Monday, 21 March 2011

Urban(e) Environments

ACMI Gallery in Metalogue
This Wednesday 23 March Melbourne Cinémathèque will show a programme of my recent video as part of an evening of three programmes called Urban(e) Visions. My programme is sandwiched between John Smith’s War Diaries and Of Time and the City by Terence Davies, elevated company indeed and it's interesting  to me for my work to be in the context of, on one hand Smith’s situated reflections on the war on terror, and on the other Davies’s documentary revisiting of his Liverpudlian childhood. Interesting partly because this collection of my work is hardly as thematically, and perhaps formally, focussed as its neighbours'. However Cinémathèque has thoughtfully titled my programme FORMAL ENVIRONMENTALISM and describes it as work that “explores the geography and topography of physical landscapes and technological environments”.  In an attempt to flesh this out a little, I have provided some programme notes with an introduction suggesting that the programme  “…covers a range of territory, as digital materialist experimentation meets spatial exploration to become urban landscape study and hyperlocal excursion. Concretist formal processes explore and exhaust species of spaces and media, producing variously eccentric musically rhythmic structured works, and abstracted, essayistic studies."

Reflecting on these digital video works, I think that there is a sense in which many of them do strike a tricky balance between the specificity of place and formal process and techniques, but that specificity is often less to do with the qualities of the place -  an essence that might once have been called the genius loci - but more the way that my construction of place is an abstraction. In short I’m not so sure how ‘successfully’ these works do actively ‘explore’, ‘interrogate’, ‘construct’ (unsatisfactorily metaphorical words in themselves) the specificity of place.  Some, such as The Defenestrascope and Metalogue, are constructed from images captured in diverse places: in the former Lucca in Italy, Berlin, and London, while its ‘musical’ structure draws on English folk song and samples as diverse as Music Hall and Chinese traditional song, the neologism of its title suggests throwing views out of the window; while the latter ranges from London, Pisa, Kuala Lumpur, Melbourne... the neologism of its title signals it as a travelogue in which metadata has risen to the surface.

One reason I am interested in screening Metalogue in this programme is because a section of it was captured somewhere several storeys below where the screening will take place, in what is now the gallery at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), the images taken from a private tour of the space I was given while the building was still under construction.

The final work in the show Aboriginal Myths of South London, might carry a slightly provocative title in an Australian context. It is in part an attempt to speculate what might happen if I articulate what I understand of certain Australian Aboriginal attitudes to the relationship between the history of a place and its specificity, in relation to the history of the now deceased people who once inhabited that place. It has occurred to me that the indigenous Australian attitude to the dead affords a level of respect entirely lacking from a European belief system, which plays itself out in terms of ethical protocols and legality.  The video is a first attempt to bring such a philosophy close to where I live, to New Kent Road in south London, as a way to pay closer attention to the specificity of that place and apply a pragmatic materialism in the face of what I think might mistakenly be considered to be the mystical notion of the genius loci.

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