- Ben Rivers
Sack Barrow (21 mins) explores a small factory on the outskirts of London that went into liquidation last year. The film observes the environment and daily routines of the final month of the six workers. “The run-down architecture, the drips and crusty build-ups of toxic chemicals, the dangling wires, wizened faces and the general pragmatic clutter of the place” transform the space into another world. It will be shown with Slow Action (45 mins), a post-apocalyptic science fiction film which exists somewhere between documentary, ethnographic study and fiction.
Ben Rivers was born in Somerset, England and graduated from the Falmouth School of Art in 1993. His practice as a filmmaker treads a line between documentary and fiction, often following and filming people who have in some way separated themselves from society. This raw film footage provides Rivers with a starting point for creating oblique narratives that imagine alternative existences within marginal worlds. He is the recipient of numerous prizes including the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize, and the Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Artists in 2010. Rivers’ recent exhibitions include Slow Action, at the 2010 Hepworth Wakefield, and the Hayward Gallery London, in 2011; and On Overgrown Paths, at the Impressions Gallery Bradford, in 2010. He has also served as an artist-in-focus at such festivals as the Courtisane Festival, London Film Festival, Punto de Vista International Documentary Film Festival, and Indielisboa.
His films are rich, cinematic portraits that explore wilderness environments and self-contained worlds, representing memory through visual fragments. Primarily shot on 16mm black and white film, sometimes on out-of-date stock, Rivers’ work has the appearance of ageing, archival footage. The artist shoots on an old Bolex wind-up camera, and works creatively within its limitations—including constraints of duration, since its the longest continuous shot is 30 seconds. The aged appearance of the film is also partly a consequence of Rivers hand-processing each film in his own kitchen sink. He compares the creation of his films to assembling a collage, and although he places great emphasis on the editing process, he is in fact strongly involved in all stage of his films’ creation, through his roles as cameraman, developer, editor and director. The distanced quality of Rivers’ work—albeit a knowing construction—extends to the spaces and subjects that the films focus on. Whether exposing desolate and crumbling interiors in works like Old Dark House (2003) and its sequel House (2005), or portraying the hermetic world of the ‘outsider’ figure Jake Williams in the much acclaimed This is My Land (2006), Rivers’ work is engaged with zones at the edges of contemporary life. Other works, such as Ah Liberty! (2008) which depicts a community inhabiting a rural and seemingly sublime landscape, appear to exist outside modern living altogether, signifying less alienation from the mainstream than liberation from it. Although they depict real-life subjects, Rivers’ films are not primarily documentary or ethnographic in style, despite drawing heavily on these genres. Rather, his work is personal and fragmented, reminiscent of the idiosyncratic styles of Scottish filmmaker and poet Margaret Tait and American director George Kuchar. Other influences—perhaps less apparent in Rivers’ imagery than in his soundtracks—are as wide-ranging as thriller, film noir and horror.