Published June 2022
Ben Dawson is a queer artist based in east London, working between digital and physical spaces.
Discussion on 'I express myself best in silence' 2022
How do you understand the relation between VR and moving image?
VR and moving image exist in similar spectrum of application, they cross over and converge quite a lot. I make work on a software that gives you the option and scope to make moving image work within Virtual Reality environments.
What led you to virtual media as an art form?
It started with a series of bad experimentations on Blender, and through this I figured out VR is just another tool for storytelling, and it can be subversive one at that. It provided me the space in a literal and digital sense to graft my own reality through trial and error, and so I have been treating it as a means of expressing my thoughts and ideas. For me it just happens to be expressed in virtual spaces, but my work isn't exclusive to virtual space as I treat all aspects of my practice with the same creativity as 3D animation.
How has it influenced your practices and perspectives as an artist?
In a practical sense through 2 years of global pandemic it has allowed me to continue exploring and creating work in a semi normal manner. Naturally it has affected my perspective as an artist, as it has opened up so many potential questions for my work and tested my own limits of what work can be. Working with 3D animation and moving image gives you so many choices and I enjoy the freedom to navigate these potentialities. My perspective of using 3D and virtual softwares (new media) has changed too due to the landscape of this practice in general. It's very much becoming a more democratic approach and people are slowly accepting VR as more legitimate form of moving image.
What are the main themes and topics explored in the text and how does this relate to the visuals?
The main topics of the voice over are the figure of the knight, becoming and silence, and queering mythology. I have been researching queer mythologies and martyrs such as St.Sebastian, and I also like the idea of the magician Merlin. You can excavate so much detail and insight form the past and then transform it through your unique lens and scope. I have been thinking so much about silence and the spaces between spaces and occupancy in multiple senses, so the knight figures in 'I express myself best in silence' play out some of these complex questions, and creates a virtual state of insecurities and silences.
Still from 'I express myself best in silence', Ben Dawson, 2022
What was your thinking process like when you edited the sequence that makes up the film?
The process begins with research and writing, and i'd love to say it's a magic moment but it's truly the opposite. It's hours of reading and research and finding my own words to articulate what i'm attempting to say, and it all stems from the themes of queering mythology and the transfiguration of images. I then visualize this synthesis of research and writing in 3D and hopefully the outcomes resemble the original starting point. I approach each frame and idea with an openness to seeing how it will play out through the process of narration.
What was the process of writing the voice over like?
I use the notes app and google docs, and my inspiration comes from the process of writing itself, my lived experiences, cycling through London and thinking about constructing dialogue. The voice over is almost this stream of consciousness conversation with myself, it's just me failing to articulate the moments between pauses, in silence, and relating that to bigger philosophical questions. I tend to ask existential questions and using words and language is so important to me as they sculpt ideas of matter, they carry meaning, nuance and cultural agency. The writing itself is a process of research within my practice.
How do you approach composition within a virtual space?
I approach composition like surrealist filmmaker, or a filmmaker with a limitless budget, as you can make the 3D camera do impossible things that a real camera can't do. I tend to play with a sense of space and depth in most of the shots, these juxtapositions between an empty shot or a completely filled frame, and those comparisons were something I was actively thinking about in this work. The monologue discusses silence and spaces in between, in opposition to this I have the visuals of these knights fighting in this chaos. I think having a dichotomy adds a great texture to composition. I have been really playing with taking forms of still images and using them as farming techniques for this work, so the lighting is heavily inspired by 14th and 18th century chiaroscuro in paintings of St.Sebastian. The composition of each animation is playing with these layers of references.
Is there (or how do you feel about) the contrasted idea of physical and virtual spaces? Or the personal and the disassociated? What other tensions do you think your work explores?
I am literally plagued by the relationship of physical and screen, I am constantly questioning the authenticity of either one. As ideas they provide a tension to be played out in a few ways, and I have always demanded that my work be experienced in person, as I am so interested in the act of viewing and gathering especially after two years of life being so laptop based. I want people to go and experience the work outside of virtual spaces. The other tensions my work grapples with are my own limits as an animator, writer and researcher. It's easy to have massive ideas but the attempt to make that visible within a video is a rather hard act to follow. I'm always thinking about balancing an element of truth with fiction with any work I produce, focusing on how what is understood as the 'real' is becoming obsolete but is also simultaneously paramount.
How do you approach screening and installing the work?
I approach installing the work in a manner that's closer to set design and traditional video installation. I work with my own limits and budget constraints. For this specific work i'm balancing the relationship of the screen with installed sound and an additional work printed on fabric. I want the sound to pollute the space, I want the sound to fill the space around the screen and really throw off and rebel against the title to the audience, allowing them to reconsider the work. I also oddly think about resolution a lot and the truth of resolution and the misrepresentation of colors on a screen, and it provides a weird space for the work to be displayed when you know you're placing a 4k export on 1080p monitor. I think i'll die on the hill of the value of seeing a screening in person in an art gallery, a film festival or any physical space.
Left to right: St. Sebastian, Andrea Mantegna, 1480, Canvas, 255 x 140 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris. St. Sebastian, Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1614, Oil on canvas, 200 cm × 120 cm (79 in × 47 in), Berlin State Museums, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany. Saint Sebastian, Sandro Botticelli,1474, 195×75 cm, Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, Germany.
Stills from 'I express myself best in silence', Ben Dawson, 2022
Voice over text:
Seared into our memory,
inhabiting apathies of course
everything is beyond measure.
I'm not afraid of the obstacles in front of me.
My pride will whisk me through
reverbs of lost battles.
I am not looking for your truth.
Our anonymity and authorship are mutually faustian
camouflage fading shadows ionizing
forged a metal waiting for the quench.
The curse is engraved in
metabolizing digital feelings into physical sweat
as a mechanism to process what was true.
Auspicious shells, phantoms, swords following like NPCs.
Pixelated pixelation establishes its own materiality
immaterial ontology, opaque coordinates registering
render impossible unhinged expressions of matter fiction.
Fiction is production
Reproduce chatter and discussion in relation to myth and truth.
Knights are gathering at the round table
chink in my armor
slivers of light causing out where you once sat.
Where you sat is important.
Your presence was seen here
What are you defining when you say your guard is up?
Your ascribing metaphor to a shield, a barrier.
My armor is so vast.
That's essentially true.
Seeking something or missing.
Seeking something that's left behind.
What will allude us?
Mutation was a pejorative term telling me that the arc of the blade
clashing with another
Maleness thrives in its own valor.
Swing your sword
metal clanging against one another.
The simulated fight sequences plays out like a manuscript etched into strata metaphors are essential vessels for conceiving power and nature.
Primordial or divine.
Ruthless Sword Fight.
Gathering in awe of light is an addiction.
Yellow and orange tearing through each other.
Splitting into streaks of pink.
Apophenia is defined as the perception of patterns within a random data
object, subject, dualism, ionizing
to weather, specular smooth to rust, metal texture animation,
the image freed from hardware
can't haunt ghosts of un-impede.
It tells of no beginning, no end, no Half-Life
sewn up images of dead past lives that we adorn in armor
compendium, ionizing, eroding
obfuscation is misty, hazy
opacity is a limited dialect that speculates
does the armor need a soul to ruminate on a physical presence which may never solidify
is revenge a pure response?
Do our lost possessions mourn us?
What would happen if abstract souvenirs invaded a known organized index
where we all recognize as a malefic mass in our acknowledgment of such mass it becomes named,
ordered and recognized against cultural capital.
The souvenir economy has transformed matter as proof
absorbing metallic history through dense in armor
that now sits in preserved cases with small placards describing around a narrative of what was
because we're here everything is so beyond measure
a non unshakable paradox, of singularities ricocheting off multitudes
but all dissolving into immeasurable unity.
Haptic experience mediates encounters of material spaces, usually through optical lenses and tactility.
They give us tangibility to reverse our Knight's Tale
Hapticity plays with the relationship between emotion and motion.
So when we start discussing the visual substrate of screens, we glean ourselves and others back
glossy 4k HDRIs
chiaroscuro painted out
4K resolution isn't real.
It is an interface
the more high res and images, the less real it becomes.
A Knight's Tale for me is placed between these dichotomous matrices
Interwoven by convention of truth.
Adornment is insular and paradoxical
I only express myself with silence.
Within the silence, there's calmness, a slow meditation on the acoustics pinging
echoes traced out in silence, carving out gauntlets of memories pinging
The more solemn an object becomes
it starts to jitter and radiate out.
Its silence erupts into a critical mass,
crying out for its bubble to burst
but once its bubble has burst,
it is left with a silent residual trace
But that silence occupies a space as a residue
collisions oscillating between jousting duels of clashes,
fables mirroring gestures slipping between synergy and violence,
near misses, liquified clarity.
armor sculpted out to fill space,
absence of space to fill in the shadow,
to occupy shadow, and opacity
to render the caustics out
bouncing light piercing dims
muted dull rust to prevent such rust is violent,
immaterial armor carved out by occupants prior
embedded scars and dents with no echoes.
I refuse to rot a compendium solidifying here is the test of durability
polished, shiny, gleaming, iridescent chrome, metallic, slippery, lacquered, wet, sleek
fidelity in defiance of rationality isn't what I crave.
Missing parts, failing to assemble
homogenize doesn't feel apt for this
fables elapsing like banners blowing in the wind.
Shoot your arrow
eye on the prize.
When an AI shoots an arrow, does it always land?
The target has been assessed and evaluated located
sometimes our anomalous arrows in the quiver.
When an arrow is missing its fletchling,
it can't shoot straight
and I refuse to shoot straight.
Silence is deafening when it's all said
I'll erupt in harmony.
A beckoning guise ringing out to be heard.