In today’s post, Ruby takes a closer look at the three films that form Elizabeth Price’s SLOW DANS trilogy, currently on display at the Whitworth.
Elizabeth Price is a Turner Prize winning contemporary artist based in the UK, whose first retrospective, A LONG MEMORY, is currently showing at the Whitworth. SLOW DANS, the focus of this piece, is one of many projects on show in this exhibition
SLOW DANS is a series of three films, each focusing on a different type of work, manual labour, administration and academia and their role in society’s past, present and its imagined future. The theme is on the nature of societal change, particularly that of the late twentieth century and how the cultural shift during the 1970’s and 1980’s may still change the landscape of the future. Shifts in class, gender and trust in academics shapes these works, which visually demonstrate this societal metamorphosis.
The materials used in these films also displays this by using a combination of equipment and images of that which is extinct and archaic, whilst using techniques which are very modern. The combination of archival material and new technologies is a style often associated with Price. She tends to collects images and objects over years and years before finding their place in her works. For instance, Price had been collecting men’s neckties for over a decade before utilising them in FELT TIP.
Within each of these videos is a narrative revolving around revolutions within different industries and natures of work. They are not always full-scale uprisings, but minute victories in questioning the status quo of these professions and their history. In this blog post I will be looking at those micro revolutions exhibited in SLOW DANS.
This is my own interpretation of this work based on research and thoughts on interviews of the artist discussing this work. The beauty of art is that it can be interpreted in many ways and I invite you to visit this exhibition and create your own understanding of the works.
“The only Visitants you’ll find these days are in the underground carparks of the big new builds…they can happen in any raw underground space- in wine cellars or data centres, even in gyms” types the four narrators. These ominous messages appear on the four screens of KHOL, accompanied by inverted images of collieries. The images taken from the Albert Walker Archive from the National Coal Mining Museum depict looming archaic architectures that seemingly communicate a shared loss of livelihoods and industry.
The meaning of the word ‘Visitant’, is “a supernatural being or agency; an apparition.” Therefore, KHOL is in many ways a ghost story, or at least can be interpreted as such. These Visitants bubble up through the foundations of the gentrified housing projects, built over the “big, wet grid” of the tunnels created by the now abandoned mining industry.
You can see the influence of the classic ghost story, and Elizabeth Price has discussed in an interview with Walker Art Magazine that she uses “science or ghost fiction as a structured tool to allow an accelerated move from one category of knowledge to another.” Horror and Sci-Fi are genres with a long history of creating narratives which highlight societal issues and promote social change. SLOW DANS is no different, for instance the Visitants seem to me as a way of illustrating the rapid gentrification of these locations which were once a place of industry.
Written in the margins of a second-hand copy of Sexuality and Class Struggle by Reimut Reiche, someone presumed to be a woman, critiques this text. Her arguments, written in a purple felt tip, and the patriarchal tone of the book, produces the basis of this film. In said film, a set of narrators discuss the history of men’s neckties and its relationship with class and masculinity.
One of the points brought up in the film is how ties are symbolically phallic and also appear similar to a pen nib – implying that administrative work, where ties are part of the uniform, is reserved for men. The narrators are “likely female”, who rail against this stereotype by creating their own way of wearing ties, making them look less phallic and more feminine. In the narrative of the film, when they are worn that way they are known as “longue tongues”, echoing the longue durée of women’s struggle to be taken seriously in the workplace. This work is particularly poignant, after the #MeToo and Time’s Up campaigns have brought this struggle into mainstream conversation in recent years.
One of the film’s themes is the evolution of technology. Price has discussed how the patterns on neckties, particularly those from the 1970’s and 1980’s, visually seem to echo “systems of data transmission and storage” such as memory chips and nodes and “emergent technologies of the time”. These technologies were “altering the nature of administrative and executive work”, the very workplaces which these ties would have been worn. Ties, then, are very much symbolic of societal shifts (both technologically and in sexual politics) and can be used to illustrate this change.
In the last decade or so, there has been a notable shift in the way the public view academics and their value in this increasingly polarized society. This seems to be the set-up for this piece in which one day the world of academia falls silent. Possibly in protest against their perceived lack of use or something else entirely. Instead they use “sibilant utterances,” clicks and guttural noises which brings them infamy and the interests of journalistic enquiries. They are seen as eccentric and possibly mentally ill by various different researchers studying this phenomenon, called P1, Ag3 and SM7, whose opinions differ on the origins of this profession’s shift in behaviour.
This film also looks at the rise of digital technologies, which have already changed the field of academia, and the nature of the distribution of knowledge. Now if you want to know about anything, there is a search engine to provide that information, which was previously the use of libraries and the books within them. The imagery of the film illustrates this with black and white images of dresses and robes, often associated with ritual and important occasions, which are mirrored and reversed. This visually reminds me of a Rorschach test which is linked with the academic study of psychology. The movement of the piece also resembles the opening and closing of a book. In the film, this selectively mute group are known by the press as ‘THE TEACHERS’, however their reasoning is not necessarily because they were previously academics, but because it replicated the sounds of the opening (teeeech) and closing (cherrs) of an “big ancient book”. They are railing against how society has not only turned their backs on them, but also the nature of learning and holding a physical book and reading it.
Elizabeth Price: A LONG MEMORY will be open until 1 March 2020 and the artist will be holding a lecture at the Whitworth as part of the celebration of the release of her book SLOW DANS. You can book your free ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/elizabeth-price-lecture-and-book-launch-tickets-82615712821