the basis for all great art. Is it not? It is, for me..
To thrive just enough within representation- to find ones self compelled to nourish & discover experience.
&, this is how these slips of film were conceived of & born.
I love ‘if you are threatened, release these pigeons’!! & this is a perfect- example, especially in where I placed it in our last conversation!
Have you ever cleaned a dusty clipping? Reworked, redeveloped, or created a series around a single film clipping?
RC: No, I try and let the images stand for themselves & not play or interfere with them too much.
I feel there’s precious little I can add to the beauty and mystery they have intrinsically.
I occasionally project textures or typography against my own work but if a clipping is a still from a movie, I just keep it as that- not even cleaning it as even the tape and debris on them is often as interesting as the picture itself.
AV: I do love the quality of the scratches, tape & debris, very much.
Touched by time & again a sense of an inconceivable life lived before having been found by you.
The ‘house on fire’ work reminds me of Andrei Tarkovsky’s ‘Mirror‘.
Again, I wish I knew what film this is from!
RC: I don’t know that one! As much as I love cinema, I’m really terribly uneducated about so many great ones.
AV: You live & create among film nonetheless.
Their endless reminders, deeper truths, echo in your works.
In making ‘Cine’ is your artistic or creative process different in any way from your other series or works?
RC: That is such a good question because, in many ways, the process is the same.
It’s about luck.
The ‘Cine’ series is only as good as the fragments I happen to find.
My own work is only as good as what I happen to come up with that day.
I don’t know whether I’m passive or lazy but I can’t seem to make anything happen artistically.
I can’t create something out of nothing in the way most artists do.
If I see a good picture I’ll take it in the way I’ll pick up a good ‘found image’ if it presents itself to me but I can’t come up with goods on my own.
I admire artists who get up every day & make something. I get up every day & wait for something to present itself to me!
For me, collecting found images & taking my own pictures feels very much like the same process & I love them equally.
Even though I can technically only claim authorship of my own stuff, I do feel I ‘own’ these found images as well.
AV: I understand very well what you mean in being inspired by found object as visual stimuli & the implementation of the material- of the object itself.
& Luck! Luck may not exist on most planes of existence but it sure does in the arts.
I as well appreciate those who “create something out of nothing”, it’s no easy feat, especially when one finds oneself not able to tap into a particularly empowered phase of creativity.
It is ideal in many ways to apply ones creativity to a found object. It’s life, mystery.
I too feel & know that you ‘own’ your found imagery, & the resulting works are yours.
You give them new life.
A new memory.
RC: Well, it’s obvious I did not film these scenes myself so I have no pretense of ownership but, similarly, I love them too much as they are to manipulate them into being something else I can legally call ‘my work’.
I just see it like picking up driftwood on the beach. I saw it. I loved it.
No one else seemed to want it so I took it home.
Maybe the copyright issue will come up one day.
It will be an interesting discussion if it ever does.
AV: Copyright! Yes it would be interesting, at least we may garner the origin of a film or two!
I doubt this happening, which is interesting in & of itself.
Perhaps individuals who participated in these films may come forward, this would be especially fascinating.
Do your ‘Cine’ pieces amazingly decompose over time, as your other works do?
RC: No. The cinema pieces are very stable as they aren’t subjected to the bleach and chemicals I use on my own work.
AV: Is there any particular reason for this choice?
RC: I bleach and manipulate my own pictures to get a certain effect.
These found cine pieces already have that effect by nature of their age, so nothing I do could improve upon the quality they have already.
AV: Have you befriended any projectionists over the past 15 years?
RC: No. Introduce me to someone, please!
AV: I shall work on it straight away.
As I wish to continue to see in my lifetime more of your ‘Cine’ evolution..
In the past, have you ever asked a projectionist to keep clippings for you to sort through & have they?
RC: Colin at the ICA used to save the odd thing for me but I’ve never known another projectionist well enough to dare ask.
I wish I’d been more courageous over the years and asked more people but it always seemed an intrusion as well as an awkward favor to ask.
AV: Ask!! Please… Not an intrusion! No no no no.
Why do you think you choose the particular clippings you have chosen?
RC: Oh, I think they have a certain mystery about them.
They are parts of an interesting ‘greater narrative’.
Also, apart from anything else, they just seem well composed ‘still’ photographs and stand on their own.
AV: In some senses an endless narrative, mysterious, yes.
Would you ever be interested in traveling to find clippings in still operating film cinemas world wide?
RC: Oh yes.
What a dream journey that would be. I’m sure in the less technologically advanced parts of the world, rusty reels of 16mm and 35mm are still the norm.
I imagine you making a return to India where you were born, what incredible gems await there, they are some of the greatest fans of cinema in the entire world.
RC: Oh yeah.
I’m not really drawn to Bollywood but I really appreciate India’s love of cinema & how integral it is to their way of life, their collective dream of romance & happy endings.
The cinemas & projection booths, especially away from the cities, must be amazing gathering places.
My memory of cinemas in India was that they were air conditioned & that, in itself, was a reason to feel excited.
AV: Cinema is an entire world on it’s own in India, yes.
I need to learn more of their cinema, it’s vast & has quite a history & much variety.
Bollywood averages 1000 films a year, twice the output than that of Hollywood.
Most definitely their theaters must be the ultimate in gathering clippings!!!
Air conditioning it’s glacial cool, yes, especially when living in such heat.
So much incredible use of color & imagery they have. I love it.
I am very into looking at & admiring how they represent their Hindu deities.
I enjoy reading about them as well, the stories are amazing.
Shiva, Parvati, Kali, Ganesh, Vishnu & Vayu &- my favorite??
The one that I maintained I was, as a child?? Hanuman, the monkey god, I ran around in my Indonesian Hanuman mask for so long it lost it’s jaw!
I am, Hanuman Robin. Don’t doubt it. Hah…
I think you would do absolute wonders with Indian Film / Bollywood clippings!
RC: To be honest, I’m more drawn to the more melancholy, mysterious cinematic images whereas what I know of Bollywood productions seems to be the very opposite: bright & clear & deliberately superficial.
Having said that, all I’ve seen of Bollywood are their cheesy musicals.
I know there is a lot of very serious Indian cinema around but I’ve never investigated it.
Indian culture is so fascinating & spiritual that it seems a contradiction (to my ‘Western’ mind at least) that Bollywood’s major export are these predictable romantic fantasies.
I love the idea of a child running around with a mask for so long it broke its jaw!
That’s a great visual image!
AV: I understand & appreciate why people like musicals, but I don’t like them very much, I suppose we have been attempting a new take on ‘musicals’ such as the film ‘Once‘ which I enjoyed.
But I must agree I could not imagine you making works from Bollywood musicals.
& I as well have a preference for how you so fittingly described “the more melancholy, mysterious cinematic images “, yes.
Absolutely everyone must visit India once in their life. We’ve got stories don’t we.
&, thank you. I sure loved that mask, I’ll risk making a fool out of myself & share the fact that I basically lived in it, my mother never complained. In fact she was recently in Thailand & tried her best to find me a replacement. They were not to be had, but she kindly & endearingly got me a puppet & I love puppets.
Has the ICA already made the switch to digital? & are you still able to find clippings there?
RC: To be honest, I haven’t pursued it.
I’ve been so busy with my own work and my existing library of images, I haven’t even scouted for new stuff.
In a way, I almost dread going back to the ICA booth as I’m sure, 20 years on, it will not be the same place.
AV: You are so delightfully honest & interesting, it’s so easy to empathize with you.
You have a vivid & unique, emotional & mental life for an artist, comes through in the work.
I am sure most of us would agree there are places we just care not, to return, to.
Gets back to our talking about ‘nostalgia’ as well.
New booths for Robin!
Is there anything else you can tell us about the possible conjunction of Whitecross & the ICA for your ‘Cine’ show?
RC: Can’t really say now, other than the Whitecross is committed & we’re hoping to include the ICA in any way they wish to be included.
AV: Are there any specific clippings that you would love to get your hands on to work with?
RC: Actually no. I like the randomness of finding an image and having no idea at all from where it came.
I have bits and pieces from more famous films that I know and like but they are less interesting to me because there is no mystery around them. I know the story.
AV: I understand why you prefer finding random images. &, who really knows the full story on anything- any ways?!
Doubt it, this bias is just not rational.
Reaching for that which we have not learned of yet, in both the familiar & unfamiliar, is a good thing.
& it is mystery, which is a lure, triggering our growth, hopefully, with consistent evolution.
The most ‘sense’ we get is with what little parts of our stories, in this mystery of life, that we actually master, I suppose, unearthing truth, as well as allowing for room to grow.
There is so much philosophy behind your works, Robin.
What is your philosophy? Several, I think-.
RC: I’m not sure about my philosophy.
Just when I think I have one, something usually happens which makes me reconsider it.
My problem is that I haven’t found one that’s hurt proof yet.
One thing I’ve learned as a parent is that there really isn’t any one ‘way’ that gets you through every situation.
Lao- Tsu is not going to help me pay my mortgage.
Schopenhauer may say the world is not a rational place but is that going to cure my son or stop some random act of violence against him?
Buddhism makes sense to me intellectually but, so far, it hasn’t made me feel any happier or content inside.
‘Live. Love. Learn’ is pretty vague but, for me, that’s as close as I get to a philosophy.
Like the person waiting for the movie to begin, I wait for an epiphany!
AV: I appreciate & understand your inspiring, honest bluntness & empathize.
I agree with ‘Live. Love. Learn.’, yes. Probably why- your work is so approachable.
Schopenhauer I have a love hate for, hypocrite– was he not?
But I do read, have read Heidegger. What a beast.
Now, Chicago’s Martha Craven Nussbaum, she has her share of critics, but, she’s just great.
There is no hurt proof philosophy, yes, especially- in regards to ethics. We cry deceit. Ha ha?
There are many inclusive realities behind many a philosophers thinking which has been written about often, yes, especially Heidegger, but not- particularly often discussed & explored & why not?
Perhaps we are in denial, or find this a bore.
It is this bluntness that should appreciate in all communications & this bluntness is not cynicism, hardly!!
It’s a way, to work & comprehend our selves, world & universe, humanity & each other, our mysteries. An efficient bluntness, with powerful, useful & unique results.
Nothing is impossible. We are born into impossibilities, thus, anything is possible & I register deeply a sense of understanding the mechanics of possibility in your work.
Epiphanies & when they arrive. Scene after scene, after scene.
The metamorphosing roles!
&, as my old antique writing desk, a discovery much like your clippings, which I found abandoned & bathed into new life.
The powerful relationship your work has, to memory. What do you think?
I’ve probably said it before & others have said it far better, but we’re all just jars of memory.
Everything that makes you ‘you’ & me ‘me’ is what we’ve collected, stored from the past & these experiences are what we project onto others & through which we filter the world.
Some people would hate an old desk for the same reasons you love it.
Maybe the signs of a previous life are not something they want & prefer something polished & new.
There’s probably a psychological reason for those preferences.
All I can say is that I like the concept of ‘rescue’–whether it’s an old desk or a strip of film.
It sounds sentimental but there is something very satisfying about breathing life into something that’s been discarded.
Maybe that urge comes from a feeling of being discarded ourselves & symbolically, we’re acting out something.
People take in stray cats, or feed pigeons.
We rescue abandoned furniture & discarded film strips.
I’d say we’re all reading from the same page.
Thank you, we are filters, yes.
My desk yes! I especially agree with “Maybe the signs of a previous life are not something they want & prefer something polished & new.
There’s probably a psychological reason for those preferences.”
“Maybe that urge comes from a feeling of being discarded ourselves & symbolically, we’re acting out something. “
I like to ‘rescue’ & ‘breathe new life’ into things which have been discarded as well.
We are all reading from the same page!!!!!!!
Oh I feel so alive, right now.
All the beauty & vital observations that erupt out of creativity, chaos, & film.
RC: It’s a great pleasure speaking to someone who is so energized & exhilarated by art and creativity. I hope you never lose that. Your enthusiasm really means the world to me. It helps fight off those self-critical demons. Thanks.
AV: Your enthusiasm means the world to me as well, my honor.
Robin Cracknell was interviewed for ART VOLUME ONE,
by, Chicago artist & writer, Amy M Denes.