The four films reflect on how people live, grapple and play with the peculiar qualities of a place. In the films, the artists let us into the world of cities (Gerda Paliušytė; Oleksiy Radynski), a peculiar monument erected to create myths (Erdem Taşdelen), and a home constructed through fear and power (Adam Walker and Vicki Thornton).
Many places have particular qualities, a kind of concentration of atmosphere. Such places are gathering spaces of feelings and relations, which are held there, sometimes as fearful or mournful reminders of lives and stories (almost) lost, sometimes as signs of abundance and hope.
These films show us the political and aesthetic sensibilities and possibilities that attention to place and atmosphere can open up. They show us how memories and stories are placed.
This gathering of friends and films happened some two years ago. Now, as we release them, the world is profoundly marked, in particular by a devastating war in Ukraine and the pandemic. This selection has become all the more intensely personal and political.
One artist, Oleksiy Radynski (whom I met when I went to Kyiv from Vilnius for a weekend in 2019) lives in Kyiv, where on the day I wrote this was hit by ‘kamikaze’ drones. I am now safe in London, and I can’t quite put together the reality of this present with that evening Oleksiy and I met some years ago. I remember the warmth and kindness of Oleksiy and his friends at a makeshift party outside a warehouse, the generosity of all the artists I met in Kyiv, their rigorous commitment to social justice and to the integrity of their art and communities. All this gave me hope and energy when I was myself at a nadir in my mental state. I have never forgotten it.
Radynski’s The Film of Kyiv, Episode One, is a filmic essay that roots Kyiv’s political and social transformations in scenes that capture its changing urban infrastructure, in particular one of the biggest unfinished bridge projects in the world, the Podilskyi Bridge in the centre of Kyiv. Radynski focuses on the margins, where the consequences of greed, power and money are challenged by the city’s young population ‘pointlessly’ playing in and exploring their environment. It was a moving film to watch then, it is even more so to watch now.
Adam Walker and Vicki Thornton picture yet another side of Ukraine in their film STATESCAPE∞, which is conceived as a documentary, speculative computer game and narrative film. The work captures the devastatingly weird palace and now tourist attraction, Mezhyhirya, the palatial former home of deposed Ukrainian President Victor Yanukovych.
Another city and another house, this time Baltimore and its Edgar Allan Poe’s house museum, feature in Gerda Paliušyte’s both tender and uncompromising urban portrait Nevermore. In this film she roots her attention on the people, homes and histories which keep a city a place of life, memory and imagination even as systemic violence and prejudice try to divide its population.
If Poe’s house in Baltimore is the site of hauntings, memories and community stories, then a peculiar minaret stranded in a park in Kėdainiai, a small town in Lithuania, is the starting point for Erdem Taşdelen’s exploration of memory and history in his film, A Minaret for the General’s Wife. Stonily persistent, yet half forgotten and glimpsed only ever partially, the minaret is shown in Erdem’s film as something continually shaped by imagination and storytelling. The film is part of the artist’s broader project on retelling the minaret’s histories in his installation at the Mercer Union in 2021.
This selection is as much a homage to these artists as it is to the work they make. Their sensibilities and attention, the way they continue to observe, listen and create in spite of the senselessness of destruction and greed is, for me at least, an offering of hope and resilience. If there are those who try to flatten out the messy intricacies of life into neat, controllable units, artists like the ones here show us the world as a mosaic of places and voices, each vibrant with their textural differences, difficulties and pleasures, their histories and communities, their sites of darkness and tragedy, as well as their spaces of light and hope.
Yates Norton is a curator at the Roberts Institute of Art, London. He regularly writes on artists’ practices for a range of publications. He also collaborates closely with his companion David Ruebain on disability justice work.
Gerda Paliušytė, Nevermore
Oleksiy Radynski, The Film of Kyiv, Episode One
Adam Walker and Vicki Thornton, STATESCAPE∞
Erdem Taşdelen, A Minaret for the General’s Wife