When I Have Finished Here I Will Speed Back Up Again
by Rosanna Van Mierlo
On one of those rare British summer days that hit suddenly and unexpectedly, LoveCamden finds itself on a rooftop terrace in Peckam. Surrounded by plants and the faint sounds of the city we are here to talk to artists Flora Parrott and Gustavo Ferro, whose exhibition "When I Have Finished Here I Will Speed Back Up Again" opens this Tuesday as part of the 2016 Camden Sentido Program. Conceived as a collaborative project between UK based Parrott and Brazil born Ferro, "When I..." is an exchange of cultures, minds and thoughts, an exploration of conjuction and disconnection, times and spaces.
How do you make an art work about movement? How do you connect with someone on the other side of the world, how do you participate, how do you share your experiences? How do you connect to what isn’t physically there? How does the physical and highly personal experience of a moving, affected body translate into art? Which exchanges take place, both in the urban as in the exhibition space?
Intimacy & Presence
Although their walks were conducted independently, the artists both described their experience as profoundly intimate. It was much more about the invisible presence that the other signified than about the obvious distance between them, a presence conceived through the use of Whatsapp Messenger. By sending each other short, disembodied messages throughout the course of their wanderings a certain lifeline was established: a frail yet distinct sign of life, like a trailing thread or a distant voice. I am – still - here.
The mobile phone is an object of contradiction, the embodiment pur sang of a society in conflict with itself: effecting both closeness and distance, making us eternally available and forever busy. Yet, the phone is also an instrument of choice, says Parrott. We can choose to pick up, choose to listen, but at the same time it enables us to walk around in our own private, highly personalized, temporality bubbles, brushing past each other unnoticed. We are connected but distant. When walking around a London cemetery, Parrott says she suddenly understood the ways in which you can be close to someone who is not actually physically there; how your imagination fills in the blanks and your desire for intimacy becomes something that can transcend physicality. The desire for a loved one, the gut-wrenching melancholy that comes with losing the ability to touch another, enables us to partake in an imaginary conversation – we pick up a glass of wine and spend time there, amongst the dead and nearly forgotten, we sit there talking back at our own memories, hopes and dreams, as if someone can still hear us. Parrott remembers taking a picture of this: a glass of wine left standing on a gravestone, an ordinary object of loneliness and desire. At the same time, she reiterates how this lonely imaginary enables us to look at the world differently; the force of intimacy, the need to share an experience with someone else, made her look at the city in a new way, picking up on sights and things she would normally not have noticed or would not have cared much about.
Learning To Lose Time
The graveyard is a place of quiet, a site where the world slows down, if only for a stolen moment. It signifies the ways in which the urban landscape is made up of different rhythms, how lives unfold at different speeds. This ‘movement’ lies at the core of Parrott and Ferro’s project; the ways in which the rhythm of the city becomes a ‘backdrop of thought’. Ferro retells the story of George Perec watching the busses of Paris go by, waiting, feeling time run through him. Or the man he met on the streets of Sao Paolo, who walked every day – towards a public place, a library or town hall, it didn’t matter. He just walked.
In a similar way, Parrott and Ferro’s project is less about achieving some spectacular insight or discovering some hidden urban gem. This is not an adventure story in which a trophy concludes the end of the search. Instead, the artists describe the project much more as a daily artistic practice, a disciplined exercise, not a one time performance. Referring to the works of Hamish Faulton, they emphasize the importance of teaching people how to ‘lose time’ and walk around without an agenda.
The Black Void
At times the artists found themselves ‘out of touch’ when their signal got disrupted, batteries ran out or incidents happened. These moments, described by Parrott as the emergence of a ‘the black hole’ were like a form of radio silence in which feelings of connection, loneliness and desire suddenly became urgent.
The black hole is an interesting figure: it is both something and nothing at all. It is an absence that is undeniably affective. It is a presence that is not a presence, the interruption of flow. The black hole is an inversion of what is logically to be expected. It is the soul of the city: in it we dissapear. We become part of the big murmur that is the voice of the metropole: the sound of taxi engines, toilets flushing, the cough of an upstairs neighbour. Most uncannily, the black hole is the figure of the underground, in which we have no reception, in which we drop off the grid for a short period of time. However, these 'voids' the tunnels of public transport that run underneath the city have as their main function to connect peoples and places, and as such, the black can also be seen as a neccesary state of connection.
As a narrative, the black hole as an entity of disruption/connection is a looming presence throughout the project. It is a disruption, a reshuffling of reality. It is restriction, radio silence, confusion and diversion. It is the painstaking period of waiting until the blue tick on whatsapp signals that your message has been received, the waiting time between question and answer. It is batteries running out. It is an instance in which you are stopped, physically, by something and all of a sudden you find yourself existing in two different ‘spaces’ or two different times at once. From time to time, odd similarities kept popping up in the artists’ collaboration, suddenly breaking down the boundaries places upon them by geographical laws. Their experiences became strangely symmetrical. The horizontal bodies of two lovers kissing on the marble benches of Sao Paolo’s library almost shockingly brought Parrott back to the marble clock in the graveyard, and the distant ring of a lover’s murmur embodied in the glass of wine.
Disruption inherently comes with reconnection. You get a message back, or find a new path. In the dark, a connection is always established. This generative force of the blackness can be felt in Ferro’s video of the air vents on the markets of Sao Paolo, where people dry their wet clothes. These vents are also connected to mysterious dark tunnels; they remind us of the dark London underground in which Parrott describes travelling. Who is to say where they lead?
On the streets of Sao Paolo, the clothes suddenly bellow as if filled with life.