three, sixteen

I showed two video pieces in this group show that were selected from an open submission call (it’s always nice for the video to get a look in). The theme of the show was pretty evident from the title and quite appropriately it opened on the 2nd of April – Good Friday. Although I don’t personally intend any religious undercurrent in my work and generally don’t consider myself to be pro or anti organised religion, I decided to put forward these two pieces. I can remember being in the final year of my degree and having to meet with the external assessor (whose name escapes me right now) to discuss my work and I guess to back up the marks the tutors were giving me. I showed him ‘three, sixteen’ and there followed a conversation that left me a little bemused and somewhat angry. After he watch the piece I spoke about where I was coming from with it, what the overall theme of the work was and the direction I saw it heading in. He asked about the religious undercurrent, referring to stigmata in particular. Now, I was duly aware that there were parallels between the action in the piece and the phenomenon of stigmata, but I was not overly concerned about this and I explained this to him. I think he was horrified. He told me that I need to accept responsibility for what viewers may see in the work and I needed to make a conscious decision to prescribe to their views or clarify, within the work, that the piece is not intended to be religious. In essence he wanted me to place myself in the mind of each and every person that would view the work, preempt their reactions and allow this to influence the work accordingly. This is ridiculous to me. Firstly, I cannot ever imagine all the different ideas and emotions a viewer will bring with them to the work. These ideas and feelings will inevitably influence their reaction and assessment of the piece. Secondly, I never make video work with the viewer in mind. This may sound a little self-righteous but it is more about self-preservation. If I imagine someone later watching me on a monitor performing a very private and personal action I would not have the guts to commit it to tape in the first place. So at the time I was infuriated with this external assessor guy, a while later I thought some more about it and decided, no, he was wrong. I cannot be responsible for each and every viewers interpretation of the work. That conversation has stayed in the back of my mind since then – I guess I was still a little angry about it – but then, at the beginning of this year when I saw the open call for ‘Blasphemous’ it all fell into place. The work can have multiple meanings. I don’t believe I have failed if the viewer does not access my intended meaning – the work should be open to interpretation. In essence the viewer completes the piece, they have the ultimate say and that is one thing I am quite happy to not have control over for once in my life.