knocking myself out

documentation of shoot with iPhone using TiltShiftApp by Toni Matlock ©2012

We have all said it, right?  

Knock yourself out.

It’s meant as a phrase of encouragement but mostly casually and without much pressure. Right?

still frame from "capturing velocity" by Toni Matlock ©2012
Well this past spring, I said it to myself and accidentally did a doozy, literally.  It happened in the midst of a studio project.  I have been working on a series of art works that contemplate wind.  The series began when I received an artist’s residency at Jentel in Wyoming in 2011.  (Click here for my posts on the Jentel residency.)  Each work in the series is a study of wind and the human relationship with it.

In the spring of 2012, I set out to document the wind activity in the Missoula valley.  I packed a video camera and a portable windsock and hiked up a ridge where I was confident I would collect good wind activity and have a visually strong shot of the windsock.  I wanted to collect a visual representation of wind.  I wanted to study its patterns and habits through the lens of a camera.  I set out to do so roughly every day.  

still frame from "capturing velocity" by Toni Matlock ©2012
In the first few days I explored the perimeters for the collection.  What would be the boundaries for the piece? Would the location always be the same? How long would I shoot each day?  Which way would I point the camera?  Would it be the same every time?  First, I decided that the camera must always point to the West.  Simply, I preferred the aesthetic of the shot when pointing west.  The windsock looked most alive to me in this direction.  And I always shot in the afternoon, between noon and five o’clock.  Then, in an effort for economy, at first I only shot for 30 seconds, but it felt incomplete, like I was interrupting the shot – interrupting the wind.  In the middle of a gust of wind, with the windsock popping around chattering about the speed and shifting directions, I looked at the time and after 30 seconds were up, I clicked off the record button.  It felt like I was being rude.  The windsock continued bobbing around but I wasn’t capturing it.  I had gone out there for more than this, so I changed my own rule and decided that each day I needed to record a complete thought - the wind’s complete thought.  (Or my perception of it.) I would watch and listen and feel whatever I concluded that would be.  I let the wind be as expressive or quiet as it appeared it wanted to be each day.  I shot up to 10 minutes in a day as long as I recorded a single ‘complete thought’ from the wind.  I did it for 30 days.

still frame from "capturing velocity" by Toni Matlock ©2012
So there I went, each day in a routine of charging camera batteries, loading the camera and its supporting parts into my pack, strapping a tripod to the back of it, heaving the entire bundle onto my back and carrying the 2-piece metal portable windsock in my arms like a baby.  I never hiked very far, but I always went uphill.  Each day, after placing the windsock, setting up the camera and selecting the frame of the shot, I sat with the wind.  On beautiful clear days, when the wind was low or still, I wished for it.  I longed for the slightest breeze. I made note of the different birds that I met.  I paused to enjoy their chatter.  I peered across the valley and measured the clarity of the air from one day to the next.  On cold, rainy, tumultuous days, I hid under raincoats and fought the wind to cover my camera and protect it and simultaneously rejoiced the dynamic performance of the windsock.  I also wondered, repeatedly on cold or wet days, who the hell’s idea is this?  Why am I sitting out here with a storm rolling over?  Oh, right.  I decided to do this.  Steady on. 

On one particularly crappy day, I hastily packed my gear.  The tripod dangled a little too high off the pack.  When I reached the location where I wanted to shoot and started to take off the pack, I forgot to unclip one clasp low on my waist, so the load fell back and all its weight pulled hard at my waist.  Instinctively I shifted forward and launched the load up on my back again.  In doing so, the dangling tripod went too far and cracked me in the back of the head.  I went black and dropped to my knees.  One knee landed hard on a pointy rock.  Without thinking, I quickly stood and unleashed myself from the pack and let it drop to the ground as if it were a bomb from which I needed to distance myself.  I sat down again on thorny weeds and rocks. Everything slowed down.  The chirping of birds distorted like I was under water. When I heard the train huffing along below me in the valley, I laughed out loud.  I just knocked myself out.  I looked around but no one was there to see what a silly thing I had done.  I felt like a cartoon without an audience.

still frame from "capturing velocity" by Toni Matlock ©2012
Eventually, I forced myself up and continued with my shoot.  On that wet, cold, and windy day I wondered more than most other days what brought me to this place - this place of working out conflict and connection with a camera. When I finally hiked off the mountain, I felt my questions answered and yet persisting more than they had been before. 

I’m sharing this story partly because I think it’s funny.  It’s funny in that it reveals how confusion and mistakes can give way to clarity and humility right when you need it.  At least it reveals that to me.   

still frame from "capturing velocity" by Toni Matlock ©2012
The culminating video, a compilation of the 30 days of shooting, is four and a half hours in length and titled “capturing velocity”.  I present the video as a projection into a white porcelain-enameled cast iron sink filled with salt.  You look down into the sink, to watch the video on the grains of salt.  It is on view at the Missoula Art Museum as part of the 2012 Montana Triennial exhibition until August 26th.  To find it, enter the Museum, go up the stairs, turn left, go left again and up more stairs.  The piece is in the far corner.  MAM is open every day this summer. 

I’ll also be giving a brief talk about the piece and my process at MAM during First Friday on Friday, around 7pm August 3rd.  Please come on by if you are in town. 

A sample of video from "capturing velocity":


trena said...

YAYAYAY so happy we will be there to attend!

Tonette Time said...

Great to have you in town!!