When You Fall into a Trance (2012) traces the relationships between Dominique, a neuroscientist, Simon, her patient, Tony, a synchronized swimmer, and Hugo, an aid worker. Simon is suffering from the loss of his proprioception, his sense of the relative position of his body parts as well as his understanding of the effort required to move them. His vision seems essential to his physical agency—if he cannot see his body, then the movement and control of his gestures become unmoored. As the film unfolds, Dominique’s fascination with the complexities of the mind-body relationship exemplified by Simon’s condition spins beyond her work and into her life.
When you fall into a trance places the characters, and us along with them, in an unstable orbit in which the perceptual aids of vision, location and language slide and refract, superimpose or splinter, and the supposed transparency of their role in our awareness of ourselves and others is called into question. Setting in motion the intricacies of human relationships, in which bodies betray words, and touch and music seduce memory, Wardill’s film is equally sinister and tender. Throughout the film, actions distort, gestures fracture, and deceptions are uncovered as the tension and release of bodies and speech reveal the complexities of memory and the possibilities of imagination.
When you fall into a trance is the latest in a series of Wardill’s films that share a common interest in the complexities of communication and representation, the limitations and imprecision of language, and the individual nature of imagination.
When you fall into a trance has shown at the Sydney Bienalle, La Loge, Brussels and will be screening at The London Film Festival and form the basis of a solo show at Index, Stockholm in 2014, and Salzberg Kunstverein in 2015.
The visual imagery of The Palace is indistinct. The film depicts what appears to be an architectural surface, yet perceived through a filter. It is reminiscent of images produced by an electron microscope – de-saturated, yet alarmingly acute in its rendering of high-contrast detail. The surfaces oscillate in and out of focus, a topography of bright ridges and indistinct troughs that never resolves itself into a clear representation of material constitution. Such rendering is indicative of digital imaging, the collation of points of measured data processed by a form of computation that resembles or abstracts a real physical process. Projected through the medium of film, the images suggest a simultaneous expansion and contraction, as the digital assumes the physical demeanor of the analogue, and the analogue projects an aesthetic of the digital.
The Palace pairs these images with the sound of an older male voice that narrates in the first person a partial biography. Akin to the quality of the images, the experiences he relates are indistinct in the information they provide, dwelling on psychological and perceptual states beneath which concrete particulars become clouded. The narrative begins with the retelling of an exchange with a woman, possibly his partner, as he attempts to comprehend her experience of monochromacy where the brain is unable to perceive colors. He goes on to speak of having worked as a foreign aid worker, implying that this was a front for foreign intelligence gathering. The job required him to memorize large amounts of information – on geography, governments, the “authorities in charge”. He describes the abstract process of recall through the use of “memory palaces”, where the visualization of a concrete space and the assignation of spatial features to correspond to pockets of information, allows for a density of cognitive accumulation.
The imagery of The Palace collapses the two forms of cognitive plasticity described in the voice over: That of impaired vision and its impact on subjectivity, and the willful abstract construction of the memory palace, that purports to extend neurological capacity. The monochromatic digital space is one of matter, mediated through an abstraction in which vital data is lost. Yet equally it approximates the selectivity of a process in which the need to remember, to create a workable logic for the retention of information, centers around the imaging of equivalence between physical form and abstract information. As the blurred identities of a foreign aid worker and a spy suggest, the film’s perceptual affects give form to a conflict between identity and modifiability, determination and freedom.
Richard Birkett 2013
The Palace has shown at MUMOK, Vienna, Carlier Gebauer, Berlin and will be shown as part of a solo exhibition at Salzberg Kunstverein in 2015.
Based on the life of Sarah Winchester and the Winchester Mystery House, Fulll Firearms presents the story of Imelda, a woman haunted by the victims of the guns sold in her father’s company. She uses her inheritance to work with an architect who builds a house for these ghosts. When a group of people squat her half finished building Imelda is convinced that they are the ghosts that she expected. Fulll Firearms is a story of a house built to deliberately disorientate its inhabitants. The narrative touches upon themes of displacement and storytelling, and stands in the tradition of melodrama. The characters find themselves constantly having to adjust their expectations of each other so that they might be able to communicate within each other’s logic. In her films, Emily Wardill creates situations that examine conditions of precarity in society and how these affect people’s relationships with each other. Her films are fostered by improvisations and workshop sessions, that are set up by the artist to develop themes and characters in a collaborative manner. “Fulll Firearms reframes the history of arms heiress Sarah Winchester in a contemporary context where her haunting is not limited to America and the specter of its own violence en route to manifest destiny, but rather is inundated with the scope of the contemporary international arms trade and the nations that bear the brunt of its success. The house in the film produces an echo, because those who occupy it articulate their voices in relation to the making and writing of a history. Tracing the echoes of actions through the production of social spaces does not remain solely within the diegesis of the film. Instead, it extends to the exchange initiated by Wardill with her collaborators as they produce a film together, and also attempt to implicate the viewer in a film that is also a body—one that is constantly living and growing.” —Jacob Korczynski, 2011
Fulll Firearms is co-commissioned by If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, Serpentine Gallery, and Film London’s FLAMIN Productions. It is co-produced by FLAMIN Productions and City Projects with support from M HKA, Antwerp, Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe and FRAC Champagne-Ardenne, Reims. Following the presentation at Cinema Zuid, Fulll Firearms was nshown at the Badischer Kunstverein in Munich and in FRAC Champagne-Ardenne in Reims, and in the Netherlands and England in 2012. It was also included in group exhibitions at The Serpentine Gallery and Lund Konsthall in 2013.
With Game Keepers Without Game Emily Wardill has produced a work bearing in mind the playwright Pablo Calderon La Barca’s (1600-1681) theatre play Life Is a Dream (La Vida es Suena). As Calderon's play Wardill's video work tells the story of a child who is put up for adoption (due to symptoms of psychosis) and banished from the family home at an early age. When we enter the story the girl, "Stay", is a teenager and after years apart her father is devising a plan to bring her back to the family. However, the re-introduction of Stay into the family home doesn’t work and she ends up ruining the house itself and upsetting the family to the point where the she has to go back into care. Having been thrown out a second time – and given the illusion that the experience of being part of his family was a 'dream' – she nevertheless decides to strategize her way back into the house. The film is a continuation of themes running through Wardill's recent works. It addresses the use of melodrama as a tool of communication and structuring device that ‘frames’ ideas and the use of material as sign. This interest in the melodrama stems from research that Wardill was conducting whilst making and preparing for Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck. She was led from the use of allegory within British stained glass to the filmmaker Rainer Werner Fassbinder – both from the use of light (which in the latter's later film works was stylistically equivalent to stained glass colouring) and the interest in the didactic storytelling. Influenced by fellow filmmaker Douglas Sirk, Fassbinder saw the traditional melodrama as a political tool – using familiar structures to introduce difficult topics to his audience. Game Keepers Without Game take this research further to develop Wardill's own melodramatic structure within which she explores elements of contemporary British life. A number of these are conveyed through the style in which the film is shot. The script itself, which is a ‘conventional’ script – in that it has actors, scenes of introduction, action, climax and resolve – is used as a ‘cradle’ for the elements within it. Props are here described with the same precision as the actors and have equal amount of time in shot as people. Everything within the film is shot separately on a monochrome background as though it is an object laid out in a Sunday paper colour supplement or airline food. The distinction between ‘props’ in the theatrical sense, evidence in the criminal context and ‘status symbols’ as conveyors of lifestyle choice is blurred to emphasize the settling of ‘meaning’ within material.
Game Keepers Without Game was funded by STANDARD(OSLO) , Arts Council England, De Appel. It was first exhibited as the solo exhibtion Emily Wardill — Game Keepers Without Game at Spacex, Exeter. Solo 12 December 2009–20 February 2010 and Basel Premier (2010)
In 2010 Wardill was awarded The Jarman Award for Game Keepers Without Game.
Two men volunteer for a drugs trial organised by the pharmaceutical company Parexel. As its effects become increasingly alarming their bodies begin to swell, like a physical kind of anamorphis, horrifying, distorted images within a contemporary disaster story which when reported in the press only increases the number of people volunteering for similar trials. The disfigured body and our relation to it is proposed as the direct representation of other social and cultural systems. In the exhibition space the film is projected onto a tap in which we also see the corrected view of a now-solid anamorphic image.
Split the View in Two was shown as part of the Frieze art fair in 2010.
Descartes’ Daughter plays with the flipside of SEA OAK, replacing trust in rationalism with an exploration of its opposite, or its loss. It is inspired by the mythical story that French philosopher, mathematician and physicist René Descartes constructed a mechanical toy as a surrogate after the death of his own daughter, only for this animated machine to be thrown overboard by superstitious sailors during inclement weather on his final journey to Sweden. A girl is seen playing a Nintendo Wii in a homemade costume that Étienne Jules Marey would dress the subjects of his chronophotography to map (or mechanise) their movements. She is in a darkened room, pinned in by lasers – a recreation of the scene from an unlocatable film where lasers protect a diamond that is about to be stolen. Language shatters like light refracted through a crystal, sentences repeat, are amended and the voice we hear skips as though trying to jump across the scratch of a programming error.
The Diamond (Descartes Daughter) has been shown at The British Art Show (2011), Tate recent survey of artists film and video (2012) and The New York Film Festival ( 2010).
A 16mm projector is spot lit in the middle of the room. It projects no images. The black leader that is playing carries only a soundtrack – a compilation of extracts from interviews conducted with researchers at The Rockridge Institute, a left-orientated think tank in Berkeley, California. From 2001 until its closure in April 2008, here they examined contemporary political rhetoric with special emphasis on the employment of metaphor and framing. How, for example, the word ‘bird’ conjures a similar, prototypical image in the common imagination but more dangerously, how metaphor and framing became political tools deployed in and through a strategic rephrasing of Republican discourse, based on such a principle. Language itself is described as a masking structure for religious sentiment and value judgements, constituting a new kind of political power. SEA OAK places trust in this analysis of language as the political left’s means to unravel its submerged power of persuasion. In the installation only the apparatus can be seen: the film projector, staged like a sculpture
SEA OAK has been included in group exhibitions at Frieze Art Fair, Aldridge Contemporary Art Museum, Images Festival Toronto (2011) , Wiesbaden Kunstverein (2009), International Project Space and The ICA , London.
Inspired by the use of metaphor in contemporary political rhetoric, they are here traced back to ways in which stained glass windows were a vehicle for communication in a largely illiterate medieval society. Details of the windows reveal a peculiarly contemporary, radical kind of fragmentation. Figures and signs are extrapolated into a oblique yet melodramatic narrative of desire, exchange and representation. By turn highly stylized and slapstick it is played by actors on specially constructed sets that share a similar hybrid aesthetic to the costumes worn in Ben, here rendered spectacularly in colour.
Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck part of the show: Walk though British Art. Exhibition of permanent Collection. Tate Britain. London. (April 2014 – March 2015). It has been in solo exhitions at The ICA, London and Picture This, Bristol and MIT List , Boston (2011). Group exhibitions include The Venice Biennale (2011).
The film is composed of black leader inter cut with a series of images, glimpses of an area in east London defined as being within earshot of the bells of St Anne’s Church, Limehouse, taking place as the bells strike noon. As such, visually and phonetically it attempts to translate an excerpt from the prologue to On the Genealogy of Morality (1887) by nineteenth-century German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in which he argues that humans have never been able to find out who they really are and that in the attempt to do so – to count the ‘twelve quavering bell strokes of our life’ - we inevitably lose ourselves. We miscount. Over the black sections of the film an intimate, crackling fire is heard. Images including the alien skyscrapers of London’s Docklands, a woman crossing an empty street, people wandering by a canal, a telephone engineer , appear in- and out of synch with the sound of the church’s bells that in turn are distorted to the edge of recognition.
Born Winged Animals and Honey Gatherers of the Soul has been shown as part of the Film as a Critical Practice screening in Oslo, curated by Marta Kuzma, as well as at The Tate Art Now Lightbox.
Basking in what feels like 'An Ocean of Grace' I soon realise that I am not looking at it, but rather, I AM it, recognising myself
2006, 16mm, 8’
Together with Ben (2006), the film explores the relationship between physicality and representation – between language and image. Rather than constructing metaphors through which reality might be understood and onto which they are applied instead the film’s subject is the study of a focus group, witnessed from behind a two-way mirror. It becomes an example of the way in which speaking subjects (these teenage girls that we see speaking, but do not hear) become images. Their becoming-surface in this way is echoed throughout the film’s persistent looking at other kinds of reflective surfaces – from the mirrors in an empty nightclub to the glass walls of corporations – such that representation itself becomes a function in the equation rather than a replacement of it. Composed by the artist using computer software the film’s soundtrack is designed to be symmetrical on the page. It is reproduced here and runs throughout the book, pivoting at its centre as it does at the centre of the film.
Basking in what feels like 'An Ocean of Grace' I soon realise that I am not looking at it, but rather, I AM it, recognising myself has been shown at Oberhausen + The New York Film Festival.
Shot in colour on a set that was built to look as though it is shot in black and white, the film is a companion work to Basking in what feels like 'An Ocean of Grace' I soon realise that I am not looking at it, but rather, I AM it, recognising myself, that throws the latter’s contemporary descriptions into historical relief. The film re-inhabits a Freudian case study where hypnosis is used to prove ‘negative hallucination’ (where the hypnotized subject becomes convinced the room is empty when it is not). Two voices are heard on the film’s soundtrack, that of the hypnotist and a teenage girl reading a case study that is the description of a man (Ben) being offered up as a story/subject for diagnosis. ‘Characters’ move around, dressed in stylistically esoteric costumes that point back to an Expressionist aesthetic and also occupy a strange, home made baroque present. The ‘authority’ of the case study, the rickety construction of the set and the faltering voice over maintain a precarious sense of balance.
Ben has been shown at STANDARD (OSLO), Perth Contemporary Art Musuem, Reyjavik Contemporary Art Museum, SIAC, Chicago, de appel, Amsterdam and The London Film Festival.