Lisa Stansbie >


Writing by Anna Parlane

A hackamore is a type of horse bridle which is braided from several strands of rope or leather, and which does not use a bit. Implements for guiding, hackamores were used perhaps as early as 4,000 BC and have been adopted and adapted by several cultures. The word is an adaptation by American cowboys of the Spanish jáquima (halter), itself an approximation of the Arabic šakama (to bridle). Thought to be gentler than a bit, contemporary hackamores are often used on young inexperienced horses or old horses with dental problems. Hackamores are respected by many modern day vaqueros as they require special sensitivity in handling and are thought to improve the skill of the rider in concert with the training of the horse.

Human movement throughout history has transmitted ideas and information across vast geographic distances. Whether horse bridling technology, culinary methods, written texts or language itself, travellers carry packages of information which become fragmented from their original context upon delivery. New information is adapted to fit its environment, developing new associations and merging with local practices. In contemporary society, the Internet allows information to be transmitted, connections made, broken and remade in a continuously shifting and multi-layered narrative. The byproducts of this process of organisation and re-organisation of information, like the digitally composed assemblages of words which accumulate at the bottom of spam emails, can form into surreal and lyrical poetry.

Leeds-based artist Lisa Stansbie’s digital art is made through a process of browsing: meandering through information, following and forming connections between ideas. Capitalising on the Internet’s potential for absurdity, Stansbie wades through its unedited glut of information, following connective threads that defy logic to create works which tease meaning out of meaninglessness. Often centred around the theme of a journey, her films are narratives braided together from the data generated by search engines like Google. Mapping paths which intersect with the information highways, Stansbie finds poetry in unexpected associations.

The narratives of her films are structured around found lists of information: for example, the titles of Norman Mailer’s fourteen best selling novels form the foundation of the narrative in Stansbie’s The Emperor of the Moon. ‘The emperor of the moon’ is the last phrase in Norman Mailer’s 1975 bestseller The Fight, and is also the name of a cruise ship. The vague sense of menace which hovers around the spoken narrative of Stansbie’s film, with its disclocated references to war and political strife, is disarmingly juxtaposed with seemingly innocuous, sunlit footage of a water ferry approaching a cruise ship. The eerie fusion of innocent nostalgia with suggestions of impending peril is also palpable in Apprehension, a film constructed from the names of the horses in the race horse Apprehension’s breeding tree. With a narrative which seems to be set in a non-specific and alarmingly apocalyptic future and a visual sequence composed from footage of 1950s horse shows purchased on ebay, Apprehension is dream-like in its association of the alien with the familiar.

Stansbie’s The Messenger uses the cast list of The Birds, a play by the ancient Athenian Aristophenes, as its starting point. Obliquely referencing its own origin as well as Stansbie’s geographic location, the visual component of the film is a series of images of British bird ornaments. The stasis of these artificial birds in their peaceful garden settings contrasts strangely with the action-packed narrative: a chase sequence through a fictionalised ancient Athens. Stansbie’s films lead us along a series of meandering pathways, forming surreal or nonsensical connections between disparate words and images. Meaning becomes ambiguous, a to-and-fro between rider and steed. Strung halfway between fiction and non-fiction, they play with dislocated fragments of data, interrogating language for alternative meanings and collaging it into tenous new connective webs. In the sense explored by McKenzie Wark in A Hacker Manifesto, Stansbie hacks into our preconceived interpretations of text and image, appropriating and re-producing new stories from old:

“… abstraction is what every hack produces and affirms. To abstract is to construct a plane upon which otherwise different and unrelated matters may be brought into many possible relations. To abstract is to express the virtuality of nature, to make known some instance of its possibilities, to actualize a relation out of infinite relationality, to manifest the manifold.”*

* McKenzie Wark, A Hacker Manifesto (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 008