'Half Full – Half Empty' by Barbara Bloom

The artist’s first web-based project began with the barest of ideas

How does this project relate to your earlier work?
There are aspects of this work that have been present in many other pieces. The subject of absence is certainly in many of my works in the guise of footprints, fingerprints, shadows … these traces are all what I have come to refer to as ‘visual innuendo’. Also there is often implied narrative (or narratives) in my work. The Diamond Lane (1981), for instance, is a film trailer for a movie that doesn’t exist. And The French Diplomat’s Office (1999) is a work that centres on a carpet that bears the footprints of a man and a woman who have been in a room. In Half Full – Half Empty the objects on the table indicate the existence of the absent people: a cup spills, a paper blows, a candle lights and is blown out etc. But also the glasses reflect what is going on in the room and beyond. And then there is the element of time in everything I do. Though the pieces don’t move, that element does. I often consider part of what I do is a choreography, or dramaturgy, of the person looking at images and objects … not singular objects but the implicit meanings in combinations, ricocheted meanings and the space between them. This project not only literally takes place in time; it embraces the subject of time: in the past, present and future dialogues – but also with the form of a living still life, one that changes in time. The nature morte come to life.

How long did this work take to complete?
In 2006 Lynne Cooke, curator at the Dia Art Foundation, New York, invited me to think about a web-based project to be presented on the Dia website. Our first conversations were about my doing a version of the play Betrayal (1978) by Harold Pinter, a play that runs backwards in time. I had been thinking about doing my interpretation of the play for many years. In the web version there would be no actors, only props, which would have acted as remnants of dialogue and action from the future as the story worked its way towards its beginning. Unfortunately, after quite a bit of work, we made an official request to the Pinter people and were refused the rights to make the piece. So … back to square one – but not quite. There were other attempts to find another existing text on which to ‘hang’ this idea of the objects as stars of a narrative (I considered stories by Raymond Carver, Jhumpa Lahiri, Vladimir Nabokov, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Alberto Moravia). Then I decided it could be interesting to work with an author and create text and image at the same time. I am an admirer of the writer John Haskell, and he was game to try. We began with just the barest of ideas: that two people would be having a conversation – and that much about their relationship would be revealed indirectly. The idea of three parallel running dialogues (in the past, the present and the future) came as we proceeded. It was clear that the image of the changing still life, with moving objects, would not illustrate the conversation but run as yet another parallel.

How was the work made?
First the script for the ‘present’ version of the text was written. The conversation was recorded with the voices of a man and a woman. It was then edited and was used as a timeline for all other aspects of the work. Then the video was shot of the ‘transforming’ still life, which was edited using the ‘present’ soundtrack as a timeline. And the post-production effects of reflections in the glass were made. Then the ‘past’ and ‘future’ scripts were finalized. The ‘future’ text was recorded with the voices of two older people, and then the ‘past’ text was recorded with two children – a combination of scripted text and improvisation. These were edited. Finally the web project was designed and put together.

Did the work change during the making of it?
Absolutely …. with many side-tracks, tangents and red herrings. I can’t even recall all of the many versions of the project. The entire process, from start to finish, probably took two years with lots of time on the back burner, and so the incremental way of working made it seem as though all the problems resolved themselves.

Who was involved with the making of the work?
Sara Tucker at Dia was involved in almost every aspect of the project and did a lot of the computer programming. John Haskell and I collaborated on writing the script. Chris Mann did the audio recording and editing. Gregory King did video directing, after-effects and editing. David Teague did the lighting. Pravin Sathe and Smita Sathe did the programming. The voices in the recordings were those of MaHong Bloom, Braden Donoian, Jane Friesen, John Haskell, Mikel Lambert and Matthew Lewis.

At what stage during its manifestation was the work given a title?
I wanted to include this work in a large book I was designing, so long before it was made I had to come up with a title. I was looking for a reference to glasses in still life, to the passage of time, and (by reversing the order of the expression) some subtle tragic element. Voila! Half Full – Half Empty.

Is the work what you expected it to be before it was made?
Yes and no. I had no idea what I was doing. This is the most exciting and scariest way to work … as one decision leads to the next and the next. I love faking it – that is, just winging it … doing something I have never done before. It is a rare experience to be commissioned to do just that. One is usually asked to do what someone thinks you know how to do – to be competent.

This was your first web-based project so how did the medium change the way you work?
I always yearn to make works that exist in time, so this may be quite an efficient way to do just that.

Barbara Bloom corresponded with James Trainor.

Issue 118

First published in Issue 118

October 2008

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