November 18, 2014
A selection of quotes from key thinkers relating to the themes of locality, self-reliance and simplicity explored in various ways throughout Stay Where You Are.
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing through other eyes.” – Marcel Proust
“[A]t the very same moment when it becomes possible to think in terms of the unity of terrestrial space, and the big multinational networks grow strong, the clamour of particularism rises; clamour from those who want to stay at home in peace, clamour from those who want to find a mother country.” – Marc Augé, Non-Places
“A stationary condition of capital and population implies no stationary state of human improvement. There would be as much scope as ever for all kinds of mental culture, and moral and social progress, as much room for improving the Art of Living, and much more likelihood of its being improved. All the mechanical inventions yet made have … enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes.” – John Stuart Mill, The Art of Living
“I promised myself I would live alone in a cabin for a few months. Cold, silence and solitude are conditions that tomorrow will become more valuable than gold. On an overpopulated, overheated and noisy planet, a forest cabin is an Eldorado. Over 900 miles to the south, China is humming with a billion and a half human beings running out of water, wood and space. Living in the forest next to the world’s largest reserve of fresh water is a luxury. One day, the Saudi oilmen, the Indian nouveaux riches and the Russian businessmen who drag their ennui around the marble halls of palaces will understand this. Then it will be time to go a step up in latitude to the tundra. Happiness will lie beyond the 60th parallel north.” – Sylvain Tesson, Consolations of the Forest
“When I am in the country, I wish to vegetate like the country. I am not for criticising hedgerows and black cattle. I go out of town in order to forget the town and all that is in it. There are those who for this purpose go to watering-places and carry the metropolis with them. I like more elbow-room and fewer encumbrances. I like solitude, when I
November 11, 2014
Jem Finer, still from ‘Score for a Hole in the Ground’. Courtesy of the artist.
You could be forgiven for thinking that the premise doesn’t seem to hold out that much promise. Stay Where You Are: as invitations go, it isn’t exactly an incitement; an appeal to the senses, or a call to arms. Instead it’s just the same old same old; another case of as you were. Stay There, Stay Back, Stay Put – these are the equivalents of Nothing to See Here, Nothing Going On Here, Nothing to Expect Here. Nothing, in short, to write home about – assuming you had ever left in the first place.
You might, however, console yourself by thinking that the premise doesn’t actually require that much effort. Stay Where You Are: as instructions go, it isn’t exactly a challenge; a stretch for the body, or a test of the will. Instead it’s just an easy fall-back to a default position: the familiar comfort of the status quo. Sit Tight, Sit Quiet, Sit Still – these are the equivalents of No Need to Stir, No Need to Stress, No Need for Bother. No need, in short, to do anything different. Keep Calm and Carry On.
Stay Where You Are. Go on. Try it. See if you can do it. It’s much more difficult than you think.
Stand in the place where you are. Now stay there, and remain there. It’s easier said than done.
Stop the world (because you want to get off).
Stop all the clocks.
The world rushes by, with a mind of its own, with its own momentum. Time races ahead, leaving little more than a memory.
To properly Stay Where You Are (to be fully, unconditionally in the moment; serene and happy in the place you have chosen) demands an act of exertion not a state of inertia. You need to drop anchor if you are not to drift away on the tide.
When writer-cum-naturalist Henry David Thoreau planted his feet on a small patch of ground at the edge of the woods by Walden Pond near Concord, Massachusetts, in the spring of 1845, he did so to make a stand – which was, in essence, to stay where he was. The two years that he spent in his rudimentary, self-made hut in
October 7, 2014
This June Jem Finer, Lavinia Greenlaw and Ben Rivers returned to Aldeburgh in Snape Maltings – the venue at which they launched Stay Where You Are several months previously, in the stillness of winter – where they showcased the latest instalments in their ongoing exploration of all things local, immediate and present tense. Taking the ‘staying put’ theme somewhat literally, Jay Griffiths was at home in Wales. Her contribution took the form of a pre-recorded monologue, a voice reaching us from afar.
Proximity and distance, presence and absence, here and elsewhere, the present moment and the past – the dialectical exploration of contradictory ideas has emerged as a central preoccupation of Stay Where You Are; so too has the subtle shifts in consciousness that our changing environment brings. Three seasons have already turned in this yearlong calendar, and the summer has been, by English standards, exceptionally hot. The summer instalments of Stay Where You Are fittingly capture the sense of life on a warming planet, but also reflect this particular moment of the calendar, when the seclusion of winter and the unfolding of spring are overcome by sunny industriousness.
Ben Rivers kicked off the discussion by explaining how his project has changed over time, changing, in turn, his entire approach. Rather than taking his usual approach – allowing his films to gestate over long periods of time, arising from an immersion in isolated, often foreign, landscapes – Ben revealed that he had deliberately embraced the restrictions of the medium and the present moment. Working with equipment that only takes three-minute rolls of film, Ben described how his three short films are the result of him “improvising with the camera”, capturing what “happening in the moment”, with very little editing after the event. Lavinia shared Ben’s suggestion that slowing down and staying put draws your own consciousness into focus: ‘if you are being asked to stop,’ she said, ‘then you become aware of your own process and the process of perception, and the response to it, and the ways you might disrupt that.’
Ben’s embrace of practical brevity, of allowing the immediacy of the present tense to guide his approach to his work, is complicated by his use of ‘old’ material: stuff from his personal archive that he has had in his possession ‘for the last 20 years’. As Lavinia Greenlaw suggested, Ben’s use of an old recording of
August 5, 2014
The work of artist, musician and composer Jem Finer often demonstrates a fascination with immensities of scale, be it a musical composition lasting an entire millennium (Longplayer), or a cartographic quest to inscribe a star-map on the surface of the earth (On Earth as in Heaven). In 51º 30’ 44” N, 0º 0’ 38’ E, his ongoing film project for Stay Where You Are, his attention is circumscribed by a more immediate locale: Trinity Buoy Wharf, where he has a studio. Marking the point where the Lee and Thames Rivers meet, this area – like much of this once mighty swathe of East London docks and wharves – exists because of industry. Today, these historical traces are evident in the heavy barges that lurch past Jem’s studio and up the Lee, or in the peaked-roof warehouse architecture on the opposite bank of Bow Creek, both of which lend a particular maritime feel to the sonic and visual textures Finer’s films explore. As the seasons change, so does Finer’s environment. For all the attention it pays to a particular place, 51º 30’ 44” N, 0º 0’ 38’ E is equally a study of temporal, meteorological and emotional change.
The first film in the quartet, Night, explores the shifting sonic textures of winter through the dark lens of the early morning hours. Much of the film is shot in black and white; parts of it, in fact, are entirely black, lacking imagery of any kind: we are plunged into a world of sound. A haunting piano refrain, like a pub song echoing in your head on the long walk home, deepens the atmosphere of isolation and coldness. Night is dominated by the sound and fury of natural forces, not deliberate human activity. Rain lashes down on an abandoned landscape. The river heaves and gurgles. Distant lights burn through the darkness.
Finer’s lyrical filmmaking, though focused on small details, builds entire worlds. Drawing on a deftly controlled range of sounds and images, Night creates a sense of atmospheric hostility and subjective contemplation. With Morning, however, the world grows brighter, warmer, and more open: the black box of the night unfolds. Fresh sounds flow into the soundtrack, and new colours bleed into the palette. This desolate stretch of the Thames begins to flourish with activity: aeroplanes, boats and cable cars, but also the mesmeric patterns
April 16, 2014
Things is the first instalment in a year-long series of short films by Ben Rivers.
Shot entirely within the confines of Rivers’s flat, using materials already at hand – the books, sculptures and domestic utensils that comprise his most intimate source of material – Things, as its title suggests, is a reverie of objects and found images. The disparate material of cave paintings, science fiction illustrations, film stills, personal photographs and a carved stone head from the Pacific island of Vanuatu are situated within a private, personal realm, revealing the surprising dynamism which can emerge from isolated contemplation.
Laced with snippets of sound plucked in a magpie fashion from Rivers’s own and others’ films, Things embraces the apparent limitations of the personal, the local and the specific in order to reveal complex connections and far-reaching associations. Thoughts of ancient cultures, mythical lands and interstellar voids emerge from the experience of domestic stillness. Shot exclusively on black-and-white film, Rivers’s chosen medium imposes a locality of its own – the aesthetic equivalent of “staying put” – on the roaming sequences of imagery, and reveals the textures, be they porous stone or decaying film stock, that attend all encounters with our immediate, physical world.
As the film develops, motifs emerge and suggest that we, as viewers, are not experiencing a free flow of unrelated images, but rather the record of an individual’s drifting mind. Despite the aura of domesticity, scale is in a constant state of flux. The black circle of a makeshift “moon” is later transformed into the pupil of an actress’s eye, returning again as a solar eclipse, a magician’s white hoop, and so on. The rugged dynamism of cave paintings is counterpointed by the transparently staged arrangements of film stills, culled from the domestic dramas of Hollywood’s golden age. These coincidences belie a focused sensibility that underpins the apparent free association.
Sometimes described as an idle, even degenerate activity, daydreaming becomes, in Things, an exercise in building worlds. Rivers appropriates ancient or “primitive” cultural artefacts and images culled from science fiction. The gulf between the distant past and the equally distant future, the space between shrunken heads and alien moons, collapses into a meditation on the present moment; and by collaging these disparate sources together cinema, like thought itself, becomes a ritual of illusion.
First published in 1971, Larry Niven’s short story collection All