Disasters of Peace vol.3 poster

Disasters of Peace vol.3 poster

Disasters of Peace vol.3, Northwest Film Forum, Seattle, WA, 27 May 2017, 19.00
Co-curated with Sam Jury as part of the Disasters of Peace initiative.

Programme notes

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 re-imagining are unlikely the clear and linear events of our historical fictions – more so they are processes of alliance, 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 peace, but we are beset by dis-ease and forebodings of disaster. We increasingly fear the other while paranoia and anxiety infuse our media. This proposal draws together artist filmmakers who in varying ways are responding to these conditions of re-imagining, undoing and reformation - the rhizomatic and amorphous territory of the intermezzo – a place where we are as likely to look back as we are to imagine a future.

Part One: Disasters of Peace: Event
Gabriella Golder (Argentina) - Tierra quemada (08:34)
Lynne Marsh (Canada/Germany) – Plänterwald (17:54)
Allan Hughes (Northern Ireland) – Pyramids of Mars (12:45)
Sam Jury (UK) and Sarah Goldstein (USA/Canada) – Popehelm (17:01)
TOTAL = 55:34 mins

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 Gabriella Golder’s Tierra quemada (Burnt Land) the smoke 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. 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. In Pyramids of Mars, Allan Hughes suggests 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 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.

Part Two, Disasters of Peace: Record
Reed O’Beirne, $O$ (04:00)
Kamila Kuc (Poland/UK/USA) – I Think You Should Come to America (21:00)
Eliza Newman-Saul (USA) – The Bad Event (15:35)
Richard Ashrowan (UK) – Curriculum umbrae (08:00)
Bryan Konefsky (USA) – Have it Your Way (4:06)
52: 41 mins

This part of the programme hones in on the personal and localised perspective. Reed O’Beirne’s $O$ depicts the destruction of a $206 million structure – the Kingdome in Seattle. The structure was demolished by implosion in March 2000. Over 50,000 tons of concrete and steel came crashing down from heights of 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 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 The Bad Event, by Eliza Newman-Saul, a disconnected and unnamed male and female narrator retell the story of 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. In Richard Ashrowan’s somewhat claustrophobic Cubiculum umbrae lies a critique of surveillance in contemporary society. Filmed in Svalbard/Spitzbergen in the high arctic, this haunting film suggests that even in the depths of the arctic we cannot escape mediated images. Implicit in the work is an argument about the inevitability of changing lifestyles, and the varying threats to the way of life in the arctic. Finally, in Have it Your Way: An Exercise in Domestic TerrorismBryan 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.