Materials: Wood, cardboard, scaffolding poles, polystyrene, dexion, HD video projection, headphones, an independent sound work, a model of Kilburn Tin Tabernacle, wooden fetish sculpture, photographs and a novella.
An Artangel Project (http://www.artangel.org.uk/) Tin Tabernacle, Kilburn, London
The Tin Tabernacle in Cambridge Avenue, London became the site of the film installation Nowhere Less Now by Lindsay Seers during September and October 2012. Addressing the dark legacy of British colonialism, the work comprised of two screens created from a convex (sphere) and concave (hemisphere) mounted on a radio mast, this communications mast was set within the body of an upturned ship. The projections were accompanied by a densely layered sound track on radio headphones and a novel by Ole Hagen (given freely with the exhibition).
The prefabricated Victorian structure which housed the exhibition was opened in 1866. This date coincides with the birth of Seers' great great uncle George and that of her own birth one hundred years later to the day (27.09.66). This triadic relationship between the dates of the characters and the building is the starting point for an endless amount of 'coincidences' that Seers discovers as she travels through history searching for the truth. Taking cues from a photograph of George on a ship called HMS Kingfisher (Zanzibar 1890) she finds far more traces than expected.
Nowhere Less Now is conceptually structured around Henri Bergson's philosophy of memory. Seers takes Bergson's complex proposition of 'intuition as practice' to create a specific method for the act of filming formed from his three fundamental propositions for asking the right creative question. Her method is based on reenactment/evocations that are created to reveal qualitative relationships between things, these connections may be conceptual, historical or visual and emerge as she travels to relevant locations. This associative and ontological method is not only to be found in the act of performing and recording but is also present in the editing process; the film has no preset script and emerges from thousands of fragments from multiple devices (the work can only be written in the making). The resultant installation has an excess of narrative streams and a collage of imagery as time (past, present, future) is compacted. The myriad of connections in the work spill out from the film into objects housed in the building, some planted and some not – and then into the form of the architecture itself which was already made into a ship of sorts in the 1950's.
The accompanying novel by Hagen charts the journey of the installation in London of Nowhere Less Now from the authors (Hagen's) perspective. The long established tradition of the novel and its relationship to film was the impetus for this book. Sometimes a film is based on a novel and sometimes a novel is based on a film – this order of events seems to matter. It is not necessary to do your 'homework' and read this novel – it doesn't explain the film as such – its importance is that it did not come before of after the film it was written during the whole evolution of the work – so Hagen's writing influenced Seers and Seers' actions influenced Hagen's writing – they circumscribe each other. Ideally months or even years later the owner will pick up this free novel given with the exhibition and the work will be reactivated and reformed in the memory in a different way.
The strange, multi-layered monologue about Uncle George and Aunt Georgina that follows is synched to a densely woven visual phantasmagoria in which historical photographs are interwoven with fakes, abstract geometric designs, animation and sequences in which the artist appears dressed as the long-dead ancestors she is telling us about. As you watch, a swift stream of images flows in front of you while that soft, disembodied voice regales you with a tale of uncanny coincidences and blind chance.
As for me, I am confident that Seers is telling two stories: the first is about real things that happened to real people, the second is her fantastically embroidered riff on those things and those people. The first (true) story begins with photographs of the two ancestors she knew nothing about. One showed great-great uncle George as a sailor on the deck of HMS Kingfisher, the other his wife got up in full Masonic ceremonial gear. These clues led Seers to an island off the coast of Zanzibar where – amazingly – she found a tree on which George had carved his name and the name of his ship.
Seers further learnt that she herself had been born 100 years to the day after her great-great uncle’s birth, and that he had died at the age of 48 – uncomfortably close to the age she is now. About Georgina, she knew even less. Obviously, she was a keen Mason at a time when it was unusual for women to be admitted into the secret society, but that’s about it. Except for having a mildly interesting idiosyncrasy – each eye was a different colour – George appears to have been a complete nonentity.
Yet, on this slender foundation, the artist proceeds to erect a baroque fantasy in which the Tin Tabernacle serves as a sort of Tardis, allowing her to travel in her imagination back and forth in time, taking on the personas of both George and Georgina.
We meet a large cast of characters including a man named Edward George, whose father had been a liberated slave in Zanzibar who may have known George Edwards. If I sound doubtful, it is because the story grows ever more convoluted, and by now I didn’t trust Seer, who, to say the least, is not a reliable narrator. There is a lot of flimflam about twins and aliens, and about death, destiny and memory. But as all of this rushes past, you begin to realise that what did or did not happen to Uncle George is beside the point.
What matters is that someone went in search of him, and in doing so caused him to live again in memory. And, Seers concludes, it is in memory that we come to know who we are. How do we find a meaning in our lives? Where do we start to search for it?
For the people who first worshipped in the Tin Tabernacle, the answer to both questions was: in the word of God. But in a post-Christian era, we must seek the truth about our deepest selves in other ways. If we are not to become trapped in an eternal present, we must keep the past alive by treating its traces – old photos, objects and documents – with the respect such accorded to such relics in more primitive societies.
At times, Seers is so maddeningly fey that you long for her to say what she means in plain English. And yet, after all the flimsy one-liner art I see, I instinctively know when I’m in the presence of an important work by an artist of stature. That is the case here.