Sunday, 5 June 2011

Interview with Gaia Rosenberg Colorni and Gwilym Sainsbury on their new film 'The Island'

Me: Firstly I would like to say that I love this film. I have watched it many times since you have sent it me. The detail to the narration is great. How long did it take you both to produce?

Gaia/Gwilym: From the time the idea for this video started to its completion, just one week ago, the film took roughly four months to produce. The trip to the island, which constitutes the main content of the film, took place on one afternoon in March 2011. We had heard about the island a month or two before but had waited for the local dinghy enthusiast to take us there as our guide. We found it difficult to shape the initial footage into an informative and coherent form so the idea of using a narrator, impersonated by Thom Green, emerged as a resolution. Discussions began amongst our group regarding the video-essay as genre, and as a consequence we were particularly influenced by Patrick Keiller’s Robinson in Space, and the enigmatic figure of Robinson which we somewhat paralleled to the local dinghy enthusiast in the construction of the narrative for The Island. The narrator's script is based on the details we found out about the island, initially from the local dinghy enthusiast and then from our own research into the objects and artefacts encountered on it. We both worked on the script, the voiceover recording, and the video editing process together as is usual in our collaborative projects, which resulted in heated debates and discussions to be developed in our future work.

Me: ‘The Island’ is 17minutes, this changes how and where you can show the film, what are your plans for ‘The Island’?

Gaia/Gwilym: It’s interesting that you ask that, as after finishing the film we were faced with this problem in the last few days. While the film was still unfinished, Gaia exhibited it on a loop in a very small studio space, on a monitor facing a chair, as part of an open studios event; we soon became dissatisfied with the grazing attitude in which the film was being approached by visitors, which is symptomatic of a much greater issue regarding the viewing context of most video art. We considered organizing screenings of The Island, whereby viewers could only watch the film from the beginning, scheduled at particular times during the day, but given our options of possible (institutional) venues to do this, somehow this idea did not sit quite comfortably either.

As for most of our other videos, the film has been uploaded to and is therefore accessible to anyone with an internet connection. We therefore thought of developing a form of distribution which fit with this choice by installing QR code plaques on two benches in the vicinity of the island. We stuck one of these plaques with resin on a council bench facing the island from the shore, and the other on a bench we have recently purchased online and placed on the island ourselves. The QR codes we have introduced act as barcodes that can be read by most smartphones’ digital cameras, automatically directing the smartphone user to the page which hosts The Island film. This form of locative media allows members of the public to discover and watch the film within the island's physical geography as well as through internet browsing, whilst comfortably sitting on a bench. We are quite aware that not everyone (including ourselves) owns a smartphone. This of course complicates questions on both the kind of encounter with the work that is set up through appropriation of contemporary technologies and the kind of different audiences they grant access to; but it is also interesting to note that most teenagers who we have bumped into during later visits to the island itself do own a smartphone. In this context, both The Island as film and the island as place act as a living and lived setting for different stories to occur, celebrating the spirit of the 19th century adventure book.

Me: I do think that because I live in Burley it gave the narrative of ‘The Island’ much more depth. It created an integral juxtaposition knowing that the ‘island’ isn’t an incredibly pleasant place. It made the film more absurd and endearing. What do you feel about this?

Gaia/Gwilym: Our idea of the island, as we initially heard about it, seemed quite utopian and in many ways it lived up to our expectations as an urban arcadia. The various and contrasting uses (from camping and geocaching tournaments to substance abuse) that this island seems to serve to members of the public constitute an intriguing phenomenon within local urban geography. Despite the local dinghy enthusiast's observation that the island was privately owned by National Grid, it seemed in many ways a freer public space than spaces designated by the council as public and therefore regulated as such. Of course the surroundings of the island, as well as its territory itself, are not what one would imagine to be a typically idyllic haven, neither from an urban or a natural point of view. Yet the island’s seclusion, due to lack of designated access (but access to anyone determined enough to cross the weirs, or take their dinghy for a paddle) allows it to function as a more revealing type of public space, outside of council and police regulation and open to anyone to use as they please. We believe the island as a formation creates a particular ‘ambiance’, in Situationist terms, which can be studied, interfered and even expanded on through casual exploration and play.

Me: How true is the plot of ‘The Island’? Did you really get talking to a dingy enthusiast at a film screening in a squat? Does the dingy enthusiast really go exploring the island on himself?

Gaia/Gwilym: The narration is based on what the local dinghy enthusiast told us about the island as our guide. All the information provided in the film can be considered as factual: the local dinghy enthusiast does indeed exist, we first met him at a film screening in a squat house, etc. However these ‘facts’ are presented as so ambiguous, even extraordinary despite the mundane context in which they manifest themselves, that the film obviously, and necessarily, leaves the viewer questioning the degree of their truthfulness.