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Peckham Plex, London
23 April 2009
Reviewed by: Jack Hutchinson »
As part of the Nicolas Bourriaud curated Tate Triennial 2009, Altermodern, Peckham Plex Cinema presents a special screening of the little known classic Radio On. Chris Petit’s 1979 film has been described as one of the most striking feature debuts in British cinema and a ‘haunting blend of edgy mystery story and existential road movie, crammed with eerie evocations of English landscape and weather’. It's a grim but fascinating journey through late seventies Britain by way of a road trip from London to Bristol, with the main protagonist, (a DJ played by David Beames) attempting to investigate the suicide of his brother.
With a soundtrack featuring David Bowie, Kraftwerk, Lene Lovich, Ian Dury, Robert Fripp, Wreckless Eric and Devo, the music in Radio On provides a natural counter balance to the films austere photography and fragmented storyline. The main protagonist is displaced, the lack of dialogue leaving us disorientated. We can make assumptions about the time and place but it could just as easily be London 2009 as 1979. Modern human beings have an astute ability to mingle with the past. Hearing Bowie’s Heroes on the soundtrack doesn’t offer any form of categorization, instead implementing a kaleidoscope of fragments of history. How can we make sense of the labyrinth of associations and narratives that is our reading of visual culture?
Envisioning time as a multiplicity rather than as a linear progress, the altermodern manifesto consideres the past as a territory to explore. Bourriaud states “Works of art trace lines in a globalised space that now extends to time: history, the last continent to be explored, can be traversed like a territory”. Exceeding the borders of spatial confinement, Radio On suggests trajectories, connections and time zones: heterochronical pathways offering potentiality, not static art forms that are frozen. He continues “The journey format goes hand in hand with the generalization of hypertext as a thought process: One sign directs us to a second, then a third, creating a chain of mutually interconnected forms, mimicking mouse-clicks on a computer screen.”
There is a renewed confidence in arts ability to navigate human history, disdaining the nostalgia for the avant-garde and more specifically any particular era. As opposed to a petrified interpretation of time advancing in loops (postmodernism) and a linear vision of history (modernism), the altermodern is a positive experience. It invites disorientation by exploring all dimensions of the present, tracing lines in all directions of time and space.
This is what makes Altermodernism and its associated events so interesting. The exhibition is seen as a point of entry into a wider discourse, not the philosophy of mourning that characterized postmodernism. I hope that the Tate will continue to organize events after the end of the exhibition and Bourriaud’s manifesto will continue to be questioned, creating what Liam Gillick has referred to as ‘a discursive framework’ or a ‘discursive model of practice’. The joy of this proposal is it poses more questions than it does answers.
Jack Hutchinson is an artist, writer and educator. A specialist on the role of digital technology within the visual arts, he is Communications Officer for AIR: Artists Interaction and Representation through a-n The Artists Information Company. His writing has featured in a diverse range of publications, including Dazed and Confused, Garageland, Guardian Culture Professionals, Twin Magazine, a-n Magazine and Schweizer Kunst. Based in London at Bow Arts Trust, he is an active campaigner for artistic, legislative and economic measures that enhance artists' working lives and professional status. His drawings have featured in solo and group exhibitions across the UK.
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