Colin Hambrook talks to the artist Mark Ware about the creative journey that lead to his ambitious project consisting of: The Dog that Barked like a Bird - a 36 minute large screen video composition based around a diary; Free Speech - a one character play; and an exhibition of digital photographic prints taken from the Mind Games series.
What was the inspiration behind The Dog that Barked like a Bird?
"After having had a stroke I was all smashed up. I had the desire to create, but couldn't even see clearly enough to write words down on paper. And so I drew the shapes of words from memory in the hope that I would later be able to decipher them. I created untouchable words in the sense that specific turns of phrase took on symbolic meaning."
The diary forms the body of the narration - a series of short stories reflecting Mark's experience. He was suddenly forced to live in the here and now - to experience everything with a freshness. He lost temperature sensation down the right side of his body.
"I am now 50% ectothermic - half reptile. I feel drawn to lying on warm rocks during Summer months these days. I have a completely different sensation of pain from one side of my body to the other. Taste sensations have been altered. My eyesight functions differently - one quirky benefit of this is that it creates an impression of 3-D when I watch tracking shots on TV. The stroke has also dramatically affected my emotional and intellectual experiences. Often I feel like I'm acting in a foreign film, but can't understand the language that's being spoken."
The narration in The Dog that Barked like a Bird sometimes plays alongside and sometimes against the exquisite visual composition - made largely from animated digital stills.
"I have a different sensory and intellectual interpretation of the world now, which I wanted the work to reflect. It was about finding meaning. Eventually the meaning I found was that there is no meaning. This may appear to be a negative conclusion to a journey, but I found it to be truly liberating. The Surrealists attempted to enter this world of randomly rearranged life-elements. Their films were frequently of interest, but their paintings so often failed dreadfully with their cartoon-like, self-conscious constructions."
There is an authenticity about Mark's work. He experimented with using an actor to do the narration, then rejected the idea. He also refused to use an elaborate sound track. Both would have detracted from the intensity of the experience he wanted to communicate. He asks What is it like to have a stroke? He can only answer from his own understanding.
The Dog that Barked like a Bird is a raw, funny and at times disturbing testament to the will to create a place, in a world which is on the one hand frightened and on the other, pitying and dismissive. It contains a refreshing honesty, as does Mark himself:
"The film is deeply flawed. It contains a continuous use of dissolves, which I would have scorned in days gone by when I was involved in film and video production. But like Bauby in the The Bell Jar and the Butterfly I could only write in short spurts and so the film reflects this. It is interspersed with music of varying styles and genres. The choice of music was very important. Ranging from Carl Orff's Opera, Der Mond, to Mario Lanza's Drink, Drink, Drink, its purpose is to contribute to an atmosphere of general, gentle surreal anarchy and confusion."
I could have worked at creating a slick commercial film, but that would have been wrong. It wouldn't have expressed the stumbling, flawed and frequently pathetic efforts I made to form a new life after my stroke - it would have been dishonest.
The Dog that Barked like a Bird
A critique by Marc Wellin, Director, Mothlight Pictures INC, Chicago
The Dog that Barked like a Bird is a stunning piece of work. The imagery and visualization fluctuate between the fantastically surreal and documentary-like photo sequences, as a voice-over narration quietly reveals a series of short stories.
The film’s use of chapter-like segments gave me a chance to breathe, to take a break and to think and contributed to an overall sense of calm and peaceful reflection. Perhaps the most memorable images in the piece are the unsparing shots of Mark, because they are so stark and real and must have been so hard for him to do.
I talked to Mark following his stroke in 1996 when he was in hospital and still being fed oxygen. Even then he was relaying these stories to me - experiences his sudden trauma was giving him. Later, as his condition stabilised, we spoke regularly over the phone (sometimes during very dark times) and eventually spent a short time together in Chicago.
The Dog That Barked Like A Bird showcases Mark Ware's talents as a storyteller and a visual artist. The symbiotic power of the words, the original music score (often heartbreakingly beautiful), and the images left me silent for a long time. This piece opened my eyes.
I remember Mark’s work when he lived in Chicago. It would make its audience smirk, laugh, cry, and think. But this piece is much more personal and important. To me it seems as if he’s gathered everything that's been swirling around in his head and distilled the poignant moments, the surreal comedy, the tragic ironies, the fantasies, the slights, blunders, misunderstandings and the beauty, and made this poetry. I have never seen - and know I never will see again - a story told in this way.
The film flows with such facility. I can almost hear the thinking behind it, the visualizing, the working out the textures and patterns through time. There is not one pixel that seems random or superfluous.
Mark Ware should be proud of this work. I hope the general public will accept his gift.