Frances Alÿs: ‘Childrens’ Games’.
Frances Alÿs is a Belgian born, Mexican based, interdisciplinary artist. His work is often socio-political and conceptual. A lot of his work has been focused on people and places that are in flux or conflict. The work of his that I have been looking at, is a large collection of short videos of children playing games in different countries. They are taken between 1999 and the late 2010s, all in countries in the Southern Hemisphere. Alÿs visited Afghanistan and Iraq through the 2010s, so a lot of the videos are taken in places that are amidst poverty, fighting and dislocation. When I first watched clips from the series, my thoughts were: how calming the videos were, the children looked happy, there was a sense of innocence and I think the message was that despite conflicts or lack of money, there is still time for play and freedom and that is a common thread throughout the world. I do think that maybe the feel is slightly too upbeat, but then again that is the idea. It is down to the artist in what light to paint a particular political or economical situation.
A nice aspect about the videos, is that the children are centre stage and look comfortable. There are no adults around or interfering. The shots are taken in an intimate and observational style, just letting the audience absorb the children’ world with curiosity. There is no noticeable dialogue, just the background noise, that and the poetic nature of the games unfolding, draw you into that moment on screen. Overall, I think the concept and how the videos are filmed is really nice. You can see the commonalty between different areas of the world and a look into the everyday lives of those children in a non invasive and delicate way.
Andrea Arnold: ‘Cow’.
Andrea Arnold is a British filmmaker. She had wanted to make a film about the life of a non-human animal from their own perspective, one idea was about a chicken, but she settled on a cow. This film, about a cow called Luma, was filmed over six years on a farm in the south east of England.
My initial reaction to the film was what it didn’t have. There was no heartfelt narration, no emotive soundtrack, no explanatory text, no anthropomorphising and no political message. However, that didn’t make it less powerful, in fact I thought even more so. I was transformed to a strange place in my head during the the film; The atmosphere felt like that during a gloomy day when you are stuck inside and overthinking. There is a feeling of solitude and coldness but also the fact that this is the norm and there is a numbing routine to the lives of the animals. An obvious observation is that the movie is filmed with the cow, Luma, as the main protagonist. However, how this is done so subtly I found really interesting. The eye-line in the shots is almost always at cow level, we rarely see the farmers faces. The director of photography did a quite remarkable and brave job in being amongst these large animals, gaining their trust and shooting incredibly empathetic and powerful scenes that shows the expressions, pain and happiness in Luma.
The style of documentary filmmaking is quite similar to that of Frances Alÿs who I reviewed above. The filming is observational, thought provoking and real feeling, making use of the background sound and long intimate shots. As a lot of the filming in ‘Cow’ was handheld when amongst the cows, whenever the cows got distressed or moved about a lot that was echoed in the camera movement. Some of the scenes in the milking parlour seemed almost satirical, on account of the pop music playing quietly in the background. Some of those scenes also made me think of films based in prisons with inmates lining up for food in a depressing routine.
Just as I mentioned in the begging about the film not portraying a particular emotional or political agenda, I found it interesting how the farmers were portrayed and how different viewers might react. They were simply doing their jobs, they weren’t ‘mean’ as such. The farm is just an average farm, not too intensive like some. Because of how the film is shot though, it makes the audience relate the Luma and you are confronted by the fact that this is a sentient being, that makes some people feel uncomfortable. I think I finished watching with a slight feeling of numbness and feeling slightly ill that we think that that way of treating animals is normal. Nothing was particularly shocking to me, as I knew how animals are farmed before. What I did find new was the relatability of the emotions I could see in the cows.
“I just wanted to show you her consciousness. I wanted to show the character and the aliveness of a nonhuman animal. I wanted to see if we could see that.”‘Andrea Arnold 2022’
I have made a start; the start of the week just taking photos and documenting my trying and running everyday. I haven’t thought about meaning or concept yet, I’ve just started to build up a catalogue of visuals to work from. I like repetition a lot and therefore collage. I am going to play around with photographing things like all my paper racing numbers that I wore on my vest, my large collection of shoes and see how I can use text and stats in my work.
I have been ill recently as well, so I had to take an enforced break from training. I found that interesting in itself as I feel like I am losing time when I can’t train and I’m less happy as I have less purpose and running is a boost to neurotransmitters. I’m currently drawing and writing a piece about that feeling and I will put the photo of it in next week’s notebook when it is done.
Above: This is part of what running has become for me, statistics. This is data from my watch and heart rate chest strap, it shows information from some of my track interval sessions. I find it funny how something so visceral and real is then turned into something so binary and black and white.
These are photographs I took after and before a track session. It shows my routine and everyday activities. I am quite interested in shoes and feet, they are the only part of our body that is in contact with the grand normally and the shape of our feet is specifically shaped through evolution for running. I like the repetitive sound of feet striking the ground and how different it sounds at different speeds, in different shoes and on different surfaces.