Ai Weiwei Never Sorry: Exposure and ConcealmentAugust 14, 2012
Jeff KeenAugust 17, 2012
By Bradley Tuck
In 2011, One+One launched a film Challenge, called “Revolutions in Progress” (For more information see Issue 6, for the write up and report see Issue 8.)
One of the films submitted was a music video which drew on footage captured in an abandoned power station. The film was a re-edit of an earlier vision of the same film. Links to both films can be found below.
Bradley: You produced two versions of this film. The second of which you made for the film challenge and has an orange/yellow hue. What made you decide to do this?
The Filmmaker: Artistically, this was an homage to Warhol. As the original (green) film had been produced a few years prior to the challenge (and, in fact, inspired by the artistic direction of “City of Lost Children”), I felt it was necessary to create a “new” film specifically for the challenge. This act, in itself, challenges the very definition of creativity. It also serves to demonstrate the revolutionary, and extremely accessible, process of editing videos online (I used YouTube’s online video editor to create the orange version). The use of free technology has always been an interest of mine, so I had to try it out. The choice of the orange hue was due in part to the plethora of rust and decay seen in these buildings. I felt that the orange coloration gave the film a completely different feel than the green one – a slightly more cheery mood, which is very interesting since the choice was initially related to decay. I consider these films to be part of an incomplete collection. If I were to produce one in every color of the rainbow, then it would be fully Warholian.
Bradley: The story behind this film is really interesting as is the process you used to acquire footage (for example, illegally capturing footage inside a Century old power station in Philadelphia). What drove you to engage in this method of acquiring footage?
The Filmmaker: We always had cameras with us. There was this instinct inside that drove us to document these places – as if we knew they could disappear at any moment. I had had the idea for this sort of “music video” for quite some time, though I never actually “planned” on using this type of footage to bring it to life. After reviewing the tapes, I was inspired to finally bring my imagination to life. It was more of an “Ah-Ha! this is what I’ve been looking for!” moment than an actual planned process.
Bradley: In your emails you talk about “urban explorers”, which is clearly part of your process. You also mention the Philadelphia State Hospital (Byberry), which, from what I can gather from the internet, was a hospital for the mentally ill that gave rise to a lot of patient abuse and corruption? Why are both references important to you?
The filmmaker: Byberry is considered to be an entirely unique phenomenon in the Urban Exploration Community. Yes, it’s past is speckled with abuse and corruption, but it’s Byberry’s life after death which makes it a fantastic adventure. No place else, at no other abandonment, would you run into such a diverse, yet accepting community of curiously adventurous people. During the day, the grounds of Byberry were exceptionally peaceful – old men walking dogs, children riding bikes, and photographers silently capturing the juxtaposition of nature and architecture. At night, the buildings hosted a wide variety of adolescent outbursts. Though it was not uncommon to see fires blazing, there was a general sense of safeness once inside the complex. I feel that Byberry, after it’s demise, served as a therapeutic labyrinth for those of us who dared to enter it’s fireproof halls. All of us, every single person who entered the property, were breaking the law. We were all criminals together. In Philadelphia, the Urban Exploration community almost centered itself around Byberry. It was the first place that many teenagers dared to explore. Once inside, they were bound to meet creative types who had already expanded their horizons with more difficult explorations (such as the power stations). I supposed you could call it an “anarchist community”… nobody was in charge, yet there was a general respect for those of us who had been to every corner of the complex. Not everyone was brave enough to venture into the tunnels, or walk across the lawn to the old cottage buildings. But the ones who did were usually photographers and artists. Byberry and Urban Exploration are what brought me to the power station. Without them, the video would have never been imagined into existence. The people seen in the video are “veteran explorers” – well known aliases in the community. These adventurers sparked a creative surge in my life and will never be forgotten.
Bradley: You also talk about saving American History from the destructive forces of capitalism. Is that why it is important to explore these abandoned places?
The Filmmaker: Yes – if not explore than at least acknowledge their existence and significance. Both architecturally, and historically. Many of these building were revolutionary in their very design. Electricity was a brand new invention, so power stations had never been seen or conceived of before – it was important to capture the imagination of the common man via beautifully designed industrial buildings. Today, this type of design process would be considered a waste of time and money. An important thing to note about old mental institutions is that the idea of healing was built into their very design – before they became dens of abuse and poison, they were constructed as places of hope and tranquility for the ill and disturbed. We must remember that psychology is a relatively young science, and by eliminating these examples of “healing architecture” from our landscape we are potentially destroying valuable educational information. In the case of Byberry, it was destroyed in an effort to make way for a 55+ living community. However, the community was never built and all that remains is an empty lot. All of the tallest trees were cut down, and every last brick was removed. Every empty building is waste that has been left behind by capitalist ideals. They are left to rot mainly because it is too costly to tear them down. At the same time, nobody is interested in funding renovation efforts. Considered to be unsafe and unusable, many see them merely as a blight on our landscape. Imagine if the entire United Kingdom felt this way about castles.. Simply because it’s old, does not mean it is insignificant.
Bradley: In this film you use what might be called a “music video” style? Why did you choose this, as opposed to, say, a documentary piece?
The Filmmaker: The song used in this film was composed by David Thrussell – an advocate for free and open creation. With songs like “are you normal enough” “this is capitalism” and “third mall from the sun” it is easy to create a commentary on American Society via creative audio/visual communications. In the footage, we are doing something that most Americans would consider to be absolute lunacy, or if they are into it they simply want to figure out how to profit from it. There are plenty of amateur documentaries out there that have been produced by well-known Urban Explorers. I, however, am not a well-known explorer. As an Artist, I felt it was necessary to produce a piece that would intrigue the mind and stimulate the critical thinking skills of the viewer. As the title of the green version suggests, we did, in fact, find a time machine. 12 Monkeys was filmed at this very location. One of the large turbines was used as the “Time Machine” into which Bruce Willis was inserted. To further play off the concept of time, I overlap time lapse footage at various speeds. The last few seconds play the entire video in reverse at high speed ( matching the tape-rewind sound in the music ). All in all it is a surprisingly complex piece of art, though I don’t expect anyone to be fully aware of each tiny bit of creativity. With a piece such as this, you gain the ability to speak to a variety of different audiences on multiple levels – most of which are invisible to the individual viewer.
Bradley: Is this exploration of the abandoned and forgotten side of America a revolutionary process?
The Filmmaker: Creativity and exploring the purpose of Art is a revolutionary process. After contemplating these questions, the video reminds me a bit of the book “Animal Farm” – on the surface, it appears to be a simple form of entertainment, but if you look deeper, you find meaning and connections that would otherwise be missed without proper investigation. Visiting these old places is like traveling back in time. Perhaps by creating works of art inspired by exploration and experimentation, we can challenge our very perception of what it means to be American.