SCREEN QUEST: THE JARMAN AWARD 2017

ARTIST FILM: The Jarman Award is an annual prize which recognises & supports UK-based artists. We went along to the Whitechapel Gallery for this year’s weekender (18 & 19 NOV 2017). Here’s our writeup.

The Film London Jarman Award celebrates emerging artists for their “spirit of experimentation, imagination and innovation.” Launched in 2008 and inspired by visionary filmmaker Derek Jarman, all shortlisted artists receive financial assistance and the opportunity to produce a new moving image work. We went to the second day of the recent weekender at Whitechapel Gallery: two days of sharing, screening and storytelling where the artists curate their own presentations.

JARMAN AWARD 2017: OUT OF BOUNDS (B) screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).
OUT OF BOUNDS (B) screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).

“Making a mountain safe for pleasure and adventure”

Melanie Manchot is a photographer transitioning into moving image. Her OUT OF BOUNDS films offer portraits of hidden labour without a human face to be seen. (A) – shown the day before – includes avalanche whilst (B) and (C) are cold, late night, mountain high studies of the nocturnal workforce responsible for clearing, cleaning and moving snow on a ski resort. Having spent 7 years working in the same place, Manchot sees this as an ‘open series’ studying the ceaseless (absurd?) human endeavour in such sublime landscapes.

(B) seems like science fiction as if the cinematic DNA of ERASERHEAD and PROMETHEUS met at moonlight and agreed to walk into the unknown. Long shots of snow-moving machines at work, lit by their own headlights and dwarfed by darkness, convey an epic sense of isolation in an inhuman frontier. If (B) appears to be documentary without explanation, (C) is not. It unfolds as a (curious) choreography,  three machines describing a perpetual loop, as if engaged in a ritual whose purpose is unknowable to us. Like goggleboxers immersed in BLUE PLANET II, we can only guess and wonder.

Manchot spent her presentation in conversation with journalist Charlie English (author of The Snow Tourist). They looked at the changing representation of snow in landscape painting and printmaking and discussed what this revealed about our (futile?) desire to control the natural world.

JARMAN AWARD 2017: JANUS COLLAPSE screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).
JANUS COLLAPSE screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).

“A fungal rotting of the screen”

Starting from a road accident that left him feeling a sense of “disassociation” from his body, Adham Faramawy’s shortlisted works look at body horror images in advertising and how they are designed to make you feel “incomplete”. JANUS COLLAPSE recreates the seductive imagery of advertising – characters stand before back-projections, smiling and beckoning us in – before these scenes are corrupted by digital warps, worms and wondering tongues. Increasingly exposed, bodies become covered in fluid, massage makes skin liquid and fungal infections take on a horrific scale.

For his presentation, Faramawy screened his latest work, BODY FIRMING LOTION (SUX 2B U), which combines moving image with a live performance by dancer Ted Rogers. Vogueing and flexing in sneakers and white boxers, Rogers offers a lascivious form in front of more images of writhing bodies obscured by liquid. Made for installations rather than screenings, these works are about the interplay of human forms corrupted through the “aesthetic contamination” of advertising. Faramawy is an artist aware of his own saturation in commercial media, recognising that he is “not able to function outside something but more through it”. His films offer a queer(ed) response to this all-pervasive consumerism with a determination to find solutions through “resistance, activism and tenderness”.

JARMAN AWARD 2017: BRIDGIT screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).
BRIDGIT screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).

“I had all this closeted libidinal energy but my attention was focused on this entropy”

All three artists described the installations that characterise the exhibition of their work (rather than the screening format necessarily adopted here). Charlotte Prodger spoke about screens and stands as ‘sculptural objects’ and the utilisation of spaces between them as part of her technique. This came across in her shortlisted film, BRIDGIT, as if her first single channel work was constantly being folded into dialogue with itself. We hear recorded ‘field’ sounds and crisp post-production voiceover and see subtitles and computer-generated graphics overlaying lush, locked-off landscapes and sudden cuts to saturated colour screens. All filmed on her iPhone.

Prodger’s work focuses on a concept similarly still in development, that of ‘queer wilderness’, asking “what happens to queer bodies when they’re situated in isolated places” or, in other words, “what is it to be queer in spaces where there aren’t any people?” The titular many-named goddess and Aberdeenshire’s standing stones – ancient Neolithic grids of interconnecting energy – give Prodger a channel through which to offer autobiography. She speaks of working in a care home, of coming out, of finding and forming identity, of encountering alienation and acceptance. Her film is what happens when these developments of “body, landscape, technology and time” are played through together. It’s also what happens when you google “standing stones lesbian separatism” (apparently).

JARMAN AWARD 2017: THE INTERIOR screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).
THE INTERIOR screened at The Whitechapel Gallery (19 NOV).

Prodger chose two films by other makers to expand on her themes. THE INTERIOR (a study of snow, cold, 4 people and 56 dogs by Jonathan Rattner) follows a dog-musher on his (very) early morning routine. He hacks up frozen meat, makes a soupy broth and feeds it to the dogs before heading out for a sleigh run in Eureka, Alaska. He sings to himself as his chores unfold, unfettered by a sense of others and at one with his animals and environment. The sounds are intricate and intoxicating.

The final film we saw – sadly, we couldn’t stay for the premiere of Prodger’s latest work, LHB – reminded us of how startling artists’ film can be, freed of responsibility to play by the rules. HARD AS OPAL is Dani Leventhal and Jared Buckhieste’s exploration of penetration, insemination and impregnation from the clinical to the banal, the accidental to the animal. We see strap-on dildos, dildos taped to chairs, a box for a stallion to mount and be ‘milked’, a clinical hospital procedure, functional porn-assisted penetration, and the birth of a foal in all its visceral matter-of-factness. Described by Leventhal as “a film about things being put into other things” it’s a frank look at the beauty of life’s reproductive urge shorn of romanticism and unworried about (malleable) distinctions between fact and fiction.

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Featured image: Film London.

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