documentary, fantasy and dreamers as activists of our time
In late October last year, a neon-yellow envelope came through my letterbox. Inside was a thick black card embossed with the sentence, ‘The gradients of fascism are diverse in their predictable dullness’. On the other side was a business-card-size USB drive, printed with a patchy green pattern of what might be an ivy-covered wall, punctuated by a figure covering their face with a black-and-white mask printed with the features of director Pier Paolo Pasolini. The sentence and the image both appear in the nine-minute film contained on the drive, Men of My Dreams (2020), by Los Angeles-based Iranian artist and writer Gelare Khoshgozaran. It’s a patchwork of dream impressions and pointed observations, opening with a passenger’s view of a drive down a street in LA. Armoured vehicles and rubbish trucks line the road, while shopfronts are graffitied with ‘ACAB’, ‘BLM’; a bank on one street corner has ‘George Floyd’ written across its window. Subtitles describe the artist’s move from Iran to the city years earlier. ‘I miss my home, but everywhere is so ruined on this planet I feel at home anywhere.’ What follows is a set of a vignettes, the artist sporting a range of masks depicting the titular men that appear in her dreams: poet Federico García Lorca, singer Farhad Mehrad. In one scene, she sits by the sea holding a mask of theorist Edward Said in front of her face, her hand covering his mouth as if stifling a giggle. In another, she mimes playing a game of tennis, the mask she wears remaining an unidentifiable blur.
Ines Schaber’s projects look at the realities of how archives are used, and ask how we might consider our own habits of looking amid the presence of traumatic photography
This is a story with many beginnings, and many possible endings. One starting point might be the Hopi people and their culture, who have for thousands of years been part of the arid southwest of what became known as the North American continent: a culture of oral histories and traditions based around stewardship of the land. Another starting point might be the European and Anglo settlers and homesteaders moving West across the continent during the nineteenth century to claim land, and the accompanying treaties and betrayals that saw Native Americans pushed into reservation silos and forced into assimilating with these newcomers, and their sense of property and propriety. Or it might begin more specifically in December 1895, when a young German man was brought to Hopiland by a Mennonite missionary. The German brought with him a handheld camera, taking a few dozen hurried and out-of-focus shots of what he saw in the villages, including several of the Hopi’s dances and seasonal rituals. By the 1930s, in response to the commercial exploitation and wide publication of sacred imagery, the Hopi had banned visitors from taking photographs entirely; and though the German man never publicised his photos from that trip – and asked that they never be published – after his death, in 1926, they were printed in books, in 1939, 1988 and 1995; and even after requests from the Hopi to cease their publication, they were published again in 1998, and yet again in 2018.
It’s an unlikely benediction: two identical photos frame Dozie Kanu’s exhibition “Owe Deed, One Deep” at Project Native Informant: a small, slightly blurred image of a tower with a hand at the top, reaching awkwardly towards the sky. Emo State (2020) seems to have been taken from a moving car, the landscape around it giving some sense of the sheer scale of the tower, a religious monument modelled on the tower of Babel in southern Nigeria, constructed only a few years ago and torn down in 2019. The ghost of this demolished structure, the two hands waving over the five sculptural assemblages gathered below them, casts the works as their own temporary monuments, momentary markers to whatever spirit or feeling has possessed us, before disappearing. In a corner, St. Jaded Extinguish (2020) is a gray fire extinguisher stand placed forlornly on a flimsy, short set of black stairs, a bottle opener attached to its base that spells out a nihilistic mantra: “SELF SERVE.”
The bruise is a purple knot. We put arnica cream on it, though I’m never quite sure if that’s to help with the ache or to minimise how violet-brown it gets. We chase her up and down the corridor in the flat, for a bit excitement and exercise, only this time she tripped on a toe and went headlong into the side of a cupboard door. We had been going to the field nearby to kick a ball around and chase each other around the broken glass and cigarette butts, until the field is lopped in half by a high wooden fence, and the next day several large white temporary tents go up behind. The parent WhatsApp groups are abuzz a day later, after the jokes about it being a craft fair or music festival, who knows what chemicals they will use, infected bodies coming through the area, the ground will be tainted, they didn’t even ask us if it was ok to put up a temporary mortuary. Continue reading →
The world is burning. This is not a metaphor. The sky is bleached a searing lime green, tinged with burned orange that reflects off relentless choppy waves. Suddenly, the sky goes blood red and the horizon blackens, the sun a dull hole punched in the sky. Our view shifts, panning quickly to the left, then back again, as if searching for something, anything. The sky then changes again to a blinding sherbet yellow. The screen depicting this scene, mounted on a metal rack above a whirring circuit board, gives us a certain vision of our current reality. The shifting colors are a translation of information from a small atmospheric monitor mounted on the back of the rack. It’s not clear what directly causes the hues to brighten or waves to get that bit higher or more intense in Yuri Pattison’s sun[set] provisioning (2019) at mother’s tankstation—whether the car exhaust from the street outside, or the hungover breath from bodies in the room might make the scene that bit more trippy. The contraption offers a heavily mediated fiction, but it also makes an actuality visible and present: a drowned world, made hallucinatory and beautiful by toxins that saturate the air and water. Continue reading →
Laurie Robins, ‘FREE TRADE OR ELSE’*, 2019, installation view. Image courtesy the artist and South London Gallery. Photo: Andy Stagg.
South London Gallery, London
8 March – 26 May 2019
The age of Airbnb and crowdsourced local knowledge is meant to have made travel more insightful and more ethical, but Antiguan writer Jamaica Kincaid’s words from her book A Small Place (1988) still ring true: “A tourist is an ugly human being.” Free-floating consumers devoid of responsibilities, the tourist flaunts their ability to move around the globe freely, dispensing their disposable income. British filmmaker Laurie Robin’s new fifty-minute film “‘FREE TRADE OR ELSE’*” (2019) takes as its starting point German writer Heinrich Böll’s Irish Journal (1957), his collected writings based on being a tourist in Ireland throughout the 1950s. Using an edited selection of excerpts from the book as voice-over narration, Robins revisits the cities and sites that Böll described in order to see how Ireland has changed over the past sixty years, while at the same time implicitly asking if the tourist’s gaze, rather than their wallet, can reveal anything about a culture. Continue reading →
James N. Kienitz Wilkins, The Dynamic Range, 2018, VR film still. Image courtesy the artist.
Gasworks, London, September – December 2018
‘I’m tired of moving images,’ the narrator of the short video Indefinite Pitch (2016) tells us. It’s easy to sympathize: the twentieth-century avant-garde dream of everyone being a filmmaker is upon us, incessantly uploading videos of ourselves eating and unboxing tat, surrounding us constantly with loops and flashes. ‘Hearsays,’ which is the first gallery-based exhibition by the filmmaker James N. Kienitz Wilkins, is a refuge from this deluge, with a single photograph The Second Person (2018) presiding over two moving image works in a mostly empty space. The photo, a lunar selfie, captures the 1969 moon landing as reflected in a space helmet, a photo drawn from NASA’s archives, but apparently, the press release claims, slightly modified – though the artist’s manipulation seems invisible. Similiarly, in Indefinite Pitch and the virtual reality (VR) film The Dynamic Range (2018), the artist seems to be absent from the picture, with both works featuring austere and largely inert visuals. The movement is instead provided by male voice-over narrators, each video defined by dense, meandering monologues. Listening to both men go on and on, the audience is cast as a therapist of sorts, listening to two neurotic but smooth-talking patients describe their doubts and troubled projections as they both try to negotiate a relationship with cinema. The artist might be trying to give up on moving images, but he apparently hasn’t given up on the “movies,” as he calls them. Continue reading →
Mark Leckey, Affect Bridge Age Regression, installation views, Cubitt Gallery, 2017. Image courtesy the artist and Cubitt Gallery, photo by Mark Blower.
Cubitt Gallery, London, 23 June – 30 July 2017
The ‘Hey Man’, as we called him, used to roam the train tracks that ran behind my house as a kid, regularly calling out a long, mournful “Heeey”. We never saw him, though we did come across a matted tangle of sheets under the adjacent bridge that must’ve been where he occasionally slept. Once, hearing his cry, I yelled a similar “hey”: he immediately returned with a shorter, almost cheery, “hey!” Maybe, I thought at the time, all he’d been yelling for was a response, for some sort of communion. Continue reading →