Elizabeth Price and visions of the future.

More ponderings from the past. Apt as at the moment I seem engrossed with science fiction, the ideas and workings of a future world and existence. Mostly influenced by our ideas and experience from the past. 


Elizabeth Price – ‘Here’

The Baltic Gateshead 3rd February to 27th may 2012

Elizabeth Price creates immersive video installations; they often draw upon existing archives of film, photography, and physical collections, to create new apocalyptic narratives. Human action is rarely featured in any of prices works, she tends to focus on objects, which stand in for humans, and ‘are used to present institutional contexts and social histories as well as aspirational desires.’ (newcastlegateshead.com)

Elizabeth Price was born in Bradford, Yorkshire in 1966 and grew up in Luton Bedfordshire; she attended Putteridge Comprehensive High School. She received a Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Art at the Ruskin School of Art, Oxford University in 1988, and then an MA in Fine Art from the Royal College of Art in 1991. In 1999 Price completed a PhD in Fine Art at the University of Leeds. Prices work stands alongside Ed Atkins, James Richards, and Duncan Campbell.  She uses, in particular, similar methods to Mark Lackey, who used the Burroughs and Gysin cut up method, which is a way of exploring the juxtapositions that the text and voices create. But something sets Price aside from these artists, she creates a narrative that is both solid and compelling but she also manages to spin such a fantastic tale, in a weird sort of fascination, you are drawn into the work, but aren’t quite sure why.

The first two pieces you come across in Prices ‘Here’ are ‘User Group Disco’ and ‘Choir’. User group disco uses inanimate bric-a-brac presented in highly prized manner, as if they were jewels.  Using a vantriloquised voice price creates a ‘fragmentary evocation of platonic afterlife’ (artmonthly March 2012) here you can see pictured, two stills from the 15 minute long movie. You can see that price uses lighting to evoke emotion. An instrumental version of A-ha’s ‘take on me’ plays over the top, as if to summon you into the world she has created. You find yourself confused, you know what the message and the story of the piece is, but you know that factually what is being depicted is false.

‘Choir’ uses pictures, diagrams and text relating to church architecture. The idea of choir as a place, choir as the people, the way of presenting and conveying the information shows an anonymous doubling. The sound playing over this piece seems to be an unremitting soundtrack of clapping hands and cracking fingers, creating an uneasy atmosphere. The next part then begins, with Kenneth Anger esc 1960s pop show footage, of girl groups with an overlaying shared voice, the connections between a choir, a chorus and a communal gathering are animated. And then the final part commences, using the footage of the 1979 fire at a Woolworths store in Manchester, and eye witness testimonies. This film doesn’t just use recycled film footage and images, price uses a reconstruction of the fire. The film ends with the image of a billowing flame looping, seemingly eternally.

The final piece was ‘West Hinder’ this piece seems to have stuck with me much more vividly than the others. The first thing you notice about this film, is the journey to get there seems fraught with danger, you are led down a dark corridor by a beam of light from the gallery employees torches, you dread the moment when you hit a corner or walk into somebody. But finally you reach the room, and are faced with what seems to be dancing cars, but then you’re drawn into the story. In December 2002 a cargo ship sank in the west hinder, a part of the English Channel that is classed as a no man’s land. The ship was carrying nearly 3000 BMWs, Saabs and Volvos. The ship was recovered the next year, but in prices sci fi depiction something developed in the water. The onboard computers in the cars, that control sat nav, voice recognition and systems within the vehicle become distorted in the darkness, the cars started think for themselves. The cars start to work cohesively, and then the voice emerges, reminiscent of the Borg from Gene Roddenberry’s ‘Star Trek’, Hal from ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ and the B9 from ‘Lost In Space’. The voice begins to take on a lyrical form.  The link to a future creates a narrative that you know doesn’t exist, yet on some level, everybody understands. Then, Genesis’ ‘follow you, follow me’ begins to play, and similar to how ‘take on me’ enticed you into the film in user group disco, you begin to focus entirely on the screen, forgetting about the other people shuffling around you, you become completely emerged. The cars start to flow together, acting as one, in some strange synchronised dance, it reminded me of ritualistic ceremony. The metaphor of death and rebirth in this film, seem to run through all three of her films, in particular, ‘Choir’, with the lasting image of a billowing flame.

Prices art uses the suggestibility of her viewers to ensure that the narrative lives on; she seems to strive for a factual haziness, mixing fact, fiction, past and future to make certain that you, the viewer are enticed into the story and the metaphor. The way she uses fact and fiction makes sure that you come away from seeing her art, and it makes you think.

Price blended together a perfect mix of atmosphere, narrative and fabrication to create a whole new way to look at things. She has such a talent of drawing on things that we have buried away in our subconscious. I think that price works in an intuitive way, not necessarily sticking to a particular theme, but rather sticking to a method of delivery that will have the most impact for her work.


A contextual look at Elizabeth Prices ‘Here’ in relation to ‘archaeologies of the future’ by Fredric Jameson

Elizabeth Price creates a future world within her work; she uses a blend of science fiction and reality to evoke the idea of this new world within our imaginations. Focussing on the text ‘Progress Versus utopia Or Can We Imagine The Future?’ (‘archaeologies of the future’ by Fredric Jameson)  I aim to explore the ideas and methods being used in Prices film pieces, and how they affect our response to the work.

‘What if the ‘idea’ of progress were not an idea at all but rather a symptom of something else?’ (Fredric Jameson)  Elizabeth Prices ‘West Hinder’ creates a narrative in which the progress of technology creates something extraordinary, something that at this present moment in time does not exist, and we know that. What if the idea of a future is not based on science and hard fact, but on the population having a collective ideology?  For example HG wells’ ‘Time Machine’ has had bearing on both factual and fictional works, the idea that the belief of something is stronger than the evidence supporting it shows that we, as a people, strive for something more than we posses; material possessions, technology, religion etc, in effect it keeps us going. This is the reason that Prices work captures so many people’s imagination; we are on a constant endeavour to see what’s round the next corner. ‘Choir’ by Price also explores this idea using true life happenings to demonstrate a type of community, through her ‘chorus’ (Elizabeth price uses a united voice, with split screen to demonstrate the shared similarities, but also the individuals within that community) of people, the strength of the group showing through the individual.

The key to Prices work engaging the viewer is in the narrative, she creates a world in her films that we can both relate with and at the same time couldn’t have even dreamed up. ‘yet such narrative categories are themselves fraught with contradiction: in order for narrative to project some sense of a totality of experience in space and time, it must surely know some closure’ (‘ a narrative must have an ending, even if it is ingeniously organized around the structural repression of endings as such’ Fredric Jameson’s ‘archaeologies of the future’) her films all draw to a close, creating a place in time, and keeping it there, this helps people to relate. ‘at the same time, however, closure or the narrative ending is the mark of that boundary or limit beyond which thought cannot go. The merit of Science fiction is to dramatise this contradiction on the level of plot itself, since the vision of the future history cannot know any punctual ending of this kind, at the same that its novelistic expression demands some such ending.’ Price creates what we cannot imagine, because said event hasn’t happened yet, the way in which she concludes her films make sure that we have   lasting image of them, ‘Choir’ for example finishes with the continuous burning of the Woolworths store, the image of the flames dancing is one that would stay in many people’s minds.

Elizabeth Prices works resonate significantly with science fiction themes, the post apocalyptic futures, robotic voices but use old ‘anthems’ of sorts, with A-ha and Genesis playing over the top, ‘they go about their business with the full baggage and paraphernalia of a conventional realism, with this one difference: that the full ‘presence’ – the setting and actions to be ‘rendered’ and are merely possible and conceivable ones of a near or far future.’ (Jameson) The way she uses these things that are familiar with us, makes us comfortable with the ideas she is putting forward, they make us more open to the narrative that we are faced with. (Whence the canonical defence of the genre: in a moment in which technological change has reached a dizzying tempo, in which s o-called “future  shock” is a daily experience,  such narratives have  the social function of accustoming their readers to rapid innovation,  of  preparing  our  consciousness  and  our habits for  the  otherwise demoralizing impact of  change itself’ Fredric Jameson’s ‘archaeologies of the future’).

Jameson also explores the idea of ‘The future as disruption’ we strive so much for a utopian future that our very fear of not achieving it creates these types of narratives that Price draws on, when we try to think of a future we can’t help but think back to our past, which is full of conflict and developments, therefore the idea that Price is putting forward to her viewers isn’t so farfetched in their beliefs and opinions.

The themes through Jameson’s ‘Archaeologies Of The Future’ led me to understand the thoughts and vision behind Prices work, to what I think is a deeper level. Viewing this work with little or no understanding of the notions behind it seems narrow minded, you need to be able to appreciate the theme of science fiction and the ideas of a future world, and this text is a perfect accompaniment.

Looking back at writing like this; an analytic look at a piece of art, piecing it together into the wider concepts of literature and society, but also seeing how it slots into the a creative, experimental world; encourages the part of my mind that enjoys picking things apart. Also, if in a slightly self evaluating manner, the way in which I write has move on to a point where I enjoy the future prospects of revisiting such themes and artists. 


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