Stephen Jones | Antitheses
28 June – 14 July 2018
Experimenting with the Medium
some video work by Stephen Jones
Experiments of a formal nature and experiments that directly explored the video medium had been taking place since, nearly, the first use of television in Australia. This may well have been due to the previous hand-made film projects of Len Lye in the 1930s or Ubu Films (particularly their synthetic films, for example, Halftone made by David Perry in 1966) in the 1960s. Of the Ubu work; the conceptual work behind them may well have come from some of the American avant-garde film that appeared in the 1960s and which was often of a somewhat psychedelic nature.
Two other forms took on similar imagery. One was the various forms of visual music, such as that of Warren Burt or David Chesworth (both working in Melbourne since the late 1970s) who used it in a more compositional manner. The other arose more out of some of the theoretical concerns raised originally by Alfred North Whitehead’s Process and Reality (1936) and subsequently (in the 1960s) by, among others, Buckminster Fuller (relayed to Australia by Mick Glasheen), the work of Benjamin Lee Whorf on the mirroring of language and thought, and other work on the use of process thinking in environmental, social and similar contexts of thought. Process thinking also appeared in a kind of conceptual art that became known as “process art”: in which a set of conditions are established and then allowed to operate freely as they produce an output that can be considered as (not necessarily visual) art. For example, the rule-driven activities that Robert Rooney used in producing his photographic works of the 1970s, or the process of laying out the vast cloth of Christo’s Wrapped Coast (1969), or the Inhibodress artists’ instruction-driven and performance works (c. 1971) are process oriented in that, having set up some original condition the work is allowed to play out as a process over time.
My video works were of the psychedelic style being generally highly coloured and produced with the aid of video synthesisers, oscilloscopes, early forms of computer graphics and especially experiments with video feedback.
In the aims of some video makers the thought was that one might develop a language of process that would allow us to better speak about the nature of ecological processes, for example, and was seen as being in some way related to cybernetics. Here the play of video feedback was often seen as an important process representing the way a system will change over time.
Perhaps the primary attempt, other than Bush Video, to produce a a situation in which the process would be foremost was in the my Open Processes show at Watters Gallery in 1977. Other works by the author, e.g., Mandala, shown in this exhibition, is a more finished attempts to do a similar thing. The Severed Heads work is more driven by my interest in electronic music and how that could be rendered as electronic visuals.
Video: Stephen Jones
Music: David Haines. [reprocessed: Stephen Jones]
When you point a video camera at a video monitor and connect the camera output back into the monitor as input, the camera is looking at itself, forming what is effectively a conversation with itself where any changes in the signal, stray light in the room or noise in the camera, stimulate a chain of changes that display as echoes of the change in the signal. The signal takes a very short time to travel in this feedback loop forming a reciprocal interaction between the camera and the monitor.
It is almost as though the signal has become alive. With a little care the image being
generated in this live loop can be shaped and formed into random and geometric forms and it becomes almost a living breathing thing. The live loop is very delicate and will re-form in random ways with the slightest disturbance. Here that loop has been recorded.
Our interaction with each other through the conversations we have and our interaction with the world that brings us to consciousness is a very similar process, shaped by culture and experience and forming us into living breathing entities that adapt to and function with each other and in the complexity of the world. It is that very adaptability that helps us keep functioning under conditions of rapid change and random interference.
This feedback loop has been controlled and shaped through its generation into the mandala form and becomes an object of meditation, focusing consciousness on its inter-twining centre. An almost mathematical object, it behaves as an analogue cellular automaton providing a detailed and intricate version of the complexity of our interaction with the world about us in all its complexity and interaction.
The feedback loop is the heart of the self-regulating system and thus the primary process of biology, interaction and human consciousness. The output of the system is “measured” by the input sensor and the system is regulated by the difference between what is needed by the system and what it is producing. Here in Mandala the output is the video signal displayed on a monitor screen and the input is a video camera generating that output stream and watching it as it flows. Thus the camera and the monitor are in a loop. The camera here has been carefully set up to produce very fine detailed signals and tilted in relation to the monitor so that it puts the next signal point at a slight angle to the previous so the whole thing rotates. Of course in the Buddhist world the Mandala is the sign of the feedback relationship between one’s consciousness and the world, and in the brain it is a myriad of feedback loops that make us conscious.
This is a selection of pieces made during the period I worked with Tom Ellard in the band Severed Heads. We used video clips like these instead of a light show, mixing the music and the images with live electronic sound and another layer of video synth, using my second video synthesiser and Tom Ellard’s graphics and animations made on the Amiga 1000.
[From an interview with Tom Ellard
Todd E. Jones: “Where did you meet Stephen R. Jones? How did you eventually form the group?”
Tom Ellard: “Stephen R. Jones showed up at our first gig in 1980. Later in 83, he built a video synthesizer, which used control voltages. As the band, at that stage, used the same voltages, he asked that we play live and send him some signal to drive the machine. That was the ‘Live At Metro’ gig that has been on a few DVDs. A few years later, he joined in. It was a five piece band for a while there.”
Todd E. Jones: “Why did you two go your separate ways?”
Tom Ellard: “Well, he wanted to get on with ‘grown up’ stuff. You get to a certain age and you think, ‘being in a band is retarded. I want to do something a bit more sophisticated’. It was hard at first because I had to take over the video production, but he had taught me well enough that I knew that I sucked and eventually got better at it. Like most of the ex-band people, we see each other a lot. Except the dead ones, I only see them every so often.”]
A Million Angels
Mambo Fist – Miasma
Twenty Deadly Diseases
Dead Eyes Opened
We Have Come to Bless This House