She said she made myself as visual (could have been visible) as possible within the text.
Me, in grey
Me, in eyebags
Up with the Friday night leftovers Saturday morning deliveries, chips and gulls, the grey and mustard of mind the gap.
Waiting to get there: waiting on a rail replacement bus. Just waiting while in motion, and not a motion we control, that belongs to us: just the motion that we sit within. In the middle of. We are within a moving rectangle, a rectangular box on wheels.
A conversation regarding class and an artist made bespoke sink, inverted Hansel and Gretel trail of gossip, there are others we would follow more gladly. Programme, map and serendipitous recommendations will lead us through an unfamiliar town in the North of England.
Sitting waiting together, to get somewhere else, to sit somewhere else, enter other moving rectangles and wait for someone else’s motion, someone’s moving image, to move us.
Family histories and film intersect with what we are doing. Going to the festival placed us on the bus that took me past the house where your grandad used to live. We discussed staying with our families in order to make the trip more affordable; in circles, shall we do this, shall we do this or shall we do this or this or this?
Move us, and move ideas. I think they moved me, not just in the shoogled sicky way. Maybe they moved you too, and they moved some things I didn’t expect to move, or, didn’t think could move, though I realised I’d been waiting for them to move on. Perhaps it would have happened anyway.
Anxiety—formed by a push and pull between desired positive collective behaviour and a strong distaste at being part of something that may appear pretentious, superfluous or out-of-place—waves over my body when we see who else is on our rail replacement bus. Why is it cringe to be on the replacement bus service with other film festival goers? How is it so clear who they are? Men with clipboards confirm numbers then send us on our way.
The move from train to bus feels like a class trip; an organised excursion.
It is difficult to not see all these things, now, through a Bedwyr Williams eye—but perhaps this is more the feeling on the way to things, once you are actually seeing the thing then this changes, the scene changes with the actuality of the work.
You felt it too?
There is a rhythmic beeping in the bus.
Its post harvest, hay bales square and cylinder are moved, becoming stacked. Then, the onset and memories: of travel sickness, driving through the Borders, family histories and past visits to Alchemy and Berwick—each festival on either side of a historically indeterminate line. This is not a film festival in Cannes or Hollywood. So, we are on the way to another country, just. A little trapped by the inability to drive, which is a familiar feeling and reminds me of Anne Carson, ‘some fathers hate to read but love to take the family on trips.’
Seagulls chase the tractors and land in the upturned soil searching for worms—the type of thing usually at work in these fields.
You told me your alarm went off on the train to this train; your work is often rhythmic.
Fell asleep. Dreamt that you and I were in a tractor driving to the film festival over fields: you were the driver. I trusted you, and we seemed to be having a nice time. Fresh and dusty, sort of sleeping. Yellow light glows through my eyelids.
We got there in the end, or rather, we got there in the middle. Right in the middle of things, when everything was already moving. We (just) moved with it. Still feeling the gentle, lingering rattle of the bus, and hear its echo in my anxious cough.
Arrival—go to toilets—they are yellow and grey too. Go and see a slothy film in what looks like a parliamentary room. Not much happens, it's a relaxed start. The film is on a telly in front of red curtains, light leaks from underneath them, a bright glow on the darkened floor.
I’m wearing grey, waiting for a grey sloth to split into colours, as promised by Ben Rivers’s ‘Now, at Last!’(2018). Waiting for a sloth, waiting like a sloth, and waiting to split: to move at pace. Slowly adjusting my limbs, in careful curved shapes, in a leathery, pleathery chair. My arms rest on the chair arms, watching the sloth’s arms out on the limb of a tree. Matching it’s movements to mine, I arch my back against the chair, tense shoulders and upper arms, fix elbow hinges at the approximate angle, turn wrists stiffly, and squeeze four fingers into a single solid claw.
A stiff neck, I think of a local councillor considering local events, how sandwich shops will boom. Planning six days of accommodation and accommodating, houses, museums, gaols, archives, hotels, theatres: a small town becomes a host, a temporary community swoops in and ghosts out.
A slow twist readjusts and steadies: a slow twist readjusts the focus. With a slow twist, bottom wiggle, this sloth begins to crawl: crawls up and over, into the next seat, brushes past the fake wooden desk. A slow twisting bottom on leather makes a squeak. It makes an animal squeak, in the background. It’s a squawk in the periphery, and it’s another animal altogether.
Darting eyes glint colours. This sloth wishes a rainbow, wishes the spectrum, but still remains grey. We all look grey in here. Think I must look at rest to the others, in the leathery chair like this, hanging around like this with my arms on arms. A need to look at rest becomes a need to look at the rest. Let’s split! Let the colour return to my eyes and face and let you split into your colours: red lipstick, pea green jumper.
A day out filled with overlapping perceptions, each person consecutively more pleasant than you anticipated them to be.
Climbing the stairs, a hand slack on a wooden banister soon comes to rest on the curve of a bench: a pew with a little ledge to place clasped hands and holes for old black ink pots.
A snap decision is what makes us go up, to this, go to the next thing, there are others we have planned. With so much to choose from and then equally, so much to casually miss, it can become too simple to make a hasty judgement: a po faced film about animals in court. We talk about how it is often an interpersonal connection that makes you attend, wait, and give the thing the time it deserves. In the same kind of conversation later someone said, ‘I haven’t felt inspired’ and someone else replied, ‘maybe you have just been unlucky with your choices.’
I don’t think we’re the judiciary. I hope that’s not whose seats we’re in.
From here I can see a quill, a big old book on a table, a surrounding cluttered forest of frames and pages, and a shiny slick TV in the middle of the scene shows Bambitchell’s, Bugs and Beasts Before the Law (2019). In the film there are chapter headings like the pages in such a book. They announce what case we are looking at, forming a structure that paces, holds and reassures while the stories and images spin freely. We hear of animals and inanimate objects put on trial, in histories that are surreal and may or may not be true. I presume they are, and trust the subtitles, and trust the indistinctly accented voice that tends to be lent to art and the perveyal of information. The quill that signs the paper, and the ink that gives it voice, placed in the centre of my view now become potential suspects.
“deeeeeoooooooooddaaaaannnnndddd” is preached to us in exalted electronic choral cries.
A chicken, a cock, cavorts with the devil, transforms into a basilisk or a cockatrice, and lays an egg. It betrays its nature and supposedly its morality:its benign will and normality. Put to trial for deviating from Western mans’ expectations, it seems predominantly these supposed perpetrators are condemned for killing or causing harm to humans.
It’s made clear there are few trails for humans causing harm to animals. There’s a poor elephant, who suffers an electric shock and a drop from a crane that couldn’t bear the weight. Is the crane at fault? Or a bystander, coerced?
Topsy like Tilikum, a heart wrenching two tonne body made to perform.
By psychedelic electric organ the film becomes somewhat of a fiscal fairy tale, or fable. “The common superstition of an age” it tells us. This superstition synchronises: law, history, sexualities, an animal turn, heavily researched heresy, terror, and hysteria. A fictive feeling for that. Suns and moons, red and blue, sort of pagan and monkish transparencies trace the screen. It was very impressive.
It’s the flip of a coin, or an egg of ill fate. The burning of a cock makes a roast chicken dinner which slips into a roast chicken sandwich that I don’t want to eat in front of people who don’t eat that. I feel like a KFC: guilty, but unlike the termites of the film only silently and selfly condemned.
The best things we saw were live or alive. One thing with birds. One thing that wanted you to shut yourself in a cellar.
Trying to keep a grasp, aware the grasp isn’t strong, it’s not in control. I unclasp my hands, I’ve lost grip on what’s happening, we move again and continue to look for something else that grabs.
The scene shifts, we’re on different, thin little benches. These are straight, red and raked, and it’s bit of a squish for time and space. We watch a woman’s face, filmed in real time and projected at the edge of the screen. She moves slides, archival video and objects in and out of view via an array of technology, creating an overlay of new and old, of modes and images. It’s a well rehearsed choreography of paper, cloth, plastic and light that she calls Interleaving the archive (Group Action with KK), (2019).
The sound of it rounding and resounding, see through and curled. Like a space diagram of apparently infinite energies.
What becomes a figure in a room? Or, what in a text makes a landscape of thought visual? Or makes a visual cinematic landscape that contains a number of registers—not just of the voice of the academic or the performer but of their hands, of the scarf, the acetate.
She says afterwards that she wanted to become an image among the images she showed, to assert her subjectivity within the history she navigates. In front of us, inviting us to do the same. The programme tells us this is Holly Argent. Who is ‘I’ in the performance is a question a woman I don’t know asks from the audience later. I don’t know if the first woman knows her either, and she says she isn’t sure who ‘I’ am or is too. One ‘I’ is Holly, another is Dorothy, there’s also Zofia, and she’s getting to know them all, grasping at them all. Sliding them under, over, on top of each other. A sheet of paper becomes a cone or a triangle, becoming relational and multiplying as she draws connections between its points.
On days like this I become hyper aware of what the brain can manage, what the eyes can manage and wonder what it is to be managing. We manage to get ourselves in and out of the dark at the right time. To be in the right place feels like an awkward choice, parallel programmes unfold to the left and right. We are given a heightened sense of choice and the lack thereof. This format allows complex programming only known fully to the programmer/s who have probably watched at least excerpts of a thousand films at this stage.
We sit on barrels, in a very dark gunpowder magazine. You perch on one and it moves, rolls you backwards and off.
We giggled in the inkyness.
Evidently the barrels are empty, and become a prop among Aura Satz’s, Preemptive Listening (Part 1: The Fork in the Road),(2019). We sit, still, a screen hanging blank, empty, and motionless in front of us. A droning soundtrack plays, and we anticipate a visual to come. I’d read about a siren and been drawn to it’s call, knowing not what it called for or to, and remaining so. Feeling guilty, feeling rushed, we wait a while, but unmoved, move on.
It reminded me of an unnecessary scene from a recent paganic folk horror flick.
It’s sycamore season: early autumn. A singular sycamore seed falls, making wide heavy turns as it drifts past eager, reaching arms. One drops per day, on a brutally tight, impossible schedule.
O’ Pierrot (2019) by Tanoa Sasraku: an exciting, silent film installation creating an eerie dissonance held within a cool space. Featuring a well staged projection alongside props and costumes. The costumes’ textured fragmented diamonds glow as hollows in the light and darkness of the unfolding film.
The seed is an elusive, thwarted promise. It promises growth, life and renewal, and the reconciliation of identities, but instead for the protagonist it delivers disappointment, anguish, and further alienation.
Onto a ballroom cinema that smells like a spilt glass of wine.
Back in the conventions of the cinema space, for a while you’re across the aisle from me and there’s a gap between our experience, unavoidably and necessarily. I am not you, but sometimes there are overlaps, especially when the space is restricted, but I hope you are comfortable arm on arm, arm in arm for now. Later you squeeze my left shoulder and that of our friend on the other side of you, at the same time, and it’s nice to extend the hold to three.
We catch the end of an exploration into the communities of London's high rise housing. Ayo Akingbade’s Dear Babylon (2019) has a utopian gaze that disrupts stereotypical notions of the subject, with a slice of narrative fiction that creates a fold in the genre’s language. This makes a question of an actor, placed within a documentary.
There was a war, an uprising, a picking up of arms. At the centre of the event, as it is told in Marwa Arsanios’s Have you Ever Killed a Bear or Becoming Jamila (2014), is one moment, one aspect, and one person. This is someone who is distant, absent, but is represented. Jamila is known to us as played by an actress, then a different actress, and then another. She is known as a glorified image on a magazine cover, holding a gun, the magazine held up to cover a face that within the film we take to be hers, too. Our narrator entangles ‘she’ and ‘I’ in messy braids she continually makes and undoes.
A violent act, the violence of it only implied, is left unseen. The move toward the bombing of the cafe in Algeria in 1957, the lead up, is shown from many angles, acted by several people, and now seen by many, reenacted, remembered for a new room. Remembering the maxim, watching anyone is violent and every film has a violence of some sort or another. Jamila’s hand gestures the shape of a gun. A trigger finger pulls back, over and over. Two plaits of hair are stroked and held. She takes the braids behind the head and crosses them at the nape of the neck, glances to camera, glances at the mirror, then down, drops the hair and repeats, replicating her image.
Before this, another film by the same hand. Amateurs, Stars and Extras or The Labor of Love (2019) by Marwa Arsanios links the work of migrant domestic workers attempting to organise, to unionise (legally or not), and the labours of soap opera extras that occupy similar interior arenas. Watching drama unfold in scenes and silent roles they recognize as their own. We’re watching the watchers, watching the silent labour and the rehearsals; the filmmaking paraphernalia, the outtakes and the role play. It’s not clear who is acting, who is a domestic worker and who is an extra and whether the mode is documentary or fiction. It lets the characters play out, push into desired roles and analyse lived ones. I imagine the cues given to the women: imagine feeling comfortable, imagine being the boss, the homeowner. Speak how they speak, move how they move, fold their power into yours.
The next film in the series of shorts, ‘Receiver’ (2019) by Jenny Brady, takes the liveness of close captioning, and asks us again, who is an actor and who is a bystander. Unlike subtitles the caption unfolds like dialogue, so textual matter becomes live like the voice in conversation. In doing so this captioning does not just contain but embodies and translates the speech act into communication, as does the hand gesture or sound loop aid.
There are mixed messages and crossed wires, we listen to sound extracted and edited down from a viral youtube clip. Listening in, picking up (the wrong?) signals and jumping into someone else’s conversation, it’s not clear who wants to talk to who. The confusion of the crossed phone line absurd in the near obsoletion of the landline. Images are secondary information: fragmented and pixelated. The technology jumps forward to HDD, and we observe an old technique for teaching deaf children to speak that involves holding a candle to the mouth, it’s flame wavering with a change in air pressure. The mouth finds and measures the strength of its movement, learning that forming letters and words has a physical affect and a feeling of it’s own. We see the speech, in this motion, and in the subtitles. A candle signifies remembrance, and in this film makes a quiet memory blaze into the visible.
The bus on the return has a jolly yellow sun wearing sunglasses plastered on the side.This is not our routine service. Street lights pass over faces in the dark interior.
We saw the combine harvester at night, its cinematic beams, a snatch of a scene. I wonder why they do it at night. Back on the bus, there’s more electronic music. I google electric organ music, fall asleep, run for the train to Glasgow, needed to get back into private. Put a podcast on about Another Gaze magazine, drift off, wake up, dry mouth, missed the content. In a taxi back, I hope you got home safely too.
Off the bus and another mixed message, as I enter into the family sphere. She said she saw me, but where did she see me I didn’t see her. She must have seen you on the way to find me or thought I was already in the car, thought we were coming back when you were really just leaving. Anyway moving on, let it drop, let’s move on.
Rosie Roberts is an artist, writer and filmmaker thinking about synchronicity and paratextual matter in relation to contemporary art practices. She is currently a guest lecturer at Glasgow School of Art and the University of the Highlands and Islands.
Alison Scott is an artist and writer, interested in amateur and speculative approaches to knowledge production. Alison often works with other artists on projects and is currently Associate Producer as part of the Satellites 2019-20 programme at Collective, Edinburgh, where she is thinking about the weather.