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Nowhere Less Now⁴ |Hayward Gallery | 14th October - 4th January 2015

Materials: cardboard and wood ship; figurehead (mixed material); tetrapods (mixed materails); hemisperical and spherical screens on metal structure; folded paper; HD projections x 2, wired headphones.

Sound in collaboration with Pendle Poucher (additional music David Dhonau); production and animation with Keith Sargent

"Seers’ work does not accept the dichotomy of fact and fiction, as nothing seems entirely factual or entirely fictional. Fictional implies untrue and Seers is looking for the truth in things that supersedes mere factuality. The artist has clearly been concerned with Bergson’s notions of ‘multiplicity’ and ‘intuition’, which attempt to bypass traditional concepts of the One and the Multiple. Her work, and especially the dual-screening method, makes great use of Deleuze’s relational terms virtual/actual, fusion/juxtaposition, continuous/discrete, succession/simultaneity."

In the films presented we discover how a Zanzibar Princess (who fled to Hamburg to escape a certain death by stoning in 1866) becomes connected to Leni Riefenstahl (documentary filmmaker and former dancer). This connection is made through their shared relationship to Helgoland. Princess Salme reinforces her connection to the Kaiser and Reifenstahl's connection to Hitler is established through this red rock in the North Sea. (The islands were bizarrely swopped in 1890 in 'The Helgoland/Zanzibar Treaty' between the British and the Germans).

Typically Seers uses personal biography in order to reveal individual lives against the backdrop of grand historic narratives. The principle narrator of the film whose biography we follow is also a dancer. She explains in the film how she is fascinated by creating a hybrid dance which can join middle eastern and european early modernist dance. The film reveals the psychological effect of her narrators fascination for Leni Riefenstahl's dance in the film Holy Mountain (1926) and the intensity of the politics connected to this dance (this is reflected in Hitler's claim that it was the most beautiful passage of film he had seen). This connection of the dance to Hitler propelled LF into the position of becoming the documentary film maker for Hitler's Germany. Princess Salme's life in Germany was also politically charged - she became a pawn in a game for the Germans to gain control over Zanzibar so as to be able to trade it later with Britain for the strategic port of Helgoland.

The narrator in the film reveals her condition of schizophrenia possibly triggered from her father's condition. She reveals her father's connections to the massacre in Zanzibar (1964) after which he suffered a mental breakdown. History reverberates through lives with echoes and scars that mark the unconscious of history itself.

There is a novella that accompanies this work. Nowhere Less Now⁴ | Lindsay Seers 

Excerpt from book text:

Since 2007, visitors to an exhibition of work by Lindsay Seers have been encouraged to take home with them a copy of a book, free of charge, as they leave the gallery. Generally the books are illustrated in part with photographs and film stills which the reader will have seen at the exhibition. These serve as an aide-mémoire, acting as a visual stimulus to the recollection of the installation. But there are also supplemental images related to the theme that broaden, reinforce, and to some extent introduce further ambiguities into, the previously seen gallery content. The text also relates to the installation but it is not a script for the film content, nor is it an exegesis of the work. Rather, it is the work, an extension of it into another medium. When you are holding the book, you are holding a portable portion of Nowherelessnow4(iamnowhere) shown at the Hayward in 2014. As such, you now own an original by Lindsay Seers.

Her work for Mirror City at the Hayward Gallery, Nowherelessnow4, is an episodic work which has four manifestations. The work begins with an antique photograph in Seers’ personal collection of her great-great-uncle George Edwards. He was a seaman on HMS Kingfisher. Inscribed on the photograph are the location and the date: Zanzibar 1890. Seers researched the photograph and found amongst the National Maritime Museum archives George Edwards’ naval service record. In 1890, his ship was part of a flotilla working to eradicate the Arab-controlled slave trade in east Africa, of which Zanzibar was a notorious epicentre[1]. Seers noted that George Edwards’ birth date was exactly the same as hers, except a hundred years apart: he was born in 1866. For this edition of the work Nowherelessnow4 Seers has taken the coincidental birth dates, September 27 1866 and 1966, and the date of Edwards’ photograph, 1890, as points of origin. She uses them as causal nodes, points in time from which a web of connections extend. A black-hulled ship, HMS London, sat for ten years in the bay of Zanzibar as a depot for the anti-slave mission, and it is a partial replica of the hull of this ship which contains the Hayward installation, upturned as if to tip out all its dark secrets. The ship was completed on 27 September – those coincidences again! – and launched in Chatham on the following day in 1840.

The siting of the work geographically is also important. This work touches the Hayward site at the points it intersects with her already emergent narrative. References are made to Knights Templar and Masons (a theme more evident in Nowhere Less Now1), and lines from Shakespeare’s The Tempest (with its theme of a sea voyage to a demon-haunted island) underscore the relationship to the Elizabethan theatres of Paris Gardens and the old dock beneath the Hayward. Catherine’s Dock was a popular place to alight in the 16th and 17th centuries when the Thames was a main thoroughfare; the gardens provided discreet meeting places and refreshments. Even the concrete Brutalism of the South Bank is given a lyrical counterpoint in the curiously sensuous concrete tetrapods, resembling truncated torsos, which form the sea defences of one of the film’s island locations. The shot tower, built in 1826 to make lead ammunition, also finds its counterparts in the lighthouse, radio masts and communication towers that festoon the German island of Helgoland[2], still demon-haunted in its way. The characteristic method of film projection at the Hayward involves two screens, one spherical and one hemispherical mounted on a structure like a radio mast, that sometimes work in parallel but most often in series to allow separate image streams to converge in the viewer’s mind.

Working in a textual medium allows the artist to extend and deepen the narratives and biographical threads that structure her work. Typically, the text will introduce other voices, other narrators, including Seers’ relatives or historical figures, usually reinforcing the film work within the installation, sometimes running in counterpoint. Frequently, the books result from collaborations; occasionally credited, sometimes not, other than in the acknowledgments. However, the voice of the contributors is always allowed to pass through the artist’s editorial filter with its accents and substance intact, particularly where the text constitutes personal testimony; ultimately, Seers’ work derives always from the ‘truth’ of an individual biography. Occasionally these biographies converge at some historical intersection, the kind of event that has unimpeachable credentials (which nowadays means: it’s on Wikipedia) to show that it ‘actually happened’. Sometimes the links seem fantastical or tenuous, bordering on superstition or a mystic’s credulity towards coincidence in spite of their veracity.

Seers gathers her materials within the reveries of interviewed subjects, who are filmed or voice recorded. First she finds the people, those with stories to tell, then she tells the tale; the ultimate form of the work emerges out of the intersections of these ‘true’ stories. But the direction of the creative process may also be influenced by the contributors, especially in being asked to select which photographs Seers must use as pathways through the possible narrative spaces that unfold.

The artist’s particular way of joining up the dots of historical or biographical fact derives from Seers’ reading of French philosopher Henri Bergson (1859–1941), and in particular his writings on memory and perception, and Gilles Deleuze’s influential ‘rediscovery’ Le Bergsonisme (1966)[3]. Bergson felt that the entirety of a person’s life experience was potentially available to consciousness but that the mind employed filters to restrict both perceptual content and memory only to material pertinent to present events. He was greatly interested, therefore, in psychological phenomena such as dreams (‘pure memory’ manifesting as images) or hypnotic regression, which appeared to support the hypothesis that perception and recall can have far more content than is consciously available (many of his ideas were formulated before Freud developed his psychoanalytic theories). In terms of perception, for Bergson our apprehension of events entailed a ‘slicing up’ or a ‘selection’ that discarded a vast array of information contained within the images formed in the mind and, in particular, their dynamic temporal relationships. In his seminal work Matter and Memory (1896), Bergson introduced a diagram of an inverted memory cone and used the metaphor of a telescope being focussed into different regions of the cone, bringing into sharp relief certain regions of recollections that nevertheless remain mostly potential or virtual until resolved.

Seers’ work does not accept the dichotomy of fact and fiction, as nothing seems entirely factual or entirely fictional. Fictional implies untrue and Seers is looking for the truth in things that supersedes mere factuality. The artist has clearly been concerned with Bergson’s notions of ‘multiplicity’ and ‘intuition’, which attempt to bypass traditional concepts of the One and the Multiple. Her work, and especially the dual-screening method, makes great use of Deleuze’s relational terms virtual/actual, fusion/juxtaposition, continuous/discrete, succession/simultaneity.

Her work then coalesces around the points where different biographies, including hers, coincide and come into focus. Memory, of course, is oriented to the specific point of view of the remembering subject – what seems significant to you about a shared event may appear inconsequential to another observer of the same event. Whereas her apparatus, the lens, tends always towards the privileged point of view, the vantage point of documentary objectivity. The unfolding process of the making of the work skirts close to randomness and dissociation yet somehow the superposition of multiple subjective viewpoints seems to lend the events of Seers’ films and texts a peculiar density and inevitability. This seeking out of congruence and coincidence, hidden significance and implied meaning, renders the world as a series of signs that hint at underlying structure and connexion. The signs are all grounded in actual events, then responded to and improvised upon as the work evolves: the result is a fine balance between invention and necessity. It’s no accident that a previous work in 2010 was titled It Has To Be This Way. What anchors the work’s content and prevents the drift toward free fantasy is the disciplined adherence to photographic, filmic, and biographical principles. Seers takes it as given that the act of photographing is laden with the images’ final quality. This means that her material is rarely culled from unknown sources and when she uses found footage it will always retain its identity, i.e. she does not redistribute meaning to found material and when it is found by her its discovery is within the process of the narrative. No matter how improbable some of the narratives that put flesh on these images seem, their documentary veracity is paramount. It happened that way, it happened.

 

Historical research and documentary evidence may aim to resist the subjective point of view and arrive at agreed-upon facts, at objectivity, but many of Seers’ subjects have a less-than-conventional grip on ‘reality’. They are archetypal unreliable narrators as, one often suspects, the persona ‘Lindsay Seers’, a frequent participant in the emergent narratives, must surely be too. In Nowherelessnow4 (iamnowhere), this trope arrives at its strongest manifestation to date insofar as her principal narrator, Ina or (I), and the ‘entangled’ other, Daniel or (D), are both schizophrenic. In fact, they are father and daughter. This allows Seers to explore the kinds of questions raised by the 60s counter-culture about the nature of ‘madness’ as a social construct rather than a biological condition. However, there is perhaps a biological cause for the psychosis of one of her protagonists who has the condition known as heterochromia, in which people have eyes of different colours.

The artist’s fascination with heterochromia arises from the fact that her great-great-uncle had differently coloured eyes and that this almost certainly resulted from the absorption of a non-identical foetal sibling in the womb. This organising theme has appeared in previous works by the artist (outside of the Nowhere Less Now cycle of works) such as 2011’s Entangled performance for the Athen’s Biennale, 2012’s Entangled2 at the Turner Contemporary in Margate and Entangled2(Theatre II) Matt’s Gallery, London in 2013. The film starts by introducing Ina, the narrator, an English-French Algerian dancer raised in Germany. The early scenes show Ina dancing on the shores of the German island of Helgoland in the North Sea[4]. Her dance recreates the one which opens the 1926 silent film by German director Arnold Fanck[5], The Holy Mountain, and Seers has found the exact film locations for the homage. Ina reminisces about watching this dance with her father, the memory forming part of a joyful, innocent nostalgia. But she later discovers that the dancer Fanck employed is none other than the then 22-year-old Leni Riefenstahl[6]. This revelation initiates a psychotic break when Ina realises that Riefenstahl later wrote, directed and edited the 1935 Nazi propaganda film Triumph of the Will. Her cherished memory is transformed into a causal nexus that leads to catastrophe: Hitler sees Riefenstahl in The Holy Mountain and becomes transfixed by her; introductions are made and Riefenstahl, though untested as a documentary maker, is commissioned to produce a film about the 1933 Nazi party rally and then Triumph of the Will. But there’s a further historical entanglement impinging on Ina’s psychotic guilt – the tale of the Princess of Zanzibar[7].

Seers’ work poses the question: do coincidences exist or are all events, as Bergson suggests, always interconnected? This hints at a cosmic principle which has disturbing implications – an historical butterfly effect. As a theory of historical causation the concept, taken from chaos theory, that small initial changes to complex systems can produce large results – like a butterfly flapping its wings and causing a hurricane months later – goes against all our common sense ideas of the significance of particular nodes in a chain of events, especially primary origins. In Daniel’s case, we yearn to inform him that he is not personally culpable. The loss of his sister, the massacre in Africa – they did not result from anything he chose or did. Are bystanders to history as culpable as the principal architects of events? Must we as individuals bear the guilt of apparently chance events that simply happen to coincide? This is the harsh reproach that Daniel makes against himself, a minor cog in the machinery of empire. He took the Queen’s Shilling, and was therefore a fellow traveller with cynical colonial power. But how could Leni Riefenstahl not feel the crushing of the butterfly wings in the first camps established in 1933? An actor and film director who saw no Communists, no homosexuals, no political dissenters disappear?

Will the lens save us, will the screen be our redemption, or will they destroy us? Historical events play out in pictures and Tweets that seem to place us at the scene of the crime as eye witnesses. It is now commonplace to find breaking news accompanied by analysis emphasizing the transformative effect of new media on, say, the capacity for repressive regimes to carry out their programmes unimpeded. Ina certainly seems to believe that recording everything might prevent terrible events happening, by creating a Bergsonian panopticon that leads to eternal vigilance and preparedness. Then at times she feels the need to purge and be liberated from all this collected information. And even as new perceptual technologies seem to empower us, we are inundated with warnings that screen-time and new forms of communication are changing the structure and chemical function of human brains, with unforeseeable consequences for sociability or cognitive function. Naturally, it is a new imaging technology, MRI brain scanning, that provides the evidence.

Seers, then, seems to suggest that to inspect reality closely enough leads inevitably to the discovery of the end of a thread that, when tugged upon, will unravel world historical chains of causation and consequence. We will find ourselves enmeshed in a net of associations and connections, traces of the past that have formed the present and will shape the future. Searching for connections, we find them. Therefore, are we all spinning the web?



[1] Seers’ works based on her family connections with Ghana, such as It has to be this way² (2011) at Baltic, Gateshead, touched on the history of slavery using an installation comprising a reproduction of a slave fort.

[2] A populated archipelago about three hours by ship from mainland Germany. Formerly a Danish and British possession. Germany occupied and transformed Helgoland into a major naval strongpoint during World War I, evacuating the civilian population. The first naval engagement of the Great War was fought off its shores. After the armistice in 1918, the islanders were allowed to return, and the British Empire demanded the return of Zanzibar to its sphere of influence. However, during the Nazi era, Helgoland and its smaller companion island Düne, were once again militarised. The Germans turned the island into a vast rock fortress, digging a network of deep tunnels and chambers into the sandstone bedrock. They used this fortress to protect the Kiel Canal and the entrance to the River Elbe, and also as a submarine base. In 1947, the Royal Navy was tasked with reducing the island to rubble. Nearly 7000 tonnes of TNT and unexploded ordinance were detonated in the largest non-nuclear explosion ever created, in an operation called The Big Bang. Although significantly altering the island’s topology, it remained habitable and possession was returned to Germany in 1952

[3] Seers’ birth year, for lovers of coincidence.

[4] The famous German Bight of the BBC radio maritime weather forecasts..

[5] Arnold Fanck (1889–1974). German film-maker who pioneered the mountain film genre.

[6] Leni Riefenstahl (1902–2003). German film-maker commissioned by Hitler to produce propaganda films in the 1930s, including the documentary about the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Olympia.

[7] An archipelago of islands off the eastern coast of Tanzania.