End Times
Jonathan P. Watts / accompanying screening, South London Gallery, London, 2012

I am going to finish by showing two works back to back by the young filmmaker Dan Walwin called Immortality and Telemotive (2011). Usually these two should be shown simultaneously as a dual screen installation, with the soundtrack of the latter providing sound for the former. For this screening Immortality and Telemotive have been abstracted - with Walwin’s permission - from a dual screen installation to be shown sequentially.

Telemotive follows four unspeaking older men apparently searching for something. By day and night they walk, drive, push the car and perform arcane routines in a largely unpopulated rural landscape. The civilisation eventually encountered are police at a blockade.

For Walwin the landscape functions as setting for actions, however is not relegated to mere background detail. In his narratives specific qualities of landscape give rise to the kinds of actions that occur in it. As such Walwin has said that, on one level, relationships between people and their material surroundings take precedent over those between individuals in his work. In locations he seeks famous or iconic imagery: the countryside in his films is unmistakably countryside - the rolling, green and pleasant kind.

Walwin told me: “I am interested in this act of choosing a space, and our reading of this space becoming altered in its meaning by some kind of narrative occurring there, but it is obvious that these places have their own narrative and suggestions of it being a setting will always only be imposed on it, so I like it if this can also be apparent somehow...”

Walwin is also aware of the abiding myths attached to the countryside as a place to escape dangers of the city. In the popular cultural imagination, the most extreme manifestation of the rural as refuge from the city comes from post-apocalyptic science fiction. It’s in the English nature writer Richard Jefferies' After London, Orwell's 1984, John Wyndham's Day of the Triffids, right up until Hollywood blockbusters 28 Days Later and Children of Men. When society collapses or is pictured as too unbearable, it’s always the countryside the survivors head for.

Walwin told me: “I recognise that using imagery of rural environment is often a shortcut for something representing a more 'natural' side of things, that is why I often like to use supernatural elements in my film, to think about what occurs within our own control and how our perception of our actions on the world around us and the effects that these create. And yet, nevertheless, there is an undeniable mystique of the countryside where there is the possibility to do things somehow undetected, for things that are hidden or not wanting to be discovered, including crime, military testing or social gatherings etc.”

Commonality are important themes in these two works. In Immortality a rave, that euphoric “unofficial” being together in the countryside, continues into the break of day. The intrusion of the camera is a lingering disembodied eye that disperses the revelers.

I understand Telemotive slightly differently. It is not a dispersal but a coming together, an imaginative view onto ways of cohabiting after some unspoken catastrophe. It imagines a version of what anarchist writer Colin Ward describes as “ad hoc organisation” of social space that springs up in the wake of revolutionary situations or natural catastrophes, or in any activity where there is sudden leveling of hierarchy.

Spontaneous order, Ward writes, is the idea that: “given a common need, a collection of people will, by trial and error, by improvisation and experiment, evolve order out of chaos - this order being more durable and more closely related to their needs than any kind of externally imposed order.”

Walwin is fascinated by the quality of relationship this new order will have with landscape and nature. What is retained and what is left behind.

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