Blind Carbon Copy
by William Fowler
21st September 2009

William Fowler - Curator of Artists' Moving Image at the BFI National Archive - explores the many sources used in Blind Carbon Copy.

Matthew Noel-Tod's Blind Carbon Copy (2008) explores, through the manner of its construction, what abstraction means in the moving image today.

It highlights the development and sophistication of cinema language. Certain sequences run fast, throwing dialogue and scenes together. Often, these sections are more conventionally readable than some of the slower sections. They read a little like cinema trailers, the drama of the action working like a glue. In this context, the brain is prepared to accept that the isolated dialogue and scenes might represent a fully unified narrative.

Blind Carbon Copy, however, also points to the possibility of a new abstract cinema where content still exists. In the same way that it revisits abstract two-dimensional art, the video detaches abstraction from its position as an emotional outburst devoid of temporal context and instead repositions it as a poetic and philosophical possibility.

Blind Carbon Copy is built from many sources. The film includes a performance undertaken by six actors, a dancer, a baby, various life drawing sessions and two bands; one based around guitar and drums, the other electronics. In bringing these things together the video asks where the point of translation occurs, where does concrete meaning lie and what takes precedent in these moments?

In this new piece of work we hear discrete lines of dialogue while on screen we see pieces of paper with crude but expressive abstract marks. When a new line of dialogue begins, a new abstract image appears too. Blind Carbon Copy suggests that the sound and image are some how equivalents. The marks are not simply expressive, a non-figurative articulation of a certain mood - perhaps how we might think of abstract art, instead the abstract images hold on to particular or precise meanings even if they are themselves metaphysical.

Blind Carbon Copy makes comments about the various different artistic forms it contains, often exploring abstraction. The guitar band, Corey Orbison, at one point produce atonal rhythmic guitar textures and unstructured drum patterns. Noel-Tod asked the band (and the electronic musician, Katapulto) to articulate an improvised ‘life drawing' in sound in response to a nude man standing in front of them. Music here then is attempting to represent the figurative although there is nothing figurative about its form. We could perhaps more accurately say though that the musicians are expressing their emotional readings of a nude man presenting himself in the mode of a life model. What do we call this music then? What does it concretely represent?

It emerges that the abstract marks on paper were made by young children also in responding to a life model, this time female. Although we are caught in the intermediate realm of translation, even the source is emotionally loaded. These ‘abstract' marks are at some level an attempt to be figurative and relatively unconscious. There isn't abstraction; there is a series of raw creative responses to a stimulus. The life model then picks up the various drawings and wraps them around herself. The women is dressing herself with, and creating her identity through, the articulated emotional readings of others. (Another model does the same thing with drawings produced by young adults.) The whole process and the situations Noel-Tod constructed are circular. Blind Carbon Copy is also extending its already epic scope to encompass sexual politics.

The spoken text that provides the overarching glue for the video also resides in obscure translation and uncertain meaning. Constructed out of emails sent by Matthew Noel-Tod, these fractured phrases refer to different places and different metaphysical states. Placed in this new context, slippery detached terms like ‘here' and ‘there' seem to confuse these two things and somehow position them both inside our individual minds and in the video. The very concept of the blind carbon copy is not so dissimilar. The BCC email is discrete, detached and sent to an individual. Yet it could exist in countless other copies. The feeling for the recipient is like direct contact within a play between absence and presence. One moving section of Blind Carbon Copy evokes this. The actors say ‘Hello. Absent one. Wonder what date it is with you now?' It feels emotional and direct despite the fact we know the recording will be played at many different times to many different people. This small section represents the video's broader request to us as individuals to explore the range of meanings and allusions, abstract or otherwise, presented within its many parts.

Matthew Noel-Tod's works always employ several pre-determined elements. These elements cleverly retain a strong facet of their original emotional impact while pointing to evidence of deconstruction; in Blind Carbon Copy this occurs with a shift to abstract self-portraiture by drawing on the personal text of emails, as opposed to canonical works of art. His previous work, Obcy Aktorzy / Foreign Actors (2006) uses remade scenes from selected Polish films as its basis and Nausea (2005) and Jetzt Im Kino (2003) combine video sequences with superimposed philosophical texts to create new poetic nuances. This evocation of emotion combined with the isolation and play with radical montage means Noel-Tod's videos exist in kind of entropic states. There is at once absolute break down but through intervention via the phenomenological agency of the viewer, also the potential of radical new unity. Significantly, they lie on the threshold, incomplete without the intervention but always pointing to it. Here in lies the play, in Blind Carbon Copy, between the figurative and the abstract. And it is in this space that the video pushes forth its sense of possibility.


William Fowler is Curator of Artists' Moving Image at the BFI National Archive where he preserves and presents historical and contemporary artists' film and video. He produced the BFI DVD ‘Peter Whitehead and the Sixties' and is currently restoring the films of Jeff Keen. Previously he worked for LUX where he curated the artist and folk film weekend ‘Visionary Landscapes' and wrote the archival advice website keepmovingimages.



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Matthew Noel-Tod

Matthew Noel-Tod’s work combines an interest in technologies with references from conceptual art, cinema, philosophy and literature.

Bristol Mean Time
2007 - 2009

Bristol Mean Time was an opportunity for a London based artist to spend three months in Bristol developing a new film and video work.