OUTPOST Open Film 2013 OUTPOST Gallery, 12 October 2013

Admittedly, it is dangerous to infer too specific a thematic current from a selection of work, particularly if selected from a source as diverse as an open submissions call; and undeniably, curatorial heavy-handedness can subdue, muddy, even fracture artists’ original intent. Nevertheless, the films selected here pursue, severally, common enquiries, and are consequently presented in loose groupings which, while intending to avoid the imposition of a theme as a curatorial convenience, with luck will allow a dialogue to be established between them.

A strong sculptural seam runs through the programme. Dominic Watson’s Like a Rolling Stone addresses sculpture as an active agent, aiming straight for the canonical at both poles of popular and high culture by performing the Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up, 1981, facing Henry Moore’s Standing Figure, 1950. By performing – at, to – the work, Watson activates it, asserting at once the sculpture’s performativity and the sense of the sculptural that becomes him as he assumes the jagged poses and loose-limbed bravado of the Stones’ frontman. It is not entirely fanciful to suggest that there is something quite Jagger-ish about Moore’s sculpture, too – and the idea of performing mute on a hillside shares much with the sculptor’s original decision to site his work in the wilderness of a Dumfriesshire estate, performing space itself.

Forcing objects to act, Johann Arens’ For Your Eyes Only complicates notions of utility, work and the use and navigation of space. Large sculptural interventions which echo the form and materials of the existing furniture in an office space, yet steroidal, metastasised, misjudged or misplaced, create by extension an unruly, uncertain environment in which quotidian duties must surely be disrupted. Small, compressed frames overlay the main image; gestural, almost instructive, asserting the depth of the screen-space and at once overruling the action.

The body is invoked, too, as form and as object. In Placeless, by Güler Ates, the body is hidden, stripped of definition, becomes object; and calls into question the relationship between figure and figured. Losing its subjecthood in this way, it is ambiguous as to whether it occupies a position of strength, stripping itself of subjective bonds by which it might be judged, trapped or suffocated, struggling under the material which covers it: a conundrum magnified by the fact that it is become object yet avoids entirely objectification in the usual sense (of transgression or exploitation) by masking its form.

While the body functions as form, to an extent, in Mouth Breather, by Anita Delaney, it is an ambiguous, obscure form, isolating details and motions to estrange the body, and combining images with an esoteric and opaque narrative which speaks at once of a self-negating humour and of a certain feeling of the abject, of an unknown, indefinable but extant cruelty, even.

Elsewhere, objects are transfigured or distanced, their role less visible. In Still Life and Free Radicals, the physical object is missing or implied. Flore Nove-Josserand’s two-frame animation, at the limit of the moving image, creates virtual objects, mind-objects, the product of perception with the phenomenon of the persistence of vision, by which images cycling fast enough create a retinal after-image which creates a composite third image in the mind’s eye, much like the effects wrought by pre-cinematic kinetic objects (necessarily, the film refers to that history – that object-history – implicitly too). Perhaps the French term for still life, nature morte – arrested, caught between action and reaction – is most resonant here.

Free Radicals eschews the physicality of objects but implicates them, or at least systems of value and exchange around objects in its materialist-nihilistic narrative. What could – indeed is – didactic, dry or derivate in other hands is here subtler, with an attention to both the dynamics and modulation of speech and image, and the self of the narrator, breaking down the third-person remove with asides voiced by a critical familiar.

Lucy Parker’s Some Grit, Some Flames too explores selfhood and speech, and also gesture, and group dynamics. Focusing on the language – verbal and otherwise – of the members of a writers’ group, the film unpacks, via an understated style and controlled visual lexicon of its own, the inter- and intra-relationships of the group. Demanding its thirty-minute duration in order to allow the feint codes, structures and strictures of social interaction to make themselves manifest, Some Grit, Some Flames masks that people wear to present themselves to others (recalling T.S. Eliot’s “to prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet”) and of the tensions between group and individual, self and other.

Lastly, a trio of films deal with journeys, time and space – the journey, variously, as a means to order thoughts and as a way of thinking around and above, or transcending something. On the surface, Marisa J Futernick gives an account of an exploration of a specific place – Hollywood – in Real Estate, yet as the film’s title suggests, it mines more thoroughly ideas about proximity, about zones of access and zones of prohibition, around value and exchange, about capital.

It is all too easy for work which explores ideas around place and space to fall into the tired trap of the psycho-geographical wander, the musings of the flâneur, and curiously, Real Estate avoids this not by out-conceptualising that model but by referring very concretely – literally – to the ground itself; to the space, the real estate. Why this dusty hill; why this perimeter fence; why this value, it asks. At the same time, the artist is invoked and invokes herself as an active agent in the space, as an alien from the east coast, at once at odds with and bemused by this gold-drenched valley.

Bravely meeting narrative cinema and science fiction tropes head-on, Back to Orlando (Gareth Owen Lloyd and Phillip Raiford Johnson) imagines the voyage of an otherworldly being entrusted with an important, symbolic cargo appearing in modern-day Johannesburg from the depths of a diamond mine. Capturing and augmenting the sci-fi fetish with the metallic, opaque, luminous and highly reflective, it is not unlikely that it refers, also, to the rather more terrestrial fascination with all that glitters, and all that that entails, bearing in mind the character’s trajectory.

Enigmatic, diffident and brief, Ruth Höflich’s Daylight Saving weaves a wandering chiaroscuro of dark paths and torchlight. A journey with variables unknown, it traps light in the frame, allows liquid shadow to spill out. As with Still Life, with the meagrest of materials –light, dark, motion – it grasps and plays with the very elements of film which, while less visible elsewhere in the programme, nevertheless animates each work in it.


This was written to accompany OUTPOST Open Film 2013, for which I was co-selector with Jesse Ash.