A dialogue with Clive van den Berg (artist and curator of the Brett Kebble Art Awards for 2004/5).
Clive van den Berg: Why have you moved from a static to a time based medium?
Tanya Poole: Working with portraiture was frustrating me as a static medium. I wanted to introduce dialogue and a slight narrative sense. I had tried working with film, but the painted portrait has a resonance and a history that the filmic portrait can't supply. So I combined the two by animating portraits and found that this resolved the limitations of both media for me. For Missing, the first animation I made, I wanted the two characters, my father and my daughter, to speak to each other. I wanted the sense of a shifting inner emotional space to be present in their faces and I wanted the idea of psychologically repetitive patterns to be evident in the work, none of which were possible without placing the work in a time based context.
One of the striking things about your work is its pace. You force the viewer to slow down, spend time with an image that changes very slowly. Why?
To engage the viewer in the emotional site of my work, I needed to make it compelling and contemplative; compelling in that holds the viewer's interest, and contemplative in that there is a generous amount of time made for the viewer to sit with his or her changing responses.
In these animations I've created small moments in the context of a larger inferred narrative. At this point in the lives of my characters there is a stillness, or inaction. In fact, I refer to these animations as my non events. In Part, the characters are very quiet. Both are on the verge of sleep. They lie there with their longing for each other. Despite their physical or geographic distance from each other, there is a greater underpinning of separatedness that is particular to a parent and child, about which nothing can be done, and this lack of volition holds them. It's a still, gentle moment.
In Wait, however, the character is tense and strained. It's unclear what she's waiting for, but there's just no other recourse left to her. Her inactivity is desperate for reprieve, so the inertia of the moment is wracked with anxiety and the slow pace is excruciating.
The surface of a face is watched as one would a landscape disturbed from below. You work with trace rather than grand gesture. Involuntary movement, a blink or accumulation of moisture in the eye seems to signal a vast unsaid?
That's exactly it. There is an overwhelmingly intense inner life in the characters that I animate and I really like the disparity between this and their very restrained outward expressions. The sense is that there is a great deal of self control involved, that at any moment this restraint could be ruptured. It brings an emotional edginess and suspense to the works, and a sadness, too, a regret that communication is so often inadequate.
Your articulation of the space between screens appears to be a clue to the viewer for understanding issues like generational difference, the retrospective comprehension of things never said, but known. Space and time appear to be central to your work?
I've positioned the characters in Part and Missing to face each other directly. Being extremely intimate pieces, the space between them is activated and quite fraught. To stand in that space is to feel intrusive and uncomfortable, to be very aware of how that space is charged. It's impossible, standing between the faces, to view both at the same time. As the viewer turns to look at one or other of the faces, he or she essentially replaces the other character. Placing the viewer in the position of being the second character is really asking them to enter the interaction as a character themselves. And this demands an emotional response and engagement in a way that is more pronounced than when facing a single image.
Part uses this distance and space quite significantly in that the two characters are acutely removed from each other. They can be viewed from inside the installation, as with Missing, or from the outside, where the faces can be seen as superimposed on one another, that they become as close as possible to being one person. Through visual clues like the variance in light quality and the difference in bed linen, one is made aware that they are not in the same bed together, which is what the positioning initially infers. They may be in different rooms, they may be on separate continents. It opens up the possibility of their being separated in time as well as space. It makes their thoughts of each other and their longing much more acute. And this is the space into which the viewer steps.