Six Foot Gallery is delighted to present its annual spring show, Awakenings, featuring twenty-seven artists working in a diverse range of mediums and disciplines including sculpture, soundscapes, textiles, collage, video, woodturning, jewellery, photography, screenprinting, performance, and painting.

A great friend to Six Foot Gallery, Paul works primarily in the medium of video: analogue, digital, and AI-generated, as well as still images, audio, light, and physical installations. His practice takes the actions of the artist’s body and those of others as its points of departure; the expressive power of the face and voice, the impact of those gestures, and the meaning of the traces left behind. A physics graduate, and formerly a TV director, Paul is an associate professor of the moving image at Edinburgh Napier University, and has exhibited across Europe, Asia, and North America.

Hi Paul! How did your artistic journey start?
From early on I was interested in performance, and in my youth I appeared on TV, radio and the stage.  After I graduated, I worked as a TV director for nearly twenty years before moving into academia, where I developed an interest in video art.

How did you arrive at the theme of your work?
Although I work in a number of media, I still mostly make video-based works.  Perhaps because of my performance background, the essence of this medium for me lies in the human body, and in the emotional and conceptual power of our actions and expressions.   Recent works of mine have taken these actions and explored the aesthetics of the traces and marks they leave behind.

These traces are almost never visible in my work 81 Steps.  That’s what drew me to make this work: the idea that one could take part in the world as physically as we do when we pound the streets day after day, and yet leave next to nothing behind.

In Moments That Were Not Photographed, I take this notion a step further.  Here I am using AI generation as a proxy for memory: it is an attempt to reconstruct my own past where there is no record.  The results are as unreliable and hallucinatory as memory itself.

Can you walk us through your creative process?
My work always has to satisfy me conceptually and aesthetically.  Often a project will start with the aesthetic. I will see something – often a fascinating movement or action – something that is impossible to look away from, but which for whatever reason has never before been captured and considered in a video work.  Then it will be a question for me of exploring this deeply, cinematographically, and with editing, in order to find its conceptual essence.  

With other works, such as these, however, the starting point was conceptual – and quite rarified – the semiotics and social meaning of lost traces.  I then needed to explore the aesthetic possibilities of the idea, in order to try and create something that would be compelling to look at.  The next step is conceiving of the installation itself: 81 Steps was shot using transparency film and is designed to be shown on an old-fashioned carousel projector.  This isn’t always practicable, so in this case the installation is via a flat screen monitor turned on its side and leaned against the wall in the tradition of minimalist sculpture.  With Moments I printed these digital images out onto instant Fujifilm, enabling me to display the ‘photographs’ as one might on a wall or on a fridge, as casual snaps mounted on a magnetic steel sheet.

How has your practice changed over time?
Video was the natural starting point for my practice, given my past background.  As this practice has evolved I also made works in sound, with graphics, still-images and light.  Even physical objects, like Moments That Were Not Photographed.  Despite these variations in my work, I still consider myself a video artist at heart.

How do you overcome creative blocks?
The important thing is to listen to and respect any ideas that come to you;  however half-formed or incomplete; however silly or foolish it may seem.  It is always worth writing something down.  When you have a repository of different projects on the go – even just in a notebook, or in your head – you will always have something you can work on.  This way, projects getting stuck in the process of development or conceptualisation becomes less frustrating.

Who influences you? Which other artists’ work do you love?
From the classic era of performance and film/video in the 60s and 70s, I repeatedly return for inspiration to the works of Acconci, Abramović, Ono and Nauman.  From more recent times, I have long admired the work of Kwan Sheung Chi and Regina José Galindo. Key points of departure for 81 Steps are the works of the Boyle Family and Ingrid Calame, and for Moments That Were Not Photographed I took inspiration from Geng Jianyi.

What advice would you give to artists just starting out?
Make work and show it.  Never stop making.  And always find a way to get the work out there.

Is there anything else you would like people to know about your work or your experiences as an artist?
Please feel free to get in touch I’m always keen to hear from like-minded artists, or from anyone who has thoughts and feedback about my work.

You can find out more about Paul and his work on his Instagram @paulholmesstudio Awakenings runs at Six Foot Gallery until Friday 24th May.

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