Disasters of Peace vol.2, The Horse Hospital, London, 20 May 2017, 19.00
Co-curated with Sam Jury as part of the Disasters of Peace initiative
It can be said that history oscillates between eras of fixity and power and times of undoing, when things unravel. But these processes of undoing and collapse and the responsive re-imagining that occurs are unlikely the clear and linear events of our historical fictions – more so they are processes of alliance and interrelated acts - of feedback loops. A distinguishing feature of our age is the seismic shifts that have risen from the after-burn of the 20th century. The fall of communism, the failed colonial projects giving rise to civil war and mass migration, the unfettered consumption that is slowly destroying the planet, and extremist shifts to the right, to religion, to the rule of law through mass surveillance. In Western Democracies we consider ourselves in the longest period of homeland peace, but we are beset by dis-ease and forebodings of disaster, both real and imagined. We increasingly fear the other while paranoia and anxiety infuse our media. And yet this is evoked by the amplification of the spectacular and immediate event. This is what draws our attention while disasters that are slow moving and a long-term in the making seem to flow past us almost unnoticed - easy to ignore. These disasters are what author Rob Nixon calls a Slow Violence, long-term events, like climate change, that gradually consume us as they conclude in a crescendo of destruction. Disasters of Peace draws together artist filmmakers who in varying ways are responding to the details of the failed systems that cause this slow violence, this undoing and sometimes the reformation, sometimes within the in between territory of the intermezzo – a place where we are as likely to look back as we are to imagine a future.
PART 1 - Event
Richard Ashrowan (UK) – Curriculum Umbrae (08:00) | Lynne Marsh (Canada/Germany) – Plänterwald (17:54) | Reed O’Beirne (USA) - $O$ (4:00) | Gabriela Golder (Argentina) - Tierra Quemada (08:34) | Eliza Newman-Saul (USA) – The Bad Event (15:35)
PART 2 - Document
Allan Hughes (Northern Ireland) – Pyramids of Mars (12:45) | Kamila Kuc (Poland/UK/USA) – I Think You Should Come to America (21:00) | Sam Jury (UK) and Sarah Goldstein (USA/Canada) Popehelm (17:01) | Bryan Konefsky (USA) – Have it Your Way (4:06)
Event explores the forensic detail of event and aftermath – named or unnamed, recent or distant - each film presents an unpopulated scene imbued with signs of humanity’s failings. In Richard Ashrowan’s somewhat claustrophobic Cubiculum umbrae a critique of surveillance in contemporary society is suggested. Filmed in Svalbard/Spitzbergen in the high arctic, this haunting film seems to point to the fact that even in the depths of the arctic we cannot escape mediated images. Implicit in the work is an argument about the inevitably changing lifestyles, and threat to ways of life in the arctic. In Lynne Marsh’s Plänterwald the event is long since passed. Filmed as a slow and analytical journey through the site of a former GDR amusement park - once providing a distraction from everyday realities – but abandoned after German unification. All is motionless and overgrown on the edge of the now opulent Berlin, and yet, paradoxically this derelict site is patrolled by security guards as if, somehow, it were the scene of a crime, where the evidence must remain untouched. Conversely, in Reed O’Beirne’s $O$ the starting point is the spectacle of demolition – that of the Kingdome in Seattle. Though a debt of $206 million remained on the structure, the Kingdome was demolished by implosion on a cheery Sunday morning in March 2000. Over 50,000 tons of concrete and steel came crashing down from heights up to 250 feet, causing the equivalent of a magnitude 2.3 earthquake. The decision to destroy the Kingdome and replace it with a $465 million football stadium was the result of Referendum 48, a ballot initiative backed by $5 million in advertising (the most expensive ballot initiative campaign in WA state history). In Gabriella Golder’s Tierra quemada (Burnt Land) the smoke is that of a recent, and catastrophic fire dominates the screen, slowly clearing to reveal what in other contexts would be a bucolic scene. But this place is home to the poorest of the city of Valparaíso, the failures of its infrastructure catalysing the fire made inevitable by enduring drought. Echoing the pace of this slowly unfolding incident Eliza Newman-Saul’s The Bad Event weaves together fragments of story delivered by an unnamed male and female narrator who retell disaster through a series of non-sequential monologues, skimming across time and geographical location. Glimpses of place and protagonist are flickered across screen as a slide show akin to fragmented memory. As The Bad Event heads towards its denouement, so the film escalates its visual rhythm, yet ultimately both cause and effect is left unsaid.
Part 2 hones in on a retelling of an event framed by the notion of Record – be it archival, personal or even a more localised perspective. In Allan Hughes’ Pyramids of Mars the suggestion is that the ground on which events take place has somehow assimilated echoes, traces and impacts of the historical events that occur on them, which in turn could be the harbingers for future acts. Shot at the former RAF military base of Greenham Common, a place once occupied by the USAF during the Cold War and host to nuclear cruise missiles, it was also the site of a Women’s Peace Camp for nearly nineteen years. Overlaying this scene of transformation are words from Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy marrying the site with a landscape in waiting. The planet Mars, already a place of conflict as ethical debate, is now polarised between biocentric and anthropocentric positions. In Kamila Kuc’s I Think You Should Come to America the correspondence between two young and naïve penfriends serves as a vehicle to explore the dangers of seeing cultures different from our own as ‘other’. Here a young Polish woman (Kuc herself), coming of age in the dying embers of Communist Poland, seeks escape in the re-imagined romance of the Native American life, through her correspondence with a young Native American prisoner. Using only his letters to her, Kuc presents her penfriend’s own need to escape, voiced to a montage of mostly found footage, presenting multiple views of both Poland and America at pivotal points in their history. What results is a complex and often contradictory picture that is left to the viewer to disassemble. In Sam Jury and Sarah Goldstein’s Popehelm both history and event are left suspended, as the camera maps a journey from a vast, empty landscape to the intimate details of unused objects in abandoned institutional interiors. These are accompanied by the monologues of three women that chart a more personal journey from loss to obsession. Although Popehelm holds no definitive narrative, the texts, soundscape, and filming are woven together to suggest not only an aftermath of unexplained calamity, but also the post-traumatic repetition of narrative that exist around such events.Finally, in Have it Your Way: An Exercise in Domestic Terrorism, Bryan Konefsky returns to themes of food and ritual as a pair of ominous black gloved hands, akin to a magician, yet alluding to a forensic scientist, seductively unmasks the secrets held within the wrapped products of fast-food giants. Underpinning this seductive event, a sound-score oscillates between an Islamic call to prayer and the popular commercial, the eponymous Have It Your Way. Both witty and disturbing, Have It Your Way creates the ultimate bookend for Disasters of Peace – the proposition that the quest for freedom and choice can ultimately lead to the destruction of both.