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Life Fell to Earth

One of the things that some people lament about the internet is its propensity to ‘flatten’ experience. Disembodied, weightless, searching, always searching, we skim and flit over the surface of things – zero gravity, zero affect. In George Barber’s Life Fell to Earth, the speed at which we have suddenly gone over to this online universe, and its mirror-image of our small blue planet, induces a feeling of disorientation, even of vertigo, but also something strangely uplifting, as Barber summons, from this digital ether, a swirl of images whose random nature belies their unexpected emotional charge. Delicately assembled, with Barber’s usual quicksilver eye and trademark lyrical finesse, from memorial pages and other personal tributes posted to YouTube and elsewhere, and combined with other free-floating matter from all parts of the web, this evocative twelve-minute video is further embellished with sampled music and other found text. Channeling the magpie sensibilities of Kurt Schwitters and other pioneers of collage, Barber invests Schwitters’ Merz aesthetic with a profound sense of weltschmerz (a sadness and despair at the sorrows of the world), creating an elegy to mortality and human fallibility that echoes Rilke in its melancholy intensity. Falling headlong into an uncertain future, weighed down by a past they can never quite escape, Barber’s images deftly evoke the ‘long tail’ of the internet and quietly underscore it with a low, plangent wail of nostalgia and loss.

Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella for MerzBank. Courtesy waterside contemporary, London.


Please click here to listen to Alec Finlay’s podcast on vocable orchard (HRV)

Merzschmerz

Fairy tales are handed down from mothers to daughters, and from fathers to sons. As they are passed on, the tales grow in the telling – or gradually depart from the original, as new elements get added, or others get cut. Steeped in memories of childhood, nursery rhymes and other bedside stories seem to speak with the authentic voice of pre-history, and forge a direct link to that bygone past. Although this is an enchanting notion, the reality is that these age-old fables are always something of a patchwork: the product of different authors, at different times.

The party line about Kurt Schwitters was that he was many things: poet, performer, painter, prankster (and permutations of the above). It’s less often noted that he was also a writer of children’s stories – a playful, avuncular spirit with a penchant for the macabre and the absurd. A number of Schwitters’ captivating children’s tales form the basis of Andrea Luka Zimmerman’s Merzschmerz, a series of short videos in which children revisit what they remember of each recently-read story, and relay it in the company of an adult (family member, neighbour, guardian or friend). As the children furrow their brows in concentration, or smirk in advance at the funny things they are about to impart, their excited faces are echoed by the indulgent, quizzical smiles of the adults, creating a moment of togetherness, and adding to the pieces’ infectious charm.

Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella for MerzBank. Supported by Arts Council England.

 

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The Londonion App

An IOS sound app available from the Apple App Store by Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard, featuring Stewart Lee
App developed by incidental

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From AN

Nick Crowe and Ian Rawlinson’s ‘From An’ is a series of downloadable PDFs that playfully re-imagines the 15 different application forms for residency and citizenship available from the UK Border Agency website.

The 15 individual works will be released at weekly intervals on the ‘MerzBank’ site. Reflecting on Schwitters’ skills as graphic designer and his own typographic experiments for public institutions in pre-war Germany, the pieces also allude to the themes of non-conformity, exile, migration and refugee status that dogged Schwitters’ later life.

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Londonion

‘London Onion’, Kurt Schwitters’ love-letter to the city that became his home, has been turned by artists Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard into ‘Londonion’, a pocket-sized mega-mix of the original, updated for the present as a digital app.
Centred on a performance of the poem by comic Stewart Lee, the piece combines verbal and sonic pyrotechnics with the potential for audience interaction that Schwitters encouraged in his art.
The app responds to the random sounds and fluctuating noise-levels of the immediate surroundings and is supplemented by short introductory videos about the project that will be disseminated on YouTube and elsewhere, introducing ‘Londonion’ to a wider online community.

‘vocable-orchard (HRV)’ by Alec Finlay

Alec Finlay’s contribution to ‘MerzBank’ is an echo of Schwitters’ famous ‘sneeze poem’ of 1937, which he ‘scored’ to replicate the convulsive sound and shape of a human sneeze. Finlay compares the sudden burst of a single a-c-h-o-o to the flowering of the human rhinovirus (aka the common cold) as it develops and proliferates over time. Streaming continuously on the homepage of the ‘MerzBank’ site, a digital animation, made up of micro-particles of text, captures the beauty of the virus in full flow, while snapshot samples of it will be transmitted through social media, mimicking how the common cold insinuates itself within the general population.


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