Deirdre Heddon


Exposition: Return to the Site of the Year of the Rooster (15/05/2018) by Annette Arlander
Deirdre Heddon 21/05/2019 at 12:46

The following peer review was presented to the author during the process and has influenced the final exposition. It is here presented in a slightly edited form.


Deirdre Heddon:


Yes, the paper engages with the idea of how to do things with performance and follows through a discussion around how the recording of performance can generate further performance through a multi-layered representational strategy that involves return and reflection.


The exposition raises the wider application of the performative ‘how to’ to more-than-human dimensions. This fits with the call, which states, ‘performance is not only a human activity’. The author poses two key questions in her introduction, the latter of which took my breath away, seeming so radical in the current theoretical and conceptual landscape: ‘Could the small birches in the images, still growing there, be regarded as co-performers or artists [….] Does such an at attempt to rethink the performer-environment relationship as “performing with” living beings in the landscape really matter?’ I found this second question particularly exciting. Having raised it, though - and raised my hopes at an explicit engagement with it - I feel that the author perhaps ‘teases’ the reader rather than delivering on this expectation.


Nevertheless, I recognise that the main aim of this exposition is to explore a form of film essay and to consider how the form - the creative potential - of the video essay stages another performance and surfaces another set of questions. The film essay is not, here, offered as a final ‘reveal’ or conclusion, but as another creative tactic in generating further thinking, thinking through the film essay itself and re-opening the original - and secondary - performance again. The film essay allows a return to the work to be made from new and unexpected directions.


The form that the film essay takes here is the exposition’s key strength. It offers an original model, through its triptych design. The three elements sit in relationship with each other, an overlapping and extending dialogue of sorts.


The creative approach to presenting a film essay, exploring the form of the film essay as a continuation of knowledge production rather than an exposition of findings. The film essay is itself performative, staging new questions and allowing a return to earlier work, bringing to the surface new thinking about that work.


The form presented here is utterly engaging, the work itself in each panel of the triptych beautifully and carefully presented. The collage of reassembled films, set in front of another, more recent film, which forms a backdrop (the birch trees some 12 years later), is exquisite. The commentary over the film, and its representation in text below, offers the viewer and then reader different modalities through which to approach the reflection, layers of engagement with the thinking. Another example of the care here is the split screen translation of The Gnome. The film essay is itself an evocative work of art, employing a collage approach to make apparent changes and juxtapositions.


“In 2012, however, I used the term autotopographical exercise4, to describe some works5 created the same year as the Year of the Rooster, in order to focus on the action rather than the result. (Arlander 2012) Today, this video compilation of a recording of a year and a day and night could be understood as an autotopography of sorts, a digital collage of personal souvenirs. “ [What were these earlier works? And can you say more about autotopography as a digital collage of personal souvenirs? Where/what is the souvenir?]


“The text, a childhood souvenir, an old well-known poem by Victor Rydberg, was recorded afterwards, while editing. It was included only in the first installation version, and has not been publicly shown after that. In this context, I could not see any reason, except vanity, to censor it.” [Why include it though? Why would you censor it?]


Artistic practice is at the heart of the exposition, doubly so. The film essay is artistic practice, and the film essay focuses on previous artistic practice (from 2005), alongside a more recent intervention in the landscape (2017). The artistic practice is woven through the film essay, and performs the film essay, in complex, multi-layered and overlapping strands. The film essay itself asks, implicitly, how can it be artistic practice, and how can it further engage with and ask questions of, and reopen artistic practice to further enquiry and discussion and reflection.


The exposition is timely in that the film essay is increasingly being explored as a way to present research and as a particular tool of engagement and exposition. It is interesting here to see how the form can be used to explore and represent creative practice, but not only represent - ‘remake’ it.


The exposition poses clear questions at the outset and offers propositions throughout. It sets the questions and discussion within a clear and specific contextual set of references - autotopography and new materialism - and it explicitly builds on the previous scholarship of the author. The film essay is an original offering, carefully constructed and presented.


There may be room for the author to reflect more generally on the film essay as a research device, in order to be explicit about the work that this film essay does in terms of its form and contribution to our knowledge of the film essay. That claim is made via the film essay as a performative device, but perhaps more could be offered on this. Why is the triptych selected as a design? What affect does the author hope this design will have on the viewer’s/reader’s experience. How does written text and audio-text/film correlate?


Yes, the author provides a suggested route through the triptych for the viewer. It does take some time - or it took me some time - to understand the different components and I returned to each a number of times.


The triptych design is highly original and though navigation seems initially quite complex, the movement between the panels enriches the encounter with the work in all of its stages/levels.


The strength, as noted, is the original design concept of the film essay and the proposition of the film essay as a form of digital autotopography. I have said quite a lot about this above, so will not repeat myself here.


Where I feel the exposition could be strengthened is in relation to the timely and quite radical questions posed in the introductory paragraph/abstract. I am not sure that the essay in itself, as it stands, really does engage fully with those two questions - the role of the birches as co-performers, and whether the attempt to ‘rethink the performer-environment relationship as “performing with” living beings in the landscape really matter[s]?’ I don’t feel that these questions are fully enough engaged. Reference is made to Haraway but it’s quite fleeting and there is little in any part of the triptych that explicitly digs deep into the co-performer relationship. The birches in the central film literally act as a backdrop. This could be to suggest that they are not co-performers, but scenographic objects only, without agency (to offer just one possible reading). It may be intended that the reader/viewer does the work of thinking through the status of the more-than-human environment as actor and agent here, but it is rather held out as something the author herself will do.


To take one example where the discussion of (the role of) materiality of the site seems to be deferred:


‘Regarding the materiality of the site, some insights from the process might be worth noting in passing. The red scarf served as a costume, but the shifting outfits during the weekly performances for a camera on tripod turned out to be rather dominating. In future years I used a more careful dress code. Using the red scarf on my head to allude to the Gnome or ‘Tomten’ during the day and night at Christmas time, and carrying a small lantern with a candle, turned the same action of walking, standing and sitting into a form of representational acting, as if impersonating a gnome.’


These are interesting observations but it is not clear how they relate to the materiality of the site. They are focused on the author’s performance, the human performer is centred.


In a similar vein, I feel the film essay would benefit from a little more discussion around the digital autotopography, in light of the fact that Gonzales is quite specific in her focus on material objects. The author references an earlier piece of writing about her work (2014) which refers to the digital films as ‘souvenirs’, in line with Gonzales theory of objects as personal memory mapping personal space. Perhaps the author’s earlier writing needs to be extracted here too? There is also mention of a collective souvenir, yet Gonzales theory seems very particularly to be about the individual - the auto? The author proposes that ‘The whole video essay could be understood as a digital autotopography, which could be interesting in this context’. I agree that it could be, but that fulsome discussion seems to be deferred here.


Finally, how do the autotopographical and the environment as co-performer relate or resonate? What brings them together in this film essay? How can they be brought together? I feel that this step or potential is missing.