Masterpiece Fair: Mark Lewis and the conscious camera
Born in Hamilton, Ont. in Canada, Mark Lewis began as a photographer before transitioning into film.
In Mark Lewis's single-shot, non-narrative films, the camera seems alive. It moves through space — around the exterior of a perfectly triangular toilet in central London, through the Dutch exhibition in the National Gallery of London, along the hallways of the Louvre in Paris — studying its subjects with a voyeuristic intensity.
What the camera records commands the viewers' attention: the presence of the space, the architecture, and the masterpieces on display.
Lewis' work bridges the contemporary and traditional art worlds, part of why his pieces were included in the RBC Lounge at this year's Masterpiece London Art Fair.
Born in Hamilton, Ont. in Canada, Lewis began as a photographer before transitioning into film. In 2009, Lewis represented Canada in the 53rd Venice Biennale, curated by Barbara Fischer. Recent exhibits include the Sao Paulo Biennial in 2014, solo exhibitions at the Louvre, The Canada House in London, Le Bal in Paris, and The Power Plant in Toronto.
Lewis will be featured at the London Art Fair alongside fellow Canadian Shannon Bool. "Mark Lewis and Shannon Bool and are both artists we're proud to have included in the RBC Art Collection," says Corrie Jackson, senior art curator at RBC. "Their shared interest in antiquities, and how we engage with these historical artifacts from a contemporary lense, is a thoughtful reminder of the role of the role of cultural histories in our current moment. They ask us what builds a history – and how do we as viewers engage with history in new and dynamic ways."
Ahead of the exhibit at the RBC Lounge at this year's Masterpiece London Art Fair, Lewis shared some insight on the Canada that stays with him, the role of paintings in his films, and the act of filming.
You're Canadian but work in the UK now. What role does your home country play in how you create?
Even though I don't live there anymore I make a lot of films in Canada; the three films at the AGO — I shot one in Vancouver, one in Toronto, and one in Scarborough [a suburb of Toronto].
I've been very lucky as an artist, I've had an incredible amount of support, even after I left. I would say, ironically I've had more support from Canada after I left, maybe that's the way it goes … support from government and private and galleries and museums. It's been very important to me because it's provided me not only with income, but with symbolic support. People are very much on your side.
How did Black Mirror at the National Gallery (2011) come about?
Both that and the other film, In Search of The Blessed Ranieri (2014) at Masterpiece had their genesis in paintings. Hendrick Avercamp, a Dutch painter from the 17th century, has a painting A Winter Scene with Skaters near a Castle. It's a very small, intimate circular painting of a frozen scene. It's a beautiful painting about this transformation of the landscape.
In the many times I visited the National Gallery, I [was] always drawn back to it to its sense of detail. It's a picture of everyday life really. And I wanted to make a film of it, but I had no idea what to do except that I wanted it to be a film.
And the idea clicked when French designer Martin Szekely had you to his studio and you saw the black mirror?
It was on the wall of the studio. It looked like a hole that you could put your arm through — a picture of three-dimensional space … incredible. It's the kind of mirror made from an asteroid. A perfect mirror. It takes weeks and months to polish and eventually, it gives a perfect reproduction, no distortion. The black mirror in my film has a kind of sentience — it's doing stuff. It's looking for something it can recognize. The machine with the mirror moves through the gallery until it finally finds the Avercamp circular painting, something formally identical.
What was the origin of Isoceles (2007), one of your films exhibited in the RBC Masterpiece Lounge, and part of the RBC Collection?
That was a film shot near my studio in London. It is an abandoned toilet in an area that has been for some years about to be redeveloped. But for years it wasn't. I just liked the idea of the perfect triangle.
I ride a bicycle in London, and it's on my bike route. When I cycled around it, I liked the visual effect of what happened between the foreground and the background and all the different architectural forms that surround it. I decided to replicate that feeling on film. When your ride your bike it's sort of like being on a dolly, a motion control unit.
That's what movie cameras can do. When you set out to make a film of something, whatever that something is — and there usually is nothing particular — the something is what's created by the action of filming.
I don't think there's content that I then depict. I feel that in all depiction, the something of the depictions is created through the depiction itself. You do start with material but it's just the formal substrate out of which something will be made. I feel strongly that there isn't a thing that I film. It's more what I film is what creates the thing. I'm interested in what cameras can do, and they can move.