Artists Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson have worked collaboratively since 1994. This work consists of a 15 minute titular looping film work and a sculpture. The sculpture, entitled Pelt, was created by heating a gold foil survival blanket with a paint stripper until the foil bunched and contracted into itself. The aesthetic effect cultivated is more ornate yet similar to that which was once achieved by disaffected youths burning plastic public dustbins, when such things were commonplace, and is just as functionally redundant and aesthetically pleasing as such vandalism, making for a wonderful work of art.
In the film, the screen is split into four sections, with imagery appearing as if it has been captured with infra-red cameras. In the largest section of the screen, a naked Rawlinson and Crowe perform a re-enactment of an excerpt from Michel Foucault and Noam Chomsky’s legendary 1971 debate by operating two foil puppets – one without hair representing Foucault, and one whose head is adorned with a black fluffy mound representing Chomsky – in conjunction with audio sourced from a video recording of the debate on Youtube.
While Rawlinson operates the Foucault puppet with a frenetic, thrusting urgency which mirrors the late thinker’s clipped Gallic voice, Crowe moves the Chomsky puppet in a far more gentle and bouncy manner not unlike Fozzie Bear, which certainly compliments Chomsky’s languid Jewish-Philadelphian accent.
In smaller sections in each bottom corner of the screen are slow-motion shots of Rawlinson and Crowe, still nude, creating the puppets by wrapping foil around themselves, and in between these two sections there is a segment in which shots of the debate’s audience from the original video appear.
As for what is said in the excerpt of the debate which is included, it is a short exchange between the two intellectuals wherein Chomsky proposes that a notional just society based upon intrinsic human nature might take the form of
‘a federated, decentralised system of free associations incorporating economic as well as social institutions’
which he refers to as anarcho-syndicalism, and Foucault disagrees, arguing that Chomsky’s proposition is still founded upon bourgeois essentialism. While the presence of the puppeteers onscreen with their puppets and images of the creation of the puppets (not to mention the wilful crudeness of the puppets themselves) should theoretically work to cultivate in the spectator a consistent consciousness of the way in which the film was made, the power of anthropomorphism is thus that attention is often drawn entirely to the figures which are apparently speaking, irrespective of the fact that these figures are no more than heads with foil torsos.
Despite the film becoming quite engaging in terms of the debate’s content, when I talked to Rawlinson he seemed to imply that the choice of the Chomsky/Foucault tête-a-tête to receive the puppet treatment was relatively arbitrary, and that a Johnny Cash and June Carter duet was just as likely a contender until the debate emerged from Youtube’s flotsam.
However, when pushed to draw a connection between the film and Pelt, he did take recourse to the debate’s content, referring to the sculpture’s resemblance to the primitive garment of its namesake, and linking this to the idea that prehistorically we may have lived in a manner similar to the anarcho-syndicalism suggested by Chomsky.
‘Towards a Free Society’ was held at The Institute of Jamais Vu – between 22 June 2012 – 12 July 2012.