Frances Scott: Diviner
21 June - 22 July, 2018
Review by Sophie Risner
Made from seemingly hours painstakingly trawling through the South West Film and Television Archive based in Plymouth, Frances Scott’s exquisite film work, ‘Diviner’, marks the inaugural outing for newly opened exhibition and event space, The Bower. We are presented with an opulent 23 minute-long work which uses the short documentary, ‘Diviner Water in Luppitt’ (1976), as a locus for a broader sociological investigation. As a diviner might predict the future or locate water, Scott’s acute dexterity to hone the archive both realises and relinquishes the agency within; here her ability to re-appropriate the past negotiates a space for the present day to find shelter.
‘What exactly are you looking for?’ Scott’s opening provocation problematizes this format of image production, situating the work as a halfway house between rupture and nurture. This gambit enables us to question the re-purposing of archival content when we are fed the imagery as a curated concept over viewing the original full-length footage. Here Scott’s role as archival flaneur sees ‘Diviner’ standing side by side with ‘Purple’ by John Akomfrah. But, whilst Akomfrah may find his raison d’etre in climate change, Scott’s film is led by a side-eye glance or quizzical reading of a nexus of transactions or relationships we establish to legitimise our lived experience.
Scenes of actors discussing their approach and method as part of regional news reportage of on-location Hollywood filming, highlights the behind-the-camera directorial control relinquishing by Scott in the pursuit of this vision. This dramaturgic technic is dynamically used to suggest the role of the autre, an otherness which Scott adopts as a lynch pin throughout to stand back and admire the complexity of what it means to become someone else, to play a character or inhabit another human’s story. The grain found on the scenes of Dustin Hoffman being interviewed whilst filming ‘Straw Dogs’ speaks louder now than the controversy caused upon the film’s release. The visual experience of seeing historical footage remarks on a time in which gender autonomy looked and felt far different to that experienced today.
The joy in using regional archival content is that it manages to decentralise the debate away from a London-centric viewpoint, exposing the interwoven folk narratives present in communities across the UK. Here, Scott progresses her story by interjecting images of vox pop interviews, people discussing their connection with cult and spiritual phenomenon represented by close ups of palm readers, space people encounters, religious ceremonies and the erecting of the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury. This leap exposes a deep rooted fascination with the cult of community and coming together through celebration; both questioning and exposing the role of community as one which is deeply subjective. What is it that drives and connects us and how do we attempt to negotiate these relationships?
In a politically feverish landscape Scott’s film begs many questions of the viewer, the comment from one unearthed film shows a painfully apposite clip of a woman declaring that Britain is a small island and that she doesn’t believe in ‘making Britain great again’. Here the looping objective of history splinters and refracts - an owl grabs a mouse throttling it to death, a whale becomes beached - our mind is drawn back to the initial scenes showing a reel to reel being threaded. Scott exposes the trust we place in the archive, she also enlists it to question our progression. Here ‘Diviner’ works as a parable unearthing the past as an omen: not to forecast where we’re going, but to suggest how easy it may be for us to return.