A sand-covered landscape in Vietnam. A figure walks with a metal detector around the rim of what appears to be a crater-like recess in the landscape. From above, the camera absorbs the width of the crater’s basin, showing how the sand has layered to create concentric rings, like the inside of a tree. The figure looks down and scours the landmark’s edges for metal. This is Quang Tri province in Vietnam, known for once holding the largest concentration of undetonated artillery in the country. It is also a place where scrap metal is searched to be sold on for profit (despite the danger) and where poetry is recounted and shared between those living centrifugally to the craters and vast landscape. In Pham Thu Hang’s hypnotic film, ‘The Future Lies Beneath Our Soil’ (2019) the contradictions of surviving at the peripheries of a place layered in so much violent history are unravelled in a series of images, dreamlike and foreboding.
Themes of borders, margins and edgelands figure in many of the works comprising HOME’s fifth Artist Film Weekender. Curated by Alice Wilde and Jamie Allan, the programme spotlights the work of established and emerging female artists. A rare joyous screening of the 1981 film Freak Orlando by Ulrike Ottinger is shown on Saturday evening, with a pairing of works by veteran filmmaker Trinh T. Minh-ha and emerging artist Onyeka Igwe on Sunday, creating new elisions and counterpoints between filmmakers interested in the politics of representation.
Screened on the second day of the weekend, Rhea Storr’s immersive films explore the rich cultural history and significance of Junkanoo, a carnival of the Bahamas. Examining carnival’s relationship to questions of identity, belonging, appropriation and spectacle, her work is also anchored in a close attentiveness to detail, and to the craft of creating costumes for Junkanoo. In the opening film, ‘Junkanoo Talk’ (2017) scenes shift like microscopic slides as the method of cutting crepe paper to create costumes is focused in on. Seams, creases and folds are filmed close-up, the images seemingly accelerated by the fast-paced soundtrack of Rake ‘n’ Scrape, a music specific to the Bahamas. Storr’s three films are interwoven together by a quivering blue screen and a narrator ruminating on ideas of Afro-futurism. (In the Q&A later, the artist speaks of her growing interest in Afro-futurism as a space of radicalism, of play). Evocative and deeply researched, Storr’s involving work is one of the standouts of the weekend.
The Colombian filmmaker Laura Huertas Millán and the British artist Beatrice Gibson share an interest in creating experimental portraits of queer lives to explore ideas of oppression and resistance. Beatrice Gibson’s film ‘I Hope I’m Loud Before I’m Dead’ (2018), the opening work of the weekend, features radical queer poets CAConrad and Eileen Myles, while in Laura Huertas Millán’s film, ‘Jeny 303’ (2018), a transwoman narrates a complex story of love, addiction and violence.
Huertas Millán describes her work as ‘ethno-fictions’, a ‘de-colonial turn’ to render her subject in new ways and away from the ethnographic desire for so called ‘authenticity’. In ‘Jeny 303’ the subject of the work is filmed in a sun-drenched room, the camera level at her height and carefully taking in her arms, neck and colourfully illustrated tattoos. Shot in 16 mm, Jeny’s face is never seen, however her narrative is interspersed with scenes of a deserted building: empty stairwells, courtyards and faded slogans on dilapidated brickwork. These are images of a former university in Bogotá, a site of student resistance in the 1960s. Urged by her father to film the last days of the building before it was demolished, Huertas Millán’s film threads together two seemingly disparate stories to create a compelling portrait of resistance. Her later works ‘Sol Negro’ (2016) and ‘El Laberinto’ (2018) also connect to ideas of architecture and interiority, the works forming a fascinating, poetic triptych. They epitomise the expansive nature of this programme as a whole, rendering in new ways stories of marginalisation, identity and survival.
HOME Artist Film Weekender 2019 is at HOME from 28 November – 1 December 2019.
Isabel Taube is a writer and researcher based in Salford.