A novelist friend once told me that a novel is more than a sum of beautiful sentences and that deleting a favorite page of work can cure a bad case of writers’ block. An act of violence against one’s labor, such an act recognizes that a piece of writing has its own life, which doesn’t always care how much time, desire, and difficulty has gone into forging it. In his own terms my friend was reiterating a long-standing adage, variously attributed to Oscar Wilde, Anton Chekov, Stephen King, Allan Ginsberg and William Faulkner: “kill your darlings.”
Such a term may not have been relevant to artists until time-based mediums such as film and video entered our canon. While a painter might recognize that the weight of erased or over-painted forms still exert a kind of gravity on a finished canvas, an artist working with video can be sure of no such residual influence. While not impermanent, a cut exerted on a piece of film is mostly absolute. A section of deleted film leaves no such trace or ghost like an over-painted figure on a canvas does. Thinking of it that way, the process of making film becomes one of erasure: of cutting to the floor not only filmed material, but also the process of gaining that material in the first place. Making a video is then a practice of building by deletion: deletion of the labor of production and its raw material.
When Ian Giles describes the necessity of producing a work of video through erasure and deletion, his tone echoes not only the literary directive to “kill your darlings,” but also the very sentiments of his most recent work, ‘Essential Rhythms’ (2016). The work began its life with a search (of sorts) for British sculptor Barbara Hepworth (1903-1975), first in London at a retrospective and then to the Netherlands, where her sculptures are displayed in Gerrit Rietveld’s pavilion and sculpture garden of the Kröller-Müller Museum. In this setting, Hepworth’s biomorphic sculptural forms contrast with the De Stijl master’s refusal of curvature and softness, favouring instead right angles and tough lines. Such a contrast is deceptive however, for Rietveld and Hepworth both share modernism’s path towards the new, the non-representational, the transcendent, and the quest to allow matter to speak for itself. In the context of Europe’s violent political unravelling, Hepworth and Rietveld’s respective quests for modernist transcendence could look like regression, however, into a wilful blindness to the violence of the world around them. Their regression is a kind of escape. For how indeed, could the interrogation of stone, concrete, wood, colour, and abstraction resolve the horrors of the modern world?
Able to retreat to the pleasure of the Cornish coast, Barbara Hepworth for most of her life enjoyed her garden, a handful of friends, and the act of smoothing wood and stone. It was the life of an outside, “a space in which to have space,” Giles notes. Sufficiently important as an artist and affluent as an individual to retreat to such a life, Hepworth represents a kind of privilege, a cliché of Englishness, and even an artistic hedonism that is only partly placated by her being a woman in what was still a man’s art world.
A space for space as the world falls apart: must we, with a cynical eye on the privilege of escape berate Hepworth’s memory? Must we condemn her ivory tower on the English coast? Kill her somehow, our darling? It was this question that Giles’ attention to Hepworth began to turn upon when he explored her place in Rietveld’s serene modernist pavilion and her own garden in Cornwall, watching through the camera lens the atmosphere of those spaces for space, those spaces of an outside.
Putting Hepworth’s place in a beautiful outside in dialogue with other beautiful outsides, Giles demonstrates a personal and a general conflict invoked by that problem of space and the privilege of having it, producing a series of vignettes within ‘Essential Rhythms’ that echo Rietveld’s pavilion and Hepworth’s garden on the coast. Located definitively with the present, Giles’ vignettes enjoy escape but also express a worry, or culpability about that very enjoyment. To attend a community yoga class—as mentioned by this video for example—is to be outside the impositions on privilege that prevent the most disadvantaged from also participating. To collaborate in an artist collective is (often) to be within the precariat, but not so thoroughly that such an activity is out of the question. To produce objects within a ceramics studio is to spend money on lumps of clay and the heat of a kiln, an expense that could (if one so wished), be recouped by sale, providing for the affluent consumer’s desire for special and handcrafted objects that at least appear to transcend grubbier networks of industry and commodity.
While we know that such spaces of community and creativity are oriented towards the good, we also know that they exist within a structure of blockages and impasses, and that the search for pleasure and calm that they permit is often tied to privilege and privileged hedonism. The answer to such a problem is perhaps to kill those darlings of pleasure, space, and retreat: No more pleasure. No more gardens. No more sitting together. No more pottery kilns. No more joy.
Of course, that isn’t an answer. And that’s not what “killing your darlings” even means. To kill one’s darlings isn’t to despoil one’s world, work of literature, or life, of beauty and pleasure. It’s rather to move those things of vision for a while. To let the place they used to inhabit breathe without them. And then to put them—your darlings—back in place. If Ian Giles’ darlings here are ceramics and yoga studios, community groups, choirs, English gardens, modernist pavilions, and opportunities to dance, then ‘Essential Rhythms’ is as much a work of deletion as it is one of replacement. It kills its own darlings a little, and by putting them on view replaces them with better versions of themselves, cut, reshaped and seen finally in fuller, clearer and kinder focus.