Landings: Re-viewing The WorldLandings: Re-Viewing the World, the latest exhibition at the Spacex Gallery in Exeter, brings together three animators and film-makers who look closely at details of our world and transform them, making them seem alien and strange. At the same time, their work retains some degree of familiarity, which gives that strangeness a disorientating giddiness. The first film you come across upon entering the gallery is Simon Faithfull’s 13. This begins with the sketched outline of a dog’s head, prone and with eyes closed, whining in troubled sleep. The journey which follows can be seen as the dog’s dream, a flickering memory outline of an oft-made journey, its elements floating in a weightless, somnambulistic drift, apt to dissolve into a granular dust of formless motes at any moment (as indeed they do). The dog’s dream is of a journey along the A13, back to Barking (hoho), a route with which Faithfull is presumably familiar himself. He has assembled the animation from sketches he made on his PalmPilot (a small, hand-held computer, I believe) as he walked along the side of the road. Given that this is not a route which gives the slightest thought to the pedestrian, this brave and foolhardy act in itself leads to a removed and mildly bewildered perspective. The simple and childlike outlines, blockily pointillist as if made by a large virtual crayon, are limitations set by the technology used rather than by the draftsmanship of the artist. They suggest the limited mental capacity of the dog, and this progression of images, of hazily familiar landscapes and landmarks, thus becomes rather poignant. They could be the output of a crude dream-recording device (such as the one featured in Wim Wenders’ Until The End of the World), the clunky prototype of magic technology, here tested on a pitiful laboratory specimen. But aside from such fancies, these touchingly innocent images are the dog’s attempts to comprehend the complex and inhospitable world around it, roamed by all these strange metallic beasts, speeding by on their round legs. This poignancy is underlined by the occasional bit of musical accompaniment, simple and understated keyboard chords overlaid with guitar lines which echo the plaintive whine of the dog with their smooth, plangent pedal steel-style bent notes; Concrete country and eastern ambiences.
13 © Simon Faithfull
Courtesy: Animate TV
The A13 stretches from the East End of London, making its usually traffic-choked way along Commercial Road, skirting Limehouse Basin and the East India Docks, flying over the Blackwall Tunnel approach and past Plaistow and East Ham, and rushing out towards Essex. Familiar sights appear in their phantom outlines in Faithfull’s journey. The Ballardian concrete flyovers; the Mecca Bingo hall, grandiose in its old cinema building, a union jack flying atop the roof making its seem like some royal castle; Goldfinger’s Balfron Tower, the jutting mass of its top floor service rooms on top of a shaft separate from the main body of the building giving it the look of a fossilised concrete dinosaur; and Bow Creek passing underneath rushing traffic at Canning Town, its muddy flow towards the nearby Thames captured in a few flickering lines. Some of the flats in the Balfron buildings have in fact been rented to artists in a special scheme set up by the housing association, Poplar HARCA, which currently own it. I wonder whether Faithfull is one of those who took them up on their offer. As the journey progresses, there is a sudden inversion, the black outlines on white background switching to their negative reverse. It’s a simple yet magical moment, night suddenly descending on this automotive landscape. The darkness seems appropriate for this environment, and everything seems more natural, attuning itself to the dog’s dreamscape. Throughout, the car has floated above the road and passed through other cars and buildings, its outlines shifting and phasing. It’s an insubstantial ghost, the dog’s ideal form, in which he can pass through this landscape as if it were an open field. For one brief moment, we see a dog racing across the roads, which provide no obstacle to its speeding pelt. For just a short span, the concrete world becomes insubstantial, an immaterial superimposition, and the dogs are free to roam the plains once more.
Landings: Re-viewing The WorldWithout You by Tal Rosner is a video piece transformed through editing and collage into a kinetic blur of ever-shifting patterns. The camera initially observes scenes from the urban interzones with static indifference. Modern warehouse buildings of grey corrugated metal are iced with primary coloured eaves, which only serve to emphasize their unalloyed functionality and utter impersonality. They exist in those areas on the edges of towns and cities which are wholly devoid of character or distinctiveness, and are designed to be so. This is where drifts of detritus accumulate and no-one really cares to clear them up, and car parks stretch to the horizon around human cattle-shed workplaces. Having surveyed such apparently featureless environments with a dead and noncommittal eye, Rosner swoops in to take in close-up details of the buildings. He then sets them in motion, creating swift, rhythmic realignments, splicing and juxtaposing different elements. Diagonals intersect with horizontals, bright colours contrast with each other, and surface details such as rivets on metal provide texture and regular pattern. The remixing and shifting of these individually dull elements works to hypnotic effect (although it has to be said, this might have been even more effective on a larger screen). At one moment, they fall into boldly outlined grids, partially filled in with lozenges of primary colour which stand out against an otherwise blank background, like a Mondrian painting; at the next, they unfold into the shimmering striations of op-art fields. Then they are kaleidoscopically shaken once more to form new configurations. The natural life of these barren hinterlands also makes its scraggy presence felt, throwing shadows of a more awkwardly irregular form against the screens of human manufacture. These shapes cannot be so easily accommodated into abstract patterns of shifting geometrical order. You can imagine David Attenborough, emerging from around the corner of some B&Q barn, whispering in voice-over ‘even here, life has found a hold’. Through skilful editing and mixing, Rosner has manipulated the source material in such a way as to find visual interest and energy in the most unpromising of environments.
Without You © Tal Rosner
Courtesy: Animate TV
Landings: Re-viewing The WorldInger Lise Hansen’s three films were the highlights of the exhibition for me. Shown on a large screen in a darkened gallery temporarily walled off from the rest of the building, they were mesmerising in their effect. Hansen uses a time-lapse camera, more commonly employed to capture the growth of vegetable empires, to track with aching slowness and at low-lying level across landscapes with wide-open expanses of sky. The resulting film is then flipped over, and the world turned upside down. The ground becomes a sky of massive solidity, a chthonic cave roof lowering over a ground become airy and insubstantial, a medium of constant change. The contrary motion of both new ‘sky’ and fast-shifting ground caused by the slow, ground-level tracking of the camera creates a dizzying and disorientating effect. These feel like new and alien worlds which Hansen has discovered for us.
Proximity © Inger Lise Hansen
Courtesy: Animate TV
The three films here were shot at a beach in Jutland, Norway, atop a department store roof in Linz, Austria, and in Murmansk, Russia. The Jutland film, Proximity, is the simplest, given the relatively unchanging nature of the environment Hansen has recorded. Changes in weather and light are marked, however. Beach and sky below are suddenly lit up or crossed by a wave of shadow. Showers occasionally wash in and dapple the lens with raindrops. The Linz film, titled Parallax, prowls around the monumental, unidentified outcroppings on the department store rooftop. They might be the housings for lift mechanisms, for heating systems, or for who knows what. It’s best to leave them as vessels for the imagination. Their blocklike, constructed forms in the foreground contrast with the mountainscapes which make up the background. Hardy tufts of grass blow in a pixellated wind, as if this were in fact some tundra environment, the built structures part of a remote oil or gas refinery. This was my assumption before reading the exhibition notes. A tame and ordinary setting has been made strange, rendered inhospitable and inhuman. The Murmansk film, Travelling Fields, is the most recent and perhaps the most impressive. The camera eye makes its slow and steady surveillance sweep across bleak and depopulated plains, which are crossed with lines of roads and telegraph wires, their symmetrical order indicating manufacture. They are also seeded with copses of crumbling high-rise apartment buildings. In the foreground of the scenes with the high-rises, there are regularly spaced concrete struts, the foundations for some building long gone, or maybe never built. They hang down from the concrete sky like the ragged root ends of tower blocks, the rusted brown of their protruding steel frame rods trailing organic offshoots. We get to see the surfaces of some of these pendant concrete stalactites close-up as the camera glides smoothly by. The right angled, flat-planed surfaces have been given sculptural form by weather and time, their cubist cast giving way to a more natural, granite face, pitted by wind and chiselled by ice-cracking. These are inverted megalithic sites, their carefully aligned sarsens testament to a civilisation which has faded away or been destroyed. Only these stark memorial stones are left as clues from which future archaeologists will attempt to divine its nature. Snow falls up to the solid grey sky and then down towards the cloudy, fast-flowing ground, as though this is a world in which gravity has become subject to sudden reversals. Occasionally, a dark, vaguely insectoid form scuttles hurriedly across the frame in the near distance. Some life remains here.
Hansen composes some beautiful landscape shots elsewhere, which become almost abstract in their topsy-turvy state. Telephone wires strung between poles describe a receding perspective of upward sweeping arcs. Aerials protrude like small, bristly shrubs. A long, straight road bisecting the centre of the plain looks like a runway, an acceleration track from which cars take off for the downward plunge to earth. This upending of landscape is such a simple idea, and yet, when combined with the speeded time of the photography and the slow tracking of the camera, it sets the imagination off on such rich associational paths. It brings about a disassociation of accustomed perceptions, which allows new ones to take their place. The atmosphere is also greatly enhanced by the low rumble and throb of the underlying soundscape (rather reminiscent of Eno’s On Land), which perfectly complements the images. The exhibition continues until 26th February, during which time there will be a screening night (on the 24th February) of animated films, including works by Andrew Kotting (who made the wonderful Gallivant) and David Shrigley. Meanwhile, re-view your world, and let your perceptions be turned upside down.