Caitlin Magda Shepherd

"Art belongs not to the active life but to the contemplative life—not to the vita activa but to the vita contemplativa." Nicholas Wolterstorff

Month: March, 2016

Open the Door

comp style 4.1

What’s in a door? An invitation, an invasion. A barricade, a thresh-hold. Something to walk into, or to be kept out of. A world of opposites and ultimatums. You are locked in or out, you have the key or you don’t. What happens if you had the key, but you’ve lost it. What happens when the door is bigger than your front door, but it’s the door into societal agency, into class mobility and self improvement. The microcosmic world of owning your own front door, is no longer the pursuit of individual interest; it is a very political matter. Our choices are shaped by those setting the housing policy agenda, and those who are regulating or deregulating the housing finance sector. So, what is in a front door? Much more than your domestic dreams it seems.

As I start to think about how to invite people into the broken world of home ownership, wealth redistribution and affordable housing, or not. I invite the millenials, then generation x’s their children and their parents to step through the door into the stories of the precariat and the privileged. The way in is through the front door. And what does the front door signify? As Barthes likes to talk about the semiotics, the signifier ( the thing that refers to a thing) and the signified (the thing) of things, the door in my mind, refers to way more than itself. That is to mean, that the door becomes a symbol, a conduit, a transmission of cultural meaning, of desire, of identity. It does not mean it is the entrance to a house. To help expand on my thinking, I shall take the time to break the door down into three main groupings of semiotic reference that stand out to me.



When the door opens, are you welcomed or shunned? Was the door opened for you or did you push it? The door has connotations of belonging or being left out. The door is the emotional space, warmth, love, acceptance, soothing. The door is the refusal, the dismissal, the rejection. You can walk into a warm gentle space or a brick wall. Sometimes the door that you always used to walk through and be loved, now leads to a ghostly darkness. To a cold damp space, where no soft arms wait outstretched. The door signified safety and danger. You can be locked in or locked out. You can be left with the key or it can be taken from you. The main choice with the individual, is to do with which door they open, and how they are prepared and equipped to step through that door and into the unknown.


Barthes says no-one ever acts innocently, in the sense of not meaning to convey meaning. Behaviour, possessions, gestures, movement, all of it signifies a code, a set of signs a subtext. We have considered this when we dress. Who exactly are we trying to impress, and why. So when you next walk through a front door, take a good look at it. It is important as it is the first look into someones domestic realm. Their values in action and materiality. It signifies the first impression and last impression of that home. What colour, how clean, plastic or wood, the poetics of materiality as well as space are at play here. The symbolism of a door is the symbolism of the self. The use of signifiers in language and gesture, are means of claiming belonging or affiliation with a group of ideas and people. The front door can be the difference between the denouncement of private property or the self made capitalists who think poverty is born of personal failing.


Identity is based on the concept of self that is constructed as we live our life. Personal identity is what we convey to others when we dress, when we communicate with others, and how we present ourselves to our wider community. Personal identity is the cornerstone of self, it is closely related to questions around existence, the experience of existence and how we come to relate to others. The door is a means of signifying to others our sense of self. It is a means of saying this is what I value and who I am. It is also a means of suggesting things of who and what we are not. The door is the first portal into personality, and it is also a filter; who is welcome into the home of the individual and who is not.

So the door is not only an invitation or refusal. A filter between the private sphere of the home and the public sphere of the city. When I am thinking about gathering insights from a range of individuals about what they think home is, what it means to them and how they work towards accessing it, I will start with the metaphor of the front door. What does the front door say about you, and have you considered it.

In terms of using the door as a symbol of transition within the final sound installation, to be exhibited at Somerset House, it will act as a signifier of entrance into a new ethnography of home, as well as a signifier of shift and transition into a new space. You open the door, and enter a space where a different voice is aired exploring personal and political choices around home. The door also signifies access. There will be some doors that are locked, where entrance is refused. The doors will not only help to describe the voice situated behind them, but also help to create a sense of uncertainty, exclusivity and inconsistent access; traits that run through individual experiences of the housing market today.


Kingsmarch House Bristol

Last night I visited the first of many tower blocks situated in Lawrence Hill. I went to invite residents to take part in sharing their experience of home with me, and in particular life in a tower block. Here are some images from my visit.



I want to see you as you really are



From Damnation, Bela Tarr

“I really look forward to going to that place of darkness. It’s objectless, dimensionless, limitless, it is endless.”

Antony Gormley

“I would not describe you personally as darkness. Yet, a metaphor for the slow walk we have embarked on, edging closer. Seeing more of each other.  I liked it when I got home, somehow you were already inside, reading the paper with a cup of tea. That is edging closer; you find a way into my house without a key. And then glimpses of you and your head or hand (I can’t remember which one) stuck inside a letter box. All the glimpses and longer looks are rich ones. Something in you draws me to you. As your glasses did when we first met (so romantic), although actually initially it was our conversation. Then the gin. Maybe after that it was the spectacles.”

I have been thinking about narrative structure. How to tell a story, how to represent someone else’s story, how to elongate it, preserve it; make it good for a re-visit; occasionally, when needed. And I find myself thinking, what is the power of a sharing an retelling of human experience is. How to do it, how to make it rooted in an accurate description of reality, yet also poetic, transporting and disjointed. For, I think that a description of reality is essentially disjointed. Enter ethnofiction, cinema verite, and Jean Rouch.

Ethnofiction is a neologism, that refers to a fusing of documentary and fiction, otherwise known as docufiction. The main stylistic feature of this form of documentation is married with fictional or imagined realities within the process of documenting and portraying members of a social group under study. This approach is based on the idea that the documentary maker (in this case, a filmmaker) always influences the behaviour of the subjects. The camera, is never a candid camera. The dictaphone is never neutral. Acknowledging how much the cameraman, ethnographer and researcher affects the subjects, Rouch (father of ethnofiction) encourages participation and documentation of such participation. For example, if your subjects are dancing, dance with them. Record through the doing, not the watching.  The term is also used to refer to fictional creations that have a root in ethnographic and social studies.


Satantango, Bela Tarr

Cinema Verite translates to truthful cinema. Invented again by Jean Rouch, inspired by Sziga Vertov’s theory about Kino-Pravda and influenced by Rover Flaherty’s films. It merges improvisation with the use of the camera to unveil truths about the subjects and hard reality. Within this idea, it is useful for me to reach out and examine realism too.  I am concerned with integrating into my documentary sound approach is a mixture of banality, the day to day, spattered with handfuls of formative and indelibly intense experiences. A key part of attaining such forms of documentation, where essentially subjects are less aware of being documented, is Bill Nichols idea of observational mode, or a fly on the wall approach to documentation. Subjects becoming less aware of the person recording the environment is key within Cinema Verite or direct cinema. Building a deep and regular trust is vital part of the relational process, in which the participant becomes to feel unselfconscious around the documentary maker. This whole realist approach is concerned with presenting life as it is, without intervention, illusion or too much dressing up. As an artist, not a film-maker, but someone interested in documenting and disseminating the experiences of the everyday, of the universally human experience I refer to the aesthetic theory and practice of realism. This is a movement within the arts that attempts to represent subject matter truthfully and without artificiality, avoiding artistic conventions and stylization. The pursuit of realism is concerned with the presentation of the mundane, ugly or sordid. It is this harder, colder, more inescapable side of life that I am concerned with studying, documenting and exploring.

A question I have been asking myself, how does cinematic style, theory and approach relate to my sound documentary practice. I am looking to describe the lens I use to focus on the world around me. It’s not through a camera lens, but rather a focussing of sound, of listening. And within my preference for listening over looking, I am faced with the question of how. How to portray, how to present, how to suggest and invite, and how to describe anothers lived experience, and of course, within that, my own.

I know I have a preference for non linearity. A disrupted narrative, where events are portrayed out of chronological order, without distinctive plot lines, or a clear pattern of events. The tone is descriptive of a dream immersion, or overlay of moments, happenings and experiences. It is a narrative tool, often used to mimic human memory, but also to create other effects. Really, it is an abandonment of linear order, yet the aim is to still convey and document a recognisable moment, a cohesive story, something compelling. It’s just that these experiences are often rooted in chaos not chronology.

I shall leave it here for now, but just linger on a question for a moment more.  Why it is important, and significant to describe our lives in symbols, moments, impressions instead of structured lines?











I find myself sometimes thinking of you


Derek Jarman is a big influence on my work. Jarman first became known as a stage designer, getting his break in the film industry as production designer for Ken Russell‘sThe Devils (1970). He later made his debut in “overground” narrative filmmaking with Sebastiane (1976), about the martyrdom of St. Sebastian.

One of the most influential filmmakers of the late 20th century, Derek Jarman directed cult feature films such as Jubilee (1977) and Caravaggio (1986), as well as music videos for The Smiths, the Pet Shop Boys and Marianne Faithfull. He also trained in fine art and a painterly mentality permeates all his work, particularly his experimental Super 8 films.

His films are full of potent symbolism, magic, ritual and a sensitive and captivating portrayal of the people in his world. His work often explores mysticism, male sexuality, homosexuality, landscape and mythology.

It’s a mixture of his suggestiveness and ambiguity that he uses as a tool to create a tone, a scene, a feeling. I find is work evocative and transforming, there is a narrative structure; but it is non linear, and built on the process of connecting icons, symbols and juxtaposition. It is also suggestive in the sense that it infers  to meaning, instead of spelling out the symbolic narrative to the viewer.

Below are stills from two of my favourite works. Sulphur and Tarot.

Sulphur 1973

A mixture of superimpositions of fantasy, and ritual. A depiction of an almost there memory, filled with tones of desire, chance and infatuation.




Tarot 1973

A collaborative fantasy created by Derek Jarman and Christopher Hobbs, in which a cloaked magician deals the cards and enters a Black and Red world of forbidden pleasures.