Vicki Bennett: Gesture Piece
Pixel Palace, Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
Review by Michael Mulvihill
The influential Soviet film-maker and theorist Sergei Eisenstein described montage as a cinematic method of collapsing both space and time by colliding images together for emotional and metaphoric effect. For nearly a century montage has been a technique used to abandon narrative continuity, and its function in Hollywood cinema is ironically, and prosaically, explained in the montage song from ‘Team America’ 2004.
However for Eisenstein montage was also an intellectual experience where ideas arise from the clash and repetition of independent shots. Eisenstein thought that to determine the nature of montage is to also solve the medium specificity of cinema; or rather montage is a dialectical instrument with which to question the nature of film. So with the history of cinema being overtly visual, montage has been a rich reflexive resource for filmmakers, and advertisers, seeking to subvert and surprise their audience throughout the twentieth century.
British artist Vicki Bennett, also known as People Like Us, is the latest in a line of filmmakers to utilise montage’s potential for dissecting cinema’s relationship with its audience. ‘Gesture Piece’ (2013) is a new commission by Newcastle’s Tyneside Cinema as part of their Pixel Palace digital arts programme. The work is accessed online and consists of many clips taken from classic film noir and more recent movies by directors such as Martin Scorsese and the Cohen Brothers. The clips are stitched together into a 15-minute film made of seven discrete chapters that are arranged into vague taxonomies of gestures; such as scenes containing slides and eyes, or things being bashed. They are accompanied by a score from one of seven sound artists: Gwilly Edmondez, Matmos, Ergo Phizmiz, Andrew Sharpley, Dave Soldier, Jason Willett and Wobbly. None of these artists were aware of the previous chapter or the accompanying soundtrack, the intent being to produce a soundtrack along the lines of the Surrealist exquisite corpse drawing technique.
As ‘Gesture Piece’s patchwork of scenes plays out the viewer becomes aware that cinema possesses a grammar beyond the continuous filmic narratives to which we are accustomed. The conventions of framing and composition allow each scene to follow an abstract logic that reveals a defined structure of filmmaking poised towards storytelling. The soundtracks, which range from a self-evident conversational piece describing frames from the film to high pitched vocalisations that ‘wittily’ anthropomorphise objects, also steer this interpretation.