Installation example for “The Healing Room” at Bank Street Arts from Jennifer Mawby on Vimeo.

Actor: Mieke Verhelst

Contextual Essay: “The Healing Room”

Statement: The Healing Room (Seer) is a “deconstructed” film project based on a simple story line with mythological implications. The works span a variety of mediums including an experimental film with an atmospheric soundtrack projected into the corner of a rough wall; a storyboard of stills printed like a master blue print plan; large format photo portraits of my main and only character; and props from the film placed as found object sculptures. Though these “art objects” The Healing Room is a character study by way of a portrait, guided in a simple narrative loop.

The “Seer”, a female character embedded in a cycle of torment and joy, obsessively repeats a ritual of her own creation. She believes that she must do so in order to keep the heartbeat of the world alive and thus preserve all life. The Seer is an archetypical character of myth and legend and because she is an archetype so is her story — primary, elliptical, and repetitive. She is mythical savant, witch, healer, and mad woman rolled into one.  I am exploring through The Seer ideas about the habits and patterns we each create in order to make ourselves OK with our world, and to explain and justify events and outcomes. Through this narrative I’m exploring the psychological landscapes in which we inhabit.

I worked with sequential photographic stills to create stop-motion animated movement which is a method I’ve been developing based on the idea of taking photography (still single images) into the dimension of time. Individual photographs are merged into sequences which I then edit as moving image. The stuttering movement in the moving image is is intentional because like the filmmakers of the 1960’s Cinéma Vérité movement I want the camera to be obvious and present in the work.

The film’s soundscape was created using only my voice, simple percussion and the digital modification of those sounds. There is no ambient noise from the location of filming, nor has the actors voice been recorded in performance. It is a sound collage in a pattern of repeatable motifs and phrases, a distinct layer to the work and not a mere accompaniment. It is the psychological landscape in which our character lives. My approach to experimental film making stems from my position of identifying both a painter and a photographer and my methods branch off from the motion studies of Eadweard Muybridge, stereoscopic magic lanterns, and early animation to create immersive, digital moving image as if the Hollywood blockbuster had never existed.

Early experimental filmmakers who made use of the sequential image such as Canadian Arthur Lipsett (Very Nice, Very Nice (1961)) and French Chris Marker (La Jetée (1962)) were influential in shaping ideas for the composition and cadence of this artwork.

“Digital” is important in this work. Contemporary digital tools allow individual artists to work with moving image/film more readily that ever. Digital lenses have also escalated the influence of “lens-mediated” storytelling. The Healing Room is at it’s core a portrait. Digital social media has expanded the genre of the portrait and created implications for contemporary storytelling through portraiture. One way to view Instagram is as a vehicle for autobiographical storytelling through sequential images which in aggregate construct and deconstruct a conceptual portrait of the profile holder. In this light, The Healing Room is as closely related to various Instagram feeds as to John Cassavetes’s hyper realistic portrait of madness in “A Woman Under the Influence” (1974).

In The Healing Room, the projected image is treated like an expanded painting. This allow me to express my primary concerns about painting within media-based work: painterliness; the material nature of paint; the hand of the artist; and challenging the 2D picture plane. The way in which I’ve worked with digital media doesn’t utilize the polished, seamless effects and technical virtuosity possible but instead seeks to reveal the more binary parts that compose this artwork.

I’ve further broken the rectangular 2D picture plane by projecting the moving image into a corner on a rough wall, and through using frames and split screens within the compositions. The right angle placement of the projection also relates back to the tradition in painting of using Claude Lorraine Mirrors, dark reflective surfaces to obscure and create a more painterly impression of a scene. Three large format photographs have been installed — they are portraits of The Seer, our main and only character. A storyboard printed on rolled white paper like a drafting master plan has been placed on a plinth referencing the practice of storyboarding film scripts, and cartooning graphic novels.

Finally, two props used in the filming have been installed as found object sculptures. Both have a meaning in regards to the relationship of painting to the underpinnings of this project. The 90 degree angle, black and pewter internal surfaces, and the position of the Lock Box further references the Claude Mirrors. The Drum Head (from a snare drum) in addition to showing the obsessive and repetitive marks of the rock drummer who discarded it also resembles a minimalist monochrome tondo painting. The Drum Head is suspended it over a square of found mirror mylar (again a reference to the reflections and refractions of Claude Mirrors) underneath blue foam safety corners found onsite in a storage room. The blue of the foam link the physical objects to the colour palette of the film, but the corners provide further meaning in their purpose to protect a precious object from harm. (J Mawby – 2014)