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Open Film 2016, curated by Ed Atkins
Outpost Norwich + a.m. London UK
OUTPOST Open Film was initiated in 2011 as a celebration of artist’s moving image, showcasing established and emerging artists to new audiences across the UK and further afield. Previous selectors of the open call opportunity have been LUX Director Benjamin Cook, Artist Jesse Ash, Curator/Writer Adam Pugh, and Filmmaker Stuart Croft. The 2016 selection has been made by Ed Atkins from an open call opportunity to OUTPOST members, bringing together themes from the films of eighteen artists, based in the UK and internationally.
Text by Ed Atkins
As is the given of any person selecting from an open submission, thematic or discursively specific curatorial remit isn’t really possible – or indeed desirable. The tacit aim here, I think, is pretty much antithetical to any idea of predetermined meaning, of thesis and its illustration. The Open, as its name suggests, is something that begins open and, more or less, remains as such; it is in itself an openwork, necessarily ambivalent towards any attempt at conceptual fidelity or coherence.
So many of the videos here seem to site themselves on various cusps of incoherence – many feel like object lessons warning against violent determinations of meaning, identity, communication. They often seem to vouch for the fallible, insofar as they place bodies and their mortal decrepitude at their heart – whether that’s underscored by a body’s absence, figured by a presumed effect on an audience member’s body, or literally featuring a body demonstrating certain of its irrepressible, corporeal aspects. This is often as a kind of rebuttal of the video technology’s own seeming prerogatives: bodily error rehearsed as an error at the heart of the tech’s promise.
If a kind of protest of incoherence is a connect here, then it is also at the core of many of the works more or less explicit politics. It’s heartening to see so many videos that deftly and fiercely reject false representations of lives in favour of something that feels far more faithful to experience. It’s moving. And in this – my own emotional response – it’s clear that the other overarching theme of the selection
is my subjective choice – of which I am unapologetic. If anything, this subjective perspective – which is presumed in the invitation to make the selection – feels in cahoots with the works themselves; desire seems paramount, as is a request for its empathetic allowance – even if we understand it to be so often retarded or diverted by myriad presumptions made upon us without our consent. These videos are intimate affairs, perhaps analogous to the increasing personal proximity of cameras and screens in so many of our lives. They straddle amateur drive and demotic parlance, politics; they repudiate consensus through their personal discretion, even as they make travesties of homogeneous templates and assumed symbolic orders in order to better commune in their individuality.
The sequence of this programme came together almost straightaway, once I’d committed myself to the selection. A narrative almost unfurls. –Or perhaps, better, a mise en scene: domestic space cluttered with personal effects, clothes, patterns, histories – the indexes of lives in all their obscure impulses. Below are some thoughts on each of the videos – incomplete, certainly. I hope they might become part of the discourses seeded by each and every of the works on show here. Re-reading these thoughts, I’m aware of so much sadness. The lives outlined here are in varying states of crisis. What heartens, then, is that these videos provide an outlet for sharing those crises, for allegorising them in order to better appeal for empathy – which I duly extend in return and which I’m certain is the very condition of our alignment.
Eoghan Ryan’s ‘Are you trying to make me say the word?’ pales lonely and anxious – animated by blurts of fly murder and Skype’d maternal assuaging. There is an absent father, though any oedipal determination is stymied both by the inaccuracies of its sweeping diagnosis and its dispersion into families – both real, filmic (Haneke’s ‘Funny Games’ provides cold comfort) and formal: the montage displayed here is a terrifying kind of jump – from screen to face, from corpse to dance, from citation to extraordinarily actual experience.
‘Ppants’ by Cristine Brache is a brutally cropped theatre of intimacy that hurts through the cool disinterest of its subject, the camera, and whoever the fuck is shooting stills and muttering instructions off-screen. A woman pisses herself – but why? What kind of performance would so calmly retract the anxieties or pleasures of something like that? That this video repels fetish and desire is somehow the source of its power in the face of our gaze: this act is queasily both defiant and capitulating – like clothing steadily
darkening with piss.
‘Everything everything will be alright’ by Christopher Smith is alive with the kind of spastic relations and improvisations and abandonments that are only really possible as a reaction to boredom, to being trapped. That the reveries on offer here are filmed on some generation of camera tech prior to this one infuses the piece with a familiar kind of melancholy, materialised nostalgia. 4:3 ratio itself feels poignant. And that title. It’s like it wasn’t made recently at all, but in actual fact is from twenty years ago – standing as a document of the last rush of energy before some inevitable submission to a life less untroubled, more banal, more meaningful.
The same protagonists could populate Winnie Herbstein’s ‘Circling Roads’. Told like a myth, it speaks of a proximate past that lies in ruins figurative and literal, the partially deliberate confusion in mourning of truth and allegory. The video moves and halts like a car orlike a teenager or, better, like an eon – a period of some people’s lives that either remains, ends, or is abandoned forever, to only be spoken of through half-truths and parabolic fictions. ‘Signal V’ by Steffen Levring is a visceral irruption straight out of no past: it returns us to our bodies with a synchronous insistence – a bump, over and over. It demands that we get in sync – forces us to get in sync – with the machine, rendering us machines, too. And perhaps too late realising that it is the camera and not our eyes that are being literally interfered with; that the technology can be a duplicitous kind of bulwark, one that so often demands we confuse its suffering for our own.
Richard Whitby takes Lyotard’s ‘Acinema’ as his title, deftly and horribly demonstrating the concept’s push for agitation, its deliberate confusion between good and bad movements – a means of resisting recoupment, coherence for whatever commodification. It also reminds me of a question posed by Leo Bersani in his recent book, ‘Thoughts and Things’: ‘is there a nonsadistic kind of movement? Would we go toward the world if we were not motivated by destructive impulses?’ If morality is shed through the eradication of a good/ bad pronouncement, the movements that remain, however confused, are subject to drives that, in Bersani’s Freudian thesis, are ineluctable. In Whitby’s video every movement is abrupt, violent – the animation so visibly constituted by stopping, by interruption, death by a thousand cuts. It’s close, too, perhaps, to Mulvey’s ‘Death, 24 times a second’– the fragmenting of contiguousness as both a defence against recuperation, but perhaps also at a cost of holistic function: a body fragmented by the camera and our attention both. –And here, naked and lolloping, is death itself. –A Sculpy demon, going nowhere, killing time and literally – lighting fires to caffeinated movement from terminal stillness.
‘The supermarket bleeds: end title’ feels propositional, like a modeling of an ending. It’s like a logo and an overhead plan: both abstracted and literal, the milk – gone off, greened with industrial whatever or maybe just listless time – seeps across the border into meaning-making language. How could this be an ending? Perhaps only in a life whose ending circles back to its beginning in perpetuity. The milk’s slow escape figures the captivity of the principal.
The horrendous double negatives that constitute Allison Balance and Abigail Smith’s ‘Over the course of a month’ become mantric, a rule to compound or confuse meaning. The ‘not’ of every phrase baffles, perhaps initially comically – where really it simply squares the sadness, doubles it up in a way that seems to present an idea about the irrecuperability by language of a disastrous situation – and again, how little really gets sufficiently animated by the playing of a video.
‘After 001’ by Miles Joseph is exactly that: a scene after a dramatic event, the aftermath evident in a smashed cup, an indented settee. It’s another ‘end title’, feels like – this sensation at once affirmed and contested by a soundtrack that, despite it’s somber piano chords, is irritated by its resignation. The scene, too, is off: it feels like another model, a proposal – and therefore a fiction. Something in the cropping, in the heavy processing of the soundtrack, signifies construction, control – the designs of an author, an artist. Which is perhaps frightening, given the scene. Another domestic scene hobbled by a poverty of possibility – a correlation made between the lives alluded to, whose options are suffocated by state ideology – and the structure of the video itself. We are, in so many of these videos, too late.
Dylan Spencer-Davidson’s ‘No Fear’ is an amazing flash-mob amateur zombie warning. Like a parody piece of viral propaganda setting itself against the kind of corporate-organised shit-shows of marketing chutzpah, these ‘everyday people’ are poorly rendered, yes, but they are oddly real in their suffering. Their whirling is scarcely divine, but again, feels like a violent animation by autocratic hand. The music, too, feels like it’s part of the theme of some nineties paranoiac indie film about people breaking down in the face of neoliberal horrors. Like ‘American Beauty’ or ‘Breaking Down’ – that steel drum plays a tune we all know too fucking well.
In ‘1014’ by Yuri Pattison, we are reminded that, at their core, the revelations Edward Snowden delivered had scant impact; that the outrage they elicited is perhaps as nothing in comparison with the forces of privilege and normalcy maintenance. The hotel is emblematic of the kind of censorious, calm cleansing that goes on in the media, in the economy, in all the worlds of power – how our laziness, our comfort and our ignorance can be relied upon to overwhelm irruptions of reality. The camera here floats about, searchingly, looking, perhaps, for evidence – of a particular occupant, of bodies, of anyone having been here before. The room is turned down daily, reset, sanitized for the next guest, who, despite everything, expects nothing left. The only proof lurches anonymized before the eye like collagen floaters – unintelligible in scale and meaning.
Alyona Larionova’s ‘Across Lips’ attempts communication across such vast distances and between such vastly differing objects, cultures, times, that it arrives at a kind of perspectival calm: things seem related, even if that’s only through their elegant ranging. This reality seems weird as all hell – as weird as a phony Grand Canal in a Vegas casino: Carved wooden everypeople in something like a church that worships a compact server farm instead of a Christ, oddly marshaled with mild experiment by a rhinestone jazz drummer. There’s so much here – all of it actually there – that the mind lurches with a feeling of missing some vital fact: the facts of a real place, with all the concomitant oddity of reality. Everything here is trying to decipher everything else, and using its own discrete cipher, the
details of each of which are withheld from everyone but the drummer, who can only paraphrase in yelps of percussive, nonsensical Morse code, out of time and history and nuance. I’m sure someone else would know exactly where this is.
It takes very little time to recognize the voice in Siobhan Coen’s ‘The Act of Seeing’: Tony Blair’s forked, clipped tones are forever seared into the cerebrum. That he has been rendered – or rather, revealed – as a psychotic, delusional HAL-9000 feels entirely apposite, almost unsurprising. Here, as with Snowden, revelation is better understood as confirmation: we all know the megalomaniacal lunacy that must abound in Blair’s brain (and Cameron’s and Bush’s and Obama’s and Putin’s, etc.) – this amazing Gysinian cut-up serves, with great compositional verve, to confirm that fact. The strobing digital primaries on the screen call to mind both the anti illusional techniques of structural / materialist film (and that title feels right on the cusp of Brakhage’s ‘The Act of Seeing with ones own eyes’, and a whole world of unbelievable and true viscera, of death and its calm elucidation), and some spasming interior of Blair’s head – like the cinema is all behind his terrible eyelids, a fantasy he can wreak true when he finally wakes up and thinks of God.
A history of glamour, of an older kind of cinema, unfurls with every rotation of Mark Aerial Waller’s ‘Video instruction for the last sculpture’. The assertion that this sculpture – a cardboard box spackled with shards of unlucky broken mirror perched atop a kind of shop display turntable – is the last one rhymes, for me, with those end titles of other works here – the credits roll. A kind of collapse of semantics occurs, with the temporality of a sculpture, however flimsy, being at odds with that of the video – both finite, yes, but the stretch between the two affords, weirdly, film to have history, apparent timelessness, a culture to be lost – despite its reiterative fleetingness. The sculpture then, here, becomes commemorative – not least of itself: a thing constituted by accident and refuse. It reflects and reflects upon a history of images and reflections – a kind of fleeting narcissism or delusion concerning the passing of time, around entropic law. The sound of every scrapbook newspaper fold-out, the reverberant pieces of past’s music – each thing is presented to the sculpture, like its an oracle. Only, the shards of mirror return the presented image – and not to the artist, but down the camera, to us, where we are asked to swap out for the final sculpture.
‘Passing through the membrane, the space beneath fills out, engorged’ by Ben Skea, is a twitching cybernetic thing: a site that feels like some hellish mine in a future that is, terrifyingly, already here – where organs without bodies mill digital rubble, almost certainly panning for meaning – sifting through other bodies, perhaps, images and illusions, distractions. The dimensionality of the video is telling, caught
as it is between flat, 2D cut outs, and tight-focused 3D models, enwrapped by what could be possessed magazine collage. It all has the feeling of the subterranean – a world spirited away by technology, rendered over there, out of sight and mind – like those coltan mines and the bodies that are traumatised there. ‘Passing through…’attempts some impossible reparation by generating, from digital ether, a
multi-dimensional illustration of what some bodies must dream when they are not unloving their lives in holes for Apple or whoever.
The worlds calmly turned through in Gabrielle Le Bayon’s ‘The Scale of Signs’ are absent in perhaps more various, complicated ways – history’s vicissitudes condemned to a textbook – technology’s condemn the textbook to nostalgia. Though the protagonist is flicking through the book backwards, meaning that if chronology is presumed, then her sincere desire is time travel, however quaint the notion.
Like Mark Waller’s last sculpture, and its operational imperative to reflect the desires of its audience, this anachronistic book, filled with old-fashioned exotica, reflects the romantic desires of the narrator, who is apparently addressing a poet, that ultimate figure of doomed romance. The voice, however, speaks knowingly, of experience uncontained by representation, of desire outside of the monetary, against norms of a white, European presumption. Despite its apparent naivety, Le Bayon’s video calmly posits its own heretical movement. A movement, perhaps, that really is nonsadistic: a movement to undo – like reading an old history book backwards.
Hedvig Berglind’s opaquely titled ‘Phillips’ seemed foregone as an end piece as soon as I’d seen it, in a way – if only because of its conclusive ambivalence, its weirdly optimistic, naïve kind of straight-up performance. Powdered-wigged, generically ‘period’-costumed beautiful young aristocratic sorts sit about a dining table and languorously nibble at bits of food, waiting for something: perhaps the first
assistant director to call them back from lunch; perhaps they’re waiting simply to be resolved into anything like characters. They look a little like the brattish French court in Sophia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette, only without the historical specifics to keep them moored. While they’re waiting for whatever, they begin to touch one another, to kiss – a kind of ambiguous erotic touching, then groping, kissing, at once forceful, playful, testing, pointless. Sexuality lurches about the place, with women and men exchanging roles with all the indolence of a group of narcissistic first year drama students. And throughout no one says anything. Nothing happens – not really. Time passes and a trope unwinds, teasing conjecture of genre, purpose, historical narrative, desire and something like the more or less
implicit violence of all that.
Ed Atkins (b. 1982, Oxford, UK) is an artist living and working in Berlin. Recent solo exhibitions include The Kitchen, New York,
USA and Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, Denmark. Forthcoming activity includes Castello di Rivoli and Sandretto Re
Rebaudengo, Turin; DHC Art, Montreal; MMK, Frankfurt; Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York. There is a forthcoming book of collected
writings from Fitzcarraldo Editions, released September this year.