Ian Breakwell

The Other Side


Not on display

Ian Breakwell 1943–2005
Video, 2 projections, colour and sound
Duration: 14 min.
Purchased 2003


The Other Side is a double-screen video installation commissioned as part of Breakwell’s residency at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex during the summer and autumn of 2000. The Pavilion was designed during the 1930s as a place of entertainment and public instruction by the architects Eric Mendelsohn (1885-1953) and Serge Chermayeff (1901-96) and is one of the best examples of Modernist architecture in Britain. It features in the work as both its subject and its backdrop. The film was shot on the Pavilion’s upper landing, the camera positioned looking out through the curved windows of the stairwell across the exterior balcony to a view of the sea and the horizon. It comprises two alternating sequences. Footage of elderly couples ballroom dancing on the balcony outside has been slowed down to the rhythm of the accompanying soundtrack, an extract from Franz Schubert’s Nocturne in E-flat Major (Op.148) overlaid by the sounds of breaking waves and seagulls. Silhouetted against the sky, the dancers slowly circle the Pavilion’s upper balcony. As the sun sets and the sky turns pink the camera pans back and forth through 180°. In the alternating scene, played to the same sound, panoramic vistas of the view out of the building towards the sea and horizon beyond are empty of human presence. The two scenes are projected onto either side of a free standing wall. As the music ends, the scenes are reversed and projected onto the opposite side of the wall. Each time the scene is shown getting gradually closer to sunset. Finally, the images plunge into darkness and the music stops completely. The noise of breaking glass, crashing waves and the piercing sound of seagulls calling abruptly ends the poetic atmosphere of timeless romance and quiet melancholy. However, it restarts a few seconds later as the thirteen minute sequence loops back to the beginning. Breakwell has explained:

The continuous motion of the camera moving smoothly backwards and forwards on its track, coupled with the slow, haunting intensity of Schubert’s music and the sound of the rhythmically lapping waves is intended to induce a hypnotic, trance like mood of disorientation in the viewer ... The dramatic soundscape ... makes the ending seem ... a startling intrusion which reminds us of how fragile a peaceful idyll is, as if the glass pavilion of dreams has been invaded by darker forces from the other side.

(Quoted in The Other Side: A New Work by Ian Breakwell, [p.3].)

Breakwell has made work in drawing, painting, collage, photography, prints, performance, 16mm film, video, objects, slide projections, light and sound, choosing whatever medium seems most appropriate for conveying a particular idea. From 1965 much of his work took the form of diaries, combining collage and photography with text. Rather than recording personal thoughts, feelings and experiences, Breakwell’s diaries bear witness to a process of detached observation of others in the world. Even when he refers to himself, it is in the third person. His focus is on ordinary people and the poignant, absurd and sometimes disturbing moments which break into mundane reality. He has commented: ‘ordinary people can become extraordinary if pushed to their limits’ (correspondence with the author, 2nd June 2004). The dancers in The Other Side are non-professional, local people rather than actors. Their elderly status, coupled with the film’s timeless imagery and nostalgic music suggest a reference to death in the repeated shattering of the idyll. The title appears to confirm this.

The Other Side was scripted and edited by Breakwell and produced in an edition of two.

Further reading:
The Other Side: A New Work by Ian Breakwell, exhibition brochure, De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill on Sea 2002, reproduced front cover
Dale Mcfarland, ‘Anthony Reynolds Gallery: Ian Breakwell’ Frieze, Issue 67, May 2002, reproduced in colour
Katy Greaves, ‘Surface Tensions’, Blueprint, No.193, March 2002, pp.30-3, reproduced p.32 in colour

Elizabeth Manchester
June 2004

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Display caption

Ian Breakwell’s video installation The Other Side explores the fragility of life.

The work is inspired by the afternoon dances held at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-on-Sea, on the south coast of England. Footage of older couples, ballroom dancing on the pavilion balcony, has been slowed down to the rhythm of Franz Schubert’s ‘Nocturne in E flat Major’. The dancers glide across the terrace. Their graceful movements are echoed by the slow panning, back and forth, of the camera and the gentle sound of the lapping waves.

The warm glow of the setting sun fosters a state of calm reflection. However, the contemplative atmosphere is abruptly broken when the music stops, and the room plunges into darkness. The sound of breaking glass, roaring waves and screeching seagulls are a startling intrusion into the peaceful scene. It is, as Breakwell puts it, ‘as if the glass pavilion of dreams has been invaded by darker forces from the other side.’

The unseen catastrophe draws into question the fragility of our existence, encouraging us to reflect on the missteps and the misfortunes, the accidents and the atrocities which surround us. Out of the darkness, the music begins again. Despite the challenges faced, the dance of life persists.

Gallery label, November 2019

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