|Mark Lewis, Above and Below the Minhocao, 2014|
Being so underwhelmed by the recent installation of Lewis’ films at the Louvre, I was relieved to see that the in situ installation of some of his new works at Le Bal in the 17th arrondissment was done with more care and respect for the integrity of the films. For all the reasons the film installations did not work at the Louvre, Above and Below does. At Le Bal, the 35mm and HD works are exhibited in spaces where people can uninterruptedly watch them in comfort, see the clarity of the image, and experience their physical response. The interest in Lewis’ films is often the physical experience of watching a camera very slowly moving across and around a space uninterruptedly, creating a smooth path through impossible angles and perspectives. Most often, we experience nausea, dizziness, the unsettling experience of being taken on a journey only to end up back where it began, and having to ask, how did I get here? And in order to have this experience, the projection and viewing conditions need to be very precisely observed.
|Mark Lewis, Hendon FC, 2009|
While Lewis is known to work with and manipulate the materials of film, often engaging with histories of visual representation, these on exhibition at Le Bal seemed like a shift into more political territory than others that I have seen previously. Above and Below the Minhocao, 2014, the work that gives the exhibition its title, is a complex and detailed film that demonstrates this venture into the political. The moving bird’s eye views of the great auto route in Sao Paulo on a weekend afternoon is unsettling simply because of the absence of cars and the odd sense of decay and nostalgia, emphasized by the late afternoon sun. With the traffic nowhere to be seen and the long lazy shadows of bikers and runners, enjoying the freedom to run and bike along this uninterrupted stretch of highway, the contradictions are everywhere in tension along this monument to modernity. Apparently, 80,000 cars traverse the Minhocao per day, but in Lewis’ film, there are none. Below the overpass, the streets are old and worn, the houses not so up to date, there’s a tiredness and a sense of the forgotten about this apparent revolutionary structure. Lewis’ familiar slow motion tracking and focus pulling from an airborne camera underlines the laziness of the day: the camera takes us nowhere, it becomes as langorous as the people out enjoying the last vestiges of sun.
|Mark Lewis, Forte, 2010|
Like Forte,2010, also on exhibition here, Hendon FC, 2009, is also disorienting. A camera takes us around an abandoned football ground taken over by Roma Gypsies. The film is unsettling because the camera ends up sweeping through the overgrown grass and we become lost, with it, in the overgrowth. This, even as the film is also a mapping of the space and the daily lives lived there by the Roma families.
|Mark Lewis, Cold Morning, 2009|
Another work that forces a discomfort of a different kind is Cold morning (2009). Through a fixed camera, a homeless person whose face we never see organizes his or her clothes and other possessions on the street. The figure meticulously works across the 8 minute film next to an underground steam hole while the odd figure passes by, two pigeons watch for a while. What is most striking about the person’s actions is how strong the identification is: the ordering and reordering of possessions is something I find myself doing, everyday. Cold Morning speaks to the circularity of life, the mindless routines and rituals we engage in, rituals that are the great equalizer among us. This is the preservation of life that we are all involved in, and this makes the images unsettling: it is as if the camera is turned on us as the subjects of this film.
Lastly, Le Bal is one of a number of interesting spaces recently opened in Paris that have taken over disused spaces for the exhibition of art. It’s a great place to visit as not only do they have great exhibitions and talks, there’s an excellent bookstore and of course, because it’s Paris, a café.
All images courtesy Mark Lewis Studio