On the Work of Melanie Gilligan
In Melanie Gilligan’s video series 'Popular Unrest' from 2010, the linkage between horror fiction and finance is quite outspoken. Exploring the relationship between capitalism and biopower, the work revolves around an invisible system of algocratic control called the Spirit, that monitors its denizens, assigning them ratings based on their personal 'market indicators'. A group of denizens are surveyed and monitored, by researchers from neuroscience, psychology and computer science, in search of ways to communicate with the Spirit, through the potentials of group-psychology. Parallel to this, random people (presumably calculated to be expendable) are being killed by the Spirit. Similar to many of her other works, like 'Crisis in the Credit System' (2008) or 'Self-Capital' (2009), 'Popular Unrest' is formatted much like an episodic drama on contemporary prime time or cable television. The actors perform in a way that is distinct to the genre and it immediately moves the storytelling into a humorous setting, where the parody or paraphrasing of the television medium always colour the content. This format also allows for a more alarming quality. There is something essentially real to the tv-performance. The way the actors, act like television actors, makes the whole thing come out weirdly authentic. The obvious dramatisation of the real, somehow takes the place of reality. This use of television drama directing, somehow bypasses the pursuit of replacing reality through convincing cinema, and cuts straight to the convincing proposal to just accept it as real. Furthermore this format offers a very natural space for descriptive narration. The actors act out interview situations, describing their inner conflicts and observations verbally; long explanatory monologues abound; situations are outspoken as they occur by overlayed comments or outspoken reactions to a moment. And it all comes out natural, because it is such a well-known trait of the genre and medium. Gilligan seems to use this factor, quite consciously, especially in the instances when she breaks away from it. The murder scenes are the most obvious examples of this. In these kitchen knives levitate in the air by themselves, wielded by no hand. Somewhat clumsily they just hang there in the air, crudely attached to the space, before they plunge down on an unsuspecting character. Cut to, close up of gore; a sort of generic pile of meat and blood, being stirred in and chopped at by the knife. Not really applied special effects, rather analogical placeholder of such an effect. We do the visual math ourselves and completes the visceral gore fest.

I relate tremendously to the work of Gilligan and I reflect my own work in hers, in three specific ways. One, the way that the dramatisation is revealed to be a construct and in this aim at bypassing the illusion for a more conscious acceptance of construction as reality. Two, the way that the socio-political realm spun around modern finance is described in a fantastical optic, where the weird (and the eerie) co-exists with dead-pan everyday motions. And three, the way genre is used deliberately to circumvent conventions in the field of video art. But in each of these connections, there are differences in approach.

Where Gilligan chooses the television format, that instantly moves her work away from cinema, I choose in my work to stay within the cinematic. I am interested in approaching that illusionist space of cinema; brush up against it, enter it and then at moments strangely glitch out of it. I deliberately make use of many of the tools in the production of a cinematic reality, and only do little shifts in its logic in order to arrive somewhere else. When I say, cinematic reality, I am referring to a certain condition or mood, that is visually and experientially recognised and shared by most, on account of how contemporary reality is often reflected in and mediated through a certain cinematic format. In the same way that Gilligan pushes away from the television medium by introducing moments of different experimental material (the gore), I perform swerves inside the totality of the illusion, steering clear of its transfixing hold. These take the form of revelations of the construct of the illusory condition: The machinery of the production literally visible in the frame (dolly tracks, crew-members, body-cams, set pieces etc.); unrehearsed acting making the delivery of dialogue trail or waver; shifts in technical mediums, distorting the high production value feel of a thing as it passes to lower resolution cameras, filtering, computer generated augmented realitiy or hard cuts to obviously computer generated sequences. The swerve is there to create cognition around the act of experiencing, and hopefully from here accept this cognitive form of emergence.

Where the fantastical dimensions of Gilligan’s work most often is an integral part of the narrative, quite directly shaping a space of metaphors that comment on the realm of neoliberal politics and economy, I try to let the fantastical create more of a kind of undertow. I have been more and more interested in merely letting the socio-political field of inquiry, set a scene from where a certain fantastical dimension can arrive, i.e. a conference set in the world of finance, that sets the scene for something other and foreign to emerge. This fantastical dimension can be summoned by a shift in the nature of things on screen, most presently in the temporality of this nature. Moments of extended duration, actions repeating ,looped narrative structures, shifts in tempo, or edits that bluntly fall onto the floor. The narrative structure is there, but it is a deliberate choice that this narrative often seeps out into more folded and circular timelines, loosing track of the linear story, and rather moving towards the shaping of a mood or condition.

Gilligan makes use of the episodic dramas of television to create her own style of video art installations (emphasised in the way she installs her work on flatscreen monitors attached to sculptural metal grits; the scaffolding-like structures connecting each screen, forming placeholders for an imagined programmed duration in-between episodes). Her use of the horror genre is arguably an adaptation of its plot-driven structure, leading up to a confrontation with the monstrous entity of The Spirit. A climactic resolution. In contrast, my work is informed by the horror genre in a more un-evental way, closer related to a temporal nature, latent and immanent to the genre. It isn’t about a monster of horror serving as metaphor for Absolute Capitalism, what The Spirit could arguably be in 'Popular Unrest', it is about attempting to stay with the horror aspect, monster aside. Utilising recognisable traits and rhythms of the genre, to enable explorations into the horror of finance, always refraining from pinning it on an actual monster. An acknowledgement of the way that this monstrosity is really absolute and that the severing of one of its tentacles will only outgrow a new. Without a monster this financial realm shapes an absolute condition and to counter-act within this, one must first learn to exist within it (to survive the night in its haunted mansion) and from here perform sabotage-acts of stupidity and chaos.