Ben Rivers

Ah, Liberty!


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Not on display

Ben Rivers born 1972
Film, 16 mm, projection, black and white, and sound (stereo)
Duration: 20min
Presented by Tate Members 2018


Ah Liberty! 2008 is a black and white 16 mm film by the British artist Ben Rivers. Shown as a projection and lasting twenty minutes, it features a family living in the wilderness among a number of free-range animals, including horses, cows, dogs and an iguana. There is no easily discernible narrative to the film; instead, it juxtaposes fragments of idyllic landscapes with trivial day-to-day activities and family rituals. The soundtrack often corresponds to the recorded action but also includes snatches of music and other sounds superimposed on the film. Despite its content, the film resists a sentimental interpretation. Scenic shots of lush hills, open fields and mountain landscapes are disrupted by scenes of urban debris and detritus that have taken root in this natural and otherwise unspoilt environment: for example, a bathtub is seen in the middle of an area of wilderness and horses graze in a wrecking yard. As the title suggests, the film explores notions of freedom, undercut by a darkness that is reflected in the post-apocalyptic feel of its shots. Ah Liberty! was produced in an edition of five, of which this version is number three.

Ah Liberty! was filmed in Scotland and revisits an area that provided the location for Rivers’s earlier work This is My Land 2006, where the camera follows a bearded man wandering around his cottage. As with Ah Liberty!, this earlier film observes a character separated from society and here too notions of freedom are explored through his isolation and self-sustainability.

Although Rivers documents actual places and habitats in his films, his work has elements of both documentary and fiction. His use of analogue film stock and retention of the white flashes at the end of the film roll gesture to the process of his films’ making. Stylistically they are characterised by slow panning shots over beautiful unpopulated landscapes, which provide backdrops for the viewer’s imagination. Rivers has described this effect in relation to his childhood in the Somerset countryside: ‘For me there is an association with walking in the landscape and daydreaming – and this is something I’ve always been interested in incorporating somehow in the films, an impression of being slightly outside of what we might consider reality, but not too far in an overtly fantastical sense.’ (Quoted in Halter 2011, p.1.)

Rivers works largely with a 16 mm handheld Bolex camera, which not only delivers the distinct grainy quality of analogue film but suits his working process. As he has explained: ‘There’s an interesting time constraint with the Bolex; you wind it up and only get a 30-second shot. It creates mini-rules and more concentration and consideration are needed. It makes filming less arbitrary, it helps you think about what you’re doing.’ (Quoted in Corless 2008, accessed 9 December 2014.)

Further reading
Keiron Corless, ‘The London Film Festival: Ah Liberty! – Ben Rivers at the Edge of the World’, Sight and Sound, November 2008,, accessed 9 December 2014.
Ben Rivers, ‘Slow Action’, Map Magazine, no.21, March 2010, pp.66–9,, accessed 23 May 2015.
Ed Halter, ‘Part of the Process’, Mousse, no.28, April–May 2011, pp.1–4.

Leyla Fakhr
February 2015

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