Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Robinson in Ruins

Really delighted that Robinson in Ruins is screening at the cornerhouse next Tuesday, its open to anyone to attend (normal going to the pictures ticket prices apply obviously)
Details are here:

Here's summat I wrote about the film after I first saw it (i really should get the website sorted shouldn't I so I get these things posted when I write them)

Reflections on Robinson in Ruins

Robinson in Ruins is Patrick Keiller’s third film – after London and Robinson in Space – exploring England through the travels of the enigmatic Robinson. His findings are imparted by a narrator, Vanessa Redgrave, who informs us our anti-hero is concerned England is suffering “a great malady, that I shall dispel… by making picturesque views, on journeys to sites of scientific and historic interest.” By coincidence (or not) his quest coincides with global economic crises and New Labours demise.

Keillers’ film is poetic rather than polemic but still didactic.   His style contrasts with Adam Curtis's franticness, although both seek to weave together disparate political and historical strands to illuminate our current state.  Keiller has distanced himself from the label psychogeography but it is easy to see why it still sticks as he unravels the complex layers creating “place”.  Robinson celebrates the seemingly banal , which on closer inspection of course proves rather fascinating. However there is an implicit nostalgic tendency in much psychogeography.  Visions of a brighter future – if they exist at all – are vague and rather conservative.  Keiller avoids this; his investigation is a call to arms.

The landscape is not merely a palimpsest; if echoes resonate we should heed their lessons and view radical history as a catalyst.  This is made clearer in the essay by geographer Doreen Massey which accompanies the film. Both Massey and Keiller share a pragmatic emphasis on the reality rather than  aesthetic visions of space. There is a tangible rootedness in the country Robinson explores although he places it within an invisible web of energies. Massey’s words illuminate the previous Robinson in Space “amid the Ridley Scott images of world cities...the Baudrillard visions of hyperspace...much of life for many people, even in the heart of the First World, still consists of waiting in a bus shelter with your shopping for a bus that never comes.”

Power structures, and struggles, shape our landscape. The countryside is still viewed as a rural idyll or heritage attraction despite, for example, military ownership, bunkers hidden in the undergrowth and animals suffering in factory farms. Agri-businesses blur boundaries for the benefit of hungry urban bargain hunters. Can such places even be viewed as rural? The system creates a strange netherworld. 

Robinson “believed that he could communicate with a network of non human intelligences that had sought refuge in marginal and hidden locations.”  The peoplelessness of Keillers’ film is uncanny but telling: we have an urgent need to learn language of the landscape.  There is meditativeness but not passivity in Keillers’ elegant visual style. It utilises languorous static shots of nature sound-tracked by tales of evictions, enclosures and PFI follies.  There is dry wit accompanying despair; a celebration of the beauty and tenacity of lichen which mocks Blairite notions of modernity.

We are reminded Capitalism is not “natural”: markets destroy nature. For example, dependence on oil and its derivatives makes us complicit in war and desecration. The commodification of land, and labour at a local and global level is a recurring theme.  Massey again: “in terms of power, the 'national' working class (of whatever ethnic origin) has no more ownership than does the recent migrant. There is common cause here.”  Oppression and displacement transcend local borders, nationalism and race. To get to the heart of the problem we must “Ask not 'do you belong to this landscape?' but 'does this landscape belong to you.”

This is true wherever we are.  As I type this the view from my window is dominated by “I heart Manchester” banners.  These reveal something crucial about the (re)manufacturing of cities. The riots were the product of myriad factors; the frankly bizarre official response was a marketing campaign apparently suggesting we can shop our way out of inequality.  I do indeed love my city but not uncritically. This is a place with a shameful public health record, acute deprivation outside the shiny core – and an abundance of buddleia.

We must beware the romance of ruins which so much contemporary art is enthralled with.   Robinson is not simple propaganda; viewers need to unpick the code behind Keillers images.  Effort is rewarded for although it may seem tempting to lose oneself in the striking visuals the narrator juxtaposes them with horror stories from the torture of Bartholomew Steer to David Kelly's suicide. Robinson’s little epiphanies rupture the comfortable hegemonic illusion and remind us of the political construction of landscape.

Massey conceptualises space as “a contemporaneous multiplicity of stories” this implies a dynamic process.  We stand in landscape that tells an ongoing story. We can influence future development. We must consider the implications of our actions, and critically examine our perceptions of place, because they have a direct impact on what happens next. Robinson ponders whether financial crisis might be part of a “larger, historic shift” as the shadow of ecological, as well as economic, collapse hovers over the landscape due to the unnatural forces of Capitalism.  A difficult question beautifully asked. I hope we can learn from the mutuality of lichen.

Friday, 1 February 2013

This weekend

first sunday is six this weekend! please join us for a loiter meeting at the victoria stature in piccadilly gardens at 2pm. there will be baked goods xx