VAN March/April 2015: ‘New Monuments’ by Dorothy Hunter

Dorothy Hunter, Wiki Loves Monuments 2014 – Palestine


The VAI and Digital Arts Studios (DAS) residency award could not have been timelier for me. I was due to finish a two-year co-directorship at Belfast studio and gallery space Platform Arts just as my four-month stay at Digital Arts Studios was due to commence. With newfound time to commit to my practice and winter coming, what could be better than a fresh setting in which to work, with equipment, classes and support available, and the added bonus of central heating?

Upon commencement of the residency I would not have considered my practice to be especially ‘digital’, which was partly why I applied in the first place. While my installation work has included digital aspects (as it is often rooted in regeneration, political histories and gathered and compared information), I had never properly explored this side to my practice. In my proposal I stated how I’d like to spend my time at DAS exploring the use of digital media in my work in a more forthright way, using equipment and sources that have their own information-based subtext.

I also wished to use the time to consider a long-term archival project I have been making, called ‘Deconsecration’. I had been travelling around Northern Ireland to take photographs of former churches that were now employed as businesses or private homes, and having built a collection of images wished to find an appropriate platform for a not-quite-photography project.

I was one of five new residents that joined DAS, each of us hosted in the group studio with our own workstations, and each with an iMac fully equipped with all the relevant software an artist would want. I spent the first months of the residency researching and absorbing, playing with the software and free-to-hire equipment to see what could come about. The workshops were also free for residents, and so I attended as many as possible, covering Steadicam, Processing, Adobe After Effects and Final Cut Pro.

I found the workshops in After Effects and Final Cut Pro, by David Haughey and Barry Cullen respectively, to be particularly enlightening – learning about specific software in a small window of time helped me to understand the ways they mirrored each other and also ways to intuit certain actions. It also allowed me to learn a lot of the finer details of filmmaking, such as codec and managing media.

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Dorothy Hunter, Wiki Loves Monuments 2014 – Ukraine

The other residents, as well as DAS powerhouses Catherine Devlin and Jenny Atcheson, were also extremely helpful in this respect. Everyone helped to fill the gaps when anyone had a problem, fostering a culture of skills sharing and constructive critique within the shared studio. The attitude of collective DIY, humour and perseverance within DAS made for a relaxed yet hard-working environment, perfect for maintaining concentration when staring at a screen for hours.

Whilst trying to gain as many technical skills as possible I was also researching ways in which I could expand and redevelop the ‘Deconsecration’ project. I added some new photos to the collection but found it difficult to make any real steps with the project; any method of changing or re-presenting it felt like an afterthought tacked on to the archive itself. I became frustrated with the repeated dead ends in this area but I knew that being overly prescript with the residency could not end well, and so I decided to focus my attention elsewhere and follow other interesting leads that I had come across.

Having toyed with ideas around open licensing, reconstructions and backgrounds for 3D design software, I came across a photo competition held by Wikimedia titled Wiki Loves Monuments. It was a worldwide and web-based competition where users submitted images that would become part of the Wikimedia collection, and thus open-source. The entries were then judged as a whole and listed by country.

I was interested in how these images interpreted the word ‘monument’, taking in structures, buildings and public art, and the ways in which they made for striking images, often including impressive landscapes or reminders of past and recent events. In many cases the photograph and the structure were increasingly or decreasingly relevant. I started choosing images from Wikimedia’s selection, removing all traces of the surrounding environment from the photographs and repositioning the isolated structures to form a new collection.

This formed the foundation for work I made for the DAS residents show, which was kindly hosted in the Exchange gallery of Belfast Exposed in January 2015. I made physical prints of the work and hosted the collection online to be downloaded for use by others, as per the “share alike” clause of Creative Commons licensing structure.

In many ways I feel that this project is related to the ‘Deconsecration’ project that I could not quite package up, and yet I feel it brought together more fluidly an ongoing dichotomy in my practice: research-based work and more playful, intuitive creation. I feel the irreverence of the series prevented the work from being dry and was therefore more malleable. While I won’t be abandoning the ‘Deconsecration’ project just yet, it wasn’t meant to be – at least this time around.

Alongside this, I made a two-channel film installation using old personal footage of the repurposing of Tempelhof in Berlin, playing with the focus of the image by projecting onto a curved pillar and the wall behind. The manipulated image was very interesting to me, and so in the final weeks of my residency I am gathering more footage to create a film, following this more intuitive approach again to hopefully make something new.

With five artists in one space, the show came together in a surprisingly un-cramped and harmonious way. The private viewing of the exhibition was a success; that night we raised ‘dark and stormy’ cocktails in tribute to our shared time and work, as well as the driving wind and rain outside.

The VAI and DAS residency has been a great experience – and ended up being essential in helping me reconsider my approach to my practice. I found that digital media was very compatible with process-based work and wasn’t nearly as disciplined and restrictive as I had anticipated ‘technology’ would be. It instead permitted me greater freedom to play within my practice, and I intend to make the last few days count for as much as possible. I wish to extend my thanks to all on the panel from Visual Artists Ireland and Digital Arts Studios for allowing me to have this experience, as well as to tireless DAS stalwarts Catherine and Jenny (for whom there is thankfully no question too stupid), and my fellow residents from winter 2014/15.

Dorothy Hunter is an artist and writer living and working in Belfast. She is based at QSS studios, Bedford Street, Studios and Gallery.

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