As part of the upcoming The Short Cinema festival, Phoenix is showing eight films from international artists who responded to an open call from the Institute of Contemporary Arts.
‘Outside’ is obviously a broad sounding term, but then in this case the medium used to express the artistic responses sucks you in. It’s quite stifling as you glimpse these artists’ versions of reality and end up being manipulated into entering them – but in a nice way. Some videos are more adept at this than others; some pull you in more easily.
One can really sense the psychological tenseness in Scapegoat. We are often straining our eyes to make sense of the darkness and haze that inhabits many of the clips – the soundtrack is disjointed and this can easily make you feel on edge. Jenny Gordon is skilful at expressing her subject matter dealing with inner turmoil.
Laurence Lek’s work is as large and grand as the real life Royal College but empty, hollow and lonely as you realise some insanely wealthy somebody has bought it for its London location, as has always been the fashion. It’s haunting. Psycho-Nebulous, pictured in the Phoenix brochure, makes romantic use of Google’s Deep Dream and transforms a swimmer into visual poetry.
When these eight films are shown together, one by one, in succession, we might attempt to create and define our own narrative so that we may comprehend what we are being told is an ‘art film’. So what does it mean?
The Ticket that Exploded is an exciting take on contemporary narrative – splicing together appropriated footage/videos from the internet and giving us a fantastical and often unnerving journey. It reminds me in particular of found footage horror anthology V/H/S, but every narrative in that film is linked by being watched by a person in the original, encompassing film.
Does that mean that we, the Phoenix audience, are merely the narrative tool in which to present these artists’ work? As if these narratives that have been created – some built from the digital ground up, some appropriated from already available YouTube footage – will exist as a version of reality whether we, the cinema audience, accept it or not.
Sitting in Darkness creates its own religion, almost; collating YouTube footage of ‘sky horns’, packaging the hysteria neatly for our audience to contemplate. “That’s the sounds of Heaven” – a comment from a YouTuber – introduces the film.
Laura O’Neil’s RPM may remind one of the old devil/angel shoulder trope, except in O’Neil’s perception there are no angels – just a horde of mini devils boogie-ing over disorder and destruction.
Despite its ambient soundtrack there is something unsettling about Amir Ghazi-Noory’s I am sorry, it is beyond my control. The footage has been data-moshed so dramatically that we cannot tell what we are looking at; there is nothing to make sense of. Colours and shapes bleed and merge into one another, creating the one truly abstract piece in the programme.
There is no doubt that a common theme connecting these films is the illusive “anxieties of the contemporary condition”. What better way to attempt to express this than by asking emerging artist filmmakers to respond to the word ‘outside’?
The resulting digital cacophony is something I think we will understand, but then not be too certain why we understand it – that mortal fear perhaps that everything is normal and usual yet actually everything is really, really weird. Is this what Samantha Harvey is trying to get at in her Trireme series? Seeking to open up the discussion of tactical media and how to “radicalise the use of access” to the theorised “Virtual World” by Lovink and Schneider?
How we can employ digital tools goes far beyond avant-garde filmmaking – just think back to the 2011 London protests where protesters utilised BlackBerry Messenger to orchestrate meetups. It’s a powerful thing.
Outside is the latest screening in our Artist Film programme, presented in collaboration with the ICA as part of the Artist Moving Image Network, funded by Arts Council England.
Outside screens at Phoenix on Thursday 25 August at 7pm – tickets £4