Saturday, 15 September 2012


If I were the kind of person who drinks to deal with sorrow, maybe I'd being slipping into a dry Martini just now. Unfortunately, I am the sort of person who writes instead and - as it goes - acts out the role of a critic. Settle back and enjoy the cynicism.

I am currently upstairs at Tramway: for some years, I have called this area my office. I do work here, now and again. In fact, if there is anyone reading under the age of twenty-five, do consider my Young Critics Course. Today, I am dipping into the Tramway Festival of Artists Moving Image. It's a terrible name - I am not quite sure what it actually means - but an intriguing weekend. There are hour long sessions of short films coming from a visual art perspective. That is, plenty of experimentation and not many car chases.

Between showings, I am reading One Day by David Nicholls. It's slowly developing into a searing condemnation of my generation's evolution from well-meaning idealists to cynical, bloated baby-factories. Imagine another shot of vodka for every chapter...

The TFAMI puzzles me. I spend so much time banging on about the social importance of art that I forget that there is another approach: ars gratia artis, and the films on show are very much high level research into form and possibility. Day one was dedicated, variously, to films that questioned the possibility of blurring boundaries between genres, the impact of the internet on film and engagement with location. The gap between the real world and the experience mediated through art and computers was held up to interrogation.

I wonder where these films sit, culturally. They brush up against each other well enough - after twenty minutes of contemplating geometry, a certain sly humour can be detected in the activities of certain shapes. And Huw Lemmey's Clichy Bridge is a storming mash-up of gay pride and Iranian revolution that deconstructs the way that internet browsing can confuse ideas into unexpected juxtapositions and challenges the easy acceptance of LGBTQ culture into a heteronormative mainstream.

But many of the films are content to ask formal questions. Somehow, Aaron Carpenter can use simple shapes to be both entertaining and more philosophical: Circle Incessantly Nudged by Other takes fifteen seconds to make a bold social commentary (the reveal is priceless). David Hall's Vertical becomes a series of visual puns that still comment on the way that nature - pure reality, I guess - is tamed and twisted by the imposition of shapes onto the landscape. As often as I have been lost in the a film's interest with the surface, I've been challenged to consider how I view my life through a set of assumptions that are as rigid as a set-square.

When I was a kid, they used to have a short feature before the blockbuster movie: at best, it would be a cartoon, at worst, it was that one promoting the RAF starring Jim Davidson. I wonder whether it wouldn't be possible to slip a few of these films in. I would have liked to have seen Casio, Seiko, Sheraton, Toyota, Mars before Black Hawk Down, since it deals with the uneasy relationship between consumerism and warfare. And Introduccion a la Teoria de la Probabilidad, which addresses the Iranian Hostage Crisis in the context of a mathematical example, would fit well against those films that involve a mathematician fearing for their sanity, like Proof or A Beautiful Mind.

Here in Tramway, there is a danger that the TFAMI can become a bit like my Radio Hour - artists talking for the benefit of other artists, and broader concern - like how this work fits into our late consumerist society - are reduced to a vague after-thought. And this programme deserves a wider audience. At the very least, it has reminded me that art is better than booze for escaping the blues. If I can just smuggle a couple of DVDs into the projector booth at Cineworld...

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