I Am The Daughter Of Dead Fathers
Miriam Sampaio, 'I Am the Daughter of Dead-Fathers', 2018

‘As the location and meaning of cinema disperses, the museum/gallery has become a place where this dispersion can be explored, through a flexible approach to projective space.’ [1]

The 9th Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, which took place in Hawick at the beginning of May, seems to have taken this notion, expressed by Chrissie Iles, as a guiding principal for its cinema-adjacent programme of installations. Nearly a dozen moving image works were installed in unusual spaces just a short walk from the Festival’s primary screening venue; from the rooms in a textile museum to a disused storefront and a cramped and cold cellar. Catherine Elwes once argued that the moving image would appear to be the natural enemy of installation as a practice that seeks to expand a viewer’s spatial awareness [2] — in the case of several of the featured works at this year’s Alchemy, space became a key component, be it projective or projected.

In some instances, this space was primarily explored on screen, as in Jeremy Drummond and David Poolman’s durational landscape piece, Dark Holler (2018). A static shot of Pine Mountain in Eastern Kentucky unfolds over the course of 30 minutes as mist rolls over the forested slopes and then recedes. The image is accompanied by a soundtrack comprising field recordings and environmental soundscapes regularly punctuated by re-interpretations of traditional music of central Appalachia. Drummond and Poolman are clearly interested in how culture emanates from space, and while the image may feel static, the mist begins to take on the aspect of the landscape exhaling this specifically localised music into the atmosphere. As it engulfs and dissipates, it becomes the breath of the place, creating a sense that our collective art is the naturally occurring by-product of our communal existence.

Bound
James Davoll, 'Bound', 2018

Where the music of Appalachia seems to connect people, James Davoll’s Bound (2018) explores a more literal physical form of connection — that of the roads that cross the Irish border. On two screens projecting opposite one another, he plays two algorithm-controlled pieces using the same source material but achieving strikingly dissimilar effects. One screen shows a random sequence of static shots (from a total of 208) of the border looking into the Republic of Ireland. By always making sure that there were no cars on the road at the time, the location of the border is given a specificity that would rarely be considered. There may be underlying commentaries about slow-moving negotiations, or the mammoth task of enforcing this border, but here is the smaller spectacle of each border-crossing as a distinct place in its own right. Directly across, he undermines all of this by simultaneously projecting a continuously rolling 35 images, blurring the notion of individual spaces, homogenising them in their shared details and — playfully and ironically — creating a sense of forward motion in direct contradiction to the premise of the first screen and placing the viewer between the two.

The political space of a PIDE (the Portuguese equivalent of the SS under Salazar’s fascist dictatorship until 1974) headquarters in Lisbon is the subject of Miriam Sampaio’s I Am the Daughter of Dead-Fathers (2018). With three screens of grainy Super8 in different basement-level bare-brick rooms and a droning soundtrack reverberating through the foundations, this distressing work captures the haunting aura of a building steeped in a brutal history. Sampaio broke into the building in 2005 to shoot her footage before it was levelled to make way for apartments. I Am the Daughter of Dead-Fathers now acts as a spectral projection of forgotten horrors that echoed, bone-chillingly through the Hawick cellar.

In another cellar Sabina Ott and Dana Berman Duff’s What Does She See When She Shuts Her Eyes (2019) craft an entirely different spatial experience. Using two screens opposite one another, similar to James Davoll, Duff presents a touching work she had to complete without Sabina Ott, after her close friend passed away during production. The piece turned the low-ceilinged space into an Icelandic cave created by a lava flow, the image of the cave slowly zooming out on one side and in on the other to creating a sensation of drifting through space. A spiralling haiku describes their shared vision and touches upon Ott’s passing. The space was given further sensitivity by river rocks laid on the ground by visitors at Duff’s request.

Louisa Fairclough’s Fear Life Death Hope (2017) has a similar connection to loss, being inspired by the artist’s deceased sister drawing. Formed of four projectors running loops of 16mm with no image, it was the most overtly sculptural work in the programme — both in the form of the film loops hanging from the dimly lit ceiling, and the soundscape created from four distinct groans at the edge of language (each reel voicing a different word from the title), constantly shifting and drifting in different constellations around the dark space.

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Ben R Nicholson is a freelance film critic based in London and editor at Alt/Kino

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[1] Chrissie Iles, Thoughts About Curating Moving Images, Mousse #38, April-May 2013

[2] Catherine Elwes, Installation and the Moving Image, Columbia University Press, 2015