Melanie Manchot - Gathering or, I’m going to be on television, and Manchot has made me fear children slightly.
If you’re a UK resident, in approximately a week and a half’s time, you’ll see me participate in an experiment that looks at an unbelievably interesting phenomenon in crowd theory called crowd de-identification. I don’t want to ruin too much, but it’s for Derren Brown’s latest series The Experiments, and you’ll see how morality is tested through certain exercises. I’m honestly not a bad person…honest. It was quite nicely coincidental that the exhibition I’ve been invigilating at looks at crowd identification and how we react within a crowd scenario.
Melanie Manchot’s exhibition Gathering at Fabrica consists of two films, Celebration (Cyprus Street) 2010 and Walk (Square) 2011, which deal with crowd identity and the power and presence of walking. As taken from Fabrica’s website, Walk… works on the concept of ‘walking as a form of expression: processions, parades, pilgrimages or protest marches, such as in the recent wave of mass demonstrations across North Africa, the Middle East, mainland Europe and the UK.’ However, what intrigued me is what happens when they got there, and how being part of something, for whatever reason, affects your own individual personality.
Celebration is interesting through its presentation of identity and film as portraiture. As I learned, Machot spent a lot of time getting to know the East London community that she eventually filmed and as a record of generations of multiculturalism and immigration in Britain, it is superb. It’s not my favourite, but like in Walk, I found myself with favourite individuals, the girls with their mouths open, the boy offering drinks, the cross-generational dancing couple.
One of the best things about this exhibition has been asking people who saw Walk in its entirety if they noticed anything that made them laugh, or feel uncomfortable, as after watching the film only once I found myself liking, or disliking certain children, based solely on how they were presented in the 20 minutes that they were together. I hope to be able to find the film online at some point, as I’d like you to see what, or who, I’m talking about. There aren’t any pictures either because it’s so new, it was filmed days before the exhibition.
There’s one child who maintains the same, stoical stare throughout the entire film. He doesn’t move, his eyes flicker slightly, but his mouth doesn’t succumb to a smile, he doesn’t look at who’s next to him or behind, he just looks directly at the camera. It’s not intense, he knows it’s not important, but he knows he has to do it. His gaze is immoveable and penetrating, and has me worried for the boy’s future.
The second, and probably my favourite, is a girl who starts by smiling as if it’s a school portrait, all teeth and bright eyes and perfect hair. As the camera goes round, you catch her smile again, unchanged and solid. The camera comes round again, and suddenly you see the strain in her eyes, her eyebrows dip uncontrollably to pull up the collapse of her face, which is tired and wants to relax, but there is sheer desperation to keep the smile going that is both funny and uncomfortable to watch. She eventually breaks it, and just as the camera takes her out of view, the look of panic and disappointment remains and that is the impression you are left with, not the smile she tried so hard to maintain.
I guess one of the things I found most intriguing about Manchot’s work was her ability to single out every individual - as a crowd we are often faceless and overwhelming, take for example the recent London riots and Occupy Wall Street, in which an individual is only recognised when a direct focus is placed upon them, essentially then taking them out of the crowd situation. Each individual in Manchot’s work is intimately presented to you in the context of others, leaving you with no choice but to face the individual, and power of the crowd simultaneously.
Gathering will be at Fabrica until 27th November. Come and say hello on Friday and Saturday mornings as that’s when I’ll be bothering members of the public.