I was struck by the folksy, pop-culture qualities of Herzog’s dancing chicken – our prompt for The Kick-About No. 33 – and I was keen to investigate the movement of these performing animals too. The rather forlorn spectacle of these animals, in boxes, existing to entertain through repetitive actions, got me thinking about mechanical toys, so I acquired a mass-produced tin toy clock-work chicken and set about trying to capture its efforts to entertain me in the form of a series of long-exposure photographs. I tried a bunch of stuff – different exposures etc – and really enjoyed the unpredictability of the process, not least the waywardness of the clock-work rooster itself. Ultimately, there is something inescapably comedic about chickens, though I loved the way the object itself was effaced by some of the longer exposures, becoming something dreamier, ephemeral and odd. Suitably inspired, I turned my attentions to some other tin-toy birds I’d sourced, and soon kicked-off another series of photographic investigations, the results of which will follow on here over the coming days.
After the epic, panoramic, and impressionist works riffing on Rutenberg’s Low Dense, I’m delighted to present an all-new showcase of work inspired by the improbable, homespun spectacle of Werner Herzog’s dancing chicken. (That’s not a sentence a person gets to write every day!). I’m delighted too to welcome some new kick-abouters into our midst, creative power-couple Chris Rutter and Evelyn Bennett. Welcome both, have fun!
Chris Rutter & Evelyn Bennett
“We have made a cut up poem from the words of the last scenes in the film. Dance, fuckers, dance!”
“I was a bit bamboozled by the dancing chicken clip from ‘Stroszek’ having never watched the film. So I opted for some zany, silly visuals, featuring the chicken, duck and rabbit! I call it ‘Head Banger Stroszek.’“
“I’m still wallowing in bright colours this time. So with that in mind, and the craziness of dancing chickens, I came up with this. You are invited to the ‘Chicken Coop WOOP WOOP Disco’.”
“I was drawn to the stage, the colours and of course the funky chicken!”
“I first decided to draw while watching the video on a roll of rice paper that I had. This was a fun exercise, worth thinking about for other videos in the future. Then I did some monoprint outlines, based on those sketches. I tried to monoprint color on top, but that was not as successful, so I improvised with paint. Only the chicken with the blue background did not have a printed outline, it was all drawn in neocolors. There is no cohesiveness to this week’s work, but chickens are endlessly fascinating to draw. So maybe that’s the take-away.”
“I love the dancing chicken. Never would I have thought… Funnily enough, I am just painting a rooster, even if its meaning is a bit of a departure from the prompt. It all started from various kick about prompts actually, tree of life, symbols etc. Here is a bit of my tree of life, more like a climber really, with roots in the sea going up in a dreamy night sky, and my rooster daughter (by the Chinese horoscope), perched on it. Looks like a rooster singing to the moon now.”
“With this task I found myself in the realms of abstract again and fancied concentrating on the marks made by the chicken as it scratched and danced about. I decided to crochet the shape of a chicken, duck and rabbit footprint and stick them onto pieces of card to use as stamps. Next I used acrylics to paint the background and added some contrast printing using recycled packaging. After this I just proceeded to enjoy myself with ‘chicken foot ‘ stamp to make a happy dancing type of pattern. In fact I think there is actually a dance called Chicken in the Straw – so I have renamed this painting ‘Drunken Chicken in the Straw’. Plus had to finish with a little chicken quip – ‘I dream of a better world… where chickens can cross the road without having their motives questioned!'”
“I was a bit focused on other little projects – though chicken dance was lurking in the back of my mind – originally I was contemplating an image of someone crossing the road, lost battery chicken-like in their smart phone. My final offering quickly took off from a couple of weird things I did and the news feeds bombarding us in Australia on the delta variant, to the point where it feels like we never had alpha at all and that delta just appeared out of the ethers. We Australians really have ourselves to blame for not deciding to bite the bullet and take the not best option astra zenica for delta’s current launch in Sydney. Anyhow, my attempt at a voodooish/distressed thought-bubble.”
“This scene really drew attention to just how bizarre a chicken really is, dancing aside. I realised I’d never really studied one before. Great opportunity to do so, so I took a tonne of screen shots from the film and picked some charismatic head shots. Getting to grips with the mixer brushes in Photoshop now, almost tailor made to paint fur and feathers.”
“I think Werner Herzog used the dancing chicken as some kind of bleak metaphor for the tackiness and the emptiness of modern life at the time. Personally, I wanted to elevate the chicken to something more elegant, while capturing its essence and joie de vivre. In the end, I settled on these black and white images, which were somewhat inspired by an encounter with a rooster and some charcoal during my college days.”
“I got very excited when I first saw this prompt, because I just love chickens! The range of colours and patterns they display in their plumage; their ability to scuttle about very busily, and then stop stock still – like a screen freeze – before resuming their previous activity, as if nothing had happened – and the fact they combine such dignity with such comedic flair. I just love ‘em! But, I have never attempted to capture motion in yarn before, let alone dancing hens. I soon realised crochet does not lend itself easily to “action shots” so it took a lot of head scratching and moaning and groaning before I found a way forward.
I found photos of chickens running, and then got my techie friend to overlap and tessellate them. From that I tried to identify the key shapes that said “chicken”. (See attached scribbles.) From that, I decided on tail shape, coxcomb and legs, and then tried to develop those into a pattern that might suggest movement. I chose colours in keeping with the folksy, children’s story mood of the original prompt. Here are the results. Chicken Runner, anyone?“
“I was struck by the folksy, pop-culture qualities of Herzog’s dancing chicken, and keen to investigate the movement of these performing animals too. The rather forlorn spectacle of these animals, in boxes, existing to entertain through repetitive actions got me thinking about mechanical toys, so I acquired a mass-produced tin toy clock-work chicken and set about trying to capture its efforts to entertain me, in the form of a series of long-exposure photographs.”
“This was a challenge! So based solely on trailers and reviews, my imagination wandered towards Victorian anthropomorphy and the use of animals for amusement, (YouTube awash with examples), looking at the flea circus, kittens tea parties, besuited mice etc. The result? A chicken/human cross! The other image is a set up in my studio: a plastic figure picked up in the street against a favourite haunt in Greece. In Stroszek, the main character lands on a strange shore and never fully integrating, remains an outsider, wandering from place to place. It was this and a sense of the surreal that I was trying to capture.“
And for your delight and delectation, a bit more moving image by way of inspiration for our next run-around together, courtesy of experimental film-maker, Marie Menken, and her 1966 silent short, Lights. Hope this inspires some light-bulb moments of your own!
Some nice news today: When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach has been selected for screening at NIFF London – New Indie Film Festival of London. This short film was made in response to the Kick-About No. 28 and so reminds me of the importance of starting work, finishing work, and sharing work.
And a final collection of fundus-inspired photographs, prompted by the Kick-About No. 30 – and this time, science-fiction vibes abound, as the ‘eye in the sky’ starts to evoke much bigger orbs in starrier, more nebulous realms. I really enjoyed producing these images and learned a lot in the process about what I need – and don’t need – if I want to produce painterly and impressionist effects when I’m taking pictures.
A third set of fundus photography-inspired images, conceived and shot in response to the Kick-About No. 30. Not sure to what sort of creature these eyes might belong – something aquatic, or Lovecraftian, likely both.
A second batch of ‘fundus photography’, as inspired by, and produced for, the Kick-About No. 30, which challenged us to make new work on a loose theme of retinal imaging. In common with the first set of images, I was working with a simple ad-hoc set-up – glass, latex, water and ink – and shooting outside. Not sure all of these are human eyes; there’s something decidely ‘chameleon-meets-praying mantis’ about a few of the results here, which pleased me, of course.
Even though this shoot was a PVA-free zone, you might be forgiven for thinking I’ve been up to some older tricks – I haven’t, and I wasn’t, but I suspect anyone who really knows me could pick some of these images out as mine without the bother of me saying another word about them.
I guess the first thing to establish is no actual eyes were harmed in the making of these images! I should say too, no actual eyes were photographed either. In common with these recent images, I looked to various commonplace things at my disposal, and once again channelled my inner low-budget film-maker to respond as instinctively as possible to the retinal-imagery of The Kick-About No. 30.
I won’t reveal my secrets just yet, but suffice to say there is now a shortage of red food colouring and olive oil in our kitchen. I don’t think I will ever tire of the ‘in-camera’ transformations produced by light, specularity and depth-of-field, the magic that sometimes happens between the subject and the lens. I was inspired by images of cataracts and ‘damage’ to the eye (and I think, more gruesomely, by A Clockwork Orange too). In terms of producing some of the more painterly noise in the images, the bokeh, scintillas and dust, I also revisited Street Of Crocodiles by the Brothers Quay.
This set of resulting images is but a small sample, as I did a bunch of different things over four different days. From these very biological-seeming images, things became more painterly and strange, so I’ll be sharing some more ‘fundus photography’ in the coming days. I’ve certainly been having some fun.
I think this is probably an instance wherein the methodology behind the images is ultimately more arresting than the outcome itself, but having tasked myself with the challenge of trying to recreate the silent surface of the moon in response to the Kick-About No.29, I ended up working with some very earth-bound materials – principally, eight bags of plain flour, a plastic spatula for contouring, and three big glass paperweights.
That said, I must admit to a rush of fond filmic recollections, enjoying the way such humdrum materials could be turned into other-worldly vistas. One of my great excitements as a kid was learning how film-makers produced their special effects, kit-bashing spaceships from bits of Airfix models, or lining the corridors of futuristic sets with cheap plastic food containers bought in bulk and glue-gunned to the wall.
That I was able to recreate a lunar landscape on my dining room table, using the simplest means, reminds me of the power of imagination and the importance of play.
The ‘surface of the moon’ as it manifested in reality – a large plastic seed-tray filled with flour!
Our last Kick-About together was inspired by the lunar-like landscape of Dungeness beach and Derek Jarman’s Prospect Cottage. This week’s creative run-around-between-friends is inspired by the actual moon, or rather by Haruki Murakami’s evocative description of its silent, watchful orbit…
“I won’t over explain this, so it is what it is: the human need to control the natural world, and the eye in the sky bearing witness. (Moths were already dead)”. Moon and pinned moths. 2’ X 2’. Graphite, oil paint and pinned Moths on Gesso.
“It is usually thought of that our humble moon is essentially a big dead rock in floating in space, but I have always liked how Murakami imbues the objects and places in the lives of his characters with surrealistic life or uses them to communicate something from other strange and unseen worlds. Perhaps in our world, the moon might just appear to be a a big dead rock in floating in space, but in Murakami’s world things are always saying something, even if they are silent.”
“I used Yupo paper and acrylic oils to produce the marbled background for this picture. For the earth and moon I used tissue paper and water colours. Really not much more to say except I am intrigued by 1Q84 and feel I must make an effort to read it, although 3 volumes is a bit of a tall order for me!”
“Inspiring prompt, this Murakami extract about the moon, so much could be done. Here, I wanted to catch the stillness of the moon, beautifully conveyed in the novel, with the perpetual action and energy of the cosmos around it, and particularly on Earth. The painting started originally as a “calligraphy”, expression humanity and history, then all the movement and happenings over time as creative chaos. The “moon” with her round shape, so self-contained and seemingly detached.”
“I’m always photographing the moon. I decided to go through my archives and make some postcards from some of my pictures. The results proved to me, once again, that if you take enough photos, some are bound to look good. I then consulted with the collage box Oracle. The Oracle knows the moon well.”
“I think this is probably an instance wherein the methodology behind the images is ultimately more arresting than the outcome itself, but having tasked myself with the challenge of trying to recreate the silent surface of the moon under largely straightened circumstances, I ended up working with some very earth-bound materials – principally, eight bags of plain flour, a plastic spatula for contouring, and three big glass paperweights!”
“I feel like with the words of Murakami, the moon has an element of ominous brooding and a spark of stoicism at remembering what used to be. The light I am capturing with these long exposure shots, which rim the highlights of ornate wood panelling and makes the hard wood floor sing with colour, makes me wonder who used to reside in this old house previously? Who wandered through the hallways? Who ran their fingers along the wood panels? Who tended to the rose gardens? Who hung up all the photos that still have a small circular imprint on the ancient stained walls? I imagine the original family in black and white or faded sepia, posed on an old chaise lounge, looking dapper but serious. This old creaky house with its not so glamorous leaks and constantly breaking faucets still has so much charm to it, bursting with history as high as its ceilings. The mammoth floors above us are now converted into flats, but one wonders how it all looked in its original form? How would the moon have shone into those vast rooms above me? I can only fantasise.”
“Once again I appreciated Gary’s KA topic. Very evocative. I made a quick sketch as soon as I read the passage, but it has been quite a long process evolving this into a submittable form. I created several moons with face and/or textures before finding Nasa’s library of images and finally trying to recreate a moon in Illustrator (why didn’t I just use the original photo I ask myself – well I try and justify it with ‘it better fits stylistically with the rest of the image’.) The Earth (temptation) was originally going to be a simple arc containing temptations. It evolved with more Nasa pics, before it was abandoned for type and amorphous shapes with tangled line work set in a frame that pulls/clutches at the moon, and the sheer curtain acting as a barrier to the earth’s attraction. In amongst this, one sunny morning, I spotted some very attractive light and shadows on my glass-topped table around a full moon-shaped ring of water, which probably fitted the text better – anyway they are both here.“
“As soon as I think of the distant moon, I think of this one moment, which changed my way of thinking, so I thought I’d share it.”
“Moons have appeared often in my work, usually over a landscape scene. I’m drawn to the more transformative atmosphere of twilight and moonlight; the appearances of things change, shadows thicken, possibilities open up as less detail is described, and the mysteries of night hold sway. This is a collage I made earlier in the year that seemed to fit the brief this week. A huge full moon hangs in the sky, illuminating a couple who are toiling their way up a path to a lighthouse – to what end we’ll never know…”
“Warm Italian summer evenings, with a moon-filled sky, a handful of Peroni, a couple of friends and that simple pleasure of stripping off. Memory is a fine thing yet, with the weather improving, temptation is at it again so, may not be long before it’s time to escape the constraints.” Oil on prepared paper 50×57 cm.
And from one all-seeing orb to another – see below, our new prompt courtesy of Kick-Abouter, Charly Skilling:
In addition to taking photographs of various pebbles for my Kick-About No.28-inspired short-film, When I Was A Boy, I Collected Pebbles From The Beach, I needed some more impressionistic imagery too, images that could speak to nostalgia, memory and space. In the week I was due to take these photographs, it was doing nothing but rain, but then late one afternoon, the weather broke, the sun shone and the beach fairly glittered.