Part 1. Project 2. Exercise 2: Interpreting Video Art

This exercise instructed me to watch a video of an artwork by Sam Taylor-Woods. This video which I accessed at https://youtu.be/BJQYSPFo7hk was a time lapse video of a bowl of fruit decaying.

YouTube. (2019). Still Life by Sam Taylor-Wood. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BJQYSPFo7hk&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019].

Initial Response after first viewing

I am puzzled as to how this can be classified as art. Maybe it is a statement on the perishable nature of life? Maybe it’s supposed to be a reminder that fresh food is better for you but it goes off fast? Maybe it’s a statement that peopleare ignoring their health and thereby their lifespans are shortening? Maybe my ideas that art should be something beautiful and good are wrong?

The media and form of the piece

The piece is, I’m assuming, the video as opposed to the rotting bowl of fruit. As a form I normally quite enjoy a time lapse video, the ones I see are more often things like sunsets or speed-art photoshop videos on Youtube. Seeing that someone has decided to apply time lapse video to something like decaying fruit was a bit of  shocker for me. Initialy the setup of the fruit looked quite classical and reminded me of a Caravaggio still life. In classical old paintings of bowls of fruit there were often nods to death or references to the impermanence of life, maybe by using video in this form Taylor-Woods is putting a modern spin on classical techniques?

What do you think has influenced this piece?

A lot of things could have influenced this piece. It could be a modern spin on a classical approach to still life, it could be a piece about the passing of time, or it could be a shock and awe exercise reminiscent of Damien Hirst. I had a look around at some of Taylor-Woods’ other work. A video which I accessed on YouTube at

https://youtu.be/NYka4ouQXqk (YouTube. (2019). Sam Taylor-Wood – A Little Death [720p][2002]. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NYka4ouQXqk [Accessed 17 Jul. 2019]. ) entitled ‘A Little Death’ shows a hare and a peach rotting. As the video continues the maggots erupt from the body of the hare and consume it. Weirdly very little happens to the peach.

Again I found this quite gross to watch. There are different messages that the artist might be trying to put across, it could be a statement on the life cycle, how maggots will consume us all. Maybe it’s a statement on how we all feed off each other. Having read a few essays about Hirsts shark in a tank I imagine that it’s more likely to be a darker approach about how something like a consumerist society destroys all life and feeds off the broken carcass of it’s participants. Just a guess. I’ve noticed that not many of these modern artists seem to be wanting to spread messages of positivity and rainbows.

Talking of Damien Hirst, one of his early works which attracted him much publicity was a rotting cows head (complete with maggots) inside a tank. The tank even included smell holes to allow viewers of the piece to ‘engage further’ with the installation. Freud commented on it along the lines of that Hirst had opened his career with his best work.

The rotting cows head with maggots rings bells when I look at Taylor-Woods ‘A Little Death’. Is it a deep statement or is it more like one artist craving a bit of notoriety of the other and so is embracing the same concept?

How does this piece comment on time?

This piece comments on time in several different ways;

  • There is the more basic passage of time shown by the way the hare is being devoured by the maggots.
  • There is the relation to time shown by the speeded-up video which is what the viewer sees.
  • There is the way that seeing a video of a still life with its references to death relates to the classical painters of hundred of years ago.
  • There are possible references to vegetarianism, currently a very popular trend. This can be seen in the way the hare is devoured so much faster than mould starts to affect the peach on the left hand side.

In 250 words describe your understanding of this piece

Having made some notes of different aspects of the piece I believe that this video is about time passing. I think that Taylor-Wood wants us to think about how short a lifespan is and how everything ends with decay no matter who you are. I think this is symbolised by the choice of the hare, hares traditionally win races but this one has met the same end as everything else. This is further echoed by the maggots, they live breathe and breed just the same as we do and we get to see their life cycle play out as they feed on what has gone before.

  There are several different refences to time in this piece. The initial set-up echoes early still-lifes as depicted by Renaissance painters, this allows Taylor-Wood to show how far technology in art has come by using different methods to show the same relationships between life and death.

 The choice of video as a medium has allowed further references to the passage of time. The actual event of the hare rotting would have taken several days, possibly weeks. This is delivered to us in minutes thanks to technology. There is also a possible relationship here as to how long traditional paintings of still life would have taken to create as opposed to how we can use for example digital cameras to swiftly create the same stunning images.

 I think the use of video has allowed this art piece to be more user friendly (no Hirst-like smell holes here!), the choice of this media makes it accessible and gives it longevity.

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