VIP - VideoChannel Interview Project

Hughes, George

George Hughes
Ghanese/US videomaker


Interview: 10 questions

1. Tell me something about your life and the educational background

I am originally from Ghana, West Africa. I am currently based in the United States. I studied painting and drawing at the College of Art, Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology and received an MA in Art Education (1991). I moved to London, England in 1991, where I painted at dawn and washed dishes by day. In 1994 I moved to the USA after a brief spell in Ghana devoted to a solo show at the Artists Alliance Gallery. In 2001 I received an MFA in Painting/Drawing at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio. Since then I have been teaching painting and drawing in several universities and currently teach painting at the State University of New York at Buffalo. I have continued my practice as an artist, exploring interdisciplinary concepts in painting, performance art, poetry and installation.

2. When, how and why you start filming?

I started using video technology to document my performance art about eleven years ago. I discovered that the edited and shortened versions of my documentations of the performances pieces were much more interesting and precise than the whole live footage. However I knew that the length of the actual live performances could not be shortened or compromised because of the significance of repetition, specifics, codes, and signs of ritual.

Quite recently I decided to do video based performances, which allowed enough time to develop a concept, create sets, and film. The video-based performances also allowed me to collaborate with fellow artists on a project over a longer period of time, recording our activities in video and photography and only showing ‘edited’ versions of the work. This process allows the collaboration to occur only when it is convenient to all the artists who are willing to participate.

3. What kinds of topics have your films?

My performance art evokes allegorical spectacles through interdisciplinary media with the intent of transposing lifelike situations into memorable dramatizations, by incorporating body art, music/sound, and ritual. The aesthetic appeal and mystical qualities of rural African rites particularly of the Akan (my native ethnicity), have also greatly informed my performance art works. Growing up as an urban dweller, I witnessed tribal ceremonies practiced alongside inner-city iconography and infrastructure creating within me memories from which I reminisce in my paintings and performance art. I combine these borrowed and fragmented tribal practices with

contemporary technology such as audio-visual equipment, robotic/remote controlled toys, and digital media. These discordant configurations allow me the freedom to explore with humor, the complex and sensitive topics of imperialism and racism.

Through performance I am able to raise questions as to the significance of the irrational in relation to the myths that govern our perceptual and cultural belief systems. These belief systems often determine how meaning is imputed in our everyday interaction with the environment and with fellow human beings. By borrowing and remixing fragments of seemingly unrelated cultural objects and practices, I challenge familiar perceptual models and critique the subjectivity of cultural usefulness and interaction.

4. How do you develop your films, do you follow certain principles, styles etc?

Sets are often sought after and minimally transformed with minor props. Themes are premeditated and the dialog is predominantly improvised. In other words the cast adapts available objects, décor, weather conditions, and space on location upon which scenes are developed. Stylistically I prefer structured improvisations. For example, I can start off a set with a sentence such as: “Imagine we are in a bar playing poker and one of us tries to cheat,…………….” I work with very smart artists who like to talk amongst other artists, so just a single cued sentence can turn into an hour’s worth of footage. Even the silent artists who are on the set, once they are being filmed (dressed up) can come up with some beautiful interjections along periods of calculated silence.

Stylistically themes are developed on the set just like how jazz musicians ‘jam’. There is little attempt to develop a linear narrative. Rather there is emphasis on experimentation with video editing capabilities.

5. Tell me something about the technical equipment you use.

Since experimentation is a key principle, hand-held video cameras are preferred, however any equipment available that would enhance the project is incorporated.

6. These days digital technology is dominating also video as a medium. In which way the digital aspect is entering the creation of your videos, technologically and/or conceptually?

I do not use extensively digital special effects. Mostly I rely on the raw footage as a source of creative departure. In other words if the footage is not interesting I do not use it. An interesting footage or clip is inviting enough for me to manipulate it.

7. How do you finance your films?

Mostly by myself and whoever (other artists) is willing to use what they already have such as a camera, clothing or expertise. We do not have a budget, we work on a shoestring budget. All that I need are other artists who are happy to dress-up, socialize, document, film, talk, critique, for fun!

8. Do you work individually as a video artist/film maker or do you work in a team?

if you have experience in both, what is the difference, what do you prefer?

I work with a ‘loose’ team of other artists. Often my script is very flexible, so even if a member of the cast does not show up in the next set, someone else can take their place, or that part can be altered or eliminated altogether, to make room for other ideas. I treat video the way I paint: I paint in layers, adding coats of paint and imagery on top of previous ‘iterations’ until a ‘surprise’ happens.

I prefer working with a team of other artists, because everyone plays a unique role, everyone sounds different, acts different. Like an orchestra, I cannot play all the instruments simultaneously, I work with willing artists/people who are good at something, and if given the opportunity, wonderful creations happen.

9. Who or what has a lasting influence on your film/video making?

The concept of improvisation through Jazz music, DJ rap performances, and David Lynch.

10. What are your future plans or dreams as a film/video maker?

Make more videos with exciting ideas.

Can works of yours be viewed online besides on the CologneOFF platform? Where?

List some links & resources