Another Decade Enlarge
Still from Morgan Quaintance, Another Decade, 2018. Courtesy the artist

Few men realize that their life, the very essence of their character, their capabilities and their audacities, are only the expression of their belief in the safety of their surroundings. The courage, the composure, the confidence; the emotions and principles; every great and every insignificant thought belongs not to the individual but to the crowd: to the crowd that believes blindly in the irresistible force of its institutions and of its morals, in the power of its police and of its opinion. [1]

Encircled by medieval ramparts and marked by its repeated violent historical seizures, England’s northernmost town would seem an apt site to consider the outpost. The outpost simplified gives physical space to ideologies sanctioned by a larger, distant body. Tied to the campaign, to the capitalistic and colonial, the outpost is an architecture for looking, for documentary, for espionage, but in its very being—on the margins of its governing system—it holds the potential for dissent. Chronically dislocated, the outpost re-engineered becomes a site for rebellion and liberation, for withdrawing from the crowd.

The 14th Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival features the outpost as method and subject in a programme of screenings and exhibitions that, in its more illicit moments, feels like an assembly for co-conspirators—a feeling only amplified by the subterranean ice caves, gunpowder arsenal, and darkened nightclub where this plot is convened.

287 A5831 Enlarge
Installation view of Edgar Reitz & Ula Stöckl, Tales of the Dumpster Kid, 1971. Courtesy Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. Photo: Janina Sabaliauskaite

In Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer’s Empty Metal (2018), the festival’s throbbing opener, the outpost is proposed as an activist strategy with liberating, anti-colonial potential. The film is a portrait of anti-establishment movements in the United States and follows a cabal of Brooklyn neo-punks, Native activists, a Rastafarian, European mystic, and a corps of militant survivalists. A narrative unwinds which sees the three-piece punk band, increasingly disaffected with their own artistic output, become mobilised in the assassination of three real figures who have murdered young black men with impunity in recent high-profile cases. Through a mosaic-like composite of low-resolution camcorder footage, digital visualisation, drone imaging, and high definition, the world Khalil and Sweitzer describe is already here: surveillance technologies enable state-sanctioned violence whilst equivalent democratised tools like civilian-generated video documentation remain affectless. The neoliberal campaign and its symptoms, here racialised police brutality, remain infallible.

Do you really just want to be a part of a band anymore? [2]

The capitalist superstructure which permits this oppression is the target of writers Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams in their landmark publication Inventing the Future (2015). In the text, they identify a key failure of the leftist imagination: ‘[in] the absence of images of progress there can only be reactivity, defensive battles, local resistance and a bunker mentality – what we have characterised as folk politics. Visions of the future are therefore indispensable for elaborating a movement against capitalism.’ [3]

Empty Metal proposes one such vision, an antidote to the failure of the folk-political method. The reactionary crowd and its peaceful protest are replaced with a set of cooperating individualists, pro-violent saboteurs working as an outpost. Abandoning all complicit technology, through the willing destruction of their phones and adoption of telepathic forms of communication, these dissenters organise invisibly and without crowd consensus. Their anti-deliberated action is unapologetic, even thrilling.

Final Movie 00 44 43 17 Still017 Enlarge
Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer, Empty Metal, 2018. Courtesy Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival / Steady Orbits

The failure of the folk-political is also the focus of artist, curator and writer Morgan Quaintance’s new film Another Decade (2018) which reappraises the activist conversations of the 1990s. Blending archive, with home video and 16mm, the work develops from footage of A New Internationalism, a 1994 conference organised by INIVA at Tate whose speakers echo contemporary discourse on cultural identity and the decolonisation of the institution with alarming exactness. The diachronic mirroring of then and now is presented as evidence of stasis, of a collective failure to action better futures and redress structural inequalities under neoliberalism.

The film also marks a shift in Quaintance’s practice, or the occupation of a different outpost. In October 2017, he shared ‘The New Conservatism’ through e-flux conversations which pointed to the complicit activities of major UK art institutions that perform a sense of progress whilst surreptitiously recycling the oppressive malpractices of neoliberalism proper—privatisation, offshore accounts, and chronic failures of representation. [4] Since publication, Quaintance has enacted a principled withdrawal from the crowd, as a critic within the art-institutional system; Another Decade brims with the energy of a new discovery, a new position of attack.

287 A4294 Enlarge
Installation view of Sophia Al-Maria, The Magical State, 2018. Courtesy Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival. Photo: Janina Sabaliauskaite

The fizz of newness, of finding new points of entry for critique, storytelling, image-making carried through the whole programme. Artist in profile Sophia Al-Maria presented The Magical State (2017) through a trembling vertical installation housed in an 18th century gunpowder arsenal. The work features a towering Wayuu woman, shot at low angle, possessed by a 40-million-year-old oil demon. Through layers of folklore, the woman-cum-demon ventriloquises the earth, giving voice to geology and time so that they might chastise the capitalist affliction directly. Expressed through overlays, cut-outs and acid-toned gradients, Al-Maria is a proponent of the poor image as theorised by Hito Steyerl: that quick sketch, infinitely reproducible and circulated at speed, which privileges access over quality, making no high demand of its presentation. [5]

The poor image returns as a digital signpost for the radical, democratised message in works by Gelare Khoshgozaram (Medina Wasl: Connecting Town, 2018), Stephanie Comilang (Come To Me, Paradise, 2018), and in the prelude to Beatrice Gibson’s upbeat I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead (2018).

Loud Bea And Obie Crop Enlarge
Beatrice Gibson, I Hope I’m Loud When I’m Dead, 2018. Courtesy the artist

Gibson’s work begins with a strobe of phone-video documentation, anxious and crowded, describing the most violent upheavals of the last few years—Grenfell, our ongoing refugee crisis, the inauguration of a tyrannical US president—and ends with an effervescent dance routine featuring the artist, her son, and Corona’s anthemic The Rhythm of the Night. A bittersweet citation of Claire Denis’ Beau Travail (1999)—in which the preceding scene labours the tidy ritualism of its lead’s suicide—this shared sequence, unabridged and unrehearsed, describes the bodily joy of complete abandon. Shot in 16mm, the centre of Gibson’s film, like many of the works at Berwick, focuses on a convening, a conference, a meeting. A group including poets CAConrad and Eileen Myles forge an intimate living-room outpost to unwind the horrors of neoliberalism through language that boils and stings.

Rage threads through the selection of this year’s festival. It spews forth, bilious and psychedelic in works which convey the multitude: diverse, intersected, united in common cultural and political frustration. There’s something stirring in the dislocation; the outpost is revolting.

Won’t you teach me how to love and learn

There’ll be nothing left for me to yearn

Think of me and burn,

and let me hold your hand. [6]


[1] Joseph Conrad, ‘An Outpost of Progress’Tales of Unrest (1898), EBook (2006, updated 2012)

[2] Adam Khalil and Bayley Sweitzer, Empty Metal (2018)

[3] Nick Srnicek and Alex Williams, Inventing the Future: Postcapitalism and a World Without Work (London: Verso, 2015)

[4] Morgan Quaintance, ‘The New Conservatism: Complicity and the UK Art World’s Performance of Progression’e-flux conversations (October 2017)

[5] Hito Steyerl, ‘In Defense of the Poor Image’e-flux, #10 (November 2009)

[6] Corona, The Rhythm of the Night (Dance World Attack, 1993)


Marcus Jack is an independent curator and writer based in Glasgow. He recently began an AHRC-funded doctoral project ‘Curating a History for Artists’ Moving Image in Scotland’ at the Glasgow School of Art, and is a Research Associate at LUX Scotland. In 2015 he founded Transit Arts, an organisation for the exhibition of artists’ moving image, and has developed screenings in partnership with ATLAS, CCA Glasgow, GFT & GSFF, Goethe-Institut, Scalarama, Scottish Contemporary Art Network, and Tyneside Cinema.