Life in a Kaleidoscope: Doug Foster's 'OVUM' and the Artistic Exploration of Human Genesis

Life in a Kaleidoscope: Doug Foster's 'OVUM' and the Artistic Exploration of Human Genesis

In the ever-evolving landscape of visual arts, the representation of fundamental human experiences, such as procreation, often challenges artists to venture into uncharted creative territories. OVUM, a groundbreaking film by Doug Foster, delves deep into this very essence of human origin, exploring the miraculous journey from a single cell to the complexity of the human form. Tracing life's beginnings from primordial single-celled organisms to the intricate process of cell division that shapes human existence, the film stands as a testament to the profound beauty of life's genesis. Through a blend of technical mastery and symbolic storytelling, OVUM invites viewers into a mesmerizing exploration of the very foundation of our being, highlighting not just the biological phenomenon but also the emotional and spiritual dimensions of human procreation.

Q: What initially drew you to the subject of human procreation, and how did you conceptualize the idea of representing this process in OVUM?

A: As far as I understand, life on this planet started around 3.5 billion years ago, when the first single-celled organisms, such as bacteria, somehow emerged around geothermal springs. Not much changed until 600 million years ago when two single-celled organisms came together and exchanged DNA to create a multicellular life form. Evolution could then accelerate, with mutations in DNA creating variations that could be passed on to each new generation. This miraculous process eventually resulted in the human form that we all inhabit today and I thought it would be a good subject for a film.

Q: The process of a cell dividing is a crucial natural phenomenon. In your work, you represent the 'mother' nucleus and the 'daughter' nuclei. Can you discuss the symbolism behind this representation and how you hope audiences will interpret these elements within the broader context of human life?

A: When designing this film, it occurred to me that the bilateral symmetry of the human body would lend itself well to illustrating the process of cell division, which is also bilaterally symmetrical. I chose the ovum (the female reproductive cell) because it is the first cell to divide after fertilization and is, therefore, the starting point in the formation of a human embryo.

Biologists use the terms ‘mother’ and ‘daughter’ when describing cell division. In my film, the anthropomorphized ‘mother’ nucleus splits in half to create two identical ‘daughters’, each of which will split again to continue the cycle and multiply further. I’ve tried to imbue this simple story with some beauty and emotion. I imagine that each viewer will decipher it in their own unique way.

Q: In OVUM, you've used kaleidoscopic lighting effects to simulate the transparent appearance of cells. Could you elaborate on the technical and creative challenges you faced in achieving this effect, and how they influenced the outcome?

A: I’ve been a long-time fan of the multiple exposure technique in moving imagery. In the early days of cinema, filmmakers like Georges Méliès would create captivating, magical effects by filming an actor against a dark backdrop, rewinding the film in his hand-cranked camera, and then shooting the same actor or some other element to superimpose them. Later, optical printers were used to superimpose pre-filmed elements without the risk of ruining the camera negative. Norman Mclaren’s 1968 film, Pas de Deux, featured ballet dancers that were superimposed upon themselves nine times, with a slight delay on each repetition, to create multiple ‘trailing images’ of their bodies that enhanced their motion in a compellingly graphic way.

Today it is relatively easy to apply this technique using modern editing software and careful lighting. For OVUM I superimposed a dancer upon a laterally flipped version of herself and repeated that combination four times, each with a slight delay, to create a sixteen-armed figure reminiscent of a Hindu goddess. The circular cell wall, surrounding the dancer, consists of fairy lights, filmed out of focus behind distorting glass and repeated into a twelvefold kaleidoscope. These lights also show through the figure and I think that the semi-transparent blurriness of the result gives the impression of looking through a microscope.

Q: Could you shed some light on your creative process for OVUM and any collaborations you've had to bring this intricate concept to life?

A: On every project I try to do as much as possible myself, especially if it is small in scale (and budget). So I took care of the lighting, filming, and editing for OVUM, but I can’t do makeup or hair styling so I got in the great team of Deanna V’lcevska and Diana Asherson. It is always a joy to edit to music and I had a powerful track, Blackout, from James Lavelle (UNKLE) to cut the action to. My principal collaborator was actor and dancer Amber Doyle who performed in the film and devised choreography that would work within the tight restrictions set by the need for symmetrical action while bearing in mind that she would eventually have eight heads and sixteen arms!

Q: Over the years, how has your artistic style evolved, and what have been some pivotal moments or influences that have shaped your journey as an artist?

A: My first video artworks depicted people in challenging situations and were self-contained installations that could sit in white-walled gallery spaces. Breather, Frozen, and BOB were literally ‘contained’ in rusty steel boxes and used high-definition video screens to display the action. Only after creating The Heretics’ Gate for Lazarides’ ‘Hell’s Half Acre’ group show at The Old Vic Tunnels in 2010 did I fully realize the power of a large-scale projection in a darkened space. A film projected on a six-meter tall screen, sitting over a ten-meter-long reflecting pool, has a presence that a video on a TV screen cannot match. I try to maximize the effectiveness of this format by creating imagery that sits on the plane of the screen as if it is a moving texture or a living entity. These works might be described as animated light sculptures rather than films.

Q: Looking ahead, do you have any specific themes or concepts that you are eager to explore in your future works? Are there any new mediums or techniques you are planning to experiment with?

A: I actively avoid using computer-generated imagery in my work as I like the instant feedback, the happy accidents, and the imperfections inherent in filming real life. I also prefer to exhibit my works in 'actual’ environments, that you can feel and smell, rather than in ‘virtual’ worlds, seen through goggles. So I’m set in my ways to some extent.

In the near future, I’m hoping to create a large-scale, freestanding work, constructed from overlapping irregular-shaped LED panels for an international group show. Also, I would be keen to build a dark, walk-through experience set in an abandoned institutional building, if the opportunity arose. As always, my ambition for all of these works is that they provide a brief respite from the daily stress of information overload that we all suffer.

Mentioned artists
Doug Foster
Doug Foster
Followers 1741
Artworks 22