From March 9-13, AnOther will be joining a band of castaways washed up on the shores of the Thai island, Yao Noi, for a unique celebration of cinema co-curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the prolific creative catalyst Tilda Swinton...
From March 9-13, AnOther will be joining a band of castaways washed up on the shores of the Thai island, Yao Noi, for a unique celebration of cinema co-curated by Apichatpong Weerasethakul and the prolific creative catalyst Tilda Swinton. Film on the Rocks Yao Noi is "not exactly a film festival, as one might expect such a thing to be." Swinton explains, "More a playpen, a hiatus — a happening…the ultimate luxury: time to look around you in a new place. Henry James puts it best: 'To live in the world of creation — to get into it and stay in it — to frequent it and haunt it — to think intently and fruitfully – to woo combinations and inspirations into being by a depth and continuity of attention and meditation — this is the only thing — and I neglect it, far and away too much; from indulgence, from vagueness, from inattention, and from a strange nervous fear of letting myself go. If I vanquish that nervousness, the world is mine.'"
Prior to the festival each of the guests including Tom Sachs, Lucrecia Martel, Waris Ahluwalia, Ole Scheeren and Rikrit Tiravanija were invited to contribute a "message in a bottle" that could take any form, but was a source of inspiration, to be shared at the event and preserved in a library on the island. "We thought of messages in bottles, cast out in hope — in trust — that they may be picked up and uncorked one day in some far place, and their faithful commitment to the inevitable randomness of chance — and of fellowship. Since it seems that a life founded on the twin rocks of nature and friendship is a sound building, a message in a bottle is perhaps a perfect symbol of this formula: depending equally on the power of both the sea/wind to magic it along, and of hands to open and share in whatever company it brings.” A few days before setting sail, AnOther caught up with Swinton on her choice of message, Bento’s Sketchbook by John Berger.
Do you remember how you were first introduced to John Berger and his work and the impression it made on you?
Ways of Seeing. I never saw the seminal television series, but the book was in our art room at school: I will never forget the frisson of reading his interpretation of Gainsborough's Mr and Mrs Andrews as a "Private: Keep Out!" declaration of property ownership. The way in which Berger introduced my generation to the context(s) of art is invaluable, and his influence incalculable.
If you wanted to describe Bento's Sketchbook to someone, what would you say?
Bento's Sketchbook is a message in a bottle from John Berger to us all: an invitation to a way of looking that maybe only drawing can provide the portal to. The imagined reverie of Benedict Spinoza — lens grinder, philosopher and humanist — as visualised by our great twenty first century European humanist art critic, storyteller and guide in compassion. Taking the modest daily task of scrutinising the details of the natural world around him, gesture by gesture, Berger rolls out a meditation on a kind of spiritual alignment for modern world thinking — and our ability to retain our power to connect with our sense of curiosity and wonder in spite of all temptation to lose heart.
"Taking the modest daily task of scrutinising the details of the natural world around him, gesture by gesture, Berger rolls out a meditation on a kind of spiritual alignment for modern world thinking."
Why did you chose it as your message in a bottle? What is it about it that resonates for you, sets it apart from Berger's other work (for you) and makes you want to share it?
John Berger is an old friend of mine — we share a birthday, in fact — and this particular book feels so personal, so completely roundedly about John and the way his mind works, that it contributes HIM to anyone who reads it. The combination of all his life's many endeavours — spirited political analysis, lyrical narrative-spinning, inspired art criticism, moral philosophy, historical perspective — are brought together in this one book perhaps more seamlessly, more organically, than in any other of his books. His awakeness at 85 is sharper than ever. Anyone finding this book and discovering Berger for the first time is in for a great feast in his back catalogue.
Is there a particular passage or moment from the book that you could pick out?
John's call to resistance is something of a lifelong contribution. He has an understanding of the powerful radical gesture that I believe our later generations could really learn from. There is a passage in this new book about protest, about justice and about the resistance of the word 'inconsequential' which I really cherish. "To protest is to refuse being reduced to a zero and to an enforced silence…one protests (by building a barricade, taking up arms, going on a hunger strike, liking arms, shouting, writing) in order to save the present moment, whatever the future holds.."
How do you feel art informs our gaze to the world? What do you think is the power of imagination in transforming reality?
Maybe reality IS a feat of the imagination and nothing more.. maybe there is only imagination. Art offers us the profoundly humane possibility of stepping into someone else's shoes: not only those of someone figured in figurative art, but the shoes of the artist - another point of view. We are all aliens, after all: maybe it is through sharing our inner lives through art that we can find a kind of spirited company otherwise rare in society. Art is where we admit to each other our sense of surprise at being alive and walking the planet at all.
You were involved in Isabel Coixet's tribute to Berger from I to J and then more recently participated in a reading of Bento's Sketchbook at the Southbank. Do you think there is something about the text that loans itself to being spoken aloud?
John always calls himself a storyteller rather than a writer. I think this is something that particularly kicks in when his writing is read aloud – preferably by John himself. He has an incredibly beautiful voice and a very tender way of reading aloud that I'll bet you anyone who has heard it thinks of even when reading his work in the quiet of their own ears. Frankly, I think standing in for him, as I have done on occasion, is a bit of a cheat.
By the way, this message in a bottle comes in tandem with the beautiful reprint by Helium of Une Vie Exemplaire by Floc'h. First published in 1949, this exquisitely illustrated little book provides a travelling companion for us all: a manifesto to abide by. "Form a family", "look after those you love", "discover the world", "remember we are mortal", "believe in miracles" etc.. possibly a favourite page of advice would have to be "aller de temps en temps en Ecosse" and "aller souvent a Londres". A treasure trove of wisdom to sew into your jacket for all time.
Text by Caroline Lever
The first edition of Film on the Rocks Yao Noi will take place from March 9 - 13, 2012.