Ben Rivers
»The Coming Race« (2006)
16mm, b/w, 5 min
Courtesy Ben Rivers

Ben Rivers

APRIL 29 – MAY 19, 2009

Invited by Alice Koegel (curator, Staatsgalerie Stuttgart)

»The Coming Race« (2006)

Ben Rivers’ »The Coming Race« opens and closes with a white screen. At the zero-ground for filmic imagery. Mist gradually lifts, to a soundtrack of indistinct noises. It is only in the subsequent shots that you think you can identify them as someone moving over scree, before their asynchronicity with the images begins to get to you. People materialise, who are mostly out of focus and are clambering across a stony mountain landscape without any visible goal and get repeatedly swallowed up in the billowing mist. The image arises of an uncertain, enigmatic, disturbing mass pilgrimage with no clear purpose and knowing about Rivers’ literary reference to the Victorian story about a subterranean super race by E.G.E. Bulwer-Lyttons, which provides the title, scarcely sheds any light on matters. Rather more, it forces you back to questions about human nature, about representation and perception, without giving any clear answers.

Rivers works independently, films and produces his films himself. Shot, like »The Coming Race«, mostly on 16mm with a Bolex, that permits a maximum of 30-second shots, and developed by hand, they often take on the look of aged archive material.  The distance that comes about in this way extends to real spaces and subjects, but ones that cannot be identified in his camera’s focus, to zones of utopian potential on the edges of today’s civilised existence. Rivers plays with and simultaneously frees himself from the parameters of documentary and ethnographic films as well as from dubious notions of veracity. Narrative traces are equally recognisable in »The Coming Race«, but lose themselves in endlessly looping imagery beyond a linear time-progression.

Showing »The Coming Race« in the context of the series of »subjective projections«, makes it possible to render the film more visible and to create another sort of public effect – »helping the film have a life« – as Ben Rivers says – and in the optimum case, to see it in this context in an exchange with other works and their artistic strategies. But presenting it on a monitor and in the Internet does not replace the experience of the filmic materiality of »The Coming Race« in projection onto a screen, which is something I prefer and am here recommending, just as I would not like to see the choice of the film misunderstood as advocating cinematic creativity as a free ranging phenomenon.

Alice Koegel