BY Colin Perry in News | 29 SEP 09

Abandon Normal Devices

A new biennial for cinema and digital culture opens in Liverpool

BY Colin Perry in News | 29 SEP 09

‘Abandon Normal Devices’ (AND) is a new biennial of ‘new cinema and digital culture’ that was launched in Liverpool last week. It’s a quirky affair – a sort of film festival with bonus exhibitions (or vice-versa, depending on your bias). Highlights that floated my boat included a new commissioned work by Thai maestro Apichatpong Weerasethakul at the Foundation for Art and Technology (FACT), an exhibition by British filmmaker Duane Hopkins at the Open Eye Gallery, and a one-off performance lecture by Carolee Schneemann at Tate Liverpool.

Hosted this year by FACT, ‘AND’ is intended to be peripatetic – in 2011, Cornerhouse in Manchester will be the host – and will also have a minstrel-like rural afterlife, hitting Cumbria in spring 2010 somewhere in the Grizedale area (though nothing to do with Grizedale Arts, I’m told).

So why ‘Abandon Normal Devices’? Kate Taylor, the festival’s director tells me the exhibition’s title is a reference to Brian Eno’s ‘Oblique Strategies’: a set of cards invented by Eno as a resource for breaking deadlocks during the working process. ‘AND’, it seems, is seeking a way forward as celluloid cinema gives way to digital cinema (peer-to-peer file sharing, movie players on mobile phones), and the whole ‘post-cinema’ condition. Exciting stuff. Taylor notes – with confident optimism – in the festival guidebook: ‘this is just the start’.


Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Primitive (2009)

Weerasethakul’s new film, Primitive (2009), is an expansion of A Letter to Uncle Boonme (2009), which bagged the grand prize at this year’s Oberhausen Short Film Festival (read Dan Kidner’s review here). A Letter to Uncle Boonme, which is also shown at FACT, is a good introduction to the filmmaker’s sensibilities. Set in the Thai village of Nabua, which, during the 1980s, was a centre of the Thai government’s fight to wipe out communist insurgents, the film is piqued with politics yet remains elusive – perhaps even magical realist – in approach. Also filmed in Nabua, Primitive is an ambitious multi-screen installation consisting of six separate but complimentary videos. On one screen, a group of young men lounge around as a narrator recounts his dream of a trip to the future in a time machine; another screen displays the penumbral outline of a ‘spaceship’ ascending and descending against a darkening sky. Most impressive of all is the footage of fake lightning used on film sets (I haven’t the faintest idea how it works), which convincingly strikes the ground around a temple and dwellings with heart-stopping rapidity. It cracks like gunfire in the jungle night.


At Open Eye Gallery, it was easy to be charmed by Duane Hopkins’ exquisite cinematographic portraits of teenage boys idling around in the semi-rural nothingness of middle England. Hopkins is best known for 2007’s Better Things, which premiered at Cannes last year. The central work here, a video triptych entitled There are no Lions in England (2009), perfectly captured the heavy-lidded, hormonally drugged look of its three protagonists. Down the road at the A Foundation, which was open for a 24 hours as part of the festival, work by the artist Ben Rivers was showing . Compared to Hopkins’ minimal poise, ‘A World Rattled of Habit’ was a bit of a gimmicky affair: his 16 mm films were projected within an assortment of ramshackle sheds within the hangar-like Furnace space. Nevertheless, a subtle and surreal humour permeated the work, and stopped them being just pretty; presented differently they could have been magical.


To finish the day, Carolee Schneemann, who will be 70 next month, gave a rousing performance lecture at Tate Liverpool. Striding in behind the audience brandishing a shamanistic-looking stick and a velvety black rope, Schneemann cut an imposing figure. Or rather, she would have done had she not decided to walk on to the tune of Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’. No matter. Mysteries of the Iconographies was a surprisingly informal affair, as the artist recounted episodes from her long and illustrious career. It felt like an honour simply to be there.

Zapping up to a festival for only a few hours, as I did, means that you inevitably miss a lot of the action. Thankfully, most of the feature-length movies shown here have decent distribution deals, and many have previously shown at art-house cinemas across the UK. The shorts will be harder to catch again, notably Why Have there Been No Great Women Artists? by Club des Femmes (a compilation of works from the 1970s by Lis Rhodes, Martha Rosler and Elisabeth Subrin) and 15mm Film’s provocatively titled Sex for the Disabled (2009). I also missed Polish artist Krzysztof Wodiczko’s night-time installation War Veteran Vehicle (2009), for which he fitted a Humvee with a projector, strapped like a missile-launcher to the roof, that delivered a fusillade of images of British servicemen and women from northwest England injured in recent conflicts. On Thursday, there was also a party to celebrate that FACT, which was originally known as Moviola, is 20 years old this year. By coincidence, it is also 20 years since the foundation of ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie) in Karlsruhe, another great European institute for new media. Happy birthday, new media!