Commissioned by Gill Crawshaw for her curatorial project exploring experimental approaches to audio descriptions for blind and visually impaired audiences. You can listen to the audio recording at the bottom of this post.
(Movie, by Hilary Lloyd, 2015. Digital film with sound, fan, and fabric).
As I write you this letter, I remember that your vision is different to mine, that neither of us will ever know how the other experiences this ‘thing’. It might seem odd of me to choose an art work that in its title, Movie, and its use of film, is both a thing to be seen, and a thing that makes me think about the idea of seeing. It is also hard to see, in ways I will describe, and so in part I have to imagine seeing. I often say ‘I see’ to mean ‘I understand’, so there is something about Movie being hard to see that makes it feel as though it wants me not to ‘see’ it, but to think myself inside it. I wonder if you can help me see it better.
Movieis a constellation: a film is projected on a gallery wall, while close to the opposite wall a fan blows from the floor, and between them hang two large curtains, that ripple like sails in the fan’s wind. Movieis maybe about movement, my movement as I pass through and around, turning from one element to another, and the interacting movement of physical substance: the air from the fan animating the fabrics, the air on my body as I pass through the space…
Let us begin…
I’m walking towards the piece, there are two large curtains hanging from the great glass ceiling on long pieces of rope that remind me of ships: rope, natural fibres, thick and looped and knotted at the end. Not quite touching the floor, the curtains hang at a right angle to each other but with a gap as wide as a yardstick at their corner.
I go through and see on the floor a large silver fan, set near to the wall. Tied to the fan is a lattice of silver fabric, like liquid metal, a horizontal flutter, a shoal of small quick fish darting in the air. The curtains hang vertically, and they too are moving, but ever so slowly, almost imperceptibly, further from the wind. I attend to the curtains. The fabric is soft, but grainy, pewter, like unpolished metal, shot through with a glittery silver thread, and I think of the phrase ‘silver screen’. Here and there circles the size of large dinner plates are cut from the fabric, and the cut-out pieces are sewn around the curtains’ hems, some of them just brushing against the floor.
I turn my attention to the opposite wall…
This is an artwork that would seem very different in another space. I am writing to you from this particular space, at a particular time of year. The great glass roof floods the space with sun, so that the film on the wall that I am trying to see is no more than a fugitive flicker. I can barely make it out, and I wonder if you can make it out all. It becomes, for both of us, an imaginary film.
The silvery curtains and the sound of the fan, so like an old fashioned projector, conjure the atmosphere of a cinema. Rosemary Tonks, in her poem ‘The Sofas, Fogs, and Cinemas’, writes of cinemas where
(t)he light is as brown as laudanum.
… the fogs! The fogs! The cinemas
Where the criminal shadow-literature flickers over our faces …
She conjures the cinema of our imagination, dark and cocooned. This space is very different. I strain to see in the vast brightness of the room. The light is against me.
Are those violets or pansies? Is there a wild meadow? The sound of the film is low, mixed with the noise that floats in from elsewhere in the gallery. There are clicks, silences, the low whir of traffic as the film cuts from flowers to car lights, city lights, out of focus blurs and blobs. And now there is what seems to be a white sun on a faint blue sky, but perhaps it is a flower, drifting out of view. I turn back again to the fan, and think that the darting silver lattice blown out by its whirr, is the light of the film made material, swimming towards the wall.
Movie is a space of screens and circles: the film screened on the wall, the sail-curtains screening out the film. But the circles in the fabric are portholes, lenses, and I put my hands through them, my head to them, and I become an imaginary eye, an imaginary camera, and the wind-circle of the fan-projector carries me in a curved line from wall to wall.
Movieis not just a spectacle, it is a space to be inhabited. It is not to be watched, but to be imagined and enacted. We are actors. We make it happen. Silvery, silvery…
Rosemary Tonks, excerpt from ‘The Sofas, Fogs, and Cinemas’ (c. 1967), in Bedouin of the London Evening: Collected Poems and Selected Prose, Hexham: Bloodaxe Books, 2014.