Taya Hanauer

[...] Shallows is a video piece by Rijksakademie resident Dan Walwin (GB/1986). It shows a continuous view of a scene not clearly recognisable. The camera smoothes over a surface which reveals itself slowly as a slightly science-fiction looking, industrial setting in ruins. The scene is comprised of monotone grey shades, revealing a quiet mess of long metallic surfaces upon which are different scattered objects such as plastic bags, metallic structures, towels, and scattered keys, combined with cold wind and dripping water. The scene also shows a few people scattered on the ground, they seem to be hyperventilating, dirty feet and shut eyes, their bodies are unharmed, as though they could be perfectly capable of movement. Like a long and tragic poem, Shallows, conveys a metallic sense of coldness which feels like a cynicism, with no variations or other tones. As Walwin says, it is somewhere between peace and danger. One scene. Nothing actually ‘happens'.

There are many concrete associations that can be made regarding this piece. The scene can appear to be a post catastrophic setting, for example, made interesting by the fact that it is familiar yet unidentifiable, not referring to anything which may be easily recalled. It can easily lend itself then to question what a catastrophe is, what is a ‘real’ catastrophe, and how does one know when it has taken place. If it is unrecognisable as a scene, has it taken place? Or maybe it is some sort of illusion of the mind. With a sci-fi feel, a catastrophe not clearly recognisable maybe in fact, it borders on losing one’s mind.

But Shallows avoids the specificity of anything more concrete. It appears cut out of a longer sequence. One waits for something to happen or take place, but it doesn’t. One of its main qualities is also its highly staged feel. The appearance of a particularly staged catastrophe is what ends up inducing the coldness and mono-tonality of the scene rather than the depictions within the scene itself. Like a forced attempt, a desire to depict tragedy rather than delving into an experience of tragedy or catastrophe itself. But it is here that the piece manages to transmit what it is depicting, in its staged feel, in its flatness and lack of variation of emotion, the stillness of the scene, it’s here that Shallows transmits a melancholic sense so successfully.

Despite a conveyed melancholy through these qualities, together with the difficulty of getting a sense of what Shallows is about more actually, these qualities appear almost as an avoidance of engaging with the complexities of lived experience. Shallows can be seen to refer to something more actual by being partially recognisable and seemingly part of another situation in which something happened and made the setting what it is, a setting in ruins. But it does not touch upon the concrete more directly. ‘Concrete’ in the sense of any grounded content or meaning, even if it is precisely that it is ungrounded. This does not necessarily mean a clearly identifiable scene, but rather a sense of content which situates abstract terms. On the other hand, in this sense Shallows can also be seen to break with an expected narrative structure, presenting a detached scene focused purely on an emotive sense, a melancholy.

Shallows is not an abstract scene on another level. It is in fact concrete as a ‘post’ or a ‘pre’ in some way- relating to something very actual that seems to be avoided in the visuals of this work and in the words used to describe it. To make this point clearer, it is not a coincidence that the only words we hear in the scene refer to something else, unknown, and yet forceful: “I was trying, I was trying…” the voice trembles. These words can go unnoticed or unremembered, and this is precisely because the concrete in this way is very directly referred to. It exists, but is nowhere to be found, maybe yet to be investigated.

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