Since graduating from Central Saint Martins’ BA Fine Art in 2014, Matt Portman has directed multiple music videos, his own debut film and is currently in pre-production for his second, set in South Africa. His most recent project Schistocyte focuses on the artist’s relationship with the human body and introduced a new series of challenges for the filmmaker, as he was tasked with directing a dancer through a choreographed routine.
On the surface, Matt encourages us to stare upon the nude anatomy of his subject as she twists and convulses in a factory. Figuratively and aesthetically, the camera glides alongside Carys Staton, a 2011 graduate from The Rambert School of Ballet and Contemporary Dance, studying the curves of her spine and the extension of her legs. By definition, a Schistocyte is caused by the fragmentation of red blood cells, typically suffered by those with haemolytic anaemia, where the cells become jagged and sharp as they are broken in half. Whilst the project received its name in post production, the choreography is symbolic of the title in that every move that’s made and facial expression pulled resembles an exaggerated separation between mind and body.
The fluidity of the film shots means that it is experienced as a type of live performance, granting the audience access to every seat in the house. “When working on a live performance, you have only one chance,” Carys says. “You are not able to do a retake or cut or crop, what you perform within that minute is what will be seen.” Consequently, it is all of these components which provide the video with its overall sophistication as Matt mirrors his own art school experience; editing his vision until it says what he wants it to say. “I was in charge of not only the continuity, but with making sure the image itself was visually representable of the space and the dancer’s talents,” Matt explains.
As a student, Matt’s interest in film began from having to develop the habit of documenting his work. “I would make kinetic sculptures and then have to document it for my portfolio, but the artwork itself would generally be too heavy and complicated to dismantle and reassemble so I decided to record the work instead.” He continues: “During one crit, I was asked if the work was the video itself or if it was the sculpture within it and since then, I recognised the importance of documentation and how it was its own art form.”
Schistocyte is not Matt’s first experience behind the camera, but it is a clear demonstration of his distinctive visual style that will propel him forward. He believes he never finished the project but rather abandoned it instead. “There is always something else you can add or modify so it’s a matter of seeing the limitations and accepting where you are with it,” he concludes. “It’s easy to get wrapped up in the endless possibilities of creativity and then never finishing a piece!”
Words Katy Sacks