Jamie Shovlin’s Hiker Meat is the second of two large-scale exhibitions at Cornerhouse to be based entirely around a single film. The key difference with last Winter’s Double Indemnity is that this film – a grimy 1970s exploitation flick with a chequered production history – never actually existed. Text, image, sculpture and film combine in the gallery spaces to summon up a rich fiction, subsequently explored in the feature-length film Rough Cut. Luke Healey interviewed the artist by e-mail.
Luke Healey: It seems to me there are two antithetical plays being made in this exhibition: on the one hand, there is the bittiness of the multi-channel installation and the other, fascinating video installation on the top floor, which reveal the painstaking creation of individual scenes based on carefully-selected fragments of existing film footage. This is kind of Godardian – it seems dedicated to disturbing the film-viewing experience, to revealing the millions of tiny acts that prop up cinema’s “smoothness”. On the other hand, the fiction presented downstairs is very smooth – it is a well-plotted story which keeps you reading from one wall panel to the next. There is love and pleasure in this fiction, and an obvious absorption in the details of this fictional but life-like world. How do you conceive of the interaction of reality and fiction throughout this project?
Jamie Shovlin: Rough Cut is an attempt to distil the nature and breadth of a five-year project, Hiker Meat, into a 90-minute feature film. The film ostensibly attempts to recreate several sequences of Hiker Meat, a collage I put together entirely comprised of clips from other films. Within Rough Cut there are two intertwined timelines. The first, formed primarily from interviews with Mike Harte (the writer of Hiker Meat) and Euan Rodger (who composed the score for Hiker Meat and Rough Cut,) covers the genesis of the overall project, from its origin as filler content in the earlier Lustfaust project [LUSTFAUST: A FOLK ANTHOLOGY 1976-1981 (2006)]to its’ end point in the Lake District last year, which is where the second timeline begins. That covers the 3-week period spanning the shoot in the Lake District, where we attempted to re-shoot shot-for-shot some parts of Hiker Meat, to the dubbing and Foley studio sessions where we built the sound for Hiker Meat from scratch. There’s an additional timeline in the exhibition – the fictional historical timeline of Hiker Meat, supposedly a film that was produced in the late 1970s and subject to editorial interference throughout its short-lived history.
The installation on the second floor, Rough Cut (Expanded Version), is a five-screen synchronous projection that focuses more on the mechanics of making a low-budget film with extremely limited means. Hiker Meat (Extended Takes), on the top floor, is a single-screen chronological account of each of the 125 shots we were trying to achieve whilst in the Lake District with each shot preceded by a notice defining its action and the shots’ source in an earlier film. Both of these works really re-focus the centre of the endeavour as stated. Roughly speaking, we had this week to get as many of those 125 shots, so that was superficially our ‘goal’. The reality was that what would happen in the working and social circle around that endeavour would be more interesting, so that’s what the project would make its focus.
The layout in Gallery 1 is predicated on the basis that you know this film Hiker Meat, presented here as an Italian film made in 1979 that floated through multiple identities as a consequence of its distribution, is a construction. The interplay between object and text, character and activity, is therefore easier to see in relation to its construction within the layout as opposed to its forwarding its narrative as an actual history. The constructed history of Hiker Meat was generated in much the same way as the collage film, as a composite of actual directors and producers that were working and notorious in the late 1970s exploitation era. With both processes, there was attempt to collate an essence of those films and filmmakers through collaged material and so it became less about the interplay between fact and fiction and more about the relationship between process and collaboration.
LH: How invested did you become in making this feel like a “real film”? Were you tempted at any point to actually make Hiker Meat in full? Were you tempted to “reunite” Lustfaust to play at the opening?!
JS: Early on, perhaps back in 2009 at the project’s onset, there was an idea to (re) make Hiker Meat in full, re-filming everything shot-for-shot with a new cast and crew. That idea fell away pretty quickly and it became clear that the absence of film was an integral part of the project. At that point, I was more interested in using the film as a device to create secondary media like posters and props that would substantiate the film’s narrative, characterisation and content. It gradually became interesting that we might make a film about the project and about the non-existent film at the heart of the project, that would not be the film itself and Rough Cut was born. In re-shooting the opening and closing scenes of Hiker Meat alongside the trailer, I was thinking of how little of the film could we provide so the rest of the film could exist in a viewer’s head.
We talked about a Lustfaust performance and I think we all agreed that it would be a very, very weird thing to happen now. By the time they became a ‘band’ back in 2007, I wasn’t interested in who would appear on stage and constitute Lustfaust. I was more excited by the construct as a notion to perform within. Euan scores Hiker Meat but as Lustfaust. It was interesting talking to him about the degree to which his writing was natural – him working as a musician – and how much he was self-consciously embodying and performing the creation of a period-specific score supposedly written by a band. I think he worked across both approaches interchangeably.
LH: In the multi-channel installation, in the scene where you are shooting the “Lambton Worm”, it seems like just about everybody on set is holding a camera of some sort. Clearly it was a fun moment to be involved with and everybody wanted their own memento of this. But given that the project has already brought into play all these levels and meta-levels of camera-work (Rough Cut is a film about the filming of a film, based on a splicing of dozens of other films, which doesn’t actually exist) it ends up standing out as a key scene, one which offers a commentary on the ubiquity of photography and the self-reflectiveness of media in the present. Did these factors enter into your mind at any point in the development of Rough Cut/Hiker Meat?
JS: Absolutely. I mentioned at the beginning of the shoot that I wanted footage from whatever recording device was available to any of the people on location, wherever and whenever they saw fit. I liked the idea of access to an expanded field of vision that would cover front and rear of the shot, location and people present. Naturally, it was the bigger set pieces where everyone wanted to have a camera ready.
The worm procession was really a consequence of exhaustion. In many ways the construction of the worm was emblematic of the larger approach within the project. It was a full-scale prop, arduously built by propmakers Kev Thornton and Karla von Denkoff over several months and finished on location the night before the final day of the shoot. The worm was constructed with full knowledge that, within the recreated shots of Hiker Meat, it appears in a single shot as a silhouette for about 5 seconds. Prior to its journey downstairs to be part of that – and our final – shot, we decided that we needed to commemorate, if only for our own morale, the moment and so the multi-camera procession happened. In the end, the document of that process became as valuable as the shot itself. In fact the shot itself provided a circular analogy for the entire process as, after our final take, Kev, the maker of the worm and puppeteer for the shot, is ‘re-born’ out of his own creation. It felt like a perfect accident, well, less so for Kev who was stuck in various stress positions under a very heavy giant latex worm for the duration of the take, but it seemed somewhat inevitable.
LH: Related to this, I was interested in the fact that the multi-channel installation/Rough Cut doesn’t feature any footage of post-production work (besides foleying and voice-dubbing) – I was curious to see whether or not we’d be given any insight into the filters being used to make clips look believably “retro”. But the toggling between the filter and “no filter” shots in the video upstairs (I was in the gallery when the clips taken from the opening credit sequence were playing) resonated interestingly with certain contemporary discussions around the use of artificial patina in art and everyday cultural practice. How do you understand the aesthetics of this project in light of widely-available “nostalgia industry” technologies like Instagram?
JS: Within Rough Cut (Expanded Version), there’s a short breakdown of the grading process in the chase sequence, where we take crisp HD footage and make it look like 16mm film. Ultimately one example served as sufficient as I didn’t want it to become a fetishised fanboy-tech process. I was keen to avoid using the degraded picture as a purely aesthetic device. I wanted it to be present in the same way the shot matching and sound construction was – so it could be taken apart.
We had a discussion early on about whether we should use 16mm in Rough Cut. We didn’t as it’s a nightmare to use on location and, as a contemporary equivalent, Digital SLR (which the re-shot sequences were recorded on) is to my mind as close as it gets. We also had a wide variety of different recording devices capturing the action, from broadcast quality HD video to camera-phone footage, so there’s a good span of contemporary recording capabilities. I think the idea of the drop – where we change from Rough Cut to Hiker Meat onscreen – was mooted so that there wouldn’t be an overindulgence in the seductiveness of using the Instagram-like filter. When it came to grading the rest of Rough Cut, we barely touched the footage as it felt like it would be being unfaithful to the experience of its recording.
LH: Finally, does this exhaustive rendering of the whole Hiker Meat concept signal its end as a working idea? Or could it open out into a new, related project, as happened with the Lustfaust pieces?
JS: It feels like an appropriate end. But then so did the first show we did with the Lustfaust archive at the ICA back in 2006. A lot of people have remarked that they’d like to see the entirety of Hiker Meat re-made, which I find quite funny as one of the reasons we didn’t want to fully realize it was that we knew it was essentially a very bad film. I’m not sure if the approach to remaking it in its entirety could transcend the quality of its content, but it’s something I wouldn’t mind seeing come to fruition. As long as I’m not involved.