Outmoded Insights – An Interview with Robin Deacon

Posted by | Conversations at the Edge | Posted on | February 20, 2015

Robin Deacon, performance shot from White Balance: A History of Video, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Robin Deacon, performance shot from White Balance: A History of Video, 2013. Courtesy of the artist.

Robin Deacon is a filmmaker, writer, performance artist, and professor at SAIC. His performance White Balance: A History of Video explores the history of video through text, speech, and an artillery of outdated video equipment. But he wants wants you to know–it’s not a camera geek thing. It’s about the narratives these pieces of technology allow him to create, based on their inability to deliver the absoluteness of clear picture. Sammi Skolmoski (MFA 2016) sat down with Deacon for E+D magazine to discuss his upcoming performance and lecture at Conversations at the Edge.

Sammi Skolmoski: You explain the term “white balance” as “the process by which a camera is adjusted…to reach a truer sense of what is being seen.” Do you have any performance techniques that you feel allow you to achieve that same “truer sense” of conveyance?

Robin Deacon: There’s often this idea or assumption made about the performer being very direct with the audience. So the performer is, if not being themselves, they’re closer to beng themselves than if they were acting. I want to question that idea more–the assumptions about the performance artist having some heightened access to truth or the realism of a situation. I am interested in artifice, and in the idea of fiction in relation to understanding a particular performance experienced through documentation. There’s a real tension there that I like to exploit. In White Balance I tell a lot of stories which may or may not be true or exaggerated or overplayed. So I suppose I’m working toward to truer sense of that artifice.

How does documentation affect a performance?

This comes up a lot in teaching–witnessing a performance as live event or through documentation.  It often doesn’t get beyond being there or not being there. So I am trying to break the idea that these things are in opposition, or that one is secondary. Often discussions around documentation in the classroom center on ideas of verification–whether or not the function of pointing a camera at something is to have a record of it, or the proof that something has happened that you can put in your portfolio. I’m more interested in revisiting documentation and reimagining it, filling in those blanks. That fictional, fantastical approach to looking at documentation, rather than thinking about it as the absolute record.

How has White Balance evolved from the last iteration, as a nine-hour performance over the course of three days?

I think by me saying it was nine hours is kind of cheating because is was essentially a 45-minute lecture that just looped and looped and looped. As a performer, the idea of the start and end being contingent on whenever you walked in–that was quite unusual and enjoyable. But it was also quite disconcerting. That point where it looped back around became irrelevant the longer I went on with it, and so it changed each time. The piece for Conversations at the Edge is responding to the idea of cinematic space. There’s references to various bits of cinema, I sample various films that relate to my storyline, my voice is becoming a little more disembodied, my presence is different, and so on.

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