Filmmaker Luis Bunuel's autobiography, My Last Breath, opens with a chapter on "Memory". It begins:
"During the last ten years of her life, my mother gradually lost her memory. When I went to see her in Saragossa, where she lived with my brothers, I watched the way she read magazines, turning the pages carefully, one by one, from the first to the last. When she finished, I'd take the magazine from her, then give it back, only to see her leaf through it again, slowly, page by page."
This installation explores time and memory; what constitutes our perception of self and of the elements of our personal history that elude our memories as we age; identity as seen through our own memories and through the perceptions of others transmitted to us over time. The work brings forward images and sounds - creative (artworks) and documentary (family photographs, videos, objects) – into a stylised replica of a room in my childhood home that played a key role in my early creative and social development.
Sounds and images flow through as a series of fourteen 41-minute audio-visual compositions, where the audio is a present-day response to finished works and other fragments of my work since the 1980s. These recollected works are augmented by new work performed by musicians in the built space against the existing soundtracks. In the installation in Shift Cardiff, these compositions were performed and recorded to create a connection with the room's history and use as a creative area.
Along with the musical and noise components there is a projected text that moves freely through stream-of-consciousness reflections on the space and commentaries on the content of the present work. It is an introspective work seeking to express universal experiences of childhood and nostalgia.
The soundtracks were played through four loudspeakers in the room or surrounding the exhibition space. The content reaches back to 1984 when my first experiments were made in that room. Therefore there is a deep layering of time, augmented by images from my personal archive.
There are fourteen soundtracks of forty-one minutes each, each divided into prime number segments of 2, 3, 5, 7, 11 and 13 minutes, arranged in a unique order. Additional material has been written and recorded over the past two years or so.
Therefore, the sound material is 'telescoped', reaching back from over thirty years and echoed back into a space that is modelled on the room where I made my first experiments.
I have for some time been consumed by the idea of producing a large-scale time-based work that brought together materials from the last 35 years or so. Initially conceived as an audio piece that would, perhaps, have newly-written live accompaniment, it occurred to me that the form should emerge from the material somehow – that it should find its own form.
I had recently completed some clarinet recordings with Katie Stevens that were structured on the the first 6 prime numbers – 2, 3, 5 , 7, 11, 13 – in various non-repeating configurations. The manifestation of the score from this structure is trivial, but the interesting aspect is that I drew the configurations from a set combinations of the letters a, b, c, d, e, f. I produced this table manually on a rudimentary computer in, I think, 1988 or thereabouts. In other words, the span of time as a feature of the work surfaced immediately.
These recordings were then used as source material in a set of performed transformations and the results are heard in each of the fourteen self-portraits. Furthermore, the structuring principle (prime number sequence) was extended to the divisions of each piece: 13, 3, 7, 11, 5 and 2 minutes. A total of 41 minutes per piece, 41 itself being a prime number.
Why these structures? Structure brings freedom. A structure allows you to explore possibilities without being confronted by the chaos of infinite choice.
What was this piece about? At first I felt it would be an opportunity to create a unified version of my various 'Velvet Lantern' pieces – not to replicate them into a sequence, but to remake them from scratch using their original concepts as a starting point. Those works are documented elsewhere but I would say here that they all had some aspect of cinema as their common thread. It seemed logical that each of the fourteen pieces would pick up on a film that had a particular significance to me.
Then James Joyce's Ulysses suggested itself as a model. The novel is structured around episodes from Homer's Odyssey, each chapter having its own colour, an academic discipline etc etc.
The idea of self-portraits came to me from the fact that I was building a large work from completed works and fragments from my past. If there was any way to depict myself it was this. These fragments are my mode of expression: they form a mirror reflecting my decision-making, my preferences, my culture - in the same way that a painter paints herself into another's face or an author writes himself into his characters.
The number fourteen (a palidrome of 41, of course) was arrived at somehow – I don't recall how. The duration of 41 minutes each was guided in part by an ideal duration for vinyl LPs over two sides. It also fits comfortably onto a CD. So I had this notion of producing them in a limited run to give to friends and the remainder deposited in charity shops in the hope that they would find themselves in people's homes. They would have bastardised versions of classical music LP covers to allow them to sit strangely, but correctly, in those graveyards of music.
With the support of Shift Cardiff, Arts Council of Wales and The National Lottery.