The disturbing hum of duplicity is the subliminal sound track of our lives. When politicians play games with our destinies while claiming to be our protectors and assert that saving the world entails the threat to destroy it in a nuclear holocaust, we feel like spectators trapped in poker game with no cards to play. When a politician fights for a cause he does not believe in and then runs away from the consequences we are left with an uneasy feeling that we live in a world of artifice. With the Brexit vote leaving us with a bitter sense of the end of the world as we know it, David Blandy’s 2014 video How to make a Short Video about Extinction (http://davidblandy.co.uk/how-to-make-a-short-video-about-extinction) could not be more current. But like all profound artworks it has universal significance much wider than the political. It reminds us of the dishonesty we are all prone to in our social media world.
There are truly shocking moments of realisation in this video. The seemingly off-the-cuff conversational tone that opens the video is revealed as carefully scripted. We feel cheated, like Dorothy discovering the Wizard of Oz is a little old man or the UK electorate realising that Brexit is not the nirvana that Boris promised. We reflect that political and media images that appear authentic are craftily confected. And then we have to sadly admit that it is our collusion with these representations that preserves this deception.
Thinking about this I realised that a deeper layer of irony is being exposed. Maybe the “script” we see in the video is in fact a transcript of Blandy’s improvised chat. This sense of disequilibrium, our lack of traction on reality and the feeling of “wheels within wheels” is what many of us are experiencing in the current national crisis.
After the introductory tutorial there is a hilarious and telling moment when Blandy switches from his relaxed teacherly voice to the portentous tones of the documentary narrator as the apocalyptic video he has constructed begins. The experience of finding digital images of the apocalypse so pleasurable is not so shocking. Art has often relied on this rubbernecking tendency. Bosch always painted the damned being tortured in hell with more relish than the saved floating heavenwards. We seem to have an atavistic need to have our fears represented. At present the fear of the unknown, the fear of foreigners and the fear of death all seem to be conflated. I’m reminded of Hamlet’s description of death as “the undiscovered country, from whose bourn no traveller returns” and Farage’s notorious Brexit poster referencing an apocalyptic vision of being drowned in a river of migrants.
The text is derived entirely from TED talks. The standard apocalyptic threats – asteroids, plagues and global warning – are illustrated with glorious found footage from Youtube animations. Then we get a more outlandish possibility. Could a global depression epidemic be the cause of our extinction…what a depressing thought.
The sequel to this video, Tutorial: how to make a short video about ideas has just been screened as part of the Random Acts series on Channel 4. As if to rescue us from our anxieties about our impending doom, Blandy now explores an intriguing form of digital immortality where the artist and his audience can form connections long after their physical demise. He also links the artist/audience connection with Bertolt Brecht’s idea of the “fourth wall”. John Smith cites him as having a crucial influence on his films (see my earlier blogpost). If the audience is directly addressed by the performer they are confronted with the artificial nature of the artistic experience and so their engagement with the ideas it presents is more complex and thought through.
Two thoughts were illuminated by these video. Firstly, let’s forget about originality because that is just a mirage in the digital world. Anyway the Greeks probably got there first. There are so many great ideas and images already out there. The artist’s craft is to select, edit and juxtapose them in a way that gives us something new to reflect on. Secondly, and more important, given that we are living under a a dark cloud of doom and division, let’s focus on forming authentic connections with each another.