Arts Desk: Charlotte Prodger – Stoneymollan Trail


Posted December 31, 2015 in Arts & Culture Features

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Charlotte Prodger appears at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios for her first solo exhibition in Ireland: Stoneymollan Trail, with guest curator Linsey Young.

The content of this exhibition is Prodger’s first single-channel video: Stoneymollan Trail. Foregoing her usual sculpturally minded approach to video work, like the odd television and speaker combination that makes up Percussion Biface 1–13 and the distinctly arranged cube monitors of Northern Dancer, Stoneymollan Trail is something more closely resembling conventional film. For Prodger’s film, the usually sterile white-walled and concrete floored gallery space has been converted into a cosy, darkened, cinema-like room. Three comfy chairs sit at the room’s centre. The gallery’s side and back walls are lined with Rothko-esque rectangular panels which could be aesthetic components of the installation or purely functional noise dampeners. Either way, the shape and placement of these panels is a nice nod to one of the film’s running motifs, wherein each vignette begins with a view from a window as dissected by its rectangular mullions and bars.

Compiled from a variety of clips that Prodger has been filming since the late 1990s across formats such as mini-DV, iPhone and HD Camera, the film has the ambiguous feel of a kind of a diary or a notebook. The film unfolds as a series of vignettes accompanied by voiceover. The film’s cast of narrators change around, they have no determinate voice or character yet seem to be speaking from the same perspective. Prodger borrows extracts from a few outside sources – such as a text by land artist Nancy Holt about her Sun Tunnels project, and a story from the memoirs of science fiction writer Samuel Delaney about a communal gay sex gathering beneath a highway – but despite the obfuscation of the speakers’ identities she manages to maintain a sense of the utmost intimacy and a singular personality throughout the film’s 54 minute runtime.

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The film starts abruptly with a loud, howling drone as a shaky camera pans across a flat expanse of dirt road that spans out towards the horizon where it meets a distant blue-tinted mountain range. The images in the proceeding sequence are filmed in a similarly wobbly touristic style: a sparse blue-grey vista over an ocean, a fox filmed from afar with a strained zoom, a starkly green swampy enclosure that’s like a set from a Tarkovsky film (if he had gone into the found footage horror genre, that is), and finally a bright wooded trail sheltered at both sides by the snow laden branches of short, bare trees. Curious ambient drones lend an eerie quality to this compilation of shots, which is heightened by the presence of a pillar of pixels that grows out from the right side of the screen where the digital files have aged and become corrupted. As the scenes change, this assemblage of pixels morphs to suit each new contrasting colour scheme, although an enlarged pixel or two remain, embedding a small patch of colour from the previous scene into the new one, before fizzling out.

Prodger leaves these gorgeous residual pixel artefacts included in the video, perhaps hinting at the idea that memories of old experiences can (and inevitably will) seep into and influence our current pursuits. Can one’s own personal history be understood by recontextualising it in the present? It is through the process of editing that Prodger addresses this concern. The footage that Prodger has amassed over the years, as well as the experiences and relationships surrounding it, cannot be changed but it can be organised and edited. The differing video formats in the film – which vary in resolution, aspect ratio, and quality – suggest that the process of remembering has been altered in the modern age. Digitised memories can wither and corrupt in their own ways, but Prodger embraces this chance pixel degradation and utilises it in her own way of looking back: video editing.

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There is a recurring motif in the film where the sounds and visuals of previous scenes (and omitted scenes) are described in a short, precise manner. These statements start to sound like digital file names being organised by the narrator: ‘Sound of glass breaking. Camera hum. Massive sea wind noise. Shore.’ The editor of the film becomes a character encompassed in the shifting cast of narrators. The lack of any clear discernible characters in first few vignettes makes it a weird revelation to see Prodger appear in a rural scene, as if implanted, pointing the camera at herself as a lens flare from the sun over her shoulders shimmers vividly, insects screeching around her. It is for a similar reason that the section which recites Samuel Delaney’s memoir is so immediately lucid. The procedural language of the editor – making lists, organising thoughts – is replaced by a poetic narrative about Delaney’s deeply sensual experiences: ‘It was engrossing; it was exhausting; it was reassuring; and it was very human.’

It’s hard to describe the sensation of seeing the film. It seems like an exceptionally long piece. This is not due to its runtime but rather a result of its monumental scope: it charts years of material from starkly different geographic locations and contexts. One gets the sense that the film is something that has been worked *through* as much as it has been worked *on*. Watching it is like being alongside Prodger as she carves a cryptic identity out of this chronology of events, emails, file formats, and text extracts. Sexuality and labour are intrinsic aspects of Stoneymollan Trail’s winding non-narrative, but its most pressing concern is the relationship between memory, technology, and identity. The final scene of the film depicts an overhead view of a stony beach recorded in high definition. There appears to be a gap where a particularly heavy stone once was, a blue bottle fly hops into the frame and sits still. ‘We always have a story’, the narrator says, ‘and the latest story that I know is the one that I’m supposed to go out with.’

Charlotte Prodger’s Stoneymollan Trail runs on the hour at Temple Bar Gallery and Studios until Saturday 6th February.

Words: Aidan Wall

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