I’ve found few artists more enigmatic and interesting than Chris Marker, and I heard a very positive report about this on Saturday Review a while ago. Nevertheless, I didn’t make it to the Whitechapel Gallery until the final day of their show A Grin Without A Cat. (This meant they’d sold out of the catalogue. Hmmph.)
While I knew he wasn’t “just” a filmmaker, I hadn’t realised quite how diverse his activity was, and it was well represented here. The triumph of this show was that you could pick up a strong sense of him, even if you hadn’t the liberty to stay all day and watch all the films.
Just at the entrance you could watch a half-hour video based on a gallery space Marker created in…Second Life, which pretty much justified the creation of that oddity so beloved of futurologists ten years ago, or sit down with headphones for Statues Also Die, or sit at some computers and navigate an interactive CD-ROM “immemory”. In the latter case, it shows his strength that it transcended the salience of the format’s obsolescence. On the other side, guarded by a waving cat, there was an enclosed space in which the Zapping Zone had been recreated. This consisted of a set of monitors and old computers on varied plinths, with themes flowing between them. One theme was an elephant adopting various different positions, my favourite being:
Elephant paying homage to Max Ernst
It felt like being benevolently trapped inside scenes from Sans Soleil, one of extremely few films I’m happy to see as many times as I can.
It’s usually a good sign when people look happy and there was a man who couldn’t stop grinning at Ouvroir (the film created in Second Life), perhaps at the realisation of Guillaume-en-Egypte, the ginger cat that often became Marker’s avatar/protagonist. This also reflected Marker’s playfulness, while not undermining his serious political work. As he said:
In other times I would have liked to just take pictures of girls and cats, but I wasn’t born in those times
Other artefacts on display included the series of guides to countries around the world that he edited – Petites Planètes – various portraits with accompanying descriptions – Staring Back – and some letters, including a hilarious one in which he simultaneously chides and encourages a film-making collective.
Towards the back of the room, behind another hanging screen showing an excerpt from Sans Soleil, was a tower of five TVs showing a silent movie in 5 channels, the periodicity of the different loops apparently varying. Even with my notorious completism, I didn’t manage to see any of the intertitles come around again.
Elsewhere there was a photo taken during a protest about Algeria from around 1962 at the Place de la Republique, in the background of which is a young tree. He took another photo of the same spot much later and noted the growth of the tree over the forty year period:
Within these few inches, forty years of my life
Nearby there was a photo taken in a cemetery, with a white cat lying on top of a mausoleum:
I’m a cat, I don’t need a statue
was the caption.
You passed some of the imagined film posters in the Great Premakes series on the stairs and could watch both La Jetée and some of the more political films on the first floor.
I was sad to leave, but had planned to see Acid Brass at the Southbank, a free performance as part of Meltdown. They were playing on the terrace outside the Royal Festival Hall. The conductor was surprisingly young and felt himself to be a bit of a showman, whipping up the crowd when needed. Some people near me on the fourth floor terrace seemed to think it was entirely about 808 State:
Bit disappointed they didn’t play that one, Cuba. It has brass in it.
Maybe it was to do with the different viewing circumstances, but I preferred the steel band version of Voodoo Ray, another Deller-related enterprise.
Given I was in the area, I decided to buy a ticket to Jeff Mills: The Trip and then went to see Human Factor at the Hayward Gallery, as a good use of time. As an exhibition it was a bit fragmented, with no clear theme, but it did have a cumulative effect. Towards the end, I did at one point confuse a real person with a mannequin, briefly. Inevitably with so many pieces the quality was quite variable, though the best (Maurizio Cattelan, for instance) were very good. An elderly man became quite exercised that the title of one of the pieces referred to “Black and Tan”. He started talking about this to one of the guards, explaining the reference to Ireland in the 1920s:
“Look it up on the Internet”
The three renderings of a young woman at the end are startlingly (disturbingly) life-like.
It was five minutes before closing time when I finished, and the guards were contacting each other on their walkie-talkies, flushing people out, some consternation being expressed that there was still someone around, location uncertain.
We can only hope that, having seen Human Factor so soon after opening, I will then have the time to see something as good as the Chris Marker show well before it closes.
Next it was back to the Royal Festival Hall, where there was a DJ in the same place the Brass Band had been earlier. It seemed to be a tribute to the Detroit Holy Trinity, with people of a certain age dancing on the terrace beneath me to Strings of Life and Good Life, plus I Feel Love and Blue Monday. Inside the hall itself, the audience was as positive as the Edwyn Collins crowd had been, but with more urgency, perhaps having been pumped up by the DJ set. A Guy Called Gerald was the support act. Always pleasing to see a Mancunian in action. His set blended from one song to another, with some extended motifs, including a pitch-bended riff that brought to mind his Peel session. There was an excellent stripped down version of Pacific State – perhaps a comment by him on the notorious legal dispute he had with Massey et al? Anyway, he seemed to be having a good time, taking off his jacket later on. People were dancing in their seats and in the aisles, just as they had been on the preceding Tuesday, but much more of them of course. Whenever a four on the floor kick appeared, there were ripples of whoops. I think he was a little humbled by the strength of the reaction of the end, parading about the stage bowing to everyone.
After his table was removed, Jeff Mills’ equipment appeared including what looked like a 909 on a plinth.
The people at Londonist were pretty scathing about The Trip. I did enjoy it, because I wasn’t as desperate for a beat as many seemed to be. I was disappointed that I couldn’t easily recognise any of the science fiction film clips he was using, the other visual element being abstract coloured pieces, inspired by the “beyond the infinite” section of 2001, perhaps. It was a little haphazard, but always interesting, and I didn’t join in with those shouting
“Go on, Jeff”
towards the end. He did indeed make an excursion to the 909, triggering live patterns.
It’s admirable to do something a little less obvious than unimaginative expectations would prefer.