Alexander Hetherington

A is for Avant-Garde, Z is for Zero: Laura Mulvey & Peter Wollen

A review written in stages, as notes, using the structure of an alphabet to describe an exhibition in suspension. Written through a brittle attention. Raw writing. Populated in particles, in tiny additions. How to write and distance yourself from writing.

How to write, reflect and think about this work at a time of crisis. 


A is for Avant-Garde, Z is for Zero
Laura Mulvey & Peter Wollen

20 March — 18 April 2020
Cooper Gallery, DJCAD
13 Perth Road, Dundee DD1 4HT


Thank you to Peter Amoore and Sophia Hao


A • Absence (& A is for Alphabet, a brittle attention)


B •

C  • Chapters and Titles


D •

E •

F •

G • Getrude Stein, ‘A narrative of what wishes what it wishes it to be’ and Georgina Starr


H  • Hollis Frampton


I • Interlocutor and Isolation and Influence


J •

K •

L •

M • Mary Kelly and Margaret Salmon and Motherhood (Mysteries) and Maze Puzzle and Mercury

I think about Margaret Salmon’s 35mm feature length film Eglantine (2016), its emotional gaze, a mother’s gaze and the personal and universal perspective of the child and childhood. I’ve read it pays tribute to children’s films such as Ray Ashley’s Little Fugitive, Jean Renoir’s The River and Albert Lamorisse’s The Red Balloon, as well filmic nature studies like Mary Field’s Secrets of Nature series, but to my mind it is also speaks about Alice in Wonderland (1865) and the inner strengths, vulnerabilities, fearlessness and resiliences of a child.



N •

O • Overlaps

The American artist Mark Kelly is present, for a moment in Riddles of the Sphinx, any appearance I think is a mode of reference (common ground), pointing to a work that would have been in production at the same time; what would become the large scale narrative installation Post-Partum Document (1973-1979) which reveals over objects, writing, analysis of speech utterances and drawings developmental stages between mother and child: illuminating the ‘formative moments in her son’s mastery of language and her own sense of loss, moving between the voices of the mother, child and observer.’ (retrieved 27 March 2020)



P •

Q •

R • Riddles of the Sphinx (1977), BFI Player, 18 March 2020

A narrative of what wishes what it wishes it to be’ and ‘As in dreams but takes the form of a masquerade’, Riddles of the Sphinx, ‘looks into a world of images’. It is a complex jewel of a work, a shimmering prism of shifting surfaces, an intricate, pioneering, influencing theory film composed in fragmented titled episodes (Opening Pages; Laura Talking; Stones; Louise’s Story Told in 13 Shots; Acrobats; Laura Listening; Puzzle ending). Spell-like ingredients describing, through a constant panning camera action, generating a visual and intellectual trance, a mesh, a veil of thoughts on motherhood, domesticity and female labour, female representation in cinema, female relationships (mother, sister, daughter, friend, lover) feminism and its sister-situation: the impulses of experimentation and improvisation. Voices and narration shift too, causing friction between spoken word and transiting image. This constant motion, the gaze and the centre of its attention always shifting away. These ‘pieces of thoughts’ from consciousness and unconsciousness, like a fragmented, half-forgotten poem, as well as textual interruptions (the sequence recounting Louise’s Story is described through a broken up sentence (which in itself enquires upon the written word and the verisimilitude of the image it points to) and a vivid, hallucinatory sequence of colour-saturated, double-exposures of an acrobat all conspire to liberate the image of the woman. Combined with composer Mike Ratledge’s pulsing looping hypnotic electronic score Riddles of the Sphinx performs dimensionally, sculpturally, pointing toward what contemporary film theorist Erika Balsom suggests of the artists’ documentary film (‘that liquidates the difference between fiction and documentary entirely’) as a ‘material object’*. This film is a collaborative action, of plural authorship, position, voice and interpretation, the confounding hybrid heart of which describes the riddles and dilemmas that are ‘present in the day-to-day lives of women which are made impossible to solve”.

*OBJECT! ON THE DOCUMENTARY AS ART, (Retrieved March 26 2020)



S • Soft Machine (Mike Ratledge)


T •  “The 360-degree pan was an extended shot which again came to an end out of the logic of its own movement.”  BFI interview with Laura Mulvey. Togetherness fractured by so much isolation.


U •

V • Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema and Voice Over


W •

X •

Y • Yvonne Rainer (FEELINGS ARE FACTS)

…who is anti-art, an activist who is also an aesthete, combative, contrarian and confounding figure whose work has crossed from choreography to cinema/gestures and pedestrian movements,  After a false start in acting… /“Early on, I began to question the pleasure I took in being looked at”/in which she reinvested narrative codes/Image of Yvonne Rainer, Kristina Talking Pictures, 1976/‘radical juxtaposition’, from her 1962 essay ‘Happenings’.


Z • Zero




Image credit: Laura Mulvey and Peter Wollen, Riddles of the Sphinx (film still), 1977. Image courtesy the artists and BFI.




Alexander Hetherington