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Monday, 4 November, 2002, 09:30 GMT
Blink and you won't miss art show
On average we all blink about 15,000 times a day.
Such rapid, unconscious actions would not seem the ideal focus of an exhibition that encourages hypnotic contemplation.
But film composer Simon Boswell's multi-media art show does precisely that - it encourages the viewer to slow down and question the image placed in front of him or her.
Boswell does it by slowing down a handful of blinking moments from public figures like George Bush, Tony Blair and Osama Bin Laden, the Queen and Muhammad Ali.
Each public figure is shown in slow motion in the moment before or after speaking. The tape is then looped to create what appears to be one continuous roll of footage with music composed by Boswell specifically for each person.
"What worked for me was that essentially by trapping people in the moment before or after they have said something, you get the chance to contemplate their public image without being distracted by their message," says Boswell, a composer who has written music for more than 60 different movies.
Each loop of a celebrity blinking will be shown on large screens at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London in a show called Blink.
"You know they are being repeated but you can't quite figure out where the join is - so they appear more like paintings."
Each film is taken from either a specific historical moment or from an important period in the person's life.
President Bush is shown speaking on 11 September, the Queen is speaking on the eve of Princess Diana's funeral and Richard Nixon is defending himself from corruption allegations in the 1950s.
The films last several minutes and are beguiling, languid and strangely appealing.
The music ranges "from ambient electronic to orchestral to jazz".
"The music is a hypnotic device to draw you into contemplating the visual image," Boswell says.
In one sense, the images and accompanying music can be viewed as a kind of 21st century portraiture but Boswell hopes the films raise questions about the nature of celebrity and news.
"As with TV, Big Brother, I'm A Celebrity - the whole world is blurring this boundary between what is real and what isn't, and the whole world is this unholy alliance between entertainment, viewing figures, exposure, fame, money."
Boswell has composed music for art-house films such as Le Foto di Gioia but also UK movies including This Year's Love, Jack and Sarah and Jimmy Grimble.
The London-born pianist has been playing music since he was five years old and fell into film composition after a brief career as a punk star in the band Advertising and producing songs for Italian pop singers.
He was introduced to Italian horror director Dario Argento at a party and was asked to score his film Phenomena.
The influence of music is key to Blink.
Boswell gives viewers visual space in which to contemplate the public figures but he is very much aware of how music can change our perceptions.
"You fall into a rhythm based on their eyes closing," he says.
"The music takes its pace and its rhythm from their blinking."
It was the power of music as a propaganda tool which inspired the show.
"I was in Los Angeles and I switched the TV on and the news has this important piece of music at the start to announce that something portentous is happening.
"I began to wonder 'was I actually watching the news or a cop show or some kind of documentary?'.
"It gave me the idea about music changing your perception of the truth."
At the outset, Boswell began licensing footage of important events - Diana's funeral, man landing on the moon, 11 September, the Berlin Wall coming down - and scoring the same events in different ways to see if it changed perception.
"To add music of any kind to something like 11 September and see thousands of people plunging to their death to any piece of music is offensive on a human level," he says.
"But the smaller events were much more interesting and were what brought me to the Blink idea."
Boswell says he did not consciously write music to suit the public figure.
"I tried not to do that, not to stereotype some of the people.
"I couldn't resist in the case of Bill Clinton, who has a very sleazy piece of sax music over the moment when he is going to tell us he lied about Monica Lewinsky."
The point of the exhibition, if there is one, is that "it does raise questions about this alliance between news and entertainment".
But it also reveals how insidious music can be in life and how powerful it is in the hands of the wrong people.
"Music has crept into our lives in a manipulative way - in supermarkets, in shops, in public places you can't get away from it."
Blink too is clearly manipulating not just the films but the audience as well - the choice of footage and the compositions ensure that.
But that irony does not detract from what remains a tempered, measured exhibition on the nature of persuasion.
Blink opens at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, on 4 November.
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