This short film is composed by its character and its subject— the character is a gaze, that moves through a series of interstitial and festive spaces during the winter of 2019, and records what passes in front of it. The subject is the movement, behaviour, and temperament of various fluids.
We see scenes of water put to work in harshly directed jets, rooms built for bathing and relaxation, heavy with condensation, and we see that same dew on the interior of a crowded night bus. We see found footage sourced online, mathematical modelling of flows and forces, underwater vignettes, fake pearls and flood scenes. Water that is domesticated and water out of control. Abstracted, aestheticised, damaging, and utilitarian situations; the gaze encounters all of them with equality, at the same small distance.
The curator Rita Aktay writes in her essay The Thing in All of It’s Instances as it Happens (2020, written to accompany the work. The first sentence is a quote from Jacques Rancière’s essay The Future of the Image, 2003) that:
There is a visibility that does not amount to an image. And how does one visualise something that exists in many places at once, in each instance on its own terms? For example, condensation on a transparent surface is one manifestation of water, but is that the same as the condensation on the windows of a crowded night bus? There is only the entirety of the thing in all of its instances as it happens, which is still not the thing itself.
The quality of the gaze is tuned to what Aktay identifies as ‘the thing itself’, which cannot be cleanly imaged. In embedding itself into these encounters with fluids, the gaze makes its character known. And as its character is revealed it begins to speak, though what it says is murky; language is not quite sufficient for this type of speaking.
Perhaps what we are left with is a horizontal ordering of experiences, interested in the arbitrariness of a direct encounter with the world. As the film moves forward, images seemed gratuitous begin to coalesce into a story and a mood, which eventually brings the viewer to a flooded artificial beach, with its fake palms, infatuated couples, loud ambient music and vain teenagers. It is Christmas time. The final calamity, the unstoppable flood, brings an ambience of peace. Aktay says this:
Friends are Important. Yet there is a certain ugliness to that which is just there, that which just happens. All those things that weren’t specifically intended by anyone but somehow still managed to end up overdetermined. Or all those things that were once attempted but didn’t even fail.
STRAY VOLTAGE presents a discursive program of critically engaged moving image works focusing on experimental narrative-driven practices, led by Katie Paine and Aaron Rees.