Monday, 16 September 2013
Sunday, 8 September 2013
The day we visit the beach at Porth Ceiriad on the Llyn Peninsula in North Wales, where in 1973 BS Johnson shot the film Fat Man on a Beach, it is misty and raining a fine drizzle. We clamber down a slightly treacherous path to the beach, and as sea spray adds to the dampness within minutes we are soaked. A small group of intrepid surfers are the only people to find the conditions agreeable.
Having visited a place it's easy to traverse its landscape on Google Earth.
Friday, 6 September 2013
The twentieth anniversary of the lecture and publication 'Specters of Marx' by Jacques Derrida, was marked in April this year by the Hauntology: 20 Years On symposium organised at the University of Bradford. Philip Sanderson and I give a presentation at the symposium about our current work in progress Film of the Same Name. This project revisits the films we made in the late eighties, in particular Green on the Horizon and Hangway Turning. The films were made before Derrida delivered his famous lecture, but they are prescient to recent interest around forms of hauntology which, beyond Derrida's extended essaying of the status of Marxist thought in the immediate aftermath of the dismantling of the Soviet Union, has rippled through art and music and is now popularly better know as embracing other questions and resonances of the past in the present.
Our films are in part concerned with hauntings in a quite literal sense, one of the characters is based on local legends of ghost sightings, but it also draws on such paranormal phenomena as psychometry, ley-lines, and various other notions of energy embedded in the land. The films employ forms which have become tropes associated with hauntological concerns: voices over narrate mysterious poetic phrases and faux documentary reports, shot on super 8 film they already evoke a grainy ghostly nostalgia. By contemplating what it may be to revisit, remake, reenact these projects, we are immersed in the same kind of forms of hauntology that the word has become associated with, almost to the point of cliche. In the face of this it’s hard not let a certain sense of irony creep in and for the presentation we go into a deadpan performance mode while layers of past and present manifestations of the project slip variously in and out of relationship with each other; we read adaptions of the original text, play back video of recent visits to the films' original locations, reenact the revisitations right there in the auditorium, throw in extracts from the original films, alongside recent workshop re-stagings of the original sequences, deliver mini papers on related themes, all strung together with recorded extracts from a semi-fictional journal about the project.
As a way of approaching presenting the material amassed for the project and giving it a form which might lend it to public presentation, this seems to work quite well, in spite of suspicions that the audience are simply puzzled, there seems to be enough to do more than simply tantalise and the presentation is followed by a quite wide-ranging discussion. If nothing else it gives us a way in to thinking about how to begin assembling the beginnings of a finished film, a process that is now underway.
Questions around hauntology resurface a month later, albeit with closer regard to Derrida's original thoughts, when I write an essay about Chantal Akerman's film D'Est for a Melbourne Cinémathèque screening. The film was made in 1993, the same year Derrida published Spectres of Marx, and in it Akerman visits the (then recently former) Soviet Union 'before it was too late' [sic]. The coincidence of the anniversary of the film and the book, and their partly shared subject of the post Soviet Union, as well as the aforementioned reawakening of interest in the concept of hauntology, leads me to post-Marxist speculations about the resonances and relationships between the recent and current haunted reappearance of these formulations.
Future ghosts begin to appear through videos made for the vapor collecting Vimeo group project initiated by Michael Szpakowski, following a conversation we had had about the 'vaporware' music phenomenon. Vaporwave as a primarily musical practice, fascinates me with its engagement with the forms of late capitalism, often taking quite cheesy ‘80s and ‘90s, occasionally recognizable smooth funk and MoR, slowing, glitching, pitch-shifting it into hazy melancholia, immersed in the world of the shopping mall and commerce as both repellant and attractive, a kind of post-accelerationist form that speaks to a contemporary on- and off-line capitalist experience, while forging a more heightened affective aesthetic, it ranges not just across sonic forms but also appropriates video material. I may write more about this in the future but for more information and links to examples Adam Harper writes a couple of quite enlightening pieces for Dummy magazine last year and then a year later, while Aural Incognito also writes about vaporwave, particularly interesting is his framing of it as contemporary industrial music.
The shopping mall escalator of vaporwave chimes with my interest in the private/public spaces of late capitalism, both the real and their virtual representations if such a distinction can still be made, and vapor collecting is an opportunity to try a few quick experiments with the reproduction of such spaces. The works reuse and manipulate material mostly sourced on the web, as well as self-captured video (if such a distinction can still be made). They are immersions in capitalist spaces, the hazy logic of late capitalism melts into pixels, in part suggestive of an internet consciousness as imagined through the blandest of neo-liberal banality. They embrace the aesthetic and the ambiguous contradictions of a relationship to such places, the repulsion from and the attraction to their seduction. The imperative here is to distort and amplify affect through audio-visual effects, slow motion, pitch-shifting, repetition, and in so doing suggest hallucinations of spaces of the near future, imagining a time, perhaps post-consumerism, when the spaces of capitalism are theme parks, pure spectacle, within which a dream-like melancholic drift is the only activity available.
These works already have a life beyond the internet as a selection of the vapor collecting group videos screened at the Synthetic Zero event at BronxArtSpace in New York.
Capital Wharf Station and Systemic Risk Plaza from the vapor collecting series are also soon to be screened as part of the Tuned Cities screening programme at Baltic 39, Newcastle on 21 - 22 September.
Western pixelated blur trail (accelerated obfuscation mix), one of the videos posted to the vapor collecting group is an ambient remix of an already ambient video From the West made for the latest edition of Kerry Baldry's One Minute project. After being immersed in virtual representations of shopping malls, for this video I pay a visit to the most recent, and in some ways most notorious, example locally of such a place (being part of the Olympics-led regeneration and reportedly a crime hotspot - perhaps an appropriate reputation for a beacon of consumerism).
Not being a regular habitué of such places, this first trip to Westfield shopping mall in Stratford offers some revelations. I notice two things in particular: one is that it seems to have been designed as not just retail space, but also for leisure; there are a number of places where one can stop, relax, sit down, much like as in an airport lounge (which themselves increasingly resemble shopping malls). The other observation is that while the place is buzzing with people the shops are mostly empty and appear to be doing little or no business. Have people not come here to shop?
Where earlier ghosts of political/social totalitarianism reemerge in Chantel Akerman's films 'from the east' (D'Est), what future ghosts of political/social capitalist totalitarian consumerism emerge from the west?
I think back to Derrida's writing in 'Specters of Marx' and I try to imagine a paradox of western consumerism after the fall of capitalism: now the shopping mall is a kind of theme park, a purely social space for people to hang out in, it retains its aesthetics, architectural structure, etiquette, and customs but the crucial ingredient, mass consumption, is missing, reenacted only in the performance of the social habits of the act of shopping. It has become a ghost of itself.
From the West screens as part of One Minute Volume 7 at Cofi Roc, Caenarfon, Wales, 6 – 7 September; De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill, 28 September; Projection Rooms, The Museum of Club Culture, Hull, 26 -27 October; and Furtherfield Gallery, London, 25 -26 January and 1 – 2 February 2014.