On Saturday morning I walk into the auditorium to encounter a woman on screen whisking eggs and talking. The woman is Julia Child in The French Chef, a ‘mainstream’ US cookery show from 1972, now repurposed by artist Carolyn Lazard in their work ‘Recipe for Disaster’ (2017). As the audience giggle, she cracks eggs, makes omelettes, cracks eggs, piles omelettes, cracks eggs, whisks, whisks, all the time explaining how easy it all is. My stomach churns, I’m not ready for this. Over Child’s hosting, narrative onscreen text highlights how non-inclusive this ‘popular’ TV programme and its reverberations are, and were. Just like her motions, the rolling text is repeated, emphasised, amplified.
Inviting a new selection panel each year, Artists’ Moving Image Festival is an annual two-day event in Glasgow organised by LUX Scotland. Artists Emmie McLuskey, Ima-Abasi Okon and Kimberley O’Neill this year based the programme on an ongoing conversation around what it means to ‘hang out’ of, and with, typical moving image conventions and social structures.
Linking the elements of the weekend programme in real time, actor Amy Dawson introduced and interpreted work in her first language, BSL, alongside BSL interpreters Amy Cheskin and Jill Gallacher. There were many languages, including subtitles, live captioning and audio description throughout the festival based on the specifics of each art work. The programmers came to this decision in conversation with Collective Text to emphasise the absolute necessity of non-aural language.
The art works appeared as if sequenced in a score. Time was carefully structured. The programmers arranged pieces so that while some artists’ works from series were presented like punctuations over the weekend, elsewhere, ideas or tropes were gathered together. Changes of pace, and repetition, appeared both in the sound and the movement of the frames, while performance made the event ‘live’.
Slow sweeping panoramas of a cityscape seen across water. Manhattan. Drifting in time to dance music. Viewing sites as symbols of capitalist growth in New York. I remember that the USA is still the largest economy in the world. Reminiscent of a music video, Tony Cokes scenes in ‘Evil’ (2003) are overlaid with text of an interview with Alain Badiou in which he talks about evil and the attempts of hyper-capitalist countries like the USA to make evil other, elsewhere. It has become habit not to see evil in the inherently violent, yet normalised, systems of capitalism. Although the words don’t refer directly to Hannah Arendt, I return to her description of ‘the banality of evil’ (1963) as well as to Eyal Weisman’s book The Least of All Possible Evils (2011). One comes before, the other after, the interview with Badiou.
‘Evil’ was made two years into the Bush administration, prior to the financial crash of 2008. Though now dated, it is, in a harsh way, still depressingly connected to a contemporary capitalism that has become even more divisive and complicated, a system in which narcisstic and selfish mechanisms very often override care of and for others, a stand point discussed by Judith Butler in her lecture series at Glasgow University in 2018.
On Saturday and Sunday evening, the screen is awash with single block colours. Drumming travels across the auditorium through 7-channel surround sound. Fragments of a moving figure in costume abutts the screen’s edge, into the centre of the frame and out. Sound, rhythm and dance across disparate cultural narratives as Appau Jnr Boakye Yiadom’s work envelops us. I’m fascinated by drumming and its differing purposes and global histories. Yet there are few words that describe this sonic language so based on vibration, pattern and experience. On Saturday recorded drumming fills the space through 7-channel surround sound. On Sunday, live drumming beats out from timpani behind the stalls played by musician Calum Huggan.
The image of the urban street and how people inhabit, perform and commune in that very particular environment, is repeated in work by Adam Farah, Seamus Harahan, Steffani Jemison and Babette Mangolte.
People in the street are monitored and the violent assumption of those watching, especially in the USA and UK, is often that some will break out and become unruly. While highlighting the gaze of the camera that surveilles and upholds prejudice, this selection depicts, with affection, urban scenarios that offer alternative perspectives.
A group of young boys are in the street. Music jangles over the image. I think of a spaghetti western. They are punching each other, playful, like a test, while giggling and chatting.
Brendan’s Test, Seamus Harahan, 2010
A parkour team run, sprint, jump and roll through Houston Texas, mirroring early 20th century cinema chase scenes which depict African Americans escaping figures of authority. The work recalls the representation of the black community in the US across time. Moving quickly across the screen, the people in the parkour team are staged through their trained movements and each are focussed on the performance of their action.
Escaped Lunatic, Steffani Jemison, 2010-11
The camera pans across musicians in the act of playing solo in the street, in gardens, beside the river and in the shipping yards of New Orleans. Trombone, sousaphone, saxophone, cello and bassoon.Each plays the familiar five note sequence, G - A - F - F - G composed by John Williamsfor Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film, Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. The sound ripples as if tuning up with the water of the Mississippi river. One musician’s t-shirt reads ‘Listen to your city’. In harmony with Smith’s film, it’s a sincere invitation to us all.
H-E-L-L-O, Cauleen Smith, 2014
But it is Peggy Ahwesh’s Martina’s Playhouse from 1989 that makes the deepest impression on me. An informal video shot inside an apartment, moving between rooms and switching between two scenes. One scene films the conversation and role play between performance artist Dianne Torr and her young daughter Martina Torr. Playing in a room piled high with soft toys, they swap roles and discuss cut-outs from magazines. Ideas of gender and motherhood are challenged. The work also captures the fun and sexy interactions of Ahwesh’s camera with film maker Jennifer Montgomery. Like a home movie without a father, the work eschews moving image convention and shares the splendour of these lives.
Cicely Farrer is a curator and writer based on the North East coast of Scotland. Cicely is Programme & Communications Manager at Hospitalfield in Arbroath.