Videos, TV docs, films

8th Feb 2019. This is likely to be a constantly updating page of listings and reviews. I’ve taken it from my Drawing blog and will probably run them in tandem.

Abstract: the art of design.

Abstract: the art of design. Netflix 2017.

This is a documentary series featuring designers/architects/artists operating in different commercial arenas. It’s easy to imagine that slick, polished adverts, stark photographic portraits, or magazine front covers, just get there through some act of private genius. But even though extraordinary talent is clearly a factor, so also is a work ethic that requires constant exploration of what’s required, rehearsal of skills, inquiry, and intellectual framing of the problem to be solved. These are people who don’t wait for the ideas to come, they create the environment to maximise those chances. I found myself fascinated by the design of trainers (really, me, trainers?) and cars, buildings and fonts, and the subtle dance around knowing what the client wants but simultaneously manoeuvring them towards wanting a much better thing.

Forensic Architecture.

What to say about this. I’ll start with the fact that they’re based at Goldsmiths university of London which is where I did my undergraduate psychology degree. I preceded them by some years (ok, decades) but I know if we’d been contemporaries I would have been drawn to their ethics, their missions, and their diversity of skills and disciplines. In brief, this team of architects, digital modellers, augmented and virtual reality specialists, sound engineers, journalists, and goodness knows what else takes on the task of unpicking public events that have undercurrents of criminal acts, war crimes, human rights abuses, regime denials and other injustices to build a picture of what happened.  At present (February 2019) they’re appealing for footage of the Grenfell Tower fire that killed so many and for which culpability is a slippery thing to pin down.

The link to send images and videos is here.

Blurred Lines: inside the art world

Blurred Lines: inside the art world. Netflix 2017

I found this simultaneously shocking and depressingly predictable. As in so many other areas, creatives become patronised by powerful others whose money opens the doors of galleries, museums, and collectors’ basements or vaults. After watching this, I felt grubby and no longer knew what ‘good’ art is because somehow it seems to be bound up in a rigmarole of taste and power that may have nothing to do with quality. There’s also the inevitable male gaze – whether directed to the subject of the art or the artist him or herself – because men still hold the majority of the purse strings. Is this why women artists have a harder time being taken seriously? Why older women are reputed to have even more difficulty? Why contemporary equates with youth? If so, art isn’t alone, literature reeks of the same issues and writers battle an assault course of submissions to agents, to journals, to online magazines, and to publishers, each requiring its own style of faintly obsequious introduction and the underlying hope that the recipient likes them. In both instances, powerful others who don’t create, gate-keep for others who might or might not create, in order to let in only what someone somewhere thinks is ‘good’.

I started a blog post titled, ‘We Need To Talk About Bob Ross’ because Bob shows people how to paint the sorts of things people think are good paintings and he’s lovely. He obviously knows about technique, and he can produce in short order a very convincing sunset or mountain or other scene. But is it art? And if it isn’t, why isn’t it? I’m in part impressed by him and at the same time repelled – I’d love to be able to do that with such ease but then I don’t really want to do it at all, at least not if that’s all I could do. I bet it sells though.

This is Bob in one of his YouTube sessions. He died in 1995.

John Berger: ways of seeing

John Berger’s YouTube series, Ways of Seeing. From 1972.

I can’t recall who recommended his video series but it predates this course. I watched over a lunchtime bowl of soup, slightly taken aback at the age of them and the brown/beige 1970s feel of them. They looked like the early days of the Open University, all kipper ties and heavy-lidded 5 am students figuring out Plato. So it came as a shock to hear him speaking about the role of women in art as if he were a contemporary of Mary Beard; calling out the male gaze for what it is, and aiming a super trouper spotlight at the difference between the functions of male and female nudity in art.

Listening to John Berger [his book, Ways of Seeing, 1972 appears to be a transcript of, or the published script for, his video series of the same name] talking about the positioning of people in portraits, and the fashion for painting scenes of possessions, including food, I’m hard pressed not to think of those works as the Instagrams of their day, the Facebook posts of dinner, the new sofa, and stolen selfies with celebrities.

Berger, J., ‘Ways of Seeing’. Viking 1973.


Royal Academy and VR

This was a BBC documentary and I can find no trace of it now. In it, several artists, including Gormley and Hockney, were introduced to the use of virtual reality in creating pieces of art work for the Royal Academy. Wearing headsets and flailing around in apparently empty air, they had to get to grips with this novel medium and somehow tame it – or at least render it harmless – within a given time-frame. I thought the outcomes were variable and that some of the artists at least would never touch the idea again, but that, as with most new media, the experience would sit with each of them and subtly inform much of their subsequent work.

I’ve tried VR and AR (augmented reality) via cheap headsets and/or a smart phone and an app to deliver the experience. Both are relatively primitive at present although Pokemon Go had all sorts of people chasing phantoms around the place even in our small village. I have more experience with PC delivered VR such as Second Life in which ‘residents’ construct the world around them rather than play structured games. The research evidence* regarding perceptions of ‘presence’ (being there), immersion (ignoring the real world outside the screen), and the imbuing of avatars with agency and feelings on the grounds of behaviour rather than appearance is impressive. This would seem to bode well for integrating these different forms of reality into artistic enterprise.

*For anyone interested, a good start would be Jeremy Bailenson’s work or his 2011 book with Jim Blascovich (Blascovich, J., and Bailenson, J., Infinite Realities. Harper Collins. 2011).

Gustav Klimt: the life of an artist.

Presented via, YouTube 2018.

The Life of Van Gogh

Published by Artist in School on YouTube 2017.

Pierre Bonnard

According to this piece in The Conversation by Robert Pepperell of Cardiff Metropolitan university, Bonnard uses a variety of techniques in his painting that subvert casual looking. These include visual indeterminacy, colour conflicts, and equiluminance to create ‘logical impossibilities’. He also paints a lot of cats. This one, from the video, is one of my favourites:

bonnard cat

Video published on YouTube 2012.

Struggle: the life and lost art of Szukalski

Netflix 2018. Trailer via YouTube.

This is a documentary made by two people who discovered Szukalski’s art then found that he lived almost nearby and went on the trail of the man and his work. What they found was both stunning and disturbing; massive bronzes reminiscent of the landscape of the 1920s film Metropolis – overwhelmingly solid and diminishing of human scale; a driven man with an extraordinary background that included idiosyncratic lettering and symbols in his writing; and a disturbing involvement with the Nazi movement. Most of his art work was lost in WWII and he seemed forever in search of the recognition and the status he felt he deserved. To see him in this documentary is likely to leave most people with a feeling that he was a strange character, and as a psychologist, I can’t help placing him somewhere on the autistic spectrum in view of his manner, obsessions, idiosyncrasies, speech patterns, and many other characteristics. There’s no doubt that his art was powerful and imposing and that it arose from his perspectives on the life he was living. Much of it is alarmingly aggressive. Struggle is one of his surviving pieces, a brass rictus of a hand forever cramped in a dreadful grasp at nothing.


Marina Abramovic – the artist is present.

I think I saw this on TV a while ago, knowing nothing about her or her work. If this is what I saw, there is a point when her past lover appears in front of her as she plays out her two minutes of silent looking with strangers. It was heart breaking. The DVD is on order and I see it discusses whether or not this is art, which probably goes for a good many of the more contemporary installations and performances that appear now in galleries. So different from the traditional oil painting, the representational depiction of a something that often constitutes a record.

I watched the full length video of Marina Abramovic’s The Artist is Present last weekend, having only seen brief clips before and I’m again conflicted about the nature of art. Abramovic is a performance artist which means she is the art; hence the title: without her there’s nothing and so the artist is, unlike many others whose paintings or sculptures are essentially proxies, actually present. It looks exhausting, from the nude hitting and slapping she and her ex-partner had contributed in the past, the self-flagellation, and prolonged posing in sexualised and uncomfortable seeming positions, to this epic of many days sitting still as a parade of people file in to sit opposite and be ‘seen’ by her.

I’m not sure what it means or even if I’m meant to understand anything by it all. I do know, as a psychological clinician, that it’s a long way from normal and seems to be an expose of inner turmoil, whatever that is for her. There’s a great deal of nudity; often sexualised, often including male participants; and all of it there to be viewed. Under other circumstances, it might be described as pornographic, but here it’s art, and at MoMA where TAIP is ‘running’, she has celebrity status. This is evident from the queues, the tears when people don’t get a ticket to ‘sit’ or are just short of doing that when the museum closes. It’s also there in the competitive art exhibited by visitors who try to move the emphasis of the experience to make it about them. They’ve all been told not to interact with her, or make any movements once seated, but one man immediately tried to put on some strange headgear that made a black rectangle of his face, and a young woman peeled off her dress to sit nude in the seat. They were both quickly hauled away: it wasn’t their show, it was hers.

I suppose my question is, and this goes for all meaningful art (including literary fiction), if the viewer/reader doesn’t know what the meaning is and can’t make sense of it, who is it serving? If no one, then isn’t such work essentially just an exercise in self-indulgent hauteur? I don’t know what Abramovic’s message is, I suspect it’s deeply personal and complicated now by the kind of narcissism that goes with celebrity. Is she a victim? Possibly.

What I do know, from spending much of my working life with adults who have intellectual disabilities, is that the message is pointless if its meaning can’t be communicated. We all benefit from the insights an author or artist drops us via a video or interview, but that’s only available to a limited, possibly privileged, few. For communication to be inclusive, it needs to be accessible, so if we’re going to make art and literature that’s meaningful, we have to stop expecting our audiences to guess.



Art of America. A BBC4 series presented by Andrew Graham-Dixon

This is about to disappear from BBC iPlayer and I’ve only seen the last episode.

art of america

The others may be different but in this one I found it hard to get to the subject matter, it being almost wholly subjugated to Graham-Dixon’s often effusive speculations presented as fact. Interviews also seemed self choreographing – a dance both parties knew and understood with each step reinforcing the other’s and no critical analysis of the content to be swerved. A kind of safe, circular reification of apparently unconsidered opinion.

Immersive Technologies in Scotland


The Battle of Bannockburn is fought indoors on a daily basis. At least, it is in Stirling in central Scotland in 2019 at the visitor centre dedicated to the battle. A full 705 years after the Scottish forces of Robert the Bruce put paid to Edward II’s English invaders, visitors to this centre put on 3D glasses and walk into a digital recreation of 1314 and the run up to the battle. They encounter everything from archers practising their shots to Robert the Bruce slaying the English knight Sir Henry de Bohun.

via Murray Pittock in The Conversation, 06/02/19 accessed 10/02/19.

Keith Salmon

Keith is a visually impaired artist who adds layers of sound to visitors’ experience of his work. This exhibition is in collaboration with Microsoft and requires a great deal of technology to be installed, but augmented reality is moving on apace so how possible will it be in the near future to access those layers via a smart device and some AR tags?

YouTube video accessed 5/4/19


Grayson Perry on the Avant Gard

Grayson avant guard

On BBC iPlayer, accessed 08/04/19

Perry, to my mind, has never gone along with the pomposity and inflated self importance of some aspects of the art world, but he always challenges with respectful but cheeky good humour and that’s what he does in this radio programme. There is a lot of opinion but not, to my mind, much to hang any of it on. So what’s avant gard? It’s a thing that happened and was of its time because social media, money, the fast pace of today’s world, and the diminishing number of fresh edges to cut make it impossible.

4 thoughts on “Videos, TV docs, films

  1. Thanks for posting this Suzanne. From your link, I discovered Forensic Architecture which is so absorbing and eye-opening. I watched the full video of the Seawatch v Libyan Coastguard case which really chimes with my previous life as an IT programmer and computer forensic examiner. Also living in Italy we have a very immediate interest in the subject of African migrants. For you, the John Berger series is a must see (and early on in your studies) for UVC. I think it’s available as a free download on Scribd. I watched Blurred Lines on Netflix – yes it’s very interesting and comes into its own towards later stages of UVC – where you research contemporary art and Institutional Critique. Keep up the good work 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I find FA absolutely absorbing and I was disappointed they didn’t win the Turner Prize for work that’s so outward looking, risky, and honest, but at least they were nominated.
    And yes, John Berger – I’d seen his videos a while ago, expecting him to be an old duffer without much relevance. well, how wrong was I?! The Art of Design is inspirational, Blurred Lines totally depressing, and Klimt fascinating. I’ve just found Pierre Bonnard who seems quite taken with cats so that’s a rabbit hole I could disappear down for a good while! My UVC file just arrived yesterday; I will survive the mention of Marxism, I will!


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