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.
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 →
The title of Ian White’s posthumous collection of writing brings to mind the comments and instructions posted on social media since the American election last November, accompanied by lists and databases detailing which civil rights organisations to support and which politicians to hassle. The ‘information’ in this book, edited by Mike Sperlinger, White’s former colleague at LUX, isn’t so directly practical as the directive to ‘mobilise’ might suggest, but it does detail its author’s working and thinking methods, with texts on video, film and moving image that are concise, sometimes sharp, politically minded and always self-conscious. Continue reading →
Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist and Cabinet, London
‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!’ So the flustered old man shouts while fidgeting with the partition that kept him, and the controls for his distracting light and sound displays, hidden. The old man is, of course, the supposed Wizard of Oz, the scene from the 1939 film providing the starting point for countless books and essays on the qualities of sound and narration in film (yes, including this one). The authority of the wizard, an apparent god-like power, who is revealed to be merely a nervous man tinkering with an amplifier and a smoke machine, gives a concise and classic example of the trope of the unreliable narrator: when what we are being told is bending things a bit, misleading us, or just plain untrue. The unreliable narrator is a concept with which we are all familiar – whether in the form of boastful exploits in the Life and Exploits of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, 1759-67, or in Kevin Spacey’s voiceover from the grave in American Beauty, 1999. The dissonance between what we are being told and what is being made revealed has long been used as a tool in fiction and art; but what happens when the unreliable narrator becomes ubiquitous and all narration is untrustworthy? What happens when the unreliable narrator becomes the only narrator in town? Continue reading →
It is a sacred place. A site visited by pilgrims and tourists, both reverentially hushed. But by the side of the dusty road there is inevitably a line of tables, each covered with the same objects: small figurines of the holy relic in a range of sizes, postcards, picture books. One has a basket filled with small, 2-inch plastic cameras: through the tiny viewfinder is an aerial view of the surrounding countryside. Looking up towards the sun with the machine over my eye, a button turns through a dozen hypercoloured, grainy images, clicking through a quick snapshot tour of the area’s highlights: seemingly deserted postcard views and panoramic shots that give away only a sense of scale, and possibly good weather depending on where I point the toy.
Giving the imitation shutter button a delicate half-push, I get the excited shudder of making the view settle on the black ‘V’ that separates one picture from the next. Half of a green valley can be seen on one side, on the other an abandoned port, the dark no-space sitting uneasily between them. Like thinking about your own blinking, its normally thoughtless and automatic process becoming slowed and intentional, it is unsettling and revealing. It is a boundary, the limitation of how we see what we see; but this image of the material of the picture slide itself is also another view, another location, another entity. It is this liminal space, its uncertain dominion and hazy substance that is explored in the work of Niamh O’Malley.