We are what we make of the veil

Single channel video; flatbed photography
August 2021

Vienna, 1890. Complaints began to circulate around restaurants and hotels: the wait staff wore moustaches. Given the dress code, the moustache was seen as a signifier of status, a delimiter between staff and clientele.

The waiters were asked to shave their facial hair, and consequently, their wives threatened to withhold sex. They were fired and replaced with bachelors.

It is hard that James or Robert should feel himself disadvantaged in the eyes of Mary Ann, with the enfranchised soldier, postman, or policeman, knowing all the while that he might outdo the three of them in hirsute harvest if nature were allowed her way

The Globe, October 24, 1890

That is the gist of a fantastical account of hegemonic masculinity, and was the impetus behind this work. Over six minutes, we dissect how clothing, uniform, and the veil all contribute to our perception of self and other.

Cinema especially holds this very particular view of immediacy and immersion, in which the convention is to ignore the role of director as a mediator. That is not a convention in video art.

The use of frontal presentational tableaux is intended to convey a constructed staging, with the consequent formal direction and composition within the set. The subjects faced no such direction. Created in lockdown, the piece emerged casually between the artist and his sister. Almost in cinemagraphic tradition, the stages hold very little movement—except as to be punctuated by bursts of activity. I really like the occasional awkwardness, and have a habit of just leaving the camera rolling to capture moments of inattention.

As this emerged from one source, it felt pertinent to perform a reading of the article. This defines a sonic tone, situated to behave almost as an airlock. When a work is nearly silent, it can take a fair mental load to divorce the viewer from their own prior thoughts. I like how that initial act functions to channel input state into something more conducive.

Footage was shot digitally under studio conditions, with controlled lighting and sets. I lit the scene with a fairly standard three-point lighting setup, with reflectors placed to add softer bounce illumination.

This footage was assembled and graded in DaVinci Resolve, with complex node networks used to shape the distinct appearance. The softness is achieved through a blurred colour channel, which creates a degree of halation and bleed. Soft clipping was used in the highlights in a homage to early digital cinema, while the overall composition straddles a liminal point in the transition from film.

The final act is an interpolated stop motion animation. The incredibly shallow depth of field is the result of flatbed photography, upon which incremental cross-sections of fruit were placed. Multiple passes were assembled together, and optical flow was used to smooth motion.

Liam Macann works though a profusion of new media art disciplines, operating out of Sydney. His works often investigate the philosophy of technology, alongside themes of labour, chance, and social history.