Alexander Hetherington

Do It All On The Same Day, Modern Edinburgh Film School, Richard Taylor

Do It All On The Same Day, Richard Taylor

I sat down with Alex in the café at Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop (ESW) with a short espresso in a long glass. It was a meeting about the archive publication for Modern Edinburgh Film School (MEFS). Additionally he talked of a film project he was interested in starting, using a 16mm camera with black and white film.

 

His head was already half out of MEFS, which has occupied him since 2012. He expressed how giving the archival process over to selected artists and writers was a way for him to be removed from the project – to be cut from the edit. Largely collaborative, but borne from his own individual interests as an artist, Alex’s MEFS soon became everyone else’s. Himself as a sort of axis and polarised filter, through which more layers (or pages) have been compiled, piled. The four-year project now has many well-routed tentacles. It is seen as a collective effort from Alex and the many people he has pulled in to work on each event, screening and publication. Moreover, it has become a way for him to bring forth artistic practices he is interested in.

 

Back to the film Alex plans to make, back to the café. I kept thinking, how should I write for the archive publication and what is it about my practice that interests him? I sipped at my espresso making it last longer. I needed more time to get at the crux of what he was asking me to do but could not stop thinking of the first time I encountered his work, in ESW’s Bill Scott building, on the first floor corridor, next to the stairs.

 

Back to the café, back to the plans for his film. He told me he had just finished photographing a selection of his own MEFS archive material in Andrew Gannon’s studio here, and mentioned these images were to be split up and given in portions to the people he had invited to write. I remember now, Andrew has some involvement in the film.

 

Andrew sat with us in the café wearing an impressive knitted jumper. It was only after he left that I asked Alex outright, what sort of camera have you used to photograph the material? With some persuasion, and a little embarrassment, he pulled out an old silver Pentax film camera expecting me to laugh. I did not laugh but smiled instead. It was the same model my grandfather gave me before he died. The same model I became interested in slide film with and subsequently employed to make performances, using a slide projector. Alex has been to at least one of these performances. Maybe he put two and two together but he was not to know I had an affinity with the Pentax he cupped in his hands in front of me, hovering it close to the now empty glass with scraps of sugary coffee at the bottom.

 

The appearance of the Pentax and my thoughts of Alex attending my performances have become somewhat of an answer to my question on the writing front. By establishing these connections I could pull together ideas. I guess through commonalities at first, but then by adopting the role of an archive researcher who ties together elements through which assumptions are made and interpretations are noted.

 

The following semi-fictional narrative is something a researcher might scribble down when rifling through uncategorised material. It has been written after viewing a portion of the MEFS archive in plastic mounted 35mm slide form, sent to me by Alex. He also sent slides to Tiffany Boyle who is too writing for the publication. Tiffany and me viewed our slides together, hers after mine. The story is set from the point of view of ‘we’, as the two of us made joint observations and assumptions upon viewing the images projected onto a wall.

 

It’s hard not to go find these on your Tumblr

 

We agree on this: he talks much of the layering of things. Or rather he talks in layers not riddles. We look at these images of images and decipher what they are. Some are clearly documentation of the well-practiced way in which he makes publications. These handy folded poster-like spreads, which become un-handy, like maps, when unfurled. We cannot help but pick at his thoughts behind the awkwardness inherited by the reader when they handle these publications. We think of a series of readings by the artists who contributed to what was MEFS’s first anthology, ‘Queer Information’. They recited their own texts but found this difficult because of the unfolded OS map sized paper and its justified words in small type. We think, were these publications meant as armchair ‘readers’, or as props for live performances? We think, is this all paper to hide behind?

 

He talked of the layering of things. We think of his formatting. Images that are stills of frames designed to move as if to simulate film, are compiled and arranged on to the page. Some overlap but most fit well with the words that accompany them. We look at these images and decipher them in a room lit only by the projector, which throws the positive image of each slide through mechanisms out into the air and on to the wall. It also casts our shadows on to the same wall. We bend over, squat, next to this wall and adjust the focus of the lens attempting to read unreadable photographed words. It is at this point we think more: what are we looking at? Either full proof compositions of images, well designed and marked up – sent to print, delivered back, distributed. Or, are we looking at something else, entirely new compositions of images and material previously not seen together before.

 

One slide image we read as a fence. A repeat pattern of circles that do not interlock but sit side by side and rest carefully on top of one another. This is a fragile fence that would collapse easily with just one light push. A fence held together by the images placed behind it and in front of it. We think of these images now: with the circles he is talking to us through layering again, and we get it. We look in to it as a field of vision beyond light thrown at a surface. Pushing into it, the structure does not fail and we half expect to be able to place our fingers through the fence itself to other side. We want this other side. Instead we touch the wall.

 

Another slide of dark moths or flowers de-saturated. A folded out page one side repeating somehow the contents of the other. Not reflected, repeated. The moths or flowers have some gravity, though we think of them as lightweight. They sit towards the bottom of the image and we look at the folded line that renders the left of the page flat as if static has fixed it to the surface it is photographed on. The right edge of the page is slightly concave. He has tried to photograph this as a full image but it is sculptural instead, relief. We take the wired remote for the slide projector and adjust the focus of the image—in and out we change its reality. The left is in focus and flat. Pull back out and the right is now in focus, the corners of the page in crisp view.

 

We think of these layerings, these surfaces, and what they represent or document. Our minds touch on the memories of events – talks and screenings. Ripples on the Pond at the Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) in Glasgow with Rosalind Nashashibi’s 16mm, colour, sound Jack Staw’s Castle – scaffolding and those fantastic bulbous outdoor lights hanging into frame. How many more events happened in that gallery for that exhibition? How many of these were Modern Edinburgh Film School-ed? How much has that gallery become a depository for layering, the same chairs, the same walls, the same sockets and PA sound. We think of these events happening all at once and imagine how this would be illustrated. Would it be much like the slides we look at that are chalices for all sorts of references thrown into one plane? Ripples on the pond at Centre for Contemporary Arts, the theatre, the publications folded and placed on the chairs people will sit on. The same grey fold-down cushioned chairs each time, the same black stage, the same table at which different speakers sit. More or less the same throw from the projector. One event: Mairi Lafferty’s 16mm film of a whole pack of matches being lit in front of the tightly focused lens. The flames lighting up the frame. But the materiality of the film itself, its highly flammable status – the very appearance of fire projected on to the screen at the back of the theatre, the whirring of the projector spelling its objecthood. The concentration of the audience.

 

We think of the layering of people at these events. Some make a repeat and committed appearance, much like the pages we have been looking at and describing with repeat forms in them. Much like the fence of circles these people become the structure if you like but they would fail if other elements were not present. Others make very fleeting appearances, indistinct but non-the-less important, like the folds in the paper documented onto slide film we enjoy pushing out of and back into focus, they are there but sometimes they are not. The artists, presumably they are people, they are somehow static but again not always there – they are like the content of these slides, the full picture. They fill the composition but not always without obscurity.

 

We continue to look at more slides. We have left a blank slot in the projector’s carousel, which helps us distinguish between my slides and hers. When two slides appear more than once in both of our sets, we question, what is his motivation? I go looking on his Tumblr page, I find one version of one of the slides and hover over the image. The mouse curser turns from arrow to gloved index finger. It’s a link. I stop, I’d rather not know. It is safer to go analogue. Back at GOMA and its time for LUX to do their thing and change the 16mm film reel to show us the next Nashashibi. The bulb dies.

 

Reproduced by kind permission, Richard Taylor

Alexander Hetherington