Counterflows: A curatorial statement by Matt Turner

Wed 09 Jun 2021

“Herein I would fain that you should learn this, too, that when first-bodies are being carried downwards straight through the void by their own weight, at times quite undetermined, and at undetermined spots they push a little from their path: yet only just so much as you could call a change of trend. But if they were not used to swerve, all things would fall downwards through the deep void like drops of rain, nor could collision come to be, nor a blow brought to pass for the first-beginnings: so nature would never have brought aught to being. But if perchance any one believes that heavier bodies, because they are carried more quickly straight through the void, can fall from above on the lighter, and so bring about the blows that can give creative motions, he wanders far away from true reason. For all things that fall through the water and thin air, these things must needs quicken their fall in proportion to their weights, just because the body of water and the thin nature of air cannot check each thing equally, but give place more quickly when overcome by heavier bodies.”

 – Lucretius, “On the Nature of Things”


Nothing is weaker than water

But when it attacks something hard

Or resistant, then nothing withstands it

And nothing will alter its way.” 

– Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching”


Many renewable energy projects proposed as part of the ‘Ocean Gateway’ redevelopment programme in the North West – such as the long-gestating plan for the construction of a £3.5bn “Tidal Power Station” on the River Mersey – look to harness the raw energy of water’s untameable flows. Water resists containment, yet when controlled, its power can be generative. What occurs when instead of attempting to control the force of water, you go with its flow? This programme includes moving image works that reflect the movement of water in their form, if not always in their content. Moving like the tides, shifting shapelessly, transferring forms, these films channel an aquatic energy in their assemblage and construction, using liquid cuts, wet textures, or a watery flow to see what potency might be present in liquidity. 

First, we soak underwater, when, in Andrea Zucchini’s Dreamwalker (2019), landscapes of the body and mind blend together as two voices guide the artist through a psychoanalytic experience set against fluid, ethereal imagery that spans vast expanses of place and time. Peter Spanjer’s Every Piece of You (2020) retains a similar sharp-edged sticky-softness, using a rhythmic form of bricolage to “provide meditative space for those unable to find calm otherwise.” Sensuous and sonorous yet statically charged, watching it feels like floating in tingly warm water. Next, Sofia Theodore-Pierce’s Hear Me Sometimes (2020) uses a mixtape mode to create a lilting, languid collage that speaks abstrusely of “motherhood, loss, expectation, care and legacy” whilst moving like the waves along its shimmering prismatic surfaces. With Simon Liu’s Signal 8 (2019), a shift occurs into a darker space as layered imagery foreshadows unrest in Hong Kong, storm clouds shrouding the city in an ominous darkness that breaks into an electric rainfall that is alive with anxious indignation. The same tone of disquiet runs through Sasha Litvintseva’s Every Rupture (2020), a watery triptych that moves between scenes of a cruise ship, a bird colony, and a tourist site amidst the global pandemic. A sullen, sorrowful film that mourns the “non-arrival of a new world” during a period of sustained, suffocating strife, here water is an imposing force, and, accordingly, the film has a form that saturates and subsumes.

Despite being thematically, geographically, and culturally distinct, each work blends one into another, and, having started submerged, at the programme’s end we again sink underwater. Returning to a state of recuperation, then reemergence, the programme resets, looping endlessly, coming and returning like the tides. Adjacent sits one further work: Julie Murray’s If You Stand with Your Back to the Slowing of the Speed of Light in Water (1997), an intoxicating collage made of many disparate elements that snap together, crashing and dissolving with a slippery dissonance. Itself a sort of cycle, it is a ceaseless tide of liquid instincts and subterranean subconscious desires. If the programme is a tide, this film is the moon that provides the gravitational pull that keeps everything in perpetual motion.

Putting this programme together was strangely difficult. Partly this was the result of not having been in the world so much lately, having forgotten what it looks like and how all the parts fit together, and also having not been able to visit the festival’s physical locations. It’s hard to feel inspiration without being around and amongst people indiscriminately, without feeling part of something greater. It may also have been a result of trying to bring things together that are distinct and unify them under an invented concept. While many of these film’s makers might agree that these are watery works, none would likely say that this was their motivation for making them. Their subject matter varies, so they are instead collected subjectively based on sensation and texture, and the power and potency that their chosen form affords. There is something energising about bringing films together based on how they make you feel.

Like Bruce Lee’s much-quoted mantra – brought back into the common consciousness by activists in the recent waves of protests in Hong Kong who used it to describe the mechanisms of their decentralised, leaderless movement – these works are “formless, shapeless”, moving “like water” around the container of the screens that frame them. Here, a watery form is generative, a means of revealing something without needing to state or show it explicitly, a way of expressing a feeling that can’t be reduced into words. A watery form is an invisible force with an indescribable urgency, a mass that surrounds and subsumes, a material that surges and flows, gaining strength as its isolated parts come together and grow. As Bruce Lee says: “water can flow or it can crash.”

Counterflows, curated by Matt Turner, will premiere on AND Festival’s Live Channel on Friday 11 June at 7pm. 

Image: Hear Me Sometimes Sofia Theodore-Pierce (2020)

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