The Place of No Return
Curatoral Statement for an exhibition; “RePlace”, V/Tape, Toronto, 2001
Broken Crowns by David Clark 1992
Apple Grown in Wind Tunnel by Steven Matheson 2000
In 1991 I made a pilgrimage to Bardon Hill, a quarry in Central England, to begin shooting my video Broken Crowns. Bardon Hill is a mythic place for me; a castrated hill quarried so that half the hill had been removed but, as the tallest point in the county, quarried so that the height of the hill was preserved. It was filtered by my father’s nostalgic view of the village of Bardon where he grew up. I scaled the hill and collected video and film images. I arrived at the peak as the sun set and I tried to soak up the magic of a place, knowing that this was a displaced place for me; a first generation Canadian, returning to iconic landmark that was at the centre of the area that encompassed the history of my entire family, and also knowing that this was to become a fictional place in my own story. Out of the dense interconnected stories of Broken Crowns, the only fiction was that I suggested that Bardon Hill was the ‘real’ site of the Jack and Jill nursery rhyme. I did this to tie together the connections in my plot. It isn’t actually, but it is very close to the hill that the Grand old Duke of York marched his men up and down.
In Broken Crowns I wanted the characters and the scenarios to reflect the surreal storytelling conventions of the nursery rhyme but within the expanded realm of postmodernist intertextuality. Inspired by Gregory Ulmer’s conception of the ‘Mystory’, a postmodern form of writing that weaves together personnel, expert, and popular forms of knowledge, I wrote a story that had fragments of my personal story (the sister and girlfriend named Jill), elements from popular culture (the Jack and Jill Nursery rhyme, the JFK conspiracy theories, the plot from Goethe’s novel ‘Elective Affinities’) and expert knowledges (an interpretation of a Freud Case called ‘The Dream of the Chemist’, an art historical reading of the paintings of Jacques Louis David). The flat acting style and the self-conscious shifts in narrative point of view were part of my attempt to create a postmodern nursery rhyme.
The plot (certainly not the most important thing about the tape) follows my characters, Jack and his sister Jill, on a fictional journey to Bardon Hill (a quarry outside Halifax doubled nicely for Bardon). After the trip Jack mysteriously disappears from photographs which for me was a kind of equation with castration, the disappearance from the realm of representation.
I choose Steven Matheson’s tape Apple Grown in Wind Tunnel as the companion piece for this program because I see it as a contemporary nursery rhyme or fairy tale. Using as a backdrop the contemporary landscape of postindustrial America, it tells the fantastic story of an underground network of people trading secret remedies and cures inspired by radio transmissions from an old woman who suggests that her anonymous audience find obscure ingrediates from industrial waste. This fairy tale reflects on the industrialization of the academic medical establishment that is being challenged by ‘alternative medicine’ as well as our blindness to the decay of our industrial world into toxic sites. Again using the fairy tale logic of magical powers, it forces us to contemplate the quagmire of ‘the magic cure’ of industrial medicine and the inverse effects of ill-health implied by industrial waste.
I also was attracted to the tape because of the similar collapsing of personal, expert, and popular narratives. I first saw the tape as a work in progress. When I wanted to include the piece in a show I was curating but found out that during it’s completion that Steven had become mysterious sick. His art had mysteriously slipped into life, an irony he was pleased to share with me.
So these two tapes don’t reflect of the specificity of region or nation in any direct way but instead talk about the magical and mythical qualities of space constructed in narrative and in particular in the placeless narrative of the nursery rhyme and fairy tale which I still feel can play a role, as nursery rhymes and folk tales have in the past, in the larger political debate swirling around the contemporary shift into the global economy that has lead to new kinds of fantastical places through that postmodern monster, the internet.