Vol. 2, No. 3, November 2006
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STEPHEN ANDREWS WAS BORN IN 1956 IN SARNIA, ONTARIO, CANADA. HE HAS EXHIBITED HIS ARTWORK IN CANADA, THE U.S., BRAZIL, SCOTLAND, FRANCE, AND JAPAN. HE IS REPRESENTED IN THE COLLECTIONS OF THE NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA, AS WELL AS MANY PRIVATE COLLECTIONS. HIS WORK DEALS WITH MEMORY, IDENTITY, TECHNOLOGY, AND THEIR REPRESENTATIONS IN VARIOUS MEDIA.
> BASED ON A TRUE STORY
In the days following the bombings on the London Underground in 2005, I was astounded by the telling and retelling, and then the amending and re-amending, of that “story”: the killing of a Brazilian man, Jean de Menezes. What was exceptional was the short timeframe in which these different versions emerged. Initially we were told the shooting had been “directly linked to the ongoing and expanding anti-terrorist operation” and that upon leaving the apartment that was under surveillance, Mr. de Menezes matched the description of one of the suspects being sought. It was later revealed that his identity couldn’t be confirmed because the officer was “relieving himself” at the time. Scotland Yard said de Menezes’ “clothing and behaviour” added to their suspicions. By the time de Menezes had walked to Stockwell Underground station, there had been a positive identification. He (or a police officer) vaulted over the turnstile at the subway (or not, depending on whom you listened to). He ran to catch the train unaware that he was being “hotly pursued” by officers. The fact that he wasn’t wearing suspicious clothing, hadn’t refused to obey police instructions, wasn’t running from police and wasn’t their man in the first place seemed to have been overlooked in the initial police account. This was admitted to later, after documents were leaked and CCTV footage contradicted the police statements.
Usually a story goes cold before all the facts leak out. In this case, we still had all the different versions fresh in our minds. Consequently, just who was being served by which version was plain to see. This became the inspiration for collaboration with my partner, writer/filmmaker John Greyson. “On Message” was produced in response to the versioning of these events and others like them. It is an animation using the same set of 30 odd drawings, images that were shuffled and reshuffled. Subtitles were used in each version to redirect the viewers’ interpretation of each image. The different image/text combinations tell four different stories, utilizing the well-known principle of the Kuleshov effect.
Lev Kuleshov, the early Russian filmmaker, demonstrated that by splicing two unrelated shots together, a third meaning could be conveyed. Kuleshov took a single close-up of a then-famous actor, Ivan Mozhukhin, wearing a neutral expression, and cut it together with each of four other shots: a bowl of soup, a girl, a teddy bear and a coffin. Even though the shot of the actor was exactly the same in each version, viewers still believed that he was portraying very different emotions: hunger, tenderness, grief.
Our four “film” versions, adopting different popular genres, are as follows: a melodrama about the emotional fallout of two witnesses to a de Menezes-type police killing; a musical about groovy gay boys making the scene; a cop show about the chase and arrest of a suspect; a news report about soldiers on leave in Iraq. The source material for the drawings is culled from a process of intuitive Google searches, scanning the web using associative subject terms, as well as images taken from various news sources and re-enacted dramatizations.
The drawings re-create the look of four-color reproduction through the use of a homemade separation technique. They are done as rubbings using window screening and crayons. Initially I developed the technique to give them the look of published photos; it was my response to the lack of photographic evidence of the war in the print media. Information was really only available on websites at that time. The disposability of these media images is in stark contrast to the effects on the lives of those involved. The color-shifts toward the pastel that occur as a result of the process make the violent imagery easier to look at. Rather than being repulsed by the pictures, the color palette slows down our reading of the imagery and lets the meanings sink in. For most of us these are not part of our personal experience, but we must, I think, take it personally. With the drawings in “On Message,” I have shifted away from choosing specifically violent images to work from, toward more mainstream media representations of recent events. At the same time, I adapted the technique and this new image selection approach to animation, restoring motion to still images and allowing them to come back to life.
At this juncture in history with the “war on terror” at a safe distance, viewed through the wrong end of a telescope, our access has never been more up close and personal. I find myself playing the spin-doctors’ game. Hence the aim of the work I have chosen to display below should operate as a feedback loop or an echo response using the lessons of Kuleshov. My intention is to unpack the mechanism by which special interests are served and to confront my own contradictions. Incapable of seeing the big picture, it seems necessary for us to edit together as many small pictures as we can, to start seeing them in some sort of sequence. But we must then also scramble them, reshuffle, re-edit, remind ourselves that the order can/must change.