. Conversations at the Edge (CATE)

On Lorna Mills

Posted by | Ziva Schatz | Posted on | October 21, 2015

Tomorrow Lorna Mills will join us for a screening and discussion with artists featured in Ways of Something, a four-part update of John Berger’s BBC documentary Ways of Seeing!  I’m excited to welcome SAIC undergraduate Paula Pinho Martins Nacif to blog about Mills and her work. Nacif perceptively analyzes Mills’s ambitious series as a whole and sheds light on some of the 114  artists featured in the project.

Still from Episode 1,minute, 19, by artist Rosa Menkman.

Still from Ways of Something Episode 1, minute 19 (Rosa Menkman), 2014.

I want to look inside Lorna Mills’s hard drive and flip through all her GIFs. I would like to see the image bank that contains the subjects of Mill’s work pre-mutation, and compare them with their most recent updated selves. In the digital, everything exists as instances—analog notions of the copy and the concept of the original is redefined.

Mills’s work often appears in the spontaneity of a 30 frame loop—a second-long viewing experience from first to last frame—that leaves you entranced for multiple cycles. Her work is magnetic. Once I open her image dump on digitalmediatree.com, I can’t escape. Even when I navigate away, I can’t resist tabbing back to give her images another look.  She often builds her GIFs from sets of images that have circulated the web so widely, their original context, maker, or uploader, have been forgotten.

The work Mills produces shows an understanding and awareness of the essential collaborative efforts that takes place for online communities to grow and for content that is produced to be distributed by other users on social networks via reblogs, reshares and reposts. Her most recent project, Ways of Something (2014-15)—a massive, collaborative project featuring 112 artists remixing John Berger’s 1972 BBC documentary, Ways of Seeing—highlights this approach.

Still from Episode 2, minute 1, 2014, Kevin Heckhart.

Still from Ways of Something Episode 2, minute 1 (Kevin Heckhart), 2014.

Ways of Something episodes 1 and 2 were originally commissioned by The One Minutes at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam, but they are no longer involved with the project. Mills’s remake utilizes the audio narration from John Berger’s original four-part series, updating it with visuals commissioned from an international roster of artists working with digital forms of image-making. The juxtaposition of the original 1972 audio and 2014-15 imagery extends and challenges Berger’s dialogue. Thursday’s screening at Conversations at the Edge will be the theatrical premiere of all four episodes.

Ways of Seeing is a four-part television documentary in which Berger questions and analyses the conventions and traditions of European painting from the 1400s to 1900s from the perspective of the 1970s. The main topics explored are the role of paintings after the advent of the camera and mass media, especially television; the female nude; and representations of monetary and societal status of the patron and the subject. (You can see the original episodes here, here, here, and here).

In Episode One of Mills’s Ways of Something, ideas about originality and mass media are updated for the Internet age. At minute #7, we hear Berger talk about reproductions of paintings replacing the originals (how it is impossible to ever see the original via reproduction) and see Jennifer Chan’s visual contributions. Chan walks into a green screen room while Berger narrates “now [the artwork] belongs to no place” (with a green screen, it can belong to all places) and the image travels, just as the image of Chan “standing in the studio travels to [our screens]”. We are reminded of the dissolution of the idea of the original in the digital and the content’s ability to travel and recontextualize itself in every website, feed, and desktop. The piece also showcases the shared community the net can produce. For example, in minute #29, Berger discusses his hope that widespread television access will dialogue about art and culture. But, he notes, given the structure of mass media, “you cannot reply to me.” In her visual response, Faith Holland suggests that the web has changed things, wittily typing “but you can tweet me @asugarhigh”.

Still from Episode 2, minute 6, 2014, by artist LaTurbo Avedon.

Still from Ways of Something, Episode 2, minute 6 (LaTurbo Avedon), 2014.

Episode Two takes on issues of the nude, women’s bodies, and selfie culture. While Berger’s narration surveys the history of women and the nude in painting, his voice is accompanied by digital depictions of the body, bodily surveillance of the body, documentation of the body online. In 28 minutes, we are taken through a survey of avatars, celebrities and selfies. The simulation of a human body (produced by LaTurbo Avedon, an artist that presents herself as an online avatar) is starkly contrasted with the images of bodies distorted by editing processes (contributed by Emilie Gervais). In this episode, Berger’s narration is joined by voices of women discussing their experience in viewing nudes. The narration and visuals challenge each other as the women report “the painful part of the narcissistic thing [that] is…the feeling of inadequacy” while accompanied by series of self-authored selfies (contributed by Jesse Darling, Erica Lapadat-Janzen) and appropriated selfies of Miley Cyrus, Kendall and Kylie Jenner (contributed by Gaby Cepeda) and an unidentified female (contributed by Esteban Ottaso)A confrontation with a conversation about power, and another about subversion — the selfie is mine, but it is also yours when I upload it online.

Still from Episode 1, minute 18, 2014, by artist Eva Papamargariti.

Still from Ways of Something Episode 1, minute 18 (Eva Papamargariti), 2014.

Paula Pinho Martins Nacif (SAIC 2016) is an artist and organizer living in the mid(west)dle and working with digital media, performance and writing. Her work has been shown online and off. She has controlled crowds in Chicago, Illinois. Check out her website here and her Vimeo here