Eadweard on Erdnase

June 16, 2015

Above is a video clip for you.

A year ago, I had the privilege of working with renowned composer Gavin Bryars on a reworking – and restaging – of his work, A Man in a Room, Gambling, inspired by The Expert at the Card Table and originally released on CD in 1997 by Bryars and his friend, the late Spanish poet and sculptor, Juan Muñoz.

This clip has a lot going on: first, I completely rewrote the text by drawing words from Erdnase and placing them in a schematic order which I refer to as “the system”. That’s me on the left at the card table. During the performance I improvised card table artifice using techniques primarily from Erdnase, which was broadcast on a gigantic video wall, live. I was accompanied by a string ensemble (in the centre featuring Gavin Bryars on bass), and the revered Canadian actor, R.H. Thomson, as the narrator – that is, Erdnase. The new work was called Card Table Artifice, and it was performed twice in Toronto at Luminato 2014.

What is interesting about the clip is that it also demonstrates how visual-media artist, Cam Davis, had to follow my lead, and manipulate both video and images “on the fly” – cutting in and out of the video on the card table to still images, all streamed live on the big screen. The result was magic!

I loved the idea of running the series of images – the very images used in The Experts at the Card Table – as part of the performance. When run in sequence, the photographs form a virtual flipbook which illustrate the moves. The images, of course, were inspired by the work of Eadweard Muybridge.

I was first introduced to Muybridge in the early 1980s, a couple of years after I had gone through Erdnase with my mentor, Ross Bertram. It was my first year of cinema studies at the University of Toronto. So, a long time ago.

I was intrigued and enchanted by Muybridge’s “studies of motion” and years later, when I first started reorganizing the text for this project, I knew I wanted to capture the work of Erdnase as “studies of motion”. Although sleight-of-hand is based on movement, it is rarely portrayed as such. The Fulves publications on Slydini may be the closest we have to depicted movement through an extensive series of photographs. 

But it took a while to execute this vision because, unlike Muybridge who set up a series of cameras to capture movement, we needed one photographer who could capture very fine movements, up-close – and a lot of them. Julie Eng undertook the challenge. Her first photographic assignment was shooting the photos for Zarrow: A Lifetime of Magic. Her second was this book, where she shot over 750 photographs, on three different occasions, never being quite satisfied with the output. (She still isn’t, but it is time to move on to the second volume.)

Erdnase and Eadweard: who knew?



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