film installation

Shona Illingworth, Lesions in the Landscape (2015)

September 22, 2015

shona illingworth blog

In a rare moment of colour footage, this film by Shona Illingworth features figures with torches who work their way around a green twilight landscape, riddled with stony ruins.

The searching orange beams bring to mind the point of our consciousness, while the vastness of the terrain stands for all we know and remember but cannot directly access.

But like the lonely figures in this three screen panorama, we get by. The same can hardly be said for another personage in this unsettling film, the amnesiac Claire, who cannot feel her past.

The injury to Claire’s brain is paralleled by the injury to this landscape. St Kilda is the most North Westerly part of the British Isles, evacuated under controversial circumstances in the 1930s.

We see the islanders in archive footage captured by an ornithologist on the eve of their departure. They hide from the lens, as if from witchcraft, and resist attempts to know them through film.

A later piece of sound in the installation is more revealing of the inner life of these island dwellers. Illingworth includes the call and response of a religious service comprised of Gaelic psalm.

So you can live on a godforsaken rock in the Atlantic, but that, apparently, is no reason to forsake your god in turn. And there is a beauty in the oceanic pitch and roll of communal song.

All that remains of these peoples here now are the seabirds that for four millennia formed their main diet. Thousands of these fill the screens which fill the dark screening room. You are among them.

This is the sad and inhospitable place where, along with Claire, we hear from Martin Conway. The highly respected neuropsychologist is philosophical about the condition of both subjects.

Without a sense of the lived past, we cannot know the present, we cannot imagine a future. The same could be said for both subjects of Illingworth’s film; it is bleak at times.

That’s maybe why the viewer welcomes the burst of colour and the dogged progress of the figures with the torches. If our own memory works like this, it is at least working fine.

Lesions in the Landscape can be seen at FACT, Liverpool until 22 November 2015, before travelling to UNSW Galleries, Sydney, Australia, then Taigh Chearsabhagh Museum and Art Gallery, Outer Hebrides, and then Dilston Grove & CGP Gallery in London.

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