Oliver Michaels

A Journey Between Two Fixed Points
Subject: The Rotation Film
The following discussion collects an audio recording from 28/05/10 and email excerpts between Oliver Michaels and Robin Footitt, 2010-2011.


Robin Footitt: As I was watching I started to notice less the movement of the origin of the camera and observe objects, scenarios and surface plains as the environment rotates. One instance that I remember most is the handle of a wicker basket… it really performs as a frame, like the eye of a needle – which to view through.

Oliver Michaels: There is an analogy for concern that I’ve always liked; it equates concern with the idea of shining a spotlight in the dark that lights up small sections of a myriad of possibilities within any given moment. I think this is similar to the way that the pan is functioning in the film, where the outside of the frame holds the idea of endless possibility, and the pan is constantly unveiling parts of this. So then the stuff and moments in the film are always in light of the idea of the greater, or the greatness of possibility and I think that this creates a space where things are more exciting to look at. But also there’s an intentionality present in the pan as it alludes to turning our heads. Increasing the duration tenfold puts the viewer in the constant state of mind of ‘looking to see’ and this is interesting for me. It creates a constant intent laden revealing that engages our narrative curiosity.

Also the constancy of the pan in some way defines the films parameters and I think this is ultimately unthreatening to the viewer and allows them to give their attention to other things.

RF: It also makes me aware of what is behind ? because there’s always something behind what you are looking at; because of the way it turns and the way the audio shifts.

At one point I noticed a cardboard box resting on a mirror that could have made for an interesting opportunity to break with the conventions of filming by not hiding the camera’s reflection. Are there any other tricks in the film that turn away from being aware that the source is … at its functioning base, a rotating camera?

OM: That’s the only one. I wanted to show the presence of the camera through its shadow, lens flare, knocks on the mic, etc. but not the setup itself. I felt it would have been too much of an intrusion on the viewer’s suspended disbelief, as this is played with in the journeys already.

RF: If I was to thread the environments together, as one often does, there is the opportunity to view opposing spaces ? an indoor and outdoor. When these lines cross, most noticeably in ‘rustic’ environments there is a real sense of calm. I see young families, home improvements, making the most of what nature provides.

OM: I wanted the film to serve as a kind of document of unexceptional moments. In order to allow this to be present I had to gain the viewer’s trust which meant retaining honesty in the presentation and to the documentation. I also wanted to explore the polarity of the exotic; that the backside of the other worldly is banality to its inhabitants. In order to achieve this I set out to film intimate moments of the people around me. So the community created by the film is that of my immediate, close or not so distant surroundings.

This means that there is a large element of the unknown for me. Some things might be apparent to others that were too familiar for me to see. I think this is present in what you are referring to. I’m only partially aware of the feeling that the greater community creates and people’s views on this can take me by surprise, Tom (Cole, Gallery Director) asked, ‘have you included so many places that are run down or dilapidated for a reason…?’, which made me laugh.

But also I could see another unintentional element to the film’s rural bias, if there is one. I was finding all my NY exterior shots looked very similar, and there were a lot of them. So after a while I started dropping them and I think this creates an exterior more rural than its interior.

The other part of your question though refers to the calmness. I often play with how film editing can create the feeling of shortening the gap between contrasting experiences. I think that this calm may partly have something to do with the contrasting feelings of shifting from being outside to inside so quickly; whether it be from a storm outside, to the safety of a home or the confinement of a room, to the freedom of an open space.

RF: Getting back to what you said about many New York exterior shots looking similar … was the conscious decision to have more variety born out of how this film may be experienced in the gallery? I can see there is potential for the pace to mean that there is no entrance to the film, rather a rhythm which takes you along with it – more like water current.

OM: I mostly work to one editing rule, and that’s ‘if I’m bored then the audience will be too’. I always took this to be an equation that states that my interest as the creator minus the vast amount of times I’d seen it during editing is exactly equal to the viewer’s experience of watching it for the first time. I feel it needs a bit of adjusting to factor in for the artist’s level of narcissism, but generally I really respect it. So the rhythm and repetition are based on what keeps me engaged and where I lose interest, and when the textures and dynamics of a scene started to repeat I’d lose interest and re-work the area. I think I usually make work that has no necessary point of entry because I use a structural type of narrative as opposed to a story based one. But while making ‘Fixed Point’ I realised more than ever how important the linear nature of the edit was to me, at least while I’m editing. After all that’s how it sits in the time line and I always watch it that way. Not that I think it is so important to the finished piece, it’s going to be interesting to see.

RF: The tractor uproots the pace of looking, it’s a noisy, slow and purposeful journey and reminds me of another type of camera shot… the pull back where you see more of what surrounds a scene… the bigger picture. I think of projected cinema from the 1940s, the loud devices which turn the cinematic experience from film to screen… the reloading of a film spool. As we are dragged along to be repositioned it is also an opportunity to think back from the point of rest to the eventual destination, a solitary landscape.

OM: I think that’s a nice way of putting it, I’m not sure what I can add.

I tried turning the audio down on the lawn mower shot as I thought it might be unbearable for those who don’t have the tolerance for noise like I do, but the shot died for me. I like the loudness, I find comfort in it. As you imply, the loudness almost makes the shot silent in that the motor sound creates a similar experience an old projector. I also think that as we know the constant loudness will be there until the end of the journey and that it is too loud to hear anything over, we know nothing will interrupt our break and this conversely creates a peaceful moment.

With regards to the pull back, I wanted to use a shot that was similar to the pan in the way it reveals; and to use shoddy camera work to contrast the previous automated action. There’s less posturing; the camera is carried by hand with no real attempt to frame or even steady it and looking back now this stripping down could be seen as moving backwards.

The two journeys show the parts the rest of the film omits in its cuts; the physical space and time it takes to travel between spaces. But you are right, I could have done this with a car, only I wanted it to be slower, like walking or being on a donkey. I was removing technology in some way and the speed of interaction; some romantic yearning to sit in the back of a hay-wagon maybe… especially in the light of being knee deep in pixels and my recent obsession with our race to towards the future, perhaps the whole film is just an elaborate metaphor for my ambivalence towards technology…