Archives for posts with tag: Andrew Kötting

I came across this film earlier this week when it was mentioned on a music website, since it features a new song by Radiohead’s Thom Yorke. It’s a promotional film for a New York fashion label featuring a couple of up-and-coming screen actors, and lensed by the celebrated Iranian cinematographer Darius Khondji, who has worked as director of photography on films by directors such as David Fincher, Wong Kar-Wai, Danny Boyle and Michael Haneke. However, for me what is most striking and surprising about the film is the use of the unique camera rigs designed by British experimental film-maker, Tony Hill, an artist whose work I’ve been interested in since seeing the dizzying Downside Up (1984) some thirty years ago, as well as Peter Care’s 1985 video for the song ‘Sensoria’ by Cabaret Voltaire that used the same rig. More recently Hill collaborated with the remarkable director Andrew Kötting on his latest film, Eden Walks (2017), which Andrew screened for us at the Mobilities Literature Culture conference I co-organised in Lancaster University in 2017.

Hill has produced a singular body of film and video pieces that explore systematically the different ways in which mobile cameras see the world. As it happens, he has also produced some of the most formally self-conscious examinations of the relationship between cinema and the bicycle. At just over a minute long, his 2013 film, Bike, shows a man setting off on a leisurely bicycle ride, and comprises shots from three cameras, one mounted inside a wheel rim, one on a pedal, and one looking down on the rider from above; the resulting images are so radically disorienting that viewing the film is a uncomfortable experience. In general Hill’s films show us images of familiar scenes – streets, beaches, swimming pools, gardens, faces – that are made strange through unconventional camera placement.

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What we see in Bike is a defamiliarizing machine’s-eye view, the camera moving through space in ways that are physically impossible for a person. Rather than a brief film of a middle-aged man riding a bicycle, Bike is a bewildering, kinetic collision of distorted, shifting perspectives on the world in which the movements of the machines – cameras and bicycle – are the focus, rather than the rider.

 

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Rotation is also the subject of A Short History of the Wheel (1992), which dissolves from shots of slowly turning cart wheels – the camera revolving with the wheels, so that the world appears to spin while the wheels remain still at the centre of the image – to the wheel of a tractor, then a car, then a bicycle. Literally revolutionary, this 60-second film makes a quietly provocative claim in placing the bicycle at the end of this narrative sequence. As Hill remarks, the film starts ‘with a primitive hand-drawn cart and [moves] through horsepower and machine age tractor and car to the ultimate wheeled transport, the bicycle’.

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One of the fascinating features of Hill’s films is that the cameras move in apparently impossible ways. It is difficult to work out how the images we see on screen have been achieved. However, in this new film, finally, the ingenious rigs themselves are as much the focus of the film as the shots they are achieving, since the film shows us actors and dancers – and Hill himself – operating the rigs inside an empty warehouse.

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It reveals the way the shots are achieved, and it is appropriate that one of these devices – presumably a version of the contraption used to shoot A Short History of the Wheel – is essentially a four-wheeled variation on the bicycle. Cinema and the modern bicycle are communications technologies that developed almost simultaneously in response to the demand for greater speed and mobility that characterises late 19th century modernity, and this hybrid machine is the very embodiment of that history, fusing the camera with the bicycle.

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I have been involved with co-organizing and running an international, interdisciplinary conference Mobilities Literature Culture, which took place at Lancaster University at the end of last week. It was one of the most interesting and enjoyable research events I’ve participated in, bringing together artists and academics working in a variety of fields from science and technology studies through to mediaeval history, literary theory, tourism studies and continental philosophy. The conference opened with a superb plenary presentation by my friend Kat Jungnickel on Victorian women’s cycling costumes, ‘Secret Cycling Selves: How Victorian women negotiated multiple mobile identities through patented cycle wear’. Focusing on the 1890s and drawing on archival research her paper examined the sometimes elaborately engineered cycling outfits designed and patented by Victorian women to allow them to ride bicycles safely, comfortably and, crucially, with minimal verbal and physical abuse. Riding a bicycle – even one with a step-through frame – in a voluminous walking skirt with petticoats, bustles and corsets was both difficult and dangerous as the metres of fabric could easily get tangled in wheels and chains or snagged on other bikes, vehicles or obstacles. However, for some middle-class women riding in ‘rational’ clothing such as bloomers was too radical a gesture, since rational cycling wear was revealing (exposing the movement of the legs), was regarded as non-feminine, and was also politically confrontational, closely associated as it was with the suffrage movement. The ingenious solution for the designers discussed by Kat was to engineer skirts that could be transformed into practical riding apparel when cycling, and could be converted back to a skirt when the rider dismounted (as if she were a discreet Victorian superhero). For the presentation, Kat wore a Victorian outfit and concluded the presentation by climbing onto a chair to demonstrate the Bygrave ‘Convertible’ skirt (which she manufactured from the original patent with a research team) using hidden cords to gather the ground-length skirt into knee-length festoons that would allow the rider to mount and ride a bicycle easily and with attracting undue attention.

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Action-academic Kat Jungnickel (photographed by Jo Taylor) demonstrating the Bygrave skirt.

Blurring the boundaries between academic presentation and performance art in quite a unique way, the paper also exposed the huge gaps in histories of the bicycle and cycling culture with regard both to women cyclists, and to the central role played by women in developing and manufacturing bicycles and the accompanying technology. The paper was derived from the research project, Bikes and Bloomers, and is the basis for a forthcoming book.

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The conference closed with a preview screening of Edith Walks, the newest film by director Andrew Kötting, a prolific film-maker, writer and visual artist whose films have been preoccupied with landscape, movement, travel, and literary and cultural histories (and who, in the sort of serendipity that structures all of his work, happened to have worked with Kat on one of his early projects, Mapping Perception). Made on the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings, the film is a fragmentary, comic account of a 108-mile walk made by Andrew and five others, from Waltham Abbey where some of King Harold’s body parts are supposedly buried, to St Leonard’s-on-Sea, where there is a weathered seafront statue of a dying Harold in the arms of his ‘hand fast maiden’ ‘Edith Swan-neck’. As Andrew explained in the Q and A afterwards, the film is a visually rich ‘bricolage’ that was largely shot on iphones and is accompanied by a soundtrack that blends location sound, music and samples in a similarly dense collage. Andrew, who is dressed as the ghost of Harold in the film, was accompanied by his close collaborator Iain Sinclair, performance artist Claudia Barton – who was embodying Edith – photographer Anonymous Bosch, and musicians David Aylward and Jem Finer (late of the pogues). The point of the walk, Sinclair explains at the beginning of the film which was shot in the run-up to the EU referendum, is to ‘explore English values’, and the film’s central argument is that history is not consigned to the depths of the past but continually resurfaces in the form of reconfigured narratives and unanchored images; as the writer Alan Moore observes at one point, ‘the past is never put away’. It was an extraordinary film as well as the perfect conclusion to the conference.

Andrew related in the post-screening Q and A with my friend Brian Baker and myself that his approach to film-making and creation was dependent upon ‘happenstance’, and it is clear with a number of his films that he is concerned less with telling stories, than with staging encounters or loosely planned situations and then documenting on film and video the unpredictable ways that these encounters play out. One of the things I have always found powerful about Andrew’s films is that they encourage you to look differently at the landscape around you, to see its strangeness, but also to notice and reflect upon the significance of small details, of connections and repetitions, contingency and coincidence.

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Edith Walks (Kötting, 2017) – Aylward, Barton, Kötting, Finer

As an example, having written a short blog entry about bicycle music last week, I was struck by a brief scene where the motley troupe intercept a couple of cyclists on their walk and begin making music from their bicycles, Finer and Aylward using violin bows to play the spokes, while Barton sings along with them. As Andrew explained, in ‘playing the bicycles’ they were also ‘playing the landscape’