Not on display
Hermitos Children, the pilot episode 2008 is a twenty-minute film by the British artist Marvin Gaye Chetwynd. The film takes the form of a pilot episode of a television drama, following the protagonist Joan Shipman as she attempts to solve various sex-crimes and murders. However, unlike a conventional show the narrative of the film is vague and abstract. It opens with a preposterous scene, featuring a flamboyantly dressed man wearing a curly black wig. The absurdity of his costume is enhanced by a theatrical voiceover, describing in the first person how his wife has run away. The scene then cuts randomly to close-ups of a nude female in the park. Most scenes are a few minutes long and are accompanied by lively soundtracks played by independent music bands. Many parts of the film contain female nudity, in particular the last ten minutes. Accompanied by heavy metal music, this scene features a group of naked women lying curled up next to each other, while they occasionally lip-synch and shout into the camera. The story is interrupted by images of Chetwynd’s collages, which she made with the photographer Ben Toms during the production of Hermitos Children, the pilot episode, for the November 2008 issue of the magazine Dazed and Confused. The collages consist of black and white pictures of the actors, collaged onto colourful psychedelic backgrounds. The backgrounds of the collages are similar to Chetwynd’s series of paintings entitled Bat Opera (2004/5). Scenes from other events hosted by the artist – Helmut Newton Ladies’ Night and Yoyo’s – also appear in the work. The artist has commented that:
In Hermitos Children I was referencing Pasolini’s Acetone (1961). I tried to film a narrative in front of the live performance events. For example a character would say something in front of the chaotic events going on behind them. In this way documenting the performances I produced in the year 2008 and making them into a continuous narrative.
(Quoted in ‘Spartacus Chetwynd b.1973: Hermitos Children (2009)’, no date, http://www.ubu.com/film/chetwynd_hermitos.html, accessed 26 January 2016.)
The title of Hermitos Children, the pilot episode is named after the Brazilian musician, composer and multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal. He is known for his abilities of orchestration and improvisation. Chetwynd was particularly inspired by a video clip she saw of Pascoal on YouTube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=06Qm-Z5OsHw, accessed 26 January 2016). The clip shows Pascoal in the middle of a lake surrounded by waterfalls and lush greenery. He is accompanied by other musicians and they play improvised music on empty bottles. The idyllic environment draws parallels to the Garden of Eden and paradise – themes which have provided a constant source of inspiration for Chetwynd. Although the narrative of the film seems to focus on solving crimes, it also depicts the characters on their own paths of self-discovery as they negotiate feelings of belonging and desire. The interactions between performers and group dynamics often form the basis of Chetwynd’s performances and to enhance this she often uses close friends and family members as actors.
The film was first shown as an installation consisting of thirty-two television sets and one colourful bean bag. The central section of the installation is a square made up of nine screens, across which a single track of the film is fragmented by a video processor. The remaining television sets are placed on the left and right side of the square and they are all synchronised to play the entire film from start to finish on a loop. When installed at Tate Britain, London, in 2006, the screens were mostly second-hand televisions that the artist had sourced from various locations. They were purposely varied and slightly different in colour and format. The bean bag was placed on the floor, in front of the television sets, for the audience to sit or lie on while viewing the film. It is made up of patched clothes that are taken from the costumes within the film. A number of sets of headphones with long cables were also provided for the audio section of the film. This installation might be thought of as an exaggeration of a domestic living room, combined with the large-scale spectacle of theatre. Curator Catherine Wood has written of how Chetwynd’s citation of multiple forms challenges the spectator:
Chetwynd’s work reconsiders what is at stake in the idea of performance as it relates to the history of the genre, especially regarding post-war ideas of body-art and communal participation. Instead of presenting her live work as an authentic encounter between audience and performer, she creates scenarios borrowing from street theatre and carnival culture, as well as from the conventions of scripting and staging theatre plays.
(Wood 2006, p.38.)
The art critic Tom Morton has also picked up on the multiple sources and connotations of Chetwynd’s work, writing that ‘the artist and her mummers’ band tell tall tales in a manner that recalls at once the theatre of Alfred Jarry and Bertolt Brecht, a disco at a science-fiction convention, and a primary school nativity play’ (Morton 2010, accessed 26 January 2016). Typical of Chetwynd’s work, Hermitos Children, the pilot episode uses humour and amateurism to offset the formalities of a script or performance. The non-professional actors and DIY costumes, sets and props add to the sense of carnival and chaos, suspending the film between reality, fiction and dreams. As such, although Chetwynd’s work often breaks with the techniques of suspension and fulfillment that comprise the forms she parodies, her work encourages other responses from the audience including, as Morton comments, ‘joyful anarchy’ (Morton 2010, accessed 26 January 2016).
A second episode of Hermitos Children was made in 2014, funded by a kickstarter campaign. The work was then shown alongside an installation at the art gallery Studio Voltaire in London in the same year.
Rob Bowman, ‘Lali Chetwynd’, Beck’s Futures, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London 2005, pp.15–17.
Catherine Wood, ‘Lali Chetwynd’, Tate Triennial: New British Art, exhibition catalogue, Tate Britain, London 2006, p.38.
Tom Morton, ‘Spartacus Chetwynd’, Frieze, no.107, May 2007, http://www.frieze.com/issue/article/spartacus_chetwynd/, accessed 26 January 2016.