Blind Man's Bluff and Other Fictions
Peak Gallery Exhibition Brochure
May 22 - June 21, 2003
By Virginia M. Eichhorn
" Until one has mastered the concrete, it’s pointless to attempt the abstract."
—Blind Man’s Bluff
Blind Man’s Bluff & Other Fictions questions the roles and primacy of narrative, description and perception. Wright has said 'My work is not about faithful representations of the world but rather about the nature of that representation itself.' The work produced for this exhibition deliberately and delightedly subverts that which is traditionally expected from two visual media: film and photography.
Blind Man’s Bluff is inspired by a 1967 horror film of the same name. Wright describes his version as a 'feature-length story of intrigue, art, murder, and questionable film-making.' The original Blind Man’s Bluff (also known as Cauldron of Blood) was one of Boris Karloff’s last films. Made in 1967, although not released until 1971, the film starred a menagerie of talented and talentless actors who range from Oscar winners to never-knowns. The movie earned nothing but bad reviews including the following:
"Poor, poor Boris Karloff. At the end of his life, he's saddled with lung problems, weak as hell, and that damned work ethic of his keeps him acting, no matter how godawful the film is…Karloff has an extended cameo as the blind and crippled Franz Badulescu, a famous sculptor. He toils all day, putting clay around special frames to "transpose" a flat portrait to three-dimensional life. What he doesn't know is that the frames are really the bones of his wife's murder victims. This movie goes through a lot of painful acting and scenery before it gets anywhere, and when it does get moving, nobody cares. It's a sloth on the screen...annoying, pointless, and slow. Karloff adds class to most of his scenes. The most amusing part of the movie is the fist fight that reminded me of a ‘60s Batman battle without the "BAM!" and "ZOWIE!" captions. Avoid this one, especially the shaky Republic print.1"
Wright fortuitously happened upon this cinematic gem while searching for movie titles with "Blind" in them, after learning about Descriptive Video Service (DVS) which enables blind people to "see" a movie. What DVS provides is an audio description of action (gestures, expressions, etc) that occurs during a movie, thus enabling the blind viewer to fully follow and understand what is being seen. One person who uses this service stated that "DVS television and movies have widened my world. They have given me an awareness of how much I was really missing and added extra enjoyment and dimension to everything I have seen." It is the multi-narrative potential of such a tool that proved intriguing for Wright.
His version of Blind Man’s Bluff includes two levels of narrative. In the first, Wright labouriously copied down all auditory elements into one script that appears in subtitled form throughout the film. In another, an adaptation of Descriptive Video Service, Wright wrote his own descriptive text. He then filmed stage actor Alan Sapp watching the movie and describing the action. We, the viewers, never see the actual Boris Karloff movie. Instead we watch Sapp watching, explaining and responding to the film. We read the transcribed dialogue and sound effects while Sapp relays Wright’s descriptive text. We are once, then twice removed from the normal filmic experience. It is a reversal: the visual becomes auditory and the auditory becomes visual. As such, Wright’s work becomes a cinematic conundrum. We are drawn into The Describer’s (Sapp's) narrative. There is a continual push-pull effect. His telling of the story is both emotive and reactive. And we, the audience, react to his reactions and interpretation of the film.
In producing this work Wright has taken a bad, B-movie and elevated it into something captivating and provocative. Giving the viewer the chance to use their imagination and to react to what is being told to them —either via the subtitles or by The Describer— proves more effective and powerful an experience than watching the real film. Here we see the truth of the old saying that it is indeed, the singer and not the song.
Wright filmed Blind Man’s Bluff in his downtown Kitchener studio in what was once a ballroom for the Masonic lodge. The experience of that actual filming was somewhat surreal. Wright filmed Sapp as Sapp watched the film and described what he saw. Sometimes we see close-ups of Sapp’s face. Other times —during subtitles— Sapp is seen drinking, staring off into the distance or otherwise ignoring and disassociating himself from the film. The stage area is also very much in view. In effect, Wright is drawing the viewer’s attention to the constructs which are normally hidden away in the film making process. The audience is presented with the myriad artificial or staged aspects which are used in film making to suspend our disbelief.
Nonetheless, the emotive but abstracted experience of the film as defined by The Describer proves compelling. While not a parody per se, Wright’s film undoubtedly references the popularity of "Director’s talks" as found on many DVDs. In these the directors discuss the process of filmmaking and the practice they used in producing and defining their work. Their talks assume the stature of metanarrative, implying that theirs is the only way to view and understand the film. The use of this metanarrative becomes a means of controlling the experience and interpretation of viewers. Wright’s Blind Man’s Bluff gleefully undermines this. It is this subversion of experience or roles which breaks this work out of narrative and into the realm of metanarrative, whereby many interpretations are possible. There is no absolute in this film – the experience of it remains personal.
Wright's 'Other Fictions' come in the form of photographic prints. Accompanying the video is a single image similarly titled Bluff. It depicts a large, remarkably 'real', artificial wall of rock prominently displayed in front of an industrial building. The image was shot in the yard of a company that constructs artificial rocks and trees out of fibre-glass and concrete for domestic and commercial landscaping. Here, the machinations of artifice are presented in the guise of the natural. The visual and word play continues: this is essentially a fake cliff — a 'bluff bluff'. Wright's photographs consistently challenge us to fall in and out of narratives of the real and perceived, between the narrative of filmmaking and that of the film itself.
Andrew Wright’s work is provocative. As with the traditional children’s game of Blind Man’s Bluff, where a blindfolded player uses sound over sight to find other players, Wright’s work insists that we use other senses than sight in order to understand and deconstruct the narratives and representations which he presents us. And in doing so he renders Blind Man’s Bluff & Other Fictions as full of art as it is artful.
—Virginia M. Eichhorn
V.M Eichhorn is the Director of the Thom Thompson Memorial Art Gallery