FRIDAY 30 APRIL
19:00 – 20:30 BST
A triple-bill of films made between extraordinary worlds – of technology, labour, extraction.
by Michael Pattison
A crowd claps. A piano chord is struck. From the acoustics of the interim non-silence that follows, narrative expectancies emerge. You came for an experience and you’re going to get one: a promise made clear in the opening moments of MASS, in which Nadeem Din-Gabisi gifts cinematic form to a range of motifs and critical through-lines with the kind of aesthetic control and artistic confidence that makes you take notice. Connecting analogue images of white noise and old-fashioned radios to a pristine, digitally-shot white-wall studio containing aerials, satellites and stylish wicker chairs, Din-Gabisi constructs a singular world of intimacy and touch that plays out in contrast to a more agitated urban milieu captured in 16mm monochrome interludes.
Din-Gabisi’s sort-of-wordless alt-space teems with sensitivity and communication: Black hands seek and find one another, gazes are met, empathies are matched; unseen children are heard via mysterious transmissions. MASS is, as they say, a mood: one of those films that manages, in its brevity and repetition, its refusal and suggestion, to be both muscular and free-flowing. Each shot has its place, every cut demonstrates due care, the switches between analogue textures and digital sheens enriched by a soundtrack that’s rhythmic even when it’s stuttering through the syllabic static of radio stations.
In Sublunary – whose title refers to the hard, lived realities of this and no better world, though some may dream of going to the moon – Mariangela Ciccarello and Philip Cartelli excavate from analogue and digital footage nothing less than a collision narrative: of geological time, self-determination and human displacement. The location is Malta, the golden-hued Mediterranean archipelago where, in 2017, a 28-metre-high limestone arch and tourist attraction known as the Azure Window – which connected a cliff to a vertical pillar extending from the sea – collapsed following decades of erosion. Malta, itself a former British colony, is also site to migrant rescue, detainment, pushback, abandonment.
Juxtaposing stunning, tripod-locked compositions of Malta’s limestone quarries with audio testimonies of transit from refugees caught there in limbo, Ciccarello and Cartelli piece together a textured patchwork whose visual beauty is offset by sonic ambiguity. Here too there are strange communications, frequencies, airwaves: the gallop-like blip-blip rhythm of signal interference. In its bare-bones detective story, which involves a woman investigating the archipelago’s limestone – while staying at the ominously-comically named Hotel British – Sublunary deploys a fitting genre to allegorise the work and archaeology required of uncovering, situating and comprehending our present moment’s broader injustices.
Orbital Squares, by the media art collective Moojin Brothers, also points to deeper understandings of a cultural and political moment unfolding despite and because of human intervention. As elusive as it is utterly gripping, the film juxtaposes and intersperses three scenes. A snail’s movements – tentative, curious – on a grooved mound of clay are contrasted against the powerful rhythms of a horserace shot at 240 frames per second; both of these are bookended by a shadowy display of a living, sculptural humanoid seemingly tormented by a web-like concoction of thread and nails fully enveloping its head, as a soundscape of terror and flickering embers unfolds.
It is in its broader approach to sound that Orbital Squares connects its disparate scenes. The film shifts in this regard between three registers: a sustained high-pitched atonal note in one moment, a pulsing wall of granulated noise in the next, and then a more syncopated, unpredictable half-beat, repeated in quick succession like some techno-aural update of a dial-up modem – the kind of arbitrary, gratingly coarse sound that a machine makes only to signal that it is doing something. And here, the machine is doing something: in automated obsession to recognise and fixate upon a human face, the film optically harasses the snail and the horse, constantly superimposing an intrusive rectangle upon their worlds and realigning in search of data – to extract, categorise, encage.
Nadeem Din-Gabisi – 13’27 – UK – 2020
Mariangela Ciccarello, Philip Cartelli – Italy – 2019
Moojin Brothers – 18′ – Republic of Korea – 2020
Q&A WITH MOOJIN BROTHERS
Could you give some context regarding the choice of ‘scenes’ in this film? Why a snail? Why a horserace?
Horses and snails are an analogy to a human life in which the orbits of diverse lives are drawn within a huge capital system. Orbital Squares does not simply intend to talk about the pace of life. These two living organisms are not used here for contrast and comparison. It does not matter who is fast or slow. Facial recognition system makes the contrast between horses that are running on the track at full speed and snails that are moving in their own way out of fixed orbits meaningless. This difference and contrast becomes useless due to the recent technological development. The inherent pace of a living organism is already included in technology itself. Korea’s social system tends to respond sharply to the trend of advanced technology in particular. Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, thermal imaging and facial recognition devices have been placed at almost all entrances. And this shows an increased dependence on technology. Not only so-called smart cities, armed with state-of-the-art technology, but also some small spaces where people dreaming of an alternative life gather cannot escape from this thermal imaging and facial recognition system. As our body and activity data are being collected everywhere, there is no route for escape anywhere under the surveillance system of technology. It is the first time that technology constituting a social system and perceptions of people using this technology react in this same way. The experience of the capturing power of technology through COVID-19 has taught us it is impossible to run away from a certain point of life. The square frame for facial recognition in the video obsessively traces the faces of snails and horses, but do not actually disclose any data. What will the audience think about this blank? When the facial recognition square frame is applied, it will be more than just comparing the speed and path of the two creatures. The basis of thought and value judgment that are locking us may be revealed here. For example, think of what data those who bet on horse racing want to get from the square frame placed on the faces of the horses that are running fast, passing the corner. What does this square frame for facial recognition put on the snails and horses look like in their eyes?
Please tell us a bit more about the sound design; how did you approach the sound in this way?
What we paid attention in designing the sound of the video Orbital Squares was a coordination of abstract sound that is seen when the signs of image and those of sound are not well connected. In other words, we did not connect image to sound immediately through real-time recording, but brought different elements of sound so that senses of image and sound can be seen and heard in a different manner. All living creatures make and hear sound in their own different ways. Humans, horses and snails have different frequency ranges(Hz) and different auditory organs as well. In this video, sound feels different because a different dimension of sound sense is highlighted here. Certainly, the objectness that each sound indicates in the video is obvious. There are mainly two kinds of sounds in Orbital Squares. One is the sound collected from people who respond to the competition of horses taking places at a real racecourse as well as money. This sound is linked to the scene of a person unraveling the thread entwined around the spikes instead of the image of horse racing. The other is the sound processed by electric signals heard in the scenes of horses and snails. This processed sound was created by extending the sound of ‘timecode’ included in the process of shooting the video at low speed. Normally, ‘timecode’ is a technological element for synchronization of video and sound in the editing process after shooting video and collecting sound respectively. However, we did not use timecode for synchronization between image and sound, but extended the sound of timecode itself at low speed, thereby questioning the speed and temporality of the living organisms appearing in the video. The sounds of time code heard in the scenes of horses and snails have the same source but have the beats and rhythms of different sounds by varying the frequency. Ultimately, it is an attempt to synchronize the difference in speed and movement between horses and snails by putting the image and sound of horses and snails in different temporalities (shooting image and sound beat of different speeds – 240fps for horses and 24fps for snails).What we wanted to tell is that the basic premise that snails are slow and horses are fast can be broken down through shooting speed and sound of the video.
Title image: Orbital Squares, Moojin Brothers, 2020