Familial History (Sculpture, Film and Horror): a Q&A with Darren Banks

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Darren Banks explores familial and technological histories through the integration of a filmic and sculptural language. Incorporating all the things we love here at The Girl Who Knew Too Much – cinema, horror, science fiction, darkness – Banks’ installations, videos, and drawings cull from an interest to seek out the possibility of what imagery can contain and produce. I’ve done interviews with Banks before and have worked with him on projects such as The Palace Collection, How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, Empty Distances, and his recent Palace ProjectsOur latest discussion stems from his recent work stemming from his relative (horror actor, sculpture) Churton Fairman/Mike Raven. 

Untitled_NVprojectsCC: Your previous works have concentrated on reading film through a sculptural language whereas the Evermore installation focuses more on sculpture being presented in cinema. I’m thinking of both the references to Churton Fairman/Mike Raven’s horror film history and the animation of his sculptures through manipulated film techniques. Can you discuss your interest in the image of the sculptural object in this project?

DB: My intention was to explore the relationship between Churton Fairman’s work as a horror film actor and sculptor, within the context of my own practice.  So this new body of work started with a formal idea to apply cinematic editing techniques to a series of short films of sculptures by Fairman. The original footage was shot in the 1990s, and shows the wooden carvings slowly revolving in black space. The plan was to use editing techniques commonly found in horror film as a set of rules that would change the character of each sculpture. I started experimenting with a dolly zoom (Jaws, 1975), jump cut (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1962), double exposure (Vampyr, 1932).

However, once I began making the work, I started to think not only about the way editing could affect the object, but also how elements from Churton’s past life could effect or haunt his sculptures.

I used Aftereffects to create more elaborate work: Radio Vibrations is a sculpture that’s physically affected by radio waves/sound/music; the sculptural vignette Talkie depicts two figures in conversation taking on the roles of Churton and his interviewer discussing the history of pirate radio; Beta Blob is a metamorphosis into itself referencing the transformation of Fredric March in Dr. Jeckyl / Mr. Hyde (1931), or Landis’s werewolf. 

For me, probably the most effective and poignant sculptures were the simplest, such as Pirouette a two-sided spinning sculpture that I sped up until both sides merged into each other. Through this very simple technique a new image/object is created, where Churton’s and my sculptures both exist at the same time, each with their own individual meaning, simultaneously moving and static. In Match-cut two seemingly unconnected images flicker from one to the other creating an uncanny optical illusion of a looping whole. 

By simplifying the effects I could start to understand how movement affects an object, and how movement enables you to perceive a three dimensional object within space. The loop, spin and repetition are all integral to understanding the form of an object. Essentially movement gives the illusion that a 2D image is a 3D object, and this is how film can become sculpture. I think it’s helped me to get closer to my intention to try and make sculpture out of film.

DiscipleofdeathCC: There’s a displacement of the original sculptural image in this work. I’m particularly interested in how implementing movement onto static images evokes an uncanny image, one that makes an inanimate “dead” object come alive. This, of course, implies a strong connection to the horror genre. Can you comment on this and on your/Raven’s relationship to horror film?

As a sculptor I have always been interested in this idea, essentially my move into filmmaking was an extension of the need to create movement within the inanimate object. This is the point where I come back to my early film Interiors (2005); I’ve always be fascinated by how horror films can create an emotional charge by their use of lighting, sound, camera work and architecture, giving objects life through atmosphere and tension. For me the way that horror film layers these effects is very sculptural – where a slow tracking shot moves around architecture, mapping the space to create suspense.

I recently went to see Dario Argento at the BFI where he used a scene from Tenebre (see clip) which, for me, is the prefect example of this layering of effect.

Churton Fairman AKA Mike Raven was always Dracula, never Frankenstein, so I’m not sure what he would have thought about bringing inanimate objects back to life; although I’m told back in the day he did have a signed Aleister Crowley book so maybe he would have liked my tin pot alchemy! There are even rumors of Churton practicing the black arts but I think that was just hearsay (or part of a PR campaign when he was trying to make it as a British horror film actor). On a side note I was very impressed to find out that one of Mike’s favourite films was the Witch Finder General. It’s a brilliant film and I’m also big fan of Michael Reeves, a very talented director whose early death cut short his promising career.

To my knowledge Mike only starred in four horror films (Lust for a Vampire, 1971; I, Monster, 1971; Crucible of Terror, 1971; and Disciple of Death, 1972) but I really like that, there is something intimate and focused about his small cannon of horrors. The film that really stands out, and I think is relevant to your question, is Crucible of Terror, a film that I know you have already written about on you website. It’s a kind of 1970s English Bucket of Blood, where Mike plays an obsessed artist (looking for perfection) who killed a woman by casting her in bronze whilst she was still alive. Unfortunately the film seems to fade into a weird revenge ‘who done it’ movie as each of the characters start to get bumped off! – but that doesn’t matter, there are some great scenes of people being killed by art and for art, as well as the sculptor at work, a gallery private view and so on. Apart from the literal references to art and horror the film really resonated with me because of how it seems to fit into narrative of Mike’s life, in that he became an artist many years after playing the character, so the lines between fact and fiction are blurred, not made up but just part of the serendipity of life.

CC: Back to objects, similar to your previous works the monitors in Evermore and The Object Echo are a visible component to the installation. Is it important to you to reveal the relationship between technology and the image? Between what is producing the image and the image being produced?

DB: I think these two shows serve well in answering that question. For me there has always been a close connection between the image and how its displayed, and the technology usually becomes an integral part of the assemblage of the sculpture; but my recent works using projectors have made me think about the how the object/ film can exist without the cube, and within different architectural structures.

I really enjoy getting my hand on loads of old clapped out CRT monitors from Baltic39 for The Object Echo to recreate the sculpture’s storage shelving at the Fairman’s house in Cornwall. In that sense it felt more about the physicality of how the work was displayed and what the film was displayed on. The use of Cathode Ray Television monitors was very important, not just as an aesthetic choice, but to display the film in its correct format as it was originally shot for TV. In fact here is a link to Curator William Copper blogging about CRT monitors in relation to my show. 

In contrast Evermore at Workplace felt more focused on the sculpture and the effects that I placed upon them, it was good to take the films away from the TV and scale them up to look at the objects relationship to the gallery architecture. It felt like the monitors took second stage, as these small spinning objects became more like weird monumental totemic signs. There was less emphasis on Mike Raven and more on my process of making. 

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CC: Considering your interest in horror, it’s incredible that you’re related to someone associated with classic British b-movie horror films. How did you become aware that Mike Raven was a part of your family and how the documentary footage wound up in your possession? What do Raven’s and your family think about this project?

It all started with my Mum, she was working on her family tree with her second cousin; after along conversation about our extended family it turned out I was related to a radio DJ, Horror film actor and sculptor named Churton Fairman (aka Mike Raven) who died in 1997. My Mum knew about my interests in sculpture and horror and thought I’d be interested in Churton. I’d never heard of him before, but after spending a bit of time researching online, it was easy to see that he was quite a character who led a very complex and rich life: here was a guy who loved blues and RB music who left his life as a Radio DJ to become a Horror film actor (going on to work with the likes of Lee & Cushing) then leaving all that and moving to Cornwall to become a sheep farmer and sculptor. His obituary in the Independent reads like a fairytale. 

After my initial research I started to think about his life and our similar interests, but I wasn’t sure where to go with it. I started collecting his memorabilia, and from that point I’ve been a kind of fan collecting programs, records, dvds and posters from all the different parts of his life. It wasn’t till a bit later on that my Mum mentioned the documentary and that for the later part of his life he was very active carving wood and stone. It turns out that in the early 1990s with help of a friend, he made a documentary about his life as a sheep farmer and sculptor and its been sitting in a box unedited on beta tape at the family home in Cornwall for about 10 years. So I decided to visit and have a chat with my cousin, which led to her giving me the documentary to work with in anyway I saw fit, so with the help of LUX who digitized all the footage for free (thanks LUX), I was able to make a new body of work and also finish the documentary.

Mike RavenCC: What are you working on next? Do you plan to continue exploring the Mike Raven’s history in further works?

DB: At the moment I’m attempting to finish editing the documentary about Churton’s later life as a sculptor, which I hope to finish by early next year. I’m also working with Ele Carpenter to get one of the sculptures placed within a museum collection. It would be my homage to Churton to ensure his work is preserved for the future.

I’ve started to think about my work outside of the confines of horror and horror film, revisiting ideas about collecting and archives something which has been apparent through a number of different projects and working process’s which have involved collecting large amounts of film footage/images and objects, appropriating them into sculptural assemblages and film montage. From working with Churton’s documented life to the reassembling of museum objects for the Backwater exhibition in Northampton and of course my ongoing work with Palace Video Label.

But yes – I do see myself working with more footage from the documentary and I intend to look at different aspects of his career in more depth. I think if you bring together all the different elements of Churton’s life you start to see a contemporary figure and that is what I find most fascinating. I’d also like to revisit his horror film and present a film screening of his back catalogue, and favourite films.  

I’m currently finishing an online curated project called the Annotated Palace Poster Project where I’ve invited 15 artists to produce a poster for one the 15 films that make up the Palace Collection (a small library of horror films on the Palace video label). The posters are by the likes of, Jamie Shovlin, Michelle Hannah, John Russell, Flora Whiteley plus many more. The images will eventually sit alongside 15 short texts by artists and writers in response to the original films in a Palace Projects publication. The texts are all really different by people like Gilda Williams, Ben Fallon, Lorena Muñoz-Alonso etc. It’s been great to work with such interesting people, and the next step is to bring everything together in a publication.  

Exhibition Image Credit:
Untitled, NV projects, London
Wooden Sculpture Courtesy of Mandy Fairman
Photo Credit: Peter White

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Five Questions on Horror & Architecture: AIDA RUILOVA

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Artist and filmmaker Aida Ruilova provides the first set of answers to a series of questions about horror and architecture The Girl Who Knew Too Much is asking artists, filmmakers, curator, and writers.

Five Questions on Horror & Architecture: AIDA RUILOVA


Do you think architecture has the power to be horrific? If so, how?

Architecture manipulates our perception of space. Its effect can be subliminal which makes it very powerful. It can be mesmerizing as much as it can be oppressive.

How has architecture and/or horror impacted, influenced, or been represented in your work?

My works have dealt with the interior and exterior, the body: the human condition.

Why do you think horror narrative continuously returns to the home?

The home is considered a safe space, it gives us the illusion of security and safety. We need the mundane, the everyday to reflect on what we don’t understand.

How do architecture and horror similarly (or dissimilarly) pinpoint/reflect the historical (cultural, socio-political, etc)?

There’s a permanence to architecture because it’s bound as an object. Horror’s ability to reflect the current psyche is shaped by the conflict in our times.

What would be your favorite representation of architecture in a horror film or vice-versa?

‘Rope’ is as chilling in its storytelling as it is in the calculated lengths a director will go to shape a film. Hitchcock wanted the single set film to appear to be one continuous long take. Through set design and some creative panning he was able to create the allusion. It’s technical prowess reveals what it takes to support continuity of mood and narrative in the architecture of a film.

Mike Nelson on The Coral Reef (video)

In 2010 I visited The Coral Reef. It is a non-place, a construction, a fictional other-space housed within the reality of an art museum. Non-linear, abandoned, and claustrophobic. Dirty. No other artwork has ever made my heart pound and my palms sweat.

Here is artist Mike Nelson talking about the re-installation of The Coral Reef at Tate Britain (where I saw it).

Sean Higgins Interview

HIGGINS-images“The biggest influences on my work in the beginning weren’t necessarily other artists. It was Tarkovskiy films and Alphaville. I was always more interested in that in terms of influence of subject matter.”

Sean Higgins’ work appears to be photographs of the natural world – land, seascapes, space, explosions – but they function as hermetic spaces of unknown origin, depopulated vistas. Higgins’ practice destabilizes source photographic imagery through technological and handcrafted interventions. These particular works, titled after Joy Division songs, embody the exhibition’s idea of collapsed spaces with pools of endless blackness.  

Sean Higgins, a Los Angeles-based artist who is included in my upcoming exhibition about post-apocalyptic voids is interviewed in LA, I’m Yours. Includes great studio shots. Enjoy the blackness…

Sing Me a Western Song on MOCAtv

It’s no secret that Marnie Weber is much loved on this blog so it’s with great excitement that her 2007 16mm film Sing Me a Western Song (featuring another afterlife tale by the Spirit Girls) is available to watch on MOCAtv as part of their West Coast Video series. Includes a personal introduction by Weber to boot!

Sinister Seven: Interview with Rue Morgue

It’s pretty darn exciting that The Art of Fear has initiated the conversation about horror film and contemporary art by visualizing some of the connections between the two. Realizing that there are three somewhat diverse components – cinema, horror, and art that all have the audience as a base commonality – there is obviously an interesting road ahead in discussing these influences with each community. This is one of the reasons why I was thrilled to answer some questions coming from the horror-realm by Rue Morgue (the other is that I think they do an intelligent take on horror). It talks a bit about the film program, other projects, and why myself and certain artists found an obsession with horror films.

I’ve included excerpt below but read the whole thing here:

For many of us, these exhibits are a very different way to approach the horror genre. Can you help me wrap my head around exactly what’s going on here?

The fact that The Art of Fear and other related projects are a different approach to horror is what interests me the most. I view the horror genre as evolving over time, through different cultural and political periods, absorbing the contemporary climate. Some elements to the genre stay while others change and I think that by including visual artists into the equation, we can start to see how pervasive and influential horror, particularly horror film, is on other mediums.

Marnie Weber Interview

My interview with the amazing Marnie Weber featured on Lux.

Marnie Weber creates fantastical worlds that, quite frankly, I want to live in or, at the very least, pay a visit. Her atmospheres are an aesthetic mash up of Victorian, 1970s commune, and gritty punk filled with the kind of unsettling creatures that would scare the pants off you if they weren’t somehow totally endearing. Indeed, there is something very magical and intangible about her film, collages, and installations. Weber expresses the theatricality of old Hollywood, bringing forth our own nostalgic tendencies through the expression of death and dreamscapes. Her images are touching, luscious, and melancholic; reflecting another world placed firmly within our own.

For the past six years, Marnie Weber has woven together fictional narratives about the post-mortem adventures of the Spirit Girls, taking us on their bizarre and uncanny journey through the afterlife. Earlier this month at the Mountain View Cemetery & Mausoleum in Altadena, California, Weber put an end to their perpetual mourning and opened up a new avenue for exploration. Eternity Forever, presented by West of Rome Public Art, was inaugurated with a funeral processional and the debut screening of Weber’s film The Eternal Heart where the Spirit Girls, in their last performance, played the live score. This exhibition, which also features a new series of collages, represents the death and re-birth of Weber’s ongoing relationship with her monstrous characters.

CONTINUE READING ON LUX’S WEBSITE

Image: crowd at the Eternity Forever opening.  Courtesy of Marnie Weber and West of Rome.