Last weekend saw both the completion of our crowd funding campaign for
This is Cinema and the screening at the East End Film Festival of Circle/Line, our documentary investigation into whether people in London are happy.
We would like to offer our thanks to all those who helped to organise and who came to the screening (especially the team at the EEFF!) and to those who pledged money for
This is Cinema via our campaign with LiveTree.
But this is not a moment to sit still, but a moment to carry on…
And so since Saturday 3 June, I have been doing some work on an essay-film, #randomaccessmemory, while Tom Maine and I went out on Monday 5 June to shoot more sculptures for our short essay-film, Sculptures of London.
The fourth day of our shot, Tom and I started at the Emirates Stadium, where we took some shots of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, before then heading to the site of the old Gainsborough Studios in order to capture images of the giant film reel that sits in Shoreditch Park and a curious bust of the Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock himself.
We then travelled down to Liverpool Street and the surrounding area, where we saw Fernando Botero’s Broadgate Venus, Xavier Corberó’s Broad Family, and one of the Kindertransport memorials created by Frank Meisler and Arie Oviada. The last of these commemorates the effort of the British to take in nearly 10,000 Jewish child refugees in the build-up to the Second World War.
Richard Serra’s Fulcrum then followed, a statue that we shot in a style that rhymes with a similar shot of Bernar Venet’s Neuf lignes obliques in The Benefit of Doubt. We shot The Benefit of Doubt in Nice, France, where Venet’s sculpture lives. The film is a retelling of the myth of Ariadne, the daughter of Minos abandoned on the beach by Theseus and who then meets (in our film, two versions of) Bacchus.
Next we viewed Jacques Lipschitz’s Bellerophon Taming Pegasus. As Tom and I discussed creativity, I wondered (cheekily perhaps) that the City location of this sculpture about the mythical slayer of monsters capturing the monstrous chimera seemed somehow to symbolise the way in which the world of work also captures and hinders creativity – with creativity being the creation of monsters, in the sense that creativity brings into the world things and beings that have never before existed (maybe this is why we call children little monsters).
Looking at Antanas Brazdys’ Ritual in front of the Woolgate Exhange, I also wondered how this particular sculpture also seems very meaningful given its location and the material from which it is made.
This stainless steel piece offers distorted reflections of those who walk in and out of the building, thereby making us look again at, and perhaps question, the daily ritual that is the commute into and out of work. Why do we do this? Is there reason to doubt the ritual?
There followed shots of Karin Jonzen’s Gardener, John Birnie Philip’s Peace and Michael Ayrton’s Minotaur by the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in the Barbican.
Given the difficulty that we had in finding the Minotaur, which had moved since when we used it for a shot in En Attendant Godard in 2009, it seemed as though this minotaur really did live in a labyrinth – until a very helpful man called José helped us to locate it by leading us through the Guildhall’s staff-only area.
In En Attendant Godard, the minotaur is used to represent a bull – the form taken by Jupiter in order to rape Europa, in the film represented by Annie, who is played by Hannah Croft.
En Attendant Godard refers repeatedly to the mythical Rape of Europa – with images of François Boucher’s Rape of Europa featuring early on, before we then see Alex Chevasco’s character, Alex, being slain as a bull by a torero (Tristan Olphe-Gaillard), before Alex re-adopts bull horns and poses with Annie (who has now changed her name, although we not sure to what) by Lake Geneva.
At the time, we felt as though these images allowed us to investigate visually a link between the Rape of Europa and the concept of Europe: to be European means to be wide-eyed (from the Greek eurys/wide and ops/face or eye). In other words, it means to be open, to look others in the eye or in the face; it is a sign of respect. But perhaps Europa suffers for her wide-eyed openness as Jupiter descends to abduct her.
Further tying this myth to Beg Steal Borrow’s productions, Europa was the mother of Minos, the father of the minotaur, from which the afore-mentioned Ariadne, daughter of Minos and sister of the minotaur, saved Theseus by giving him the spool of thread that he used to make his way out of the labyrinth.
Ariadne is the name of the character that Hannah Croft again plays in The Benefit of Doubt, which is based on the myth of Ariadne, but here picking up the story from after she is abandoned by Theseus on the beach of Naxos (here, Nice) and then discovered by Bacchus (in The Benefit of Doubt represented by two characters played by Nick Marwick and Greg Rowe).
Ariadne is also a key figure in Letters to Ariadne, a film about which I shall blog shortly, and which is an attempt by me to help my niece Ariadne to make sense of the world.
Often life feels as though it is a labyrinth: a puzzle from which we can find no release, except perhaps through an act of love or kindness (as José gave to us at the Guildhall). I wonder (immodestly) that this is something that I try – in my limited way – to explore in my films (or at least to ask if to doubt, if not to know and yet to be open and wide-eyed – or in an etymological sense to be European – can benefit us).
And as in a labyrinth, where being lost we keep returning to the same places to try to make sense of them, so it is with Sculptures of London that we find ourselves returning to the same myths and themes from our other films, haunted by the same questions about what life is, and what the story is that the sculptures of London can tell us.
Indeed, as mentioned in an earlier blog, various of the sculptures that we shot in Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park also feature in The New Hope, while other sculptures that we have shot and are yet to shoot for Sculptures of London also appear in Circle/Line and Common Ground, about which more later.
To return to Day Four of the Sculptures shoot, though, we then shot the four feminised personifications of Commerce, Science, Agriculture and Fine Art that live on Holborn Viaduct, while also taking an image of a lion covered in scaffold tarpaulin. This gave it the appearance of a sculpture modified by an artist like Christo, who is famous for covering monuments with cloth: like Ritual, the tarpaulin that hid the lion oddly also made it suddenly more visible than usual.
Wandering further around the City, we filmed images of Antony Gormley’s Resolution on Shoe Lane, the sculpture of Samuel Johnson’s cat, Hodge, by Jon Bickley (who also made the pig sculptures we shot on our last sortie), and St George and the Dragon by Michael Sandle and Morris Singer.
While we failed to find Stephen Melton’s LIFFE Trader, we did find J Seward Johnson’s Taxi! sculpture, before then shooting various more ‘monumental’ statues of the likes of Queen Victoria (on Blackfriars Bridge), Queen Anne (outside St Paul’s Cathedral) and the Duke of Wellington and James Henry Greathead by Bank.
Outside St Paul’s, we created a shot of Georg Ehrlich’s Young Lovers that echoes a shot of Dennis (Dennis Chua) walking around the cathedral in Common Ground – during a sequence that we filmed during the Occupy London movement in late 2011.
Meanwhile, in front of the Wellington statue by Francis Leggatt Chantry, we came across some pro-EU protestors singing modified versions of protest songs (e.g. Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’) in the build-up to the next General Election. They very happily let us film them, and we chatted briefly about their desire for the UK not to leave the European Union (and their desire for Theresa May not to win the election).
There followed brief visits to The Barge Master and the Swan Master of the Vintners Company by Vivien Mallock, and The Cordwainer by Alma Boyes on Watling Street. Interestingly enough, Tom and I marvelled at how – as per the latter statue’s inscription – shoemaking only really took off as an industry in the UK as a result of leather imported from Spain, with cordwain being a corruption of Cordovan, or things from the Spanish city of Córdoba.
If this European connection were not enough, it felt apt that the statue would find itself on Watling Street, which Tom told me was both the site of Boudica’s defeat by the Romans in cAD60 and the dividing line of the Danelaw in the late 9th Century. This latter event saw Watling Street become a boundary between Wessex and Guthrum – which in effect were thus two separate countries at the time.
In other words, the shoes that we wear to cross boundaries are themselves the product of materials crossing national borders, and which are made on the site of a place that itself became a national border and which played host to a battle about national sovereignty. It would seem that today’s disputes over national borders and boundaries have long roots in our past – which we can begin to discover by looking at the public art that surrounds us both in London and elsewhere.
After a trip to Aldgate to see Keith McCarter’s Ridirich, Tom and I popped by the Tower of London to shoot the Building Worker Statue by Alan Wilson, which was created to commemorate the lives of those who have died undertaking construction work in the city.
We then visited St Katharine Dock, where we saw Wendy Taylor’s Timepiece and David Wynne’s Girl with a Dolphin, a companion piece to his Boy with a Dolphin on Cheyne Walk and which we shot on our previous day of filming (as mentioned here).
In contrast with his Boy, though, the presence in Wynne’s Girl of a fountain that sprays up on to her body, and which spray darts around in the wind, lends to this particular piece a pornographic dimension.
Crossing the river, we then discovered that Eduardo Paolozzi’s Head of Invention has been moved – although we have not yet discovered where to (but it was not in Butler’s Wharf as we were expecting), while we could not find a bust of Ernest Bevin on Tooley Street, either.
We ended, then, with Jacob the Dray Horse by Shirley Pace in the Circle on Queen Elizabeth Street, and John Keats by Stuart Williamson in the Great Maze Pond by Guy’s Hospital in London Bridge.
It is apt that we ended in a maze – another sign that we are all in a labyrinth through which we struggle to find our way.
‘Sure a poet is a sage; A Humanist, physician to all men.’ In The Fall of Hyperion: A Dream, from which these words are taken, Keats suggests that the poet is on an endless quest for knowledge, which in turn means that the poet is plagued by doubts, never reaching the point of understanding, but always seeking, open-mindedly, to understand further.
Furthermore, in the poem, Keats suggests that humans should suffer and seek the spiritual, rather than follow or create the words of false poets: not those who create (poiesis), but those who destroy.
Filming these final two sculptures of the day in London Bridge, we came across a multitude of people, including many wearing Muslim Aid-branded clothing, taking part in the vigil announced by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan for those who died during the terrorist attack that took place at London Bridge on Saturday 3 June.
It would seem that such horrific incidents haunt Beg Steal Borrow’s films. On 14 July 2016, there was an attack involving a truck on the civilians of Nice, where we filmed The Benefit of Doubt, while this attack took place just hours after the screening of Circle/Line at the East End Film Festival.
Such catastrophes are hard if not impossible to comprehend. London is a city full of paradoxes, just like a circle that is supposed also to be a line.
However, if the vigil can teach us anything, it is that above and beyond the stories that are told by London’s sculptures, London is a city full of loving, open-minded, wide-eyed and welcoming humans – of innumerable races, religions and other types of category that we use to define ourselves. Of the sort who I would like to think are open to taking in refugees, perhaps especially children, and even if the current government recently scrapped the so-called Dubs scheme.
With each other’s help and support, perhaps we can come to learn the benefit of not knowing all the answers and perhaps not knowing at all. If we not only learn the benefit of doubt, but also share our doubts with each other (by writing poetry), then perhaps we can also learn to be Humanists, physicians to all humans, and to give to ourselves and to each other the thread that will help us to find our way out of this labyrinth.