Aug 8, 2021
TRUE STORIES: SPACES review – impressive short docs from folk horror to a Lebanese marvel
Phuong Le, The Guardian
This short film collection from the True Story platform ranges across continents to look at how we interact with our environment.
Deeply psychogeographical, this collection of documentary shorts from the streaming platform True Story roams among spaces old and new, and across continents. Personal and public memories are intertwined, creating portraits of how human beings interact with their environments, and vice versa. Paul Heintz’s nocturnal Shānzhài Screens is a meditative study of liminal urban spaces, shot in a Chinese district that specialises in fine-art reproductions. Rectangular frames populate the screen, from flickering apartment windows, hurried video calls, to endless replicas of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers. Authenticity is elusive, and loneliness reigns.
Equally intriguing, though somewhat slighter, are Juan Camilo Olmos Feris’s Burning Land and Natalie Cubides-Brady’s Beyond the North Winds: A Post Nuclear Reverie. Shot in northern Colombia, the former is arrestingly cyclic: it begins with the quiet washing of the prize bulls, then plunges straight into the manic energy of their fights, only to end with a stunned silence. Blood is shed, but the violence also binds the community together. In contrast, Cubides-Brady’s short has the feel of a folk horror. After the disappearance of a fictional researcher, the film explores the facts and lore surrounding the Dounreay nuclear power station in Scotland. While the fictional elements prove to be a crutch, the 16mm short is visually mesmerising, viewing the station as a thing of terror and beauty.
Nick Jordan’s Concrete Forms of Resistance is the most compelling work in this selection. Centring on Oscar Niemeyer’s abandoned, dilapidated International Fair project in Tripoli, Lebanon, this architectural marvel takes up 8% of the city’s area, and is beautiful yet ominous; its walls bear the bullet marks where Syrian firing squads carried out executions during the country’s decades-long civil conflict. Originally conceived as a communal, peaceful space, the complex becomes an unwitting, yet resilient monument to wars, unrest, and now the climate crisis.
True Stories: Spaces is on True Story streaming platform
ABANDONED, REHABITED, REVISITED LOOKOUTS
Natural Hosts, directed by Nick Jordan
By Luis Gustavo Cardoso
The abandoned gazebo, built around the huge pine tree, is the opening object of the short film Natural Hosts , filmed with an infrared night vision camera by English director Nick Jordan. It's two minutes in grayscale, an eternal day in which two languages predominate: that of the image, a rough texture, an object that can be seen, a shadow that infiltrates the light; and that of sounds, wind passing through the leaves, rustling in the forest, the woman's voice on the radio making an index of catastrophic, pandemic, human events: a brief history of destruction. The voice and our path are accompanied by the sound of strings that, who knows, offer a theme to our own procession.
Lookout is the wooden structure from which you can see the desert of the real: hunting fields, an abandoned house, traces of the passage of time. Lookout is also the gaze that looks at concrete forms, enters the landscape of rubble, examines the ruins, collects abandoned objects that were able, by themselves, to integrate themselves into nature. Empty gas cans, posters of the hunt, torn scripts, signs reporting the presence of missing animals. Concrete blocks hang from a rope like two sugar tablets waiting to serve tea to the owner of the house who will never return. And the wind, the leaves, the light of an eternal day, and the fungus colonies that grow in every corner with their pure forms.
You enter the house where mattresses, beds, armchairs, chairs, resting places, suffer the wear and tear of absence and time. Where absence and time are still the sentries charging passage through doors, stairs and windows. Only bats challenge your vigil and our gaze: their fast, disorderly flight, guided only by surprise, prophesies the coming pandemics. But bats cannot stand the invading light, the eternal day that reigns in the abandoned house. On the living room ceiling, her small body rests and prepares the antidote for the greatest destructive agent; for the human gaze that passively observes its own destruction. The bat is thus the anti-human; the winged bomb that nature has prepared for the least controllable of its inventions.
Travelling through the house and walking its corridors is to have, on one side, the portraits of the catastrophe that has already befallen us. On the other side, the voice that prophesies from the past; the future event of whose present we are now witnesses. In the background, we know that they are playing strings for a funeral procession. We know of the rustle of the wind in the leaves; of the quick wings that the bat does not control. We know the light that enters. On one side the images and on the other the voice, both running parallel along the corridor. An abandoned house, like an abandoned planet, has many entrances. Entering it is easy, leaving is difficult. And just like bats, we look for an escape route. And let's go through the corridors. We feel that at some point the plug will drop: the images and the voice, which run parallel, will perhaps find themselves inside us."Isn't it bizarre that this most intellectual creature of all is destroying its own house?"
The voice that accompanies us, from beginning to end, is that of English primatologist and anthropologist Jane Goodall, in an interview about environmental degradation and the pandemic. Your deposition lasts two minutes. Director Nick Jordan took it, like a lookout, and climbed his stairs.
BORDERLINES OF THE PRESENT
Concrete Forms of Resistance essay, 2021
PHANTOMS OF RESISTANCE
By Olena Sirbu, Dec 1, 2020
Politkrytyka.org, Political Criticism, Ukraine
Tripoli is one of the largest cities in Lebanon, the second most populous after Beirutand the poorest city on the Mediterranean coast. Architecturally, most of the city issimilar to other cities in the Middle East, but there is one significant difference - the modernist complex of the International Exhibition, which occupies almost a tenth of the city. These monumental buildings were designed in the 1960s by Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, best known for his design of the experimental city of Brasilia, which became the capital of Brazil in 1960. The international exhibition was later named after former Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karame, a Leftist and a proponent of strengthening Muslim political influence in Lebanon.
For the first time, I learned about the International Exhibition in Tripoli from Nick Jordan's film "Concrete Forms of Resistance", which this year could be seen at the screen in the "Thickets" during the Kyiv International Short Film Festival. This show was one of the few when it seemed that we were back in pre-quarantine life - the effect of watching movies together without plastic-marked seats. The show also resonated with the main characters of the film - the buildings of the International Exhibition in Tripoli, modern ruins, which are gradually absorbing the environment.
According to the director himself, he tried to capture the human element, which is manifested in the close relationship between human activity and the reaction of nature to it."The fauna and flora that colonize abandoned spaces are a reflection of human activity, as we have involuntarily created an environment for wildlife to thrive, and often in ways we cannot control."
Comparing Kyiv and Tripoli, especially half a century ago, is not the best idea. But despite the visible differences, the almost imperceptible similarity of these cities is manifested in unfair urban planning and contempt for cultural heritage, its gradual oblivion and disappearance. In this text, I return to Concrete Forms of Resistance to reflect on the socio-cultural contexts of Lebanese history, the utopian ideas of modernist architects, and, most importantly, attempts to overcome socio-economic inequalities through architecture and their impact on the city.
"Golden Age" of Lebanon
In his film, Nick Jordan captures the current economic and social situation in Lebanon through the stories of six narrators living in Lebanon. And also how carpenters, whose workshops are located on the territory of the International Exhibition, earn a living to afford basic necessities. According to the director, his film is associated with "the loss of public space or the unrestrained commercialization of public space, as well as the lack of affordable housing." Lack of social housing and accessible public spaces are inextricably linked to the political history of independent Lebanon. In its history, only a short period has been marked by reforms in the social sphere for the benefit of the majority of the population, and it is with this period that the buildings of the International Exhibition in Tripoli are connected.
Lebanon gained independence from France in 1943, and for several decades before the 1975 civil war was one of the few economically prosperous countries in the region, not least thanks to foreign investment. Nevertheless, Lebanon's political system after gaining independence only remotely resembled a democratic one.
In 1958, General Fouad Shehab was elected President of Lebanon, which for a short time gave a chance to socio-economic reforms and hopes for a fairer state. As a result, in the 1960s, the Lebanese government introduced elements of the welfare state, accompanied by significant investment in the social sphere. In particular, water supply has expanded, rural areas have been electrified and the health sector has improved. Lebanon's political and religious elite did not support Fuad Shehab's socio-economic, political and administrative reforms and sought to maintain a status quo that prioritized their financial interests over the needs of the majority. Therefore, the government was unable to continue the reforms initiated by the politician after the end of his presidential term in 1964.
Despite the government's efforts to implement social reforms in the country, urban development lacked proper control over urban planning. This has led to the uneven development of urban areas, including the coexistence of luxury housing in central areas and informal settlements on the outskirts, deepening economic inequality, overpopulation, destruction of architectural monuments, privatization of urban infrastructure, including in the medical field. Ignoring the need for social infrastructure and investing in real estate for quick profits has resulted in the construction of luxury villas and housing estates instead of affordable housing, hospitals, schools and libraries.
War for the city
In 1962, Lebanese government officials invited architect Oscar Niemeyer to design the International Exhibition Complex. This project was one of the attempts to decentralize Lebanon's economic and cultural activities, which have so far been mainly concentrated in Beirut. Due to mistakes in construction, use of poor quality materials, corruption, and most importantly - resistance from Syria. The construction of the International Exhibition lasted more than ten years, and its opening was scheduled for 1976. However, in 1975 a civil war broke out in Lebanon, which lasted 15 years and left unfulfilled the dream of a utopian mirage in the Lebanese desert. During the civil war, the exhibition buildings were used as a base for the Syrian military. According to Miri Minkara, a Tripoli resident, tour guide and activist for the preservation of the international exhibition, these buildings have been used as a military base for longer than anything else.
In addition, according to researcher and dean of the School of Architecture at the Royal College of Art in Britain, Adrian Lahud, the project of the International Exhibition was to mark the process of forming a new identity of a country seeking to free itself from the burden of postcolonial past. "The need to find a language or grammar to convey the universality of this desire, along with the practical requirements for the place of exhibition, was to be formed within the barely defined outlines of the national imagination. This problem was exacerbated in a state with only a nominal form of representative democracy and state institutions in their infancy, which had little social legitimacy.”
The choice of the architect to design the exhibition was not accidental. Oscar Niemeyer had left-wing political views and was a communist, which was in line with the political course of Lebanon at the time. At the same time, he came from outside Europe, and therefore did not evoke "associations" with the colonial past of the state. According to Mira Minkara, the decision in favor of Oscar Niemeyer was also related to the process of migration of Lebanese to Brazil, which began in the late nineteenth century and continued throughout the twentieth century.
According to Mira Minkara, government officials forced residents and landowners in the part of the city where the international exhibition was planned to sell their land for nothing. In fact, the state took away local land. However, according to Mira Minkara, this has had a positive effect on the city, because, given the general lack of urban planning, over the years, this place could become a chaotically built center of luxury real estate. Instead, today it is a 100-hectare plot of land inside Tripoli that is free of buildings and cars, much of which is a green area. Given the location of Tripoli in the context of climate change, this provides additional arguments for the transformation of the abandoned complex into an urban public space-park.
Forms of resistance
According to director Nick Jordan, the architecture of the international exhibition in Tripoli is opposed to the influence of time, environment and historical events, especially those related to the Civil War. "I feel the resistance of the Lebanese people, who have been through so much but are still boldly fighting the corruption of the government and the economic injustice they face every day. " Concrete structures - not the most suitable material for the desert climate - are a physical reminder of both the horrors of the civil war and the short period of Lebanese history, marked by relative economic prosperity and social change.
According to Oscar Niemeyer, despite being significantly different from other city buildings, the International Exhibition was to be integrated into the space thanks to several roads that would cross it and connect the complex with the surrounding areas. Initially, it was planned that part of the complex and the city near the coast would be occupied by a new residential area with collective housing, but it was never built. The desire to build such housing, in turn, was associated with the utopian ideas of Oscar Niemeyer, some of which are quoted in the words of the architect himself in the film Nick Jordan. According to Niemeyer, in the future housing should become simpler and cease to be divided into slums and palaces. According to the architect, “now the advantages of architecture are used only by those who have money. The rest live in the wilds.” .Therefore, Niemeyer conceived the architecture of the future as open to all. However, in the case of the International Exhibition it happened differently. In addition to the fact that its territory is now closed to the public, the exhibition itself, unlike the original plans, was built in such a way that its space formed an airtight elliptical shape, separated from other parts of the city by a four-lane highway.
The International Exhibition in Tripoli differs from other similar complexes in that the exhibition space is complemented by buildings focused on the production of culture, including theater, amphitheater, museums. This resonates with Niemeyer, who believed that in the future theaters, museums, stadiums and cinemas would increase as everyone could afford to visit them, "because today the poor can use nothing, they know architecture only at a distance”. However, even if the International Exhibition had been completed and opened, it would most likely have been used more often by the more affluent inhabitants of Tripoli. After all, one of the narrators in the film "Concrete Forms of Resistance" says that today around the architectural complex live mostly people with high incomes.
Despite attempts to create value for local residents in the form of cultural and residential spaces, the project of the International Exhibition from the very beginning focused on Western businessmen, investors, expats and tourists. Modernist architecture was a pretext for state intervention in urban space and the incomprehensible destruction of much of the city, as well as a tool for creating space that does not fit into the local context. Finally, the project of the International Exhibition "as an instrumental intervention in the urban area seems to be a progressive social reform, but only continues and consolidates the uneven development of the city".
According to Adrian Lahoud, the project of the International Exhibition in Tripoli was directly related to the bureaucratic-technocratic type of state apparatus in Lebanon, which developed in the 60's. However, when the laissez-faire returned to market logic and the movement to the welfare state came to a halt, not least because of the civil war, such a large-scale intervention in the city space became impossible. And Oscar Niemeyer's project was forgotten and abandoned.
According to Mira Minkara, the territory of the International Exhibition used to be associated with the Syrian military base and caused fear in the locals, but today this space is "phantom" - Lebanese people do not associate or identify with it. For a long time it was impossible to approach here physically for security reasons, but now the inhabitants of Tripoli mostly bypass this place because of its actual emptiness, lack of ability to interact with space and bizarre architectural forms, unusual and unlike anything else in the city.
Mira Minkara believes that the territory of the exhibition should be legitimized as an open public space and given the official status of a park area, and the buildings should be recognized as cultural heritage. Today, the organizers of exhibitions, fairs, conferences, installations, concerts sometimes rent part of the buildings of the International Exhibition for their events. In addition, citizens use the area as an area for jogging, walking and relaxing in the shade of trees. But now the architectural complex is closed to the public, so only holders have access to it. The closure of the International Exhibition becomes apparent from the first frames of the film "Concrete Forms of Resistance", when the viewer sees the concrete walls surrounded by iron wire. These walls seem to protect the area from unwanted guests.
In 2004, the Tripoli Chamber of Commerce and Industry developed a project to transform the International Exhibition into a tourist destination that could be visited by millions of tourists each year. Other plans for the exhibition include the creation of a business hub on its territory. The authors of such projects do not care much about the preservation of the original complex or worry about its architectural integrity. In the film, Vassim Nagy, an architect and professor at the University of Lebanon, notes that cooperation with the private sector in preserving the International Exhibition is possible only if a national strategy for the protection of architectural heritage is adopted. Only this will protect the architectural complex, and potentially - open to everyone's public space, from becoming a commercial theme park. Activists, including Vassim Nagy and Mira Minkara, are currently fighting to create such a space.
Modernist architecture in the cities of Ukraine may also not seem to be of cultural value and worth preserving. Of course, modernist buildings in Ukrainian cities differ from the Rashid Karame International Exhibition: most of them were not designed by "star" architects, so they may raise questions about why they should be preserved and whether it is more appropriate to build something newer, more modern. However, such buildings are often an integral part of the municipal infrastructure of the surrounding urban areas, the construction of which in Soviet times was part of a holistic design and urban planning.
Today in the cities of Ukraine, as well as in Tripoli, there is a lack of integrated urban planning and socially oriented urban policies. Therefore, the chaotic construction of residential complexes and commercialization of public spaces prevails. At the same time, there is a lack of affordable social housing and the development of municipal infrastructure. As in Lebanon, Ukraine does not have a comprehensive policy for the protection of cultural heritage, and therefore state institutions are unable to prevent the destruction of modernist buildings, often with examples of monumental art. Under such conditions, only activists can force decision-makers to take care of the cultural heritage that ultimately belongs to all of us.
The text was published within the framework of the journalistic project "Uncultural Space". The project was implemented with the support of the Foundation. Roses Luxembourg in Ukraine.
CONCRETE HOPE: Concrete Forms of Resistance, directed by Nick Jordan
By Renato Teixeira de Magalhães
“Tripoli was lucky to have this project in the heart of the city, but the project was unlucky to be in Tripoli”. With this sentence, the narrator of Concrete Forms of Resistance (Wassim Naghi) dictates the melancholy tone of his analysis of the design and use of Oscar Niemeyer's architectural project for the Permanent International Fair to be held in the city of Tripoli, Lebanon. I say "would be" because it never really was.
The documentary develops in a technically conventional way and can easily be classified as an exhibition, according to the definitions of Bill Nichols. But the lack of experimentation typical of contemporary cinema finds a strong argument in its favour: utility. Like the aim of an architectural work, as Niemeyer argues, plasticity is of no use if there is no use. In this case, the film, like the Feira project, would become a ruin.
Thus, the narrative line takes us through the history of the city, contrasting Niemeyer's social lines to the real destiny of his work, unfinished due to a civil war, used as a field of execution and even considered to become a commercial centre. Nothing that was imagined at the beginning came true.
Humanity has the power to build, but also to destroy, and in our history, we have made much more use of the second option. Even today, we seek to impose cultures and lifestyles, in a constant clash of worldviews that ends up segmenting us and mischaracterizing the purposes of our planning as a nation. The film thus comments on Lebanon, but is in frequent dialogue with Brazil.
The building represents much more than a simple event that never occurred. It is an idea, a society plan, which celebrates life, pursues equality and values humility, as it is aware that we human beings are finite and insignificant without one another. It is the embodiment of the architect's ideals that clash constantly with the political moment in the world and with its current mode of production, where there is no room for anything other than the superficial, where art resides as a mere product and not as an instrument of change.
In this way, the negligence of city governments towards construction, its abandonment and its isolation from the population, only reinforce the intention of scrapping and the division of peoples. The art here manifested by architecture, which could unite different cultures, as the International Fair was intended to do, is uncharacterized and taken over by war, by the army, by violence.
In this context, the film celebrates Niemeyer's work as resistance. Not only the literal resistance of his concrete that insists on standing, but that of his ideas in a world dominated by hate speech. Ideas that are bombarded, scrapped and neglected, but that continue to survive and, like the concrete, will keep the hopes of a new social organization, that appropriates these spaces for its real purpose.
Senses of Cinema
Reimagining the Film Festival Landscape in the Time of a Global Pandemic:
The 27th Sheffield Doc/Fest
The 27th edition of the UK’s largest documentary festival, the first year under the leadership of Doclisboa’s former director Cíntia Gil and her new artistic team, took place on an online film platform called DocPlayer. The whole program presented on this platform, of which I can only highlight a small section here, is firmly rooted in both historical and contemporary actuality and closely interwoven into the conflicts and contradictions that we are faced with now, thus manifesting cinema both as consolation and a radical platform for change. There are several main themes that become visible and weave through all the strands, yet they all relate to one concept that has suddenly become of greater importance than before the pandemic: namely the landscape and how it represents change, history, memory and, above all, displacement. Sheffield Doc/Fest's 'Ghosts & Apparitions' section occupies a unique position by offering an inventive context surrounding contemporary new documentary cinema, while simultaneously creating parallels between the present and the past. This strand forms an investigation into cinema’s representation of history and its ability to alter it alongside memory and the spectators’ vision of reality. Cinema’s visual flexibility makes the invisible visible as it forces its spectators to look at reality in a different way.
Take Nick Jordan’s Concrete Forms of Resistance, in which the deteriorating state of the massive concrete structures of the Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer in Tripoli, Lebanon, stand central as a metaphor of societal change. After the Lebanese civil war, most buildings in Tripoli had been destroyed – which was seen as an opportunity to build expensive luxury flats in its place, and ultimately meant that only those with money could afford architecture. Jordan predominantly focuses on the relationship between sound and image, making use of voice-overs only, while letting the camera float past the architectural structures. By doing so, the concrete framework, that is still standing in the middle of one of the most expensive neighbourhoods as an abandoned and decaying skeleton, becomes a ghost of a time in which the practise of architecture was closely linked to social questions – to improve living conditions for those in need. The ungainly cement complex thus represents a reflection of resistance and destruction alike born of war.
Jacob Cartwright & Nick Jordan interview, Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, 2019 (Stratum film)
Nick Jordan: Mental State Signs at Paradise Works
by Sara Jaspan
The title of Manchester-based artist Nick Jordan’s current solo exhibition, Mental State Signs, is borrowed from the name of a clinical tool used for assessing mental health disorders and diagnosing psychological conditions. But what does the test really measure? While broadly accepted within common parlance, the term ‘mental health disorder’ seems quite troubling when examined more closely. It suggests that there is either a ‘correct’ order of the mind or an ‘incorrect’ order; a dis-order that needs fixing. You’re either on the ‘right’ side of the line or the ‘wrong’.
Alongside his artistic practice, Nick Jordan has produced mental health training videos for the University of Manchester’s hospital teaching unit, encountering many cases of ‘disorder’ as a result. This latest body of work, presented at Paradise Works, on the border between Manchester and Salford, responds to one kind of psychosis in particular: a manifestation of schizophrenia known as ‘thought broadcasting’, whereby patients believe that their thoughts are being transmitted and heard by others.
Entering the gallery space, you are immediately gripped by a palpable atmosphere of paranoia – strikingly akin to the stifling climate of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. And, as in the dystopian masterpiece; surveillance is a dominating theme.
Two large black-and-white photographs show austere-looking buildings which register as impenetrable watch towers – one with a steely grid of countless blacked-out windows, the other with a plethora of satellite dishes protruding from its roof. Hanging alongside and preserved in two glass display cases are a hoard of complex diagrams, charts, yellowing typewritten letters, peeling photographs, bulky old film reels, and a pile of officious-looking clinical index cards with scrawling handwritten annotations, that carry a faint yet definite hint of obsession and/or compulsion.
An electric buzz and the crackling sound of transmission signals fills the air, leaked from Thought Broadcasting; Jordan’s hybrid documentary which plays in a curtained-off room, featuring a soundtrack score by artist Lord Mongo. Described by Jordan as ‘part clinical-observation video, part psychological horror’, the short film portrays the strangely detached, silently watchful presence of several white-coat clad clinicians, juxtaposed with the fragmented, anxious inner world of a patient plagued by the inescapable army of satellite dishes and transmission towers that now populate the modern landscape (rarely noticed by most due to us growing so accustom to their presence.)
Yet it is the fine, perhaps somewhat arbitrary line between what is judged to be a ‘correctly-ordered’ and a clinically ‘mal-ordered’ (psychotic) view of reality that the exhibition riffs upon. In light of the Edward Snowden revelations of 2013 and growing public awareness of the way that governments and corporations intercept, harvest, monitor and analyse our thoughts, attitudes and behaviours through our online activity; is it not in fact ‘deluded’ to deny that a form of ‘thought broadcasting’ is actually endemic to modern society?
The very notion of anyone possessing a perfect, non-distorted handle on ‘reality’ is also brought into question through the subtle blurring of fact and fiction that occurs throughout the exhibition. The archival material is mostly genuine, salvaged by the artist from the former psychiatry video unit of an abandoned hospital in South Manchester.
Yet it is interspersed with a number of ‘decoys’, such as the drawing of an electricity substation described as being by a schizophrenic patient, but which is really by the artist’s son, Fine Art student Isaac Jordan.
Likewise, the two secretive-looking buildings – one labelled the ‘Psychosis Research Unit Manchester (PRUM)’, the other the ‘Manchester Institute of Psychiatry (MIP)’ – are, in ‘reality’, simply an unidentified block on one of the city’s outer-ring roads, and the locally-nicknamed Toast Rack (previously a catering college, now due to be redeveloped into luxury flats). Elsewhere, a photograph showing a vast store of patient records has in fact – as so often occurs in today’s visually-saturated culture – been digitally manipulated for heightened effect. (Which begs the starkly Platonian question: Is our commonly-shared, strictly-defended understanding of reality nothing more than the version of the world that is presented to us?)
These playful fabrications are mostly the exception to the rule, however. What is most notable overall is the distinctly ‘crazed’ impression that the largely legitimate, seemingly unintelligible collection of archival material gives. Why are we so obsessed with observing, monitoring, documenting and classifying the behaviours of others? Can ‘reality’ really be tamed into the schematic flow charts and technical terms we attempt to map onto it? Who should be the one to judge the ‘reality’ of another or its validity, and what does that judgement (in clinical terms referred to as a patient’s ‘mental test score’) mean? If psychosis is characterized by an impaired relationship with reality, are we not all psychotics together? I.e. ‘normal’.
Nick Jordan: Mental State Signs, exhibition review by Robbie di Vito
Corridor8, June 2018:
Using a combination of museum style presentation, film and found objects, Mental State Signs at Paradise Works (Salford) sets to work on the viewer’s subconscious. The solo-exhibition by Manchester-based artist Nick Jordan contains no immediately obvious or direct message; rather it creates its own kind of psychological space in which only inferences may be drawn that can’t necessarily be traced back to the artist himself.
Traditional display cases and framed documents are offset by text-based paintings and large black-and-white photographs. The work leads the viewer – both literally and conceptually – through the gallery space to the video installation ‘Thought Broadcasting’ (2017) presented at the back in a darkened room. The film draws on real-life accounts of a particular form of schizophrenia whereby the patient believes their thoughts are being transmitted and heard by others, in this case mediated electronically. It is the mistrust of media technologies on the part of these patients that raises the most interesting questions here.
“It’s not just mobile phone signals, my thoughts are carried through electricity, transmitted, everywhere. I can feel it.” *
It seems that, as a society, our only way of dealing with various forms psychosis is to document them fastidiously, from a place of remove. But how far are we willing to discuss the extent to which these disorders are symptomatic and indicative of what is fundamentally wrong with the world we have created for ourselves?
“I think that other people must be sick in some way.”*
After all, can the feeling that one is constantly being watched and surveyed really be the delusion of a paranoid mind in light of today’s ‘surveillance society’ and recent debates surrounding data protection? The whole aesthetic of the show seems to hint that not just media technologies but our urban environment itself (or the combination of these elements) can have a pernicious effect on the human psyche. In Jordan’s work, man-made structures seem more unnatural than ever. Technology emerges as a strange, unsettling force of which humans are subjects rather than masters.
“The technology is already, like, betraying me.”*
The patient interviewed in the film doesn’t necessarily come across as being ‘mentally unstable’, so much as a coherent individual troubled by genuine phenomena. Rather than focusing on attitudes towards those with mental health disorders (though this could be a fruitful line of discussion), Jordan raises a very different set of questions such as: Why do we study these conditions in the way that we do, and why is it that we seem to find mental illness so infinitely more disturbing than physical illness? It is as if society regards ‘neurotic’ conditions as some kind of threat to our way of life.
The attitude of the psychiatric patient towards the world seems more relevant here in its own right, than a discussion around common perceptions of those diagnosed with mental health disorders. What is truly unsettling about Mental State Signs is the frightening but unavoidable suggestion that the psychiatric patient may have something important to tell us about the world we live in and certain aspects of our society. It is almost as if this is the true reason why so much research has gone in to mental health disorders.
Overall, the exhibition offers an open-ended argument via a series of hints and suggestions which subtly warn of the potential effects of urbanisation, surveillance and a too-close relationship with media technologies. One possible inference from the film is that cases of psychosis or schizophrenia may even be a kind of early warning system for potential alterations in the human condition, resulting from our ongoing relationship with technology. In any case, Jordan’s work offers an engaging, even absorbing discussion of the nature of sanity in the 21st century.
*(Patient in ‘Thought Broadcasting’):
Off the Trail
by Noel Tanti
Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival 2017
The manipulation of time and space is intrinsic to film, and the pioneers of this medium had begun experimenting with it from the outset.
In the film we will now see, Off the Trail by Nick Jordan and Jacob Cartwright, this fundamental aspect is used to create a perpetual tension between the sense of liberation offered by the montage and editing, and the claustrophobia of the frame itself. We notice this immediately, in the first framing of a round window looking outwards. The circle, in itself, is an enigmatic symbol; although it represents infinity and/or the eternal as it has no edges, it is also a shape that delineates boundaries between what it encloses and what lies beyond.
The circle of Jordan and Cartwright's film grants us a window which looks outwards but at the same time limits our perspective. We see only what the circle wants us to see, the rest is a frame of darkness. Thus we find ourselves in a situation where the window serves as an observant eye, but also as a space where what is outside can look back at us.
There are numerous moments in Off the Trail where opposites attract, clash, merge, wander. But most of the time, polarities sit with each other in a state of constant flux. Recalling Chinese and Japanese art, vast spaces are enshrouded in fog, creating a fluid landscape in which the soldier-traveller becomes an existential dérive, occupying a liminal space that lies between the expectations of a society that instigates conformity to its norms, and the underlying cosmos, that reveals us to ourselves, and makes us one with who we truly are. Hence the meeting, in Off the Trail, of the East and the West, the figurative and the abstract, the past and the present, of spectres who continue to talk to us through abandoned buildings, for example. The soldier-traveller is looking for that which is fundamental.
This all reminds me of another work, a song by Tiromancino:
Vorrei imparare dal vento a respirare, dalla pioggia a cadere. Dalla corrente a portare le cose dove non vogliono andare. E avere la pazienza delle onde, di andare e venire, ricominciare a fluire. (‘Imparare dal vento’)
From the wind I'd like to learn how to breathe, from the rain I'd like to learn how to fall. From the current, I'd like to learn to carry things where they do not wish to go. And I'd like to learn the patience of the waves, coming and going, starting to flow again. (‘To learn from the wind’)
Nick Jordan Q&A at Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival, 2017
(Thought Broadcasting film)
Nick Jordan Interview at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, 2017
(Thought Broadcasting film)
Experiments in Living
by Paul O’Kane
Swedenborg Society blog, February, 2016
Last Acre (2016) a short film by artists Jacob Cartwright & Nick Jordan, documents the commonly witnessed (but less often considered) phenomenon of ramshackle dwellings thrown up intuitively by unskilled home builders and often found on Britain’s unkempt and otherwise unpopulated coasts and estuaries. Romantic pioneers, alienated misfits or politically motivated enemies of the status quo make up these marginal, malformed communities, invoking ancient laws that permit a dwelling to be erected and inhabited on common land as long as certain basic criteria are met.
The film—which might have reminded viewers of the work of Patrick Keiller—used a collage of revealing but unimposing views, enhanced by a poetic and informative voice-over, with music, to gently promote and celebrate a subculture of idiosyncratic responses to a capitalist society all-too rooted in generic needs and generic provisions, committed to increasing urban density, and in building, buying and selling homes as ‘properties’ or ‘investments’.
Nick Jordan Interview at Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, 2016
Sight & Sound
Strange crannies of the world: the best of British live action at Encounters 2015
by Dylan Cave
BFI, Sight & Sound, Oct 2015
From Iceland to Bangladesh to west London, public and private spheres were played off one another in this year’s native highlights at the Bristol short film showcase.
Among the filmmakers, programmers and other industry types who packed out Bristol’s Watershed Cinema for the 21st Encounters, post-screening chat often turned to the festival’s overarching themes. Identifying a unifying thread across the 200-plus short films and animations was a tall order, but a definite thread could be found through the British films. Shifting between single-scene chamber pieces and issues of international concern, they seemed to centre around extremities of private and public discourse. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those films with the widest ambition were also the most rewarding.
A good example was The Atom Station, the latest from Manchester based artist/filmmaker Nick Jordan. Jordan’s psychogeographic documentaries often take his audience off the beaten track, combining striking images of unusual landmarks with playful sound collages. Here Iceland’s volcanic landscape is the setting for an apparently abandoned site of a geothermal power station. On the soundtrack, snippets of W.H. Auden reciting Journey to Iceland are mixed against Icelandic activist Ómar Ragnarsson’s warnings about serious environmental changes to his homeland. The combination of sound and vision serves to distance the viewer, clouding the remarkable buildings and feats of engineering with an eerie melancholy that evokes the inevitable entropy of human endeavour as compared with the immense power of nature.
Bold and intelligent, The Atom Station marks Jordan as one of the most riveting shorts filmmakers currently at work; the Encounters jury named it this year’s best documentary.
Nick Jordan Interview with Aesthetica, 2014
Nick Jordan Q&A with Art Across the City, 2014
Trilogy and the Violence of Space
by Devin Zuber
many ways, John James Audubon (1785-1851) resembles one of the elaborate
and unique drawings that illustrate his famous Birds of America.
On first glancing through his writings, the image Audubon presents
of himself is that of a natural woodsman, an autodidact who embodied
Rousseauvian principles to learn “to follow Nature in her
walks.” However, like the pictures in Birds of America that
appear to look so natural, to effortlessly present American wilderness
“drawn from life,” yet under closer scrutiny reveal
themselves to be a highly stylized artistic compositions, so, too,
does Audubon come to unfold a much more complex and contradictory
persona upon closer inspection. Audubon’s Ornithological
Biography (the text that accompanied the lavishly illustrated
Birds) indeed constitutes some of the most significant
nature writing in early America. The texts are also remarkable forays
of a mind attempting to come to terms with itself through a highly
creative use of descriptive ornithology for that most perennial
of American genres, the autobiography. Audubon’s descriptions
of birds, then, are never really just about birds, the more you
read into their intricate descriptions. They are records of a consciousness
working through the staggering wonder and beauty of the new world
as it negotiates a deep ambivalence about the changes civilization
and culture were then wreaking on the wilderness.
Audubon’s writings repeatedly fashion himself as a kind of
all-American frontier boy, and he frequently refers to his “youthful
days as an American woodsman,” and a life well-spent observing
(and shooting) the wild animals “of his native land.”
Yet Audubon did not in fact set foot in the United States until
he was 18 years old, and was only naturalized as an American citizen
some three years later. In a land made-up of immigrants, Audubon’s
fiction of national patrimony is a quintessential kind of American
performance, one that authenticates and roots his sense of identity
in the drama of civilization unfolding on the frontier, a borderland
between nature and culture.
It is this abstract potential of transformation--of the self, of
the land, of the two locked inextricably together--that has attracted
and repelled many American writers both before and after Audubon.
The poet Charles Olson saw this recurrent need for self-invention
as an essentially bloody and violent transaction between mind and
landscape, one that converted the heterogeneity of place into the
possibility of space.
Through the interstices of Audubon’s many self-inventions
and contradictions, in the discursive gap between the thousands
of dead birds he happily shot and the subsequent astonishing frozen
beauty of his illustrations, one can glimpse this mercilessness
of American space, a land running with blood. It is the “real”
Audubon who regretted “a day wasted” if he shot any
less than a hundred birds that comes nearer to the ambivalent truth
behind the deadly toll of his picture-making, the same paradoxical
man, an European immigrant, who rails against “the surplus
population of Europe coming to assist in the destruction of the
forest” by bringing their corrupting civilization into the
“dark recesses” of the frontier wild.
In each of the three films that form The Audubon Trilogy,
Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan have provoked a confrontation between
the Romantic legacy of Audubon’s words with contemporary images
of places Audubon once limned. Cairo, West Point, and New
Madrid are dramas of the transformation of place into space,
but they are not without their mercy. There is something gently
cartographic about their camera’s approach to landscape and
vistas, undercut as it is by the intrusion of the bridges, tunnels,
and railway tracks that insistently mark the modernity that Audubon
Quite specifically, the trilogy’s situated presence of roads
(and a roadster in West Point) evokes the American on-the-road
tradition that hearkens back to earlier exploration narratives that
were intrinsic to Audubon’s writing and his myth of self-creation.
While the resulting juxtapositions come close to a kind of irony--as
when the “Commercial Avenue” sign rots and rusts in
front of gutted storefronts in Cairo--they nonetheless maintain
an authentic pathos for the loss of place, and even fleeting moments
of genuine natural beauty (radiant clouds, birds winging on the
This differentiates Cartwright and Jordan from other artists who
have drawn on Romantic aesthetic traditions for strategies of parodic
re-presentation. Audubon’s 19th century words, here, are jagged
and raw when brought into careful constellation with the tarnished
images of contemporary place, people, and wildlife--their original
ambivalent power is never very far from us. In this regard, The
Audubon Trilogy joins a growing body of work that is revisiting
Romantic tropes to force a charged encounter with the historical
present, a flash of doubling time that Walter Benjamin called Jetztzeit
(“now-time”) in his philosophy: an explosive flash of
possibilities latent in the past, realized only in a present field.
Like Tobias Hauser, who built a replica of Thoreau’s cabin
at Walden on Berlin’s Potsdamer Platz, or Robert Adam’s
photographs that deconstruct picturesque landscape traditions to
focus attention on the effects of deforestation in the American
west, Cartwright and Jordan’s Trilogy activates the
latent possibility in Audubon to speak to the precarity of our present
moment, be it ecological or economic.
This sense of uncertainty, of an imminent threat, runs as a leitmotif
through each of the three films. It is bolstered by Cartwright and
Jordan’s selection of three of the more overtly sublime moments
in Audubon’s corpus, places where the representational power
of language consistently fails to map out the excess and intensity
of an embodied experience. In the Trilogy, when these sublime words
are juxtaposed against footage of contemporary places and landscapes,
a brooding kind of tension is evoked, a gap between the spoken word
and pictured thing that is reminiscent of the original fissures
in Audubon’s own prose. In Cairo, there is a particularly
deft use of Audubon’s climactic description of the frozen
Ohio and Mississippi rivers violently colliding together in a “spectacle
strange,” as Audubon wrote. Without warning, the camera shifts
from scenes of river ice to the desolate streets of nearby Cairo.
The violence of nature is brought to frame an urban catastrophe:
gutted and burned-out storefronts, abandoned streets, ruined interiors;
the images accruing as we hear Audubon describing the “fearful”
breaking up of the ice. The striking absence of humans further evokes
an uncanny sense of the ghostly (if not the apocalyptic), and Cairo’s
haunted past as an epicenter of earlier racial violence and lynchings
looms as an unspoken subtext in the background of the footage of
these rubble-strewn streets. It is an ingenuous cinematic inversion
of 19th century natural history, turning it inside out to read the
dire cultural conditions of the present. In this regard, Cartwright
and Jordan stay true to the metonymic link between nature and nation
that structured the discourse of 19th century natural history writing.
The sum effect of the images and words is to draw a full circle
of sorts, portraying the terminal end of the civilizing frontier
narrative that Audubon’s texts so often celebrated and partook
in. The fleeting, beautiful images of birds that survive among these
post-industrial landscapes--not only in Cairo, but in all
the three films that compose the Trilogy--suggests the
power of these animal beings to persist long after the depredations
of humans have run their course. What remains is this visual record
of a past and present that will continue to elegize our collective
futures so long as we continue, in Olson’s words, to perpetuate
the harshness of space.
Devin Zuber is Assistant Professor at the Institute for English
and American Studies, Osnabrück University
the occasion of ‘Cairo;The
breaking up of the ice’, an exhibition by Jacob Cartwright
& Nick Jordan, Cornerhouse, Manchester, Jan 22 to Feb 28 2010.
The full version
of this essay appears in The Audubon
Trilogy: Delineations of American Scenery & Manners,
a new DVD & chapbook publication by Jacob Cartwright & Nick
Trilogy: Fugitive Narratives and the Drama of the Natural World
by T.J. Jones
Carbondale Nightlife, July 2010
A showing of
the documentary film The Audubon Trilogy: Delineations of American
Scenery and Manners will take place Thursday, June 24 at the Morris
Library Auditorium. British filmmakers Jacob Cartwright and Nick
Jordan set out to create a stirring document of American cultural
and natural history while using the writings of famed ornithologist
John James Audubon.
and Jordan began with the idea of using Audubon's writing while
the two were a part of an artist fellowship at Manchester Museum
in England. Coming across a stuffed passenger pigeon on display,
Cartwright says they were struck by Audubon's text, which foreshadowed
the eventual extinction of the species."Compelled by this absurdly
inconsequential specimen, we researched the history of the species
with all its prevailing mythology. We decided to make a film for
the museum fellowship-- to document on film the places where Audubon
once lived, explored and observed the passenger pigeons."
The filmmakers travelled to Kentucky and followed the Ohio River
from Louisville, all the while filming the places about which Audubon
wrote. They found West Point, where Audubon first observed vast
flocks of passenger pigeons. The product was West Point: The Hunting
of the Passenger Pigeon, the twenty-four-minute short that makes
for the first part of the Trilogy. Jordan says there was no intention
of making an actual trilogy, but while filming in the backwoods
and along the Ohio River's banks, the artists found themselves in
locations that triggered further narratives and connections with
Audubon."We were excited by such rich material," explains
Jordan. "Just driving around, away from the big towns and cities,
you sense how close history is to the surface, and the enormity
of the task that faced the pioneers. Some of the small country villages
and townships seem to exist very much on the edge."
New Madrid, the second film in the Trilogy, was filmed at Reelfoot
Lake in Tennessee, which was the product of the 1811 earthquake
in New Madrid. Audubon himself wrote his account of the earthquake
while on horseback in Kentucky.
Cairo: The Breaking up of the Ice, the final film in the Trilogy,
came to Cartwright and Jordan purely by chance."[Cairo] surprised
us with both its beauty and its dilapidation," Cartwright says.
"This is a special place, intriguing and mysterious. It presented
another unexpected filming opportunity and allowed us to expand
the project from its original premise into a series of three short
films, allied to Audubon and the wider region's natural, cultural,
and social histories."
Audubon's The Breaking up of the Ice details the six weeks Audubon
and his crew spent trapped in the confluence in Cairo in 1809. Two
centuries later, Cartwright and Jordan returned to Cairo during
the winter and followed the frozen upper Mississippi River through
the borders of Wisconsin and Iowa while filming at locations along
Missouri and Illinois."Our intention was to combine Audubon's
tale of winter adversity with images of a frozen landscape and the
abandoned streets of downtown Cairo; to reconnect a two-hundred-year-old
narrative with its present-day, troubled location," Jordan
says. "The films took on wider-ranging themes than had been
originally anticipated-- from species extinction to economic failure--
yet each film has been framed and influenced by the words of Audubon."
Thus is The Audubon Trilogy. Using the unorthodox marriage of modern-day
natural filming of the Southern Midwest and the nearly two-hundred-year-old
narrations of Audubon, filmmakers Cartwright and Jordan haven't
so much created a documentary, but instead have created a living
visual and natural experiment, turning time and history into a constant
illustrative narration. "Using a voiceover in juxtaposition
with the footage tends to create a slightly fugitive narrative whereby
some words become fixed and others drift away," says Jordan.
"I think all three films have moments of both correspondence
and contrast with Audubon's narrative. We didn't set out to illustrate
Audubon's words, in a literal way, and neither did we aim to create
jarring juxtapositions, or any kind of parody. I think we tried
to remain true to the text, seeing as we value its inherent power
and impact. Working in a relatively unplanned manner, we were happy
to follow our noses, so to speak, to be fairly instinctive about
subject and location. At the same time, we were always on the lookout
for connections to Audubon and his words, environmental parallels,
and visual or conceptual motifs." The artists refer to Audubon's
writings as having a performative nature, and how he was clearly
trying to identify himself as an American woodsman. Cartwright says
Audubon was without a doubt vain, self-aggrandising, and at times
a fabulist, all of which, he says, is evident in Audubon's writing.
"The stylized aspect of his writing is important to us, as
it creates an imaginative space to draw upon," Jordan says.
"At the same time, Audubon's accounts are based on real events
and locations, which we wanted to keep to the fore. We probably
expected more opposition or striking contrasts between Audubon's
accounts of frontier America and the present day, but we were struck
by the dramatic scale and abundant ecology to be found in and around
Southern Illinois and Kentucky."
Cartwright and Jordan remain proud to have explored in the shadow
of Audubon. "We do have an affinity with his keen interest
in the drama of the natural world, and in his enthusiasm for exploring
and recording unfamiliar places," they point out. "People
have remarked on the elegiac aspect of the Trilogy, with an undercurrent
of loss and violence. There is a sense of pathos in Audubon's writings,
particularly in the vivid descriptions of both animal and human
brutality, which I think the films draw out and can't help but connect
with the present day."
The filmmakers are now working on a new film about Cairo, Illinois.
More of a straightforward documentary than the experimental Audubon
Trilogy, Jordan says he and Cartwright hope to leave form and narrative
lines open to avoid what Jordan calls a simplistic view of the town
and its people. With hopes to allow different voices, viewpoints,
and pictures to coexist, the film-makers promise the forthcoming
Cairo film will not be for disaster tourists but, like The Audubon
Trilogy, a document of American history.
26 August 2006
Invaders: A guide to non-native species of the Britisher Isles,
by Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan
bizarre little book - a beautifully illustrated, 45-page introductory
guide to some of Britain and Ireland's non-native plant and animal
species - is presented by its publishers as a "cross-pollination
of fact and fiction". As well as information about invaders
such as the American bullfrog, Chinese mitten crab and the pharaoh
ant, be prepared for some fabulous anecdotes, such as the claim
that the toxic hazards of the giant hogweed only fully came to light
in the summer of 1977 "when, under the influence of the film
Star Wars, many children made impromptu light sabres from the stems".
Or that shortly after the death of Princess Diana, who was fond
of grey squirrels, five dozen of the animals were found drowned
in the lake of her home, Kensington Palace, allegedly killed by
royal gardeners desperate to be rid of them.
The Aliens Amongst Us
A pair of British artists has written a fine 40-page book on invasive
It trumps the dull heavyweights of life science literature.
by Weanée Kimblewood
can blame George Lucas for the mess. After the Hollywood producer
brought out his film Star Wars in the summer of 1977, thousands
of British children spent sunny hours fencing each oth er with “light
sabres”. Unfortunately, these play fights were more similar
to the light sabre battles in Star Wars than the children expected.
Within a few days hospital accident and emergency units were overcrowded
with screaming children suffering from grave “Darth Vader”
burns. Nursing staff treated acres of swollen, painful blistered
skin. What had happened?
A kind of “alien invasion” was responsible. For their
impromptu weapons the uninformed children had used the huge reddish
purple stems (3-8 centimetres in diameter) of Heracleum mantegazzianum,
also known as “Giant Hogweed”. This member of the Apiaceae
family is characterized not only by its size (it can reach 2-5 metres
tall) but also by its phototoxic sap, which causes photodermatitis
(meaning that the skin becomes inflamed and itchy when exposed to
sunlight). Subsequently, disfiguring scars form, which can remain
for years. Even more alarmingly, sap in the eyes can cause blindness.
The Giant Hogweed is not a British plant, not even European. It
is native to the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Azeri botanist,
Vakif Jalilabad, introduced it to England when he donated 5,000
seeds of this (in his words) “awesome but well-mannered curiosity”
to Queen Victoria in 1851. Today, if anything, you would call his
“gift” an act of terrorism. Integrated as grown plants into the ethnically
themed gardens of Buckingham Palace, the Giant Hogweed soon escaped.
It became widespread throughout the British Isles, causing the greenest
plague of the 20th and 21st centuries. Today, Germany, France and
Belgium are also overrun by Heracleum. Even though planting or causing
Giant Hogweed to grow has been a punishable offence in the UK since
1982, nobody has been able to halt its propagation so far.
Although the Giant Hogweed is possibly the UK’s best-known
alien invader it is not the only one. The UK-based artist duo Jacob
Cartwright and Nick Jordan (known collectively by the moniker würstundgritz)
has written an extraordinarily brief hardcover book called Alien
Invaders: A Guide to Non-Native Species of the Britisher Isles,
which includes plenty of quirky anecdotes about invasive non-native
species of plant and animal life. Besides Heracleum the authors
describe nine other migrant wildlife species that now live in and
terrorise the UK. Each species is categorised (by würst Jordan)
and illustrated (by gritz Cartwright), including “the erosion
and flood risk increasing” Chinese Mitten Crab (Eriocheir
sinensis), ”the eighteen feet long, swan eating” Wels
Catfish (Silurus glanis) or “the shoe polish eating and infection
spreading hazard” Pharaoh Ant (Monomorium
Quirky anecdotes about invasive species
The alien invaders and their effects on native wildlife are each
presented over four witty pages (under the headings ‘Origins
of Introduction’, ‘Problems caused by Introduction’,
and ‘Efforts of Control or Eradication’) based upon
serious scientific facts as well as hearsay. This makes 48 pages
of entertaining reading, including ten beautiful colour charts.
The latter demonstrate a certain black humour: the explosively prolific
Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) is mapped on page 37 with two gun
cartridges, and the cute Grey Squirrel (Sciurus carolinensi) on
page 21 faces the carcass of an unfortunate fellow, hanging dead
as a dodo from a tree. To cut a long story short, Alien Invaders
is a marvellous pocket-sized book packed with instructive words
that will make you smile. What more could you want?
September 9, 2006
and Hard Nuts
by Nicholas Clee
and Jordan are artists, who describe this little hardback as a "cross-pollination
of fact and fiction". The reader may find it hard to separate
the strands. Can it really be true that between 30,000 and 50,000
road accidents each year in the UK involve deer? According to a
website called deercollisions.co.uk, it is. On the other hand, I
do not think that itten crabs, plaguing fishermen, steal a bait
called "Urk". A stew of grey squirrel, we read, was known
in the US South as "limb chicken", and was a favourite
of the young Elvis Presley. The Princess of Wales used to take Princes
William and Harry to scatter nuts for the grey squirrels in the
garden of Kensington Palace; after her death, five dozen squirrels,
allegedly the victims of vengeful royal gardeners, were found drowned
in the palace lake.
Invaders has entries on 10 species that have become ruthlessly efficient
at adapting to their new home in the UK. There are silhouettes in
the text - of Elvis, for example - and slyly humorous colour plates.
The combination of fact, bizarre anecdote and invention gives to
the species a patina of myth. Cartwright and Jordan may have human
analogies in mind.
Issue 3: Nature
Aliens Invaders of The Britisher Isles
and Jacob Cartwright make assumptions and assertions about Alien
alien invaders of this new Book Works title are flora and fauna
that have colonised these fair isles often to the detriment of our
own native species. Volume 1 includes profiles of the beautiful
cerulean-billed Ruddy Duck, the stately Giant Hogweed and the frankly
alarming American Bullfrog. Outwardly the book mimics a pocket nature
guide with the comfy look of the Ladybird series. However naturalists
beware as this book is by artist tricksters Jacob Cartwright and
Nick Jordan and is full of stories that cross-pollinate truth and
fiction drawing on “scientific fact and bizarre cultural anecdote”.
Many stories are so fantastical that they may even be true, such
as Biba’s Art Deco style terrarium containing breeding bullfrogs,
the German street wandering Mitten Crabs that ‘made a mess
in many houses’ and the five dozen Grey Squirrels found drowned
in Kensington Palace lake after Princess Diana’s death.
is however a darker side to the fun. The success of these invaders
implies that they may be Darwin’s fittest, something that
will no doubt alarm those of a right wing disposition as they contemplate
human immigration. And the book’s crazy cultural anecdotes
worryingly recall alarmist rumours about immigrant communities in
host countries. The purity dichotomy is typified by the Bluebell;
the Spanish Bluebell has hybridised with the British leading to
a real danger that the weedy British version will become extinct.
But fear not as this has led to legislation that makes it ‘Totally
illegal to offer bluebells for sale or to smoke them’!
the book is entertaining and thought provoking and I hope that Volume
2 will contain my favourite invader, appearing soon on a coastline
near you… The Hottentot Fig.
18 December 2006
by Sukhdev Sandhu
other day, looking for books to buy as Christmas presents, I went
strolling along Oxford Street and Charing Cross Road in London.
There are huge biblio-emporia here - Borders, Waterstone's, Blackwell's,
Foyles - covering thousands of square feet, offering big discounts
on prominent titles, and staffed by friendly and sometimes knowledgeable
men and women. Yet, for all the deft displays, the cheerily laid-
out tables and the handwritten recommendations, what was striking
was the sameness of the titles. Freakonomics, Smash Hits annuals,
biographies of 18th-century courtesans, novels by long-established
writers: everywhere a dulling homogeneity.
Where, I wondered, were copies of the really great books that emerged
in 2006? Books such as Andrew Kötting's In the Wake of a Deadad
(University College for the Creative Arts), a 440-page meditation
on death as charming and funny as it is pensive and unsettling.
Deadad chronicles the author's creation of a huge blow-up version
of his father that he lugs as far as Mexico, where the annual Day
of the Dead celebrations are taking place. An extraordinary montage
sequence shows images from his father's belatedly discovered porn
collection with the faces of its rutting stars replaced by that
of Kötting himself. The book's playfulness subverts the sobriety
of the conventional father-son memoir and forces us to reconsider
our notion of what is an appropriate tribute.
Equally fascinating is Ilf and Petrov's Ameri-can Road Trip (Cabinet),
a travelogue originally commissioned and published in the mid-1930s
by the Soviet magazine Ogonek. The writers, couching their satiric
observations in less rowdy language than another eastern-bloc observer,
Borat, cruise along the freeways and note that: "Roads like
this are laid out with a specific goal: to show nature to travellers,
to show it so that they don't have to scramble around on the cliffs
in search of a convenient observation point, so that they can get
the entire required quantity of emotions without ever leaving their
The book, rescued from Ogonek's archives by an enterprising academic
called Erika Wolf, is co-published by Princeton Architectural Press,
the most consistently interesting university imprint operating today.
Unlike its British university-press equivalents, it produces beautifully
designed and printed books that are as attractive to look at as
they are to read. It makes a point of commissioning smart intellectuals,
both inside and outside of the academy, who can write about emergent
topics and complex ideas for general audiences. Adopting an elastic
notion of architecture that encompasses philosophy, graphic design
and urban studies, its recent roster includes books on the damage
wreaked by Hurricane Katrina and Rebecca Lepkoff's beautiful photographs
of New York's Lower East Side in the 1940s. Best of all is Ghostly
Ruins, Harry Skrdla's bewitching exploration of abandoned Americana
- penitentiary centres, amusement parks, aristocratic mansions -
that evokes a country far more crepuscular and haunted than might
be imagined from looking at any mainstream coverage.
Closer to home, a terrific source of off-kilter, engaging pamphlets
and volumes is the London-based Book Works. Over the past 20 years,
it has published early works by artists such as David Shrigley,
Cornelia Parker and the Turner Prize-winner Jeremy Deller. A recent
oddity is Siôn Parkinson's Head in the Railings, which features
photographs of the author trying to squeeze himself into all manner
of unlikely places: a toilet bowl, a kitchen sink, a postbox. One
picture shows him, or at least his arms, sticking out of a public
waste bin. In these funny, bewildering shots, Parkinson becomes
an anti-Houdini, wriggling into rather than out of objects. His
subdued captions evoke the sadness of someone wanting to disappear
A very different Book Works title is Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan's
Alien Invaders: a guide to non-native species of the Britisher Isles.
A small hardback in the style of the Observer guides that used to
be very popular, it is an elegantly illustrated mixture of fact
and myth about foreign creatures and their impact on indigenous
flora and fauna.
It's also a tart and pleasingly oblique commentary on the alarmist
discourse surrounding contemporary immigration. Like all the books
I have mentioned, it is delightful to handle, wears its learning
lightly, and is as much artefact as product. Would that you could
find a copy in most British bookstores.
The Saatchi Gallery, editorial, September 9, 2006:
of otherworldly beings, 'Alien Invaders: A Guide to Non-Native Species
of the Britisher Isles (Volume 1)' is a wonderful collaboration
between Jacob Cartwright and Nick Jordan, recently published by
Bookworks. Researching invasive non-native species of plant and
animal life, the project documents, through drawing and text, the
discovery and history of selected alien species introduced to the
British Isles, and the effect on native wildlife. Presented as a
cross-pollination of fact and fiction, the book is fashioned as
a illustrated natural history guide, offset by the artists' interventions.
Who ever thought the American Bullfrog, Giant Hogweed, Spanish Bluebell
and Welsh Catfish would create such controversy - but believe me,
I've seen gentle-looking conservationists get hot headed about those
non-native bells taking over Abney Park Cemetery, and it was a reminder
of humanity's urge to possess and compete, chillingly vivid and
real as evolution itself. Bizarre as the examples may seem, these
artists are really onto something. £6.50, available from Bookworks.
user speak next
Videonale 11 catalogue, Kinstmuseum, Bonn, 2007
In Let the user speak next, Nick Jordan takes the viewer with him
on his exploration of a very special place: the Dominican monastery
of La Tourette near Lyon. The title refers to a book by the architect
Le Corbusier, who designed the modernist building according to his
›Modulor‹ system. In Modulor 2 [La parole est aux usagers,
1955], Le Corbusier explains how to apply his doctrine of proportion,
based on anthropometry and the Golden Section, with which he tried
to create an architecture with both human dimensions and an objective
order. In Jordan’s images, the cubic building evokes a cool,
hermetic and deserted impression, with only the narrow window slits
and small holes in the bare concrete walls connecting us to what’s
inside. From the interior comes a magnetic white noise, which increasingly
mixes with the sounds of birds gathering on a tree outside the monastery
walls. The outside world is all the more colourful when seen from
within the building; the bright blue sky and the glowing red blossoms
of the trees forming a stark contrast with the sallow grey of the
concrete, whose few touches of warmth come from small windows in
primary colours. Nick Jordan documents here a compelling encounter
with an icon of modern architecture, which both stands out like
a solitary accent from its surroundings and yet attains a harmony
with nature. [Tina Rehn]