A Conversation w/ Pirouz Nemati
The following email conversation took place in April 2015, upon the acquisition Monitor (2015) directed by Pirouz Nemati for active Video Out Distribution. This work was presented at the fourth installment of Video Out’s New Additions Series which was held on April 16th 2015 from 7:30pm – 9:30pm at VIVO Media Arts Centre, 2625 Kaslo St.
SJD: Shauna Jean Doherty
PN: Pirouz Nemati
Synopsis of Monitor (2015):
A child plays. Young lovers meet. A woman weaves wires. A man waits. Birds watch. Composed from a network of surveillance cameras. Monitor observes ad captures the everyday life around a public building in downtown Vancouver. The unobtrusive gaze of the camera, controlled and directed by the filmmaker while working as a security monitor, carefully offers the viewer a raw look at the city and its inhabitants. Limited by space and camera positions, while waiting patiently for the subjects, the characters surfaced over the course of one year.
SJD: How did you gain access to this video footage?
PN: I worked at the Vancouver Art Gallery as a contracted security monitor. Part of my work was to oversee the surveillance system, which gave me access to the cameras and recording system. The Winter Olympics of 2010 brought about a security upgrade and the new system allowed me to easily review and record digital footage. I used this system to capture events that I observed as a form of visual memory.
SJD: What type of overall feel or narrative did you want to create when compiling the clips that you selected?
PN: I did not have a specific theme or feel in mind when I recorded the images, therefore it was more of an observational meditation. My only intention was to reflect on the city and a few of its inhabitants and observe them without physical intrusion. The images of the film are in a way my memories of events that took place: the memories that I wanted to save and re-view. I noted the date, hour, and camera number(s) and on a later day saved them to my memory drive.
SJD: This work prompts an interesting dialogue between indoor and outdoor space, where the museum is regarded for the works that it houses, however, this video is exclusively concerned with the building’s exterior. Could you discuss this relationship?
PN: This dialogue actually interested me a lot. I was not concerned with what was happening inside, because frankly I found it visually dull and repetitive. The experience of working inside the gallery made me feel that today’s art and the arts institutions are excessively obsessed with themselves. I simply wanted to look outside of that.
SJD: Monitor seems to play with the documentary form; do you often experiment with genres in your work?
PN: Yes I’m very interested in documentary. It is my departure point always.
SJD: Why did you decide to combine colour and black and white footage?
PN: This was not a conscious choice. The surveillance system automatically turned its ‘infrared’ system on in low light settings of the night that turned the recorded images to black and white.
SJD: Do you exclusively work with video in your practice?
PN: I work with images. I started my practice with photography, and gradually moved into film and video. Monitor started as a photo-based project, when I photographed the surveillance monitor screens. Currently all my projects are video based.
SJD: Did you feel any ethical misgivings about using this surveillance footage?
PN: I have had a lot of strange feelings working on this film and certainly that is one of them. However, I also felt a need for the work to be made and for others to experience it.
SJD: This work evokes an interesting juxtaposition between the privilege of the gallery and the less privileged members of the public. Was this something you considered?
PN: I do agree that may be the case, as it is what can be observed. There certainly seems to be a wall between the two. I only found a hole in it and looked to the other side.
SJD: Do you often consider ideas of surveillance in your work?
PN: For me surveillance is deeply connected with the documentary form.
Historically works of Fredrick Wiseman and his fly on the wall approach. And more recently works of Abbas Kiarostami, specifically Ten and it’s surveillance-like approach. Monitor too tries to observe so cautiously in order to not disturb reality.