On Saturday the 23rd I presented ‘The Other Kwai’ a film I have developed during my time at the Sura Medura Art Centre. Set within the linearity of a single day with a narrative structure reflective of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (1957), broken by images from the Hollywood film and the weaving of chair caning, ‘The Other Kwai’ takes in the echoes of the impact when fiction collided with reality, creating a new history which continues to affect and reverberate through the rainforest canyons of the Kelani River at Kitulgala. My previous film work has consistently been intended to be exhibited within installation spaces and I have found that while the focus of the audience is the projection of moving images, the space where it is presented can act as a crucial element to the work as a whole; helping to create an immersive environment for an audience, while also referencing components or the structure of the films presented, causing the spaces to become constituent components of the installations. This has continued with the presentation of my latest work in Sri Lanka. Using the grounds of Sunbeach Hotel in Hikkaduwa I set up an outdoor cinema for the audience to sit and experience the work. Previously many of my moving image installations have been structured in a non-linear way, in part due to the particular qualities and contexts of exhibiting in gallery spaces. This piece was presented in an unconventional art environment and needed certain criteria to be put in place to create an installation space that continued to feed information involved within the work to the audience.
When confronted by moving image art in the cavernous spaces of contemporary visual art galleries and museums the work has regularly been place on a continuous loop, forcing the actions to repeat once completed and without break. This is a way of making the work viewable to as many people wondering around the building throughout the day as possible but (unless the films are incredibly short or focus on repetition) can destroy the narrative structure of many of these works, leaving the audience to be more concerned with wondering where in the film they have stumbled into (Beginning middle or end) then the actual content they are viewing. This has seen a rise in artists films either being non-linear where the audience participate within an environment where they edit their own film from the images and sequences projected or by having set times for the films to start, giving that control of accessing the work in the correct linear order the artists intended it to be viewed (This curatorial decision making was heavily visible in the exhibiting dynamics of last year’s Turner Prize). The outdoor cinema area I constructed acted as a formal space for viewing cinematic work and rather than be a space that was open to the coming and going of various people, was rigidly structured in reference to conventional cinema spaces by applying a start time for the film with a single showing to reinforce the linear composition of the work.
In an earlier blog post I mentioned my fascination at watching and filming a local man fixing the caning on a chair. This footage has become an important part of my film and weaves throughout its duration, creating associations with the intricate design of the bridge, transient qualities of the material and laying of new histories within the story of the Kitulgala. These chair cane seats also seem part of the very fabric of Sri Lankan society, appearing in local villager’s homes, hotels, museums, as well as during the Sri Lankan scenes of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ (1957) and I thought it was crucial that seats featuring chair caning where used for the outdoor cinema space. A subtle reference that made the images on the screen tangible and helped to create an immersive viewing environment.
I thought I’d end this post with a link to mini featurette on the making of ‘The Bridge on the River Kwai’ made in 1957. An interesting but brief insight into the production of the set.