Contact zone: processing the screen-based image

A conversation between Jacinta Giles and Victoria Wareham.

Victoria Wareham, Ghost Light, 2019, Still, Two-channel video installation, digitally transferred 16mm film to ProRes video, dimensions variable, 3:33 min

Victoria Wareham An issue that’s been engaging a lot of contemporary practitioners is the treatment of the screen-based image. Having worked alongside each other for the past three years, there are synergies that have formed across our practices attempting to address this problem. Aberrationand Ghost Lightare a good examples of that. Would you agree?

Jacinta Giles Yes - I would agree that although our practices might look very different on paper there are synergies in the way we approach the screen-based image as a trace. In my case this ephemeral trace that the screen is capable of producing is an analogy for the way memory processes operate; particularly its non-linear, fragmented and mutable nature. For me the process of discretization (freezing the moving screen-based image into discrete components) using photographic methods, opens up access to what Jacques Derrida calls ‘techno-intuitive’ knowledge. For Derrida this has the potential to produce new kinds of knowledge that operate at an affective versus cerebral level, which is how memory functions.

JG We’ve never really talked about the potential differences in how we see trace functioning in our practices. Could you share a little about what trace means to you in the context of the screen-based image?

VW For me, trace serves as a visual representation of another space that’s just slightly out of time with the world that we live in. In the context of the screen-based image, this other space is the screen. In my experience working with the moving image, trace also brings with it feelings of melancholy and nostalgia. This can be both convenient and inconvenient, especially when trying to harness the screen-based image to bring attention to screen-space. Ghost Light exploits this sense of nostalgia by using 16mm images to create a visual trace of the image across the screen surface and across time.

VW Speaking of nostalgia, something that has been a privilege to watch over the past few years has been the development of your photographic process and in particular, the way that you capture the screen-based image and exploit it visually to open up new spaces in the image. I know from my own practice that’s there’s a richness in finding and inhabiting these spaces. How do you go about selecting them?

JG My process is such that I end up creating thousands of photographs for each project and then I painstakingly work my way through them to find anything that intuitively resonates with me. I generally end up with only a handful of images from these large volumes, but they are representative of my own effective experience of the theme of the project. This process mimics the way that as human’s we store and retrieve memories. I also find a richness in inhabiting these spaces, as I enter without knowing what the outcome may be with synchronicity playing an important role.

JG As your practice has a performative approach, whether in the way you use found imagery or self-created imagery, does synchronicity play a role in the way you approach the development of work?

VW For Ghost Light, I was trying to favour agency over performance to empower the screen-based image and turn the screen into a type of contact zone. Rather than being synchronic, the work is anachronic; the images on each screen intentionally fall out of time with one another to allow space for a visual dialogue across the screens.

VW I often find in my own practice that I end up negotiating between image space, screen space and physical space that then forces me to unpack these relationships through the display and presentation of the work. Do you find that you also face similar dilemmas?

Jacinta Giles, Aberration 1, 2020, photographic archival pigment print, 42cm x 24 cm, 1/5,

JG I’ve only recently had to face this dilemma with entering into the world of moving-image work. Historically my practice has been concerned with the image space, although its existence has a direct relationship to the screen, and physical space. My concern has been how do I take a photographic image and effectively display it in a physical space (whether a traditional gallery space or as public art). The moving image work in this show has been the catalyst to begin to understand these relationships, particularly when I’m showing it alongside of static wall-based works.

JG As someone who has spent more time reflecting on this concern, is there advice you would give to someone starting on this journey?

VW I suppose it’s an ambivalent question really, because one of the fundamental tasks of an artist is to explore and navigate these spaces, find new connections and relationships and then translate them visually to audiences, and that’s a very personal journey. In that sense, you could almost say that there’s a quasi-mystical approach to art making, and that artists are closer to interpreters or mediums that use processes of making to inhabit these unseen spaces.

VW To me, there’s an underlying theatricality to the composition of some of your works. Would you agree that there’s a degree of architecture to the structure and dissemination of your images?

JG Yes – I would agree and its feedback that I’ve received from others. Although I can’t necessarily explain why. I did spend my youth on the stage and even at a young age I had a fascination with architecture. As my photographic practice continues to evolve, I’m conscious of looking for opportunities in which installation can play a greater role in the dissemination of the work. The ability to push the boundaries of traditional notions of what a photograph ‘is’ and to engage with viewers on a deeper corporeal level is what attracts me to the idea of working more purposefully with a space itself. The cost of realising these ambitions are generally the greatest hinderance to achieving it.

JG I think there is also a theatricality to your work, but it stems from an in-depth knowledge of cinema’s history and an ability to both subtlety or more obviously reference it. Would you agree with this?

VW I think part of the magic of screens is that when we look through them, the world around us dissolves and we become entirely immersed in that space. That sense of absorption or ‘magic’ stems from cinema’s ability to skilfully craft on-screen worlds. Something that’s particularly exciting about video installation is that it bridges a space between the immersiveness of cinema and the mobility of smaller screen-based devices. The history of the moving image and cinema are innately intertwined and having a knowledge of that history is helpful, especially when exploring the screen-based image.

VW Something that I think about when making a new work, whether it’s an installation or moving image work, is finding new and exciting ways to expand the image and bring it into a new space. I know that in some of your more recent works you’ve started to extend your practice into moving image works. How have you found that your practice has developed as a result of this experimentation?

JG I find this question challenging, in that I’m still in the process of resolving the moving image works that I’ve been making since May of this year. I don’t think I have had enough distance from them to know how they may have impacted on my practice long-term. I have definitely found working in this manner, particularly in needing to engage with audio, taxing. This is mainly because it was unexpected and eventuated due to a need to move a planned residency from physical work to virtual work as a result of COVID. I also haven’t had the opportunity, until this exhibition, to show the work to an audience and therefore be able to get feedback on its effectiveness. This might help me to decide on whether it has a role in my practice in future.

JG As your practice moves between both sculptural installation and moving image work, do you see approach them as separate parts of your practice, or do they exist in a deeper symbiotic relationship to one another?

VW A common thread that runs through my work is tactility and touch. Often, I find that this is best articulated through a combination of video and installation, although one will often take precedence over the other. Ghost Light is predominantly screen-based, but I find that using 16mm images brings a physical texture to work that helps to emphasise the unseen presence of the human hand in the work. For instance, I intentionally kept the handwritten markers and the splicing joins in the work to highlight a different type of touch: a more personal touch that nods to the artisanal process of film production.