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the carousel

the carousel

the carousel

the roundabout of life and death

Culture-jamming duo Soda_Jerk is well-known for savvy video works that laugh in the face of copyright and tease audiences with media moments of familiarity made strange, dislocated, morphed and re-combined into unfamiliar configurations. Diverging from the trademark structure of the video installation, Soda_Jerk (sisters Dan and Dominique Angeloro) recently tuned their talents to creating a video performance-lecture titled The Carousel, premiering at Fremantle Arts Centre. In this work the cinematic apparatus was revealed to manufacture the life of ghosts, not only in the presence of dead actors forever immortalised on the silver screen, but also in the machinations of the media industry toying with death—presaging, manipulating and creating life in defiance of death.

The Carousel began somewhere in the 23rd Century with a clip from Michael Anderson's 1976 science-fiction film Logan’s Run. The segment presented an answer to over-population in the form of a carousel lottery to determine death or renewal on one’s 30th birthday. Such ontological concerns set the scene for the content to follow. Soda_Jerk talked the audience through a series of cinematic clips exploring the uncanny relationship between death and un-death, or immortal return via cinema, and the unsettling parallels between the virtual spaces of cinema and actual spaces of real life.

A remarkable array of examples of this spectacle of death spilled forth, including Heather O’Rourke in the Poltergeist series, Brandon Lee in The Crow, Bela Lugosi in Plan 9 from Outer Space, Bruce Lee in Game of Death and Nancy Marchand in The Sopranos. What unites each of these characters is that they continue acting new scenes from beyond the grave. They are doubled, cleverly concealed, written into plots that never reveal their faces, replicated with cardboard cut-outs and digitally re-animated as virtual spectres. The techniques employed to assure their ongoing screen presence are astounding, the cinematic apparatus revealing an ethical void as the need to please audiences appears to hold more value than respect for the departed. The fundamental object status of actors is made literally manifest. Soda_Jerk ploughed this territory and also revealed that such manipulations parallel a wider age-old trend in society to push the quest for immortality, the Frankensteinian desire to play god and cheat death. Film is, as the artists emphasised, already a repository where the dead are kept alive, but re-animating the dead of the real world takes this to a whole other dimension.

The video performance lecture format effectively enabled connections between disparate movie moments to unfurl by way of explanation. Soda_Jerk provided a narrative voice to the uncanny or insidious background to the scenes before us—an all too sombre reminder of the reality at the heart of the relation between cinema and death.
Laetitia Wilson

Soda_Jerk, Performance Lecture: The Carousel, Fremantle Arts Centre, July 2;



Your practice is predominantly video installation. Why choose the format of a performance lecture for The Carousel?

Our interest in the performance lecture emerged from our longtime fascination with the related format of the film essay, as realised by filmmakers and artists such as Chris Marker, John Akomfrah, Jean-Luc Godard and The Otolith Group. We've always felt an affinity with the way that these artists have used the film essay to intersect montage, speculative fiction and critical theory, and initially began developing The Carousel as a film essay concerned with the connection between cinema and death. But as the project developed we became increasingly interested in how the work might function in a live context, and we turned to the performance lecture as a way of thinking through these possibilities. So while being live in our work is quite a departure for us, the way that we've approached the performance lecture is still very much embedded in our found footage video practice. We think of it as a 'video performance lecture,' or alternatively it could be thought of as a multi-channel film essay where we are present to trigger and narrate the samples. What draws us to the format of the performance lecture is the way that it complicates the distinction between academic and artistic practice, something that fits well with our research-driven process.

The Carousel premiered on the centennial of media theorist Marshall McLuhan’s birth. Many of McLuhan’s ideas such as that of driving into the future with rear-view vision and thoughts on non-linearity and nostalgia, are relevant to your practice. Is this something you have considered?

Yes, as you point out, the way that McLuhan configures the relationship between the past, present and future is very in tune with how we understand the politics of sample-based practices. By creating alternate trajectories for the archival recordings of the past, we see sampling as a means of calling into question the formulation of history as a singular linear progression. This also informs the role that science fiction plays in our work. Instead of viewing the present through the nostalgic filter of what has come before, we are interested in claiming the future as an alternative site from which to interrogate the present. But part of the enduring significance of McLuhan also derives from the way that he collapsed the distinction between academic theory and applied media practice. He was really ahead of the game in his grasp of how to activate the viral dimension of concepts. In a sense he treated theory as a kind of viral culture that would spread and multiply, given the right conditions.

The Carousel demonstrates that techniques used to continue the screen presence of characters in film following their death in real life are extensive and often ludicrous. What do such techniques say about the movie industry in terms of the ethics of re-animation? Do you critique such techniques?

In The Carousel we do examine the way that deceased stars have been cinematically resurrected through various means such as digital reanimation and body doubles, but our unearthing of this history is not primarily intended as a means of critiquing the film industry or interrogating the ethics of these sorts of practices. We are more interested in the way that these instances of reanimation often function as a kind of decoy, obscuring the much more fundamental relationship between death and the cinematic apparatus. By embalming traces of the living that will endure long after they have passed away, film functions as a form of mummification, as well as a site where the dead are resurrected through the life-giving motion of the film projector. These dynamics of reanimation also have interesting parallels with the formal structure of film that creates the illusion of movement through the rapid succession of static frames. So it's these sorts of formal and structural intersections of death and cinema that are really the driving force behind The Carousel. The project emerged from our fascination with the way that the spectacle of death is always lurking beneath the experience of cinema spectatorship, lending an uncomfortable, but compelling, sense of melancholy and trepidation.

From another perspective, the movie-industry techniques of re-animation align with your own work. Was the thematic and conceptual content of The Carousel intended as a parody of your practice of renewing the dead or forgotten moments/actors of film/music history and placing them in new historically impossible narratives?

As artists who work with found footage, the concept of re-animation is pretty central to the way we think about the capacity for sampling to breathe new life into the archival recordings of the past. And the tropes of re-animation and resurrection do explicitly surface in some of our video works, such as Pixel Pirate 2 where Elvis Presley is abducted from the past and re-animated by video cloning technology so that he can be placed under the control of intergalactic media pirates. But the way that these concepts are examined in The Carousel is very dislocated from the sphere of parody, particularly as the tone of the project is quite somber and reflective. The genesis for this work was specifically routed in our continuing research for The Dark Matter Cycle, an ongoing series of video installations that investigate the intersection of recorded media, lived history and death.

Where do you see your work going now? Will incorporating live (or should I say dead!) elements into your video practice be an area you will continue to explore?

Video performance lectures are a format that we intend to further develop in tandem with our video installation practice. We are currently researching a series of lectures based on the personal and professional history of Sigmund Freud.

Image: Soda_Jerk, The Carousel, performance lecture, photo Thomas Rowe, courtesy and © Fremantle Arts Centre