Bridget Tempest is an artist based in Skipton, Yorkshire, where she lectures in Printmaking, Film Studies and Contextual Studies at Craven College. Specialising as a printmaker, she has in recent years made film another central component of her practice, in works which combine prints, moving images, text, music and voice. These quiet but exquisite works, playing on the tension between the rhythms of art and the rhythms of nature are, she says, a way of making images ‘ambiguous and subjective’, and of exploring the relationships between landscape and the self. We asked Bridget a few questions about what motivates her work, the role that film plays within it, and the ways in which it might be considered ‘poetic’.
1) Can you say a little about your printmaking practice, and how it relates in your work in film?
The way that all works on paper are framed (mount and glass and frame) seems to be unavoidable: I suppose I was looking for something else. As an artist, if you want to get your work into a show or a competition, you have to submit the image online. Already it’s dematerialised, having become data on a screen.
Actually it’s more of a story, how it came about, my dalliance with film. Freddy, my 18 year old nephew had just come back from rehab again. That was the routine. He’d come back and he was funny and clever and looking really well. We had lunch at Whitechapel Gallery and I took him to see John Stezaker’s haunting collaged photographs. Over a cup of tea, I showed him photographs of some work I’d recently finished, a series of over 40 monoprints, the topic of which was Addiction. He’d really liked them and asked if he could show some friends and we left it at that. It was the last time I saw him because a month later, the lad was only a puppet, barely able to function and then he was dead of an overdose.
After his funeral, his sister helped me put the pictures into a film using Imovie with one of Fred’s beautiful songs as a soundtrack and it was played at his wake.
This ignited my interest in film as an adjunct to print for its capacity for narrative and its economy of space. I liked the possibility of a vertical narrative alongside a horizontal sequence of events.
However, I knew that I wasn’t interested in animation, the obvious route. Film as a language or a medium has so many different aspects that the more these are considered, the richer the creative potential becomes.
2) Following on from that question, what are some of the challenges of making films, as compared with making prints?
This is an interesting question because the obvious answer would be technical. Film is now a digital medium and you have to learn the editing programme. That was really difficult for me but I had a student who showed me the basics of Final Cut Pro. Then I experimented using YouTube videos and Dummy manuals. Mostly everything went wrong or I couldn’t do what I wanted so had to invent ways of getting there. Accident and chance were my most faithful accomplices!
The more important answer is the challenge of moving out of a spatial medium into a temporal one. Print is a process that is dependent on materials. Your matrix is lithographic stone, or copper, or zinc or wood. The different textures, the feel and connotations of the substance you are working with and into, exert their own presence on the character of the marks you make. It’s a sensual experience working with materials that carry all sorts of connotations, especially considering they are materials from the natural world: stone, wood, copper.
A print is an object and possesses subtle textures, from the velvet depth of black of a drypoint to the palest washes of a lithograph, and these are acknowledged and exploited by the artist printmaker.
Then film is absolutely immaterial as it is seen. It’s light moving in time (to borrow the title of a book on experimental film by William Wees). The spectator can only respond to its ephemeral array of moving light through recognition, through the way that photographs register time. We must relate the images portrayed as shadows to previous experience in order to make sense of it (ideas which follow from reading Henri Bergson)
Tarkovsky memorably described film as ‘sculpting in time’. When you edit film, you engage with something more to do with music or words, finding rhythm and timing in your composition. It’s completely different from organising marks in space.
There are similarities in the way you can layer disparate images together in quite a random way within the editing programme. When you are making a print, you lay the paper over your printing plate so you can’t see what will happen. That’s the exciting part. I do the same with film, layering footage with scanned prints in quite a haphazard way. I heard the American experimental filmmaker Leighton Pierce talking about the excitement he got from film being similar to his practice as a ceramicist, taking work out of a kiln. As soon as I can predict what will happen with a print, I have lost interest. Not quite being in control of a medium leads to all sorts of unexpected collisions so that suddenly you find the image embodies exactly the idea you had wanted to convey.
Recognising the specifics of your medium doesn’t curtail your engagement with it. For example, for a poet, whose medium is the word, (which includes sound and performance), film can be used as a means of recording the event or it could be something else The challenge would be to let the visual imagery complement the power of the words rather than distract and unnecessarily complicate that impact.
3) Your films encompass some or all of prints, footage, music, voice, and text. Using one of your films as an example, can you talk us through how you assembled these various parts, and why you made the decisions you did?
I’ll talk about Seclude, since I made that film with a specific outcome. I had been asked to make a painting about a house, Kirtlington Park, which belonged to my great aunt and where I lived as a child. I found I couldn’t do it at all. Nothing seemed to convey the sense of timelessness and the peculiar position of a place that hasn’t really changed over time when everything else has. I was thinking about Yves Bonnefoy’s The Arriere Pays, which represented some territory beyond, a place that may have been dreamed about or may not exist at all. My father spent his war years based at Kirtlington and he is part of a sheet of time that’s almost disappeared. I used his voice for the connotations of the elegiac timbre as he describes the lake. The music is from Arvo Part’s collaboration with Gerhard Richter at the Manchester Festival a couple of years ago which I recorded on my phone and the other music is from a friend’s record player and I have no idea what it is but it seemed to fit. Contrasting montage filmed in the kinds of alien places where I might have been thinking about Kirtlington seemed to evoke its particular peace.
4) Are there any lessons you have learned in your experience of making films which you would like to share with our readers?
I do feel I’m just flailing around in the dark with my films! I’d say to your readers that it’s been very helpful for me to understand a bit about film and there’s plenty of critical theory around. The specifics of a medium are a good framework. (Rosalind Krauss writes about medium.)
Digital programmes like Premiere and Final Cut are pretty easy to work but they’re easy for anyone. The problem is to find your own voice. I’d imagine that for a poet, used to words and not images, it’s a different symbolism and you have to be careful that the word and the image enhance each other or play against each other but not fight each other.
Ian Hamilton Finlay found a wonderful synthesis working across media with his concrete poems, even using nature herself as his palette at Little Sparta.
5) We at All These New Relations are obsessed with the idea of the ‘filmpoem’ and how ‘poetry’ might be realised outside of its conventional ‘habitat’. While you don’t describe yourself as a ‘poet’, I wonder if you have any thoughts on the ‘poetic’ qualities of film-as-medium?
I think there are many examples of films that are already poetic, from Tarkovsky to Antonioni. What you would be doing, is making something that is as succinct as a poem and includes all the elements that make it a poem but in visual terms. I keep thinking about a film I saw by Sean Martin called Koan 2. It’s absolutely everything that a poem is but in film.
6) What has been your experience of viewers’ responses to your films, as compared (perhaps) with responses to your prints? Are viewers’ expectations different, and if so, do you work with that in mind?
When people see my films, they are included within installations, so they are seeing the prints at the same time. On the whole, as a new experience, I haven’t had to explain much. They seem to get them. Reactions vary. One lady was furious and said she’d never seen anything so ridiculous in her life, whereas a few minutes later, someone wept, saying she didn’t know why she was so moved. Part of one installation is feedback people are invited to write with coloured pens on prepared card and these are then incorporated into the work. I must admit, I never really consider the viewer when I’m making the films. I’m afraid I’m only trying to get it right for myself!
7) Where do you see your work in film developing in future?
I’m a bit obsessed with finding a way to integrate the print with the film in terms of how to show them together. One thing that always bothers me is the apparatus that film requires for it to exist. The print as an object is so simple – it’s just there and you bring your attention to it, whereas the film needs you under its own time. You also need sockets and projectors and bulbs and health and safety and technicians and it’s never ending……
I’d like to be able to set up a way of using light and mirrors or lenses so that the film and the print can exist together autonomously.
I found Miriam Hansen’s article “Benjamin, Cinema and Experience: ”The Blue Flower in the Land of Technology” very interesting for many reasons, one of which was the implications of apparatus.
8) Can you recommend any poets and/or artists working in film that our readers might enjoy?
Tarkovsky’s film Mirror, for a start!
Zata Kitowski brought a PoetryFilm project to Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Hawick in 2015 and she showed a selection of films celebrating and exploring this genre.
Maryam Takafory makes beautiful contemplative films that include text about own experience as an Iranian exile and as a woman. Sean Martin’s short films are poetic meditations with poems as soundtracks.
There’s the Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival in Hawick every year and the Artist’s Film Biennale at the ICA where many filmpoems are shown, though not necessarily labelled as such. You’ll probably find some experimental filmmakers protest that their films are already poems.
I don’t spend that much time on the internet so am not really the best person to ask, but more and more artists are crossing and mixing media so it’s an exciting new territory to explore.