Messages

by Sherwin, Guy

Film: 16mm 1984

Duration
35
Screens
1
Exhibition
Flicker Orchestrated. Substation, Singapore

Made during my daughter's early childhood. It's not about her, but it's a response to her questions about the world that implicitly challenge things we take for granted - the visual appearance of the world, ambiguities in language, the ways we communicate. - G.S. A film about childhood perception of the world. I started working with film in the early 70s, partly out of curiosity about its potential as a medium. There were evidently many ways of putting film together which had hardly been explored - comparison with other arts showed how narrow the options had become. That such a powerful medium had become so restricted in its vocabulary (stock illusionist narrative or 'documentary realism') was cause for concern. Moreover the medium was in the hands of the 'experts' at every stage of production and presentation. The search for counter forms and methods took on a political dimension. Messages was made over a 3 year period, when my daughter Maya was first learning to talk and write. It was my first film that involved gathering material around a central theme. That theme was not constant, but shifted its ground between ideas to do with childhood, with language, or with visual perception. A major source of inspiration for the film was Maya's questions about the world, starting with questions to do with her perceptions of the physical world, and as she got older, questions more to do with social behaviour. These 'innocent' questions (apart from being almost impossible to answer) seemed to me to be of a philosophical order that challenged long-established 'truths' about the world. They made it clear to me that 'knowledge' which is hidden and acquired, supplants raw perception in many areas of our understanding (we see the table as square, not trapezoid). I also included material from Jean Piaget's book of 1929 The Child's Conception of The World, in which he asks a number of children questions about the origin of the stars, sun, moon. I wanted to include an external source of ideas to give myself a measure of distance from the project, and to place the emphasis on childhood in general rather than my daughter's childhood in particular. The pace of the film is slow, and the structure of the film is open-ended. The images progress through oblique association rather than linear sequence, allowing the viewer to make his or her own associations (two aspects of memory are involved here). The implication is that each person will 'see' the film differently and uniquely. I first used an open structure like this in 'Short Film Series,' a group of 30 three-minute films which can be programmed in any number and permutation. The idea of the viewer 'doing work' (not necessarily unpleasant work) on the film is an important tenet of a progressive film practice. - G.S.

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