I leave feeling inconclusive—certain films resonate with me, others I forget almost instantly. I leave the screening with a peculiar anxiety; viewing a work with the intention of writing a response always leaves me feeling surreptitious. Every contact leaves a trace seems to exacerbate this feeling, creating the sensation of approaching the works with an ulterior motive to that of my fellow audience members. The programme’s exploration of trace, evidence, and the legacy of the past in the present through the tropes of the mystery genre, constantly remind me that the screening is not a scene I can revisit.
I thought that distance might clarify my opinion: that significance would take the form of whatever survived the passage of time. I look to my notes; they’re utterly inadequate. Writing in the dark, they had felt like profound aphorisms. How succinctly I had captured my responses. How confidently I had felt that on future reading they would surely usher in those same observations with their original intensity. But my notes did not gain significance over time, instead they read like a poetic indulgence, written in earnestness and so sparse that what makes it onto the page claims relevance by proxy alone. They are a reminder that what is noted contemporaneously as important, and what can actually be recalled, are seldom the same thing.
Every work in Every contact creates the sensation of bearing witness. With varying intensities, each disrupts passive consumption, self-reflexively interrogating film’s structurally inherent ever-vigilant gaze and reminding us that we are implicated in the unfolding events. Witness testimony is considered a firsthand authentication of fact that is both somehow unmediated and empirical. As my notes make clear, the notion that this document might serve as a faithful account of the screening is a fractious, fallible, and arguably unattainable position. Written testimony, like film, is constituted by practices of editing, redacting, deconstruction and reconstruction. Many of the films in Every contact accentuate these qualities as a means of interrogating the validity of film itself as empirical evidence. Film and writing as means of presentation have a shared material vocabulary that does not just service the benign presentation of information, but actively inflects, shapes, and intervenes. In this sense, the programme puts forward an exploration of the materialities of witness—thinking of evidence beyond neutral, dutiful repositories from which past deeds may be retrieved and uncovered, towards an understanding of it as a dialogue with the present that is contingent and under constant negotiation.
Contingency and revision are antithetical to the demands of the mystery genre which require that mystery unfold with certainty—to be neatly wrapped up, or at least conclusively inconclusive within its allocated screen time. Every contact is not interested in indulging this predilection for catharsis. Rather than privileging linear assertions, Every contact questions how we might intuit or experience consensus outside value systems that operate in binary terms.
It was as if after each film there is a trailing ellipses—connections made obliquely via juxtaposition but never explicitly articulated or emphatically stated. Ellipses are a peculiar form of omission—information withheld in a very specific way, when words are superfluous, unnecessary or impotent, where thinking and understanding takes place through contextual clues. In the same way that circumstantial evidence relies on inference to establish fact, these forms of consensus are built around cumulative constellations in which one account corroborates another.
Every contact prompts me to consider that perhaps evidence’s true relationship is not to incident but to audience. How might we access and understand the information communicated to us through encounters with records, documents, artefacts as forms of witness, not as faithful surrogates to original events, but as being capable of independent, contemporaneous address. Perhaps it’s useful to consider this response as such an object.Kirsty Hendry is an artist who produces writing, events, and projects. She is interested in practices of distribution and their relationships to language, identity, and subjectivity. You can find her here and sometimes here
Every contact leaves a trace, LUX screening, Glasgow Film Theatre, 1 October, 2017. Curated by Naomi Pearce the programme featured: Naeem Mohaiemen, Rankin Street; Leah Gilliam, Sapphire and the Slave Girl;Susu Laroche, Body of Work; John Smith, Blight; Mark Barker, Stuart Certain; Min Yuen S. Ma, Sniff and Lucy McKenzie & Richard Kern, The Girl Who Followed Marple