Some good progress being made now on the writing with Tim Etchells forLest We See Where We Are, the ‘site specific radio-play to hold’ that I’m making, first for Dresden beginning April 11, then Gent later in the year (September). More about that another time soon.
Tim was over here in Brussels recently for a week’s work with a group Boris Charmatz put together for ‘Bon Travail’, a kind of semi-improvised, durational animation of an existing exhibition at the Argos space. One of several actions he made was to a video called We Are Winning Don’t Forget by Jean-Gabriel Périot. (which i’ve only now found again here).
For a while we’ve been searching for a ‘mode’ that could carry the second half of ‘Lest We See’, and after about a week of Tim’s “Périot” action going around in my head, it finally struck me that there was something in it that really spoke to our aims, so i got some thoughts down, as below.
You stood in front and slightly to the side of a large video projection showing about four or five images per second.
As I remember they began with photos of workers, working and being awarded prizes for their work such as ‘employee of the month’. The music was by Godspeed You Black Emperor, and was structured more or less as one big epic crescendo. As it grew, the images changed to depicting global instances of contemporary workers’ struggle, demonstration, and finally violent confrontation with police and security forces.
You tried to describe everything you saw but the images, many of them anyway pretty complex, were changing so fast that this was never really possible. Two things were palpable: your effort in trying, despite the futility, to describe what you saw. And, increasingly, the effect the images were having on both your body and your voice.
This could have been a cold performance about creating objectivity through description. But crucially it was also about allowing this construction of image and music to have an emotional effect, and finding ways for us to see that effect more clearly. The emotions were never something we picked up on because of what you were saying. At no point did you judge what was happening – it was only descriptions, often cut short. ‘People coming down the street with scarfs covering their – something being thrown – a car, another car, a police van, some blood, fire, fire, fire, smoke going up, over the heads, and down the other side, up and down…’ You were often yelling, but the music became so loud that it was often impossible to hear just what you were saying, which again helped to focus on what mattered: what the watching of this film was doing to you internally.
The images entered your body via your eyes. They were internalised, so that what came out of your mouth was accompanied by jerks and judders from your body. Like a child reporting something hugely important and visceral, you knew your descriptions needed more than just language, so your voice was grabbing at whatever it could find, pulling your limbs and intonation around in a desperate bid to get an inch closer to the truth of what you saw. While your words were so confined to taking care of the external appearance of things in this purely descriptive way, your voice – that part of speech not connected to linguistics – and body were trying to process the rest: the energy of the images, the violence, fear, hope, despair. And from this perhaps, more personal responses such as sympathy, shared indignation, a compulsion to join forces or show solidarity with those people in the struggles depicted… but whether these responses are yours or ours is neatly unclear.
I watch you doing this ‘work’ and I worry for you. I think, ‘this guy has no defenses – he thinks he does, or he’s trying to create one, by only explaining in clear descriptive terms what he sees, but this block, this constraint, is causing his body to convulse like it’s posessed. He won’t be able to keep it up, and certainly if it’s a competition between how long he can keep going and the amount of affecting imagery and sound the world has up its sleeve, the world is definitely going to win out – in fact it’s going to crush him.’
(Like Boris perhaps, on the floor, bent double, crushed. Taking a plastic bowl from a plastic bag and peeling off the plastic film in order to pour, slowly, an unheated, ready-to-eat spaghetti meal onto the floor, eventually eating it with his fingers. His contortions within this submission to consumption seem to be the death-throes of that very process you’re trying to keep up, and of course serve as a reminder for what’s in store for you when you’re no longer winning, and when you’ve forgotten.)