Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck is a 16mm film projected onto a suspended screen that lasts twelve minutes. Against a backdrop of emotive choral music, images of medieval stained glass are interspersed with a series of vignettes about love, faith and betrayal. Each scene is staged and lit to echo the imagery within the stained glass. The script is highly theatrical and melodramatic in tone. It features characters and sets that mix medieval iconography with modern references and slapstick comedy. However the faltering delivery of the dialogue, the humour and anachronistic collision of medieval imagery and twenty-first century props deliberately challenge narrative continuity and ultimately liberate the material from conventional filmic storytelling. Tate’s copy is number four in an edition of five.
Like much of Wardill’s work, Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck is an analysis of social symbolism and ritual. The film was inspired in part by theoretical accounts of the function of visual culture within history, from the art critic John Ruskin (1819–1900), who is quoted in the film, to the French philosopher Jacques Rancière (born 1940), whose writing deals with the relationship between aesthetics and politics. Wardill is interested in exploring the use of melodrama as a device through which to bring political critique into popular culture. This approach echoes that of the German filmmaker Rainer Fassbinder (1945–1982) who is famous for his social melodramas.
In Sick Serena and Dregs and Wreck and Wreck, Wardill explores how medieval iconography was used as the tool of official communication within a largely illiterate society and how the visual allegories of stained glass as a form of communication continue to have resonance today. This interest in how social meanings are projected onto things had also led Wardill to attempt to throw such processes into reverse. While her practice contains an element of analysis, Wardill experiments with different visual or verbal structures, deliberately resisting any fixed meaning. Critic Colin Perry has described this approach: ‘Wardill’s films have, over the last few years, unleashed a fusillade of deflationary techniques garnered from modernist culture: disjunctive narratives, absurdly emotionless voice-overs, high camp, nudge-nudge comedy. [Her films] consciously emphasise the irreducible qualities of images as well as their emancipatory potential.’ (Perry 2008, pp.32–33.) This approach emphasises the strangeness of images and undermines narrative cohesion. Rather than being representative of any reality, the film develops its own life and dynamic, to be absorbed by the senses rather than through logic.
Colin Perry, ‘Emily Wardill’, Art Monthly, no.320, October 2008, p.32.
Mike Sperlinger, ‘Artists at Work: Emily Wardill’, http://www.afterall.org/online/artists.at.work.emily.wardill, January 2009, accessed May 2010.
Emily Wardill, exhibition catalogue, Nassauischer Kunstverein, Wiesbaaden 2009.