- Cample Mill, Thornhill, Scotland DG3 5HD
Three film works by Rosalind Nashashibi: Electrical Gaza, Vivian’s Garden and Part One: Where there is a joyous mood, there a comrade will appear to share a glass of wine; Part Two: The moon nearly at the full. The team horse goes astray and ‘From Narrow Provinces’, with Claire Barclay, Aleana Egan, Alison Turnbull, Ruth Laskey, Rana Begum
Saturday 12 October – Saturday 14 December 2019
Cample Mill, Thornhill, DG3 5HD
For one reason or another I have been returning to an exhibition, ‘Sugar Hiccup’, that took place in Glasgow’s Tramway in 1996. The installation of works included wall-drawings by Richard Wright, extreme close-up black and white photographs of eyes and lips by Sam Samore and a sculptural installation by the French artist Elisabeth Ballet, consisting of a foundation of salt covering the gallery floor and an arrangement of displaced sculptural ‘enclosures’ made in a shimmering gold translucent plastic, a set of metal frames, presenting a kind of shifting, flowing/fractured movement and an illuminated, circular wooden stage-like construction giving the space a feeling, in equal measure, of theatre and perfomativity and of silence and restraint. Ballet’s installation finds a way to measures its audience, its viewer, and impressions of their presence, of the activities of social spaces, of bodies and of movement, is left, through chaotic traces in the salt, while her enclosures depict wordless, unmarked and untouched territories.
Between these spaces and objects Ballet depicts a choreographed image of sculptural time. Artist Pavel Büchler writing at the time on this work says: “The potential of space is every sculptor’s concern. But for Elisabeth Ballet it is the abstract capacity of space, rather than its measurable dimensionality, that defines and is defined by her sculpture. The simple geometry of her constructions regulates not just the perception of space but also its denomination. Volumes of sculptural space are marked out as enclosures within a volume of spectacular activity…” 1
This exhibition, and in particular Ballet’s work, was the first thing I ever shot on film because I was interested in 16mm’s capacity to be drawn into and capture the material, luminescent, spatial and transient properties of the installation as well as its discordant sculptural instants and opposites.
Chris Krauss writing in ‘Where Art Belongs’ 2 reminds us that lived time, of those often in the margins or on the periphery, and in spaces of the imagination, in forms of potential energy, is a material for the making of visual art. In doing so she discusses the interconnectedness of things, of how things invisibly connect and how art, made in the everyday, the quotidian, might speak of forms of companionship, resilience and resistance.
Reflecting on Krauss and Ballet chimed with my experience of visiting Cample Line at Thornhill, set in the Scottish Borders, to think and write about their group show ‘From Narrow Provinces’ and a programme of recent 16mm films by London-based Palestinian-English artist Rosalind Nashashibi and in turn to think about how these two different projects concerned with time, geography and biography, the ‘enclosures’ discussed throughout and framed by the contemporary female and feminist experience, as well as the documentary film as an art object alongside a set of investigations into the drawn surface as a sculptural form might connect and correspond.
And how the intersections that describe the building – between the industrial and rural, between past and present, through atmospheres of change, preservation and maintenance, of nature bonded to ways and cycles of living, and of evidence of inside and outside – participate in the reading of the works on display.
Claire Barclay presents a suite of six relief prints depicting, in a saturated russet tone, like woods and leaves in autumn, free-floating voids and cut-shapes appearing in motion; these are sculptures on a drawn surface. They articulate movement, a moving through, with an animation sensibility. The extension of slow time is suggested in wood grain, while surface and texture present cutting and interference, through overlays and rotations, all of which combine together to generate a kind of visual music.
Dublin-based Aleana Egan’s work suggests a coming to knowledge through methods of surrounding and draping, organic forms forming, manifesting and mutating. These wall-mounted objects are rendered in pale, chalky materials bound in the open weave of crepe bandages giving the works a sense of mending or healing, a sense of betweenness and a line that criss-crosses between control, craft and chaos.
Alison Turnbull “transforms readymade information – plans, diagrams, blueprints, charts – into abstract paintings. The found source material is reimagined and made vivid through colour and through the intensity of the worked picture surface” 3. On display here are two works ‘Drawing Table VIII’ and ‘Drawing Table X’ made up of a variety and diversity of pages that speak diaristically of time and motion acting as a diagrammatic travelogue journeying from “Bogota, London, Tokyo, Cove, Beijing, Madrid, Karlstadt and Barra”. At work here are pulsations of precision, movement, restraint and complexity, structure and repetition and a personal, poetic mathematics framed by automation, visual rhythms and machine reproduction.
San Francisco-based artist Ruth Laskey’s presents a set of works depicting the gentlest of intricate touches, on surfaces somewhere between weaving, printing and painting, each geometric solid emerges like breath into air from a pale yellow, openly visible linen weave, a depiction of care, time and labour. While Rana Begum’s MDF panel work gives an optical illusion of form through a repetition of diamond-shapes hand painted in changing hues of translucent brown, tan, green and pink. Even within this repetitive, measured and balanced construction the human – and our intrinsic, improvisational proclivities – is made evident.
16mm film is a terrifying material. And for all sorts of reasons. It is expensive and labour-intensive and works according to a set of precisely defined disciplines, often enacted in total darkness, in blindness, it requires you to work with all your senses (not only sight) alongside an awareness of one’s whereabouts, a perception of time passing, clairvoyant to the arbitrariness or contingencies or possibilities of the next moment and the movement, nature and dimensions of our subject. It asks you to not only to look outside, but inside too. To my mind it is the material for the bravest observer – to what it might reveal, and be lost, overexposed, in the stark light of the external world and what it places a lens to in the inner world. Witnessing. The artist and writer Rosie Roberts in a personal evaluation of the post-production period for her first 16mmm film, described this tension (entwined pain, joy, loss, hope) as ‘something like the experience of love’. 4
Images and actions that are prevalent throughout the films of Rosalind Nashashibi include: the appearance of patterned, decorated fabrics and surfaces: on clothing, drapes, blankets and upholstery; healing, cooling and bathing in water, and in turn to the the shoreline, the sea, looking outward to a horizon; photographing paintings and drawings, including works in the making (including paintings x-rayed to reveal traces of underpainting and therein other unrealized possibilities) bringing in and touching upon the universes these paintings depict; domestic scenes of preparing, eating and sharing food; an individual filmed from behind, looking at the shape of the head, how the hair falls; communities composed of a single gender; people sleeping; and how film is produced: crew, rigging, lighting and sound recording are all frequently made visible. Nashashibi’s documentary strategies and ‘direct cinema’ enfold into constructed scenes, and fiction overlays like tracing paper onto the sights, in the virtue, of actions occurring in real time, in front of the camera. Together they describe the qualities of our experience and the materials, objects, people, institutions and narratives, including fiction – as well as faith – that might be seen as forms of the truth, that surround or enclose us. Her films, located in a staying within the moment, a finding the image, bring to mind what Andrej Tarkovsky writing in his publication ‘Sculpting in Time’ observes as: “The present slips and vanishes like sand between the fingers, acquiring material weight, only in its recollection.” 5
I think ‘Electrical Gaza’ (2015) is a film which is holding its breath. Or is like that feeling when a limb falls asleep and then waking painfully back to life again (described as obdormition and paresthesia).
Cample Line’s programme notes describe the film thus: “Nashashibi has suggested that it took her four years to get to Gaza, following an initial invitation in 2010 from The Imperial War Museum, London, to submit a proposal for a new film about the territory. She eventually travelled to Gaza in June 2014 to begin work on the commission only for her trip to be curtailed by unfolding political events. The day before [the filmmaker] arrived, three Israeli teenagers had been kidnapped and were later found killed. This was the catalyst for the 2014 Israel-Gaza Conflict, which lasted 50 days and killed over 2200 people, mostly Gazan civilians.” 6
Within this palpable taut sense of the nearness of violence, of a building tension, we hear breaths and sighs, and the camera comes to witness astonishing, haunting images of horses being washed and cooled in the sea, the lens capturing, in slow passages, women and children bathing along the shore. We see an increasingly tense image of men encircling the camera and a crowd waiting, in searing heat and light, for the opening of the Rafah Border Crossing gates between Gaza and Egypt. Images of holding and waiting, enclosures and interruptions, relief and release, beauty and struggle, alternate and combine throughout the film which is punctuated by live action rendered to computer-generated animations that reminded me of ‘Waking Life’ (2002) by Houston-based filmmaker Richard Linklater and evoke lucid dreaming – reality feeling discordant and troubling and menacing, an invisible, as-yet-to-be-described formless dread weaving its way toward and resting just outside of the frame of the camera. 7
Throughout ‘Electrical Gaza’ I was reminded of something Albert Schweitzer the German-born French theologian, philosopher and physician wrote: “Think occasionally of the suffering of which you spare yourself the sight” 8, a sentiment which is echoed in the film soundtrack’s use of Benjamin Britten’s ‘Fanfare’ (1939), an opera set to ‘Les Illuminations’ verse and prose poems written in 1872–1873 by Arthur Rimbaud a passage from which translates to “I alone hold the key to this savage parade.” Music, thoughts and images which in turn brought to my mind French filmmaker Clare Denis’s motion picture ‘Beau Travail’ (1999), which I think is a film about shock (and endurance) and how that state of mind and body, that ‘electricity’, traumatically takes us to somewhere where we come to unknow ourselves and displaces a sense of the security in the places we find ourselves in.
(In the opening moments of Terrence Malick’s motion picture ‘The Tree of Life’ (2010), the central female character Mrs. O’Brien speaking (almost whispering) to her young children recalls a lesson taught to her that “people must choose to follow either the path of grace or the path of nature.”)
‘Vivian’s Garden’ (2017) is a grounded, slow-to-emerge domestic study and double portrait of mother and daughter artists Elizabeth Wild and Vivian Suter filmed over a number of months at their connected homes set within a secluded, enclosed jungle garden at Lake Atitlán (which fills the crater of a volcano) at Panajachel in Guatemala and which at times reminded me of Lucy Skaer’s short eponymously titled 16mm film of her encountering at her home in Mexico City the surrealist painter and poet Leonora Carrington in the last years of her life and to what in turn this bringing together of women (and artists) and their experiences from different generations can bring to the surface.
(From Martin Herbert’s book ‘Tell Them I Said No’ a collection of essays from 2016 on various artists who have withdrawn from the art world we come to learn that acts of leaving are acts of strength.)
Both mother and daughter depicted in the film live in a self-imposed closely-bonded exile spending days on their meditative paintings and kaleidoscopic collages, preparing food, sleeping, exploring the garden (ever wary that this territory like the Garden of Eden is populated by snakes) and tending to their dogs. (At times this sanctuary feels claustrophobic, like a prison.) The care, intimacy and delicacy the film describes between mother and daughter we come to recognize has been cultivated by tenderness, time and familiarity (Vivian says, almost whispering, at one stage; “I cherish every moment with my mother”) and crystallized by isolation, fear and vulnerability. Throughout we are reminded of natural disasters and war, human cruelty and curfews as well as the lush beauty of the garden jungle drawn into and through the decorated interior spaces, objects and adorned surfaces of Vivian and Elizabeth’s homes. The precarious nature by way of which these women live their lives is best described when Wild, narrating upon a troubling encounter with neighboring criminals, tells us that “her life was saved by the will of the bees.”
Part 1 (2018) and Part 2 (2019)
Every story begins somewhere and in Nashashibi’s new two-part film shot in Edinburgh, London and Lithuania and based on a short work ‘The Shobies’ Story’ (1990) by the late science fiction writer Ursula K. Le Guin the narrative emerges – like first waking from sleep – from the visual noise of film after forming a loop, as light first falls on emulsion, evolving from the imagination, filled with blooms of red and orange, images, its cinematography, seeping into visibility. A further guiding reference to the film’s structure comes in the form of the passages taken from consultations with the ‘I Ching’, or Book of Changes an ancient Chinese divination text which provides philosophical framing or illumination to dilemmas and unknown paths to be found and followed. Images of paintings by Nashashibi and her children frequently appear as well expressionistic, bizarre and child-like works by German-Danish painter Emile Nolde (enigmatic ‘asides’ to the unfolding story and rooting the story from the perspective of children?) and passages recording people asleep or waking from sleep, simultaneously present and absent, recordings from when we are at our most vulnerable.
Here then embedded in the work are premonitions, invisible psychic forces, moments slipping between dreams and our waking senses and a journey via apparatus unknown into places and points of arrival beyond the speed of light where stories might not survive and our perception of the universe and each other might become incoherent and unstable. Nashashibi’s film crosses methodologies: documentary, anthropology, performed sequences, the constructions of cinema (science and fiction) merge to explore enclosures (and limits) of perceiving linear time (and light) as well as the body, and the forces that might play upon it, as a vessel for ‘congealed’, corporeal time. In addition the film explores the (extended) family (in private and public) as a unit and as a community, and in this case a crew to Le Guin’s narrative as they set about a journey to explore the possibilities bought about by space and time travel. (In Le Guin’s story this crew is described as cross-generational bringing together very young children, adults and the elderly, so here we see Nashashibi cast herself and her children along with close friends to recreate this.)
The crew employ a shared consensus and form of ‘transilience’ to operate their ship, an experience of entering the fictional world by way of the imagination. Upon achieving faster than light speed the crew find this transilience has broken down and they are no longer able to understand or perceive of each other disengaged from the passage of linear time. This is written about as ‘unduration’. Their narrative along with the familiar truths that binds them into a coherent community have gone ‘astray’. They return to chaos, to individualized dream-states. While in an exploration of real time and fictional time, ‘Part One’ and ‘Part Two’ combined unfolds over the course of 46 minutes almost mimicking Le Guin’s story arc which takes place over 44.
At the heart of this work I think is something about the stabilities offered up by membership of a community however small or constructed or achieved or peripheral or distant; and that we can only thrive or remain resilient when we are messily entangled into each other’s unfolding stories.
Just like the tons of salt, footprints and entwined human movements during Elisabeth Ballet’s installation at ‘Sugar Hiccup’ at Tramway in 1996.
1. ‘Passing By and Being There. On ‘Sugar Hiccup’, Tramway, Glasgow, 1996:
http://www.elisabethballet.net/IMG/pdf/catalogue_Sugar_Hiccup_P-Buchler_GB_.pdf (retrieved 25 November 2019). Equally I like Ballet’s statement in regards to her own practice which chimes with me still: [My work] ‘involves questions of movement in space, of the articulation of the outside and the inside, the transition from words to things, from drawing to sculpture, wall to center, plan to volume…’ http://www.elisabethballet.net/english/ (accessed 25 November 2019)
2. Semiotexte; Intervention series, Pasadena, Ca., reprint edition, 2011
3. https://www.alison-turnbull.com/About (accessed 25 November 2019)
4. Mount Florida, Glasgow, 16mm film camera workshop, June 18 2019
5. Andrey Tarkovsky, translated by Kitty Hunter-Blair, ‘Sculpting in Time: Reflections on the Cinema’, University of Texas Press; New Ed edition (1 Jan. 1989), page 58
https://monoskop.org/images/d/dd/Tarkovsky_Andrey_Sculpting_in_Time_Reflections_on_the_Cinema.pdf (retrieved 23 November 2019)
6. Cample Line web site: https://campleline.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Rosalind-Nashashibi_spreads-2.pdf (accessed 25 November 2019)
7. I thought too here of Henry Fuseli’s painting ‘The Nightmare’ (1871)
8. Brainy Quote! https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/albert_schweitzer_384439 (accessed 25 November 2019)
Thank you to Tina Fiske, Emma Dove, Mark Lyken, Briony Anderson and Nicola Jeffs.
Part One: where there is a joyous mood, there a comrade will appear to share a glass of wine, (video still), 2018, digital transfer from 16mm film. Courtesy of the artist
Part Two: The moon is nearly at full. The team horse goes astray, (production still), 2019, digital transfer from 16mm film. Courtesy of the artist