John Hansard Gallery – Home Economics: Film Programme – a review.

The Home Economics: Film Programme at the John Hansard Gallery (JHG) features eight films that negotiate the politics and discourses around the home and the wider environment and economy. Featuring artists; Helen Cammock, Charlotte Ginsborg, Rosalind Nashashibi, Lucy Parker, William Raban, Ben Rivers, Margaret Salmon and the Black Audio Film Collective.

James Scott, a recent Exhibitions Intern at John Hansard Gallery from The Ruskin School of Art, University of Oxford, explores how the film programme brings to light the effect globalisation has had on the concept of home. 

Globalisation creates templates. These templates form ‘the standard’, with trade comes tariffs and of course the shipping container. Once a port adopts this standard unit, the container symbolises a default conversion to the ideas and operation of others. It would be fanciful for Art to have eluded globalisation, the great biennales and triennials proudly represent work from global origins; yet, the white cube conforms everything to the rules of the exhibition. Globalisation is integral to modern life, positive and negative impacts alike. Collectively, the films within Home Economics demonstrate the complexity of home in a global world.

Rosalind Nashashibi’s film Hreash House, 2004, frames a Palestinian family in their Nazareth home during the annual preparation, consuming and aftermath of a Ramadan feast. Her film oozes the traditions and culture of the family, a family unit working together to turn the concrete block they exist within into a home. As the film unfolds, I developed a certain unease originating from an overheard English sports commentator in the background, followed by a jumper with an English slogan worn by a male figure. Where tradition is held with such importance to Nashashibi’s film, the effects of globalisation are inescapable. I took a moment to visualise a time when the children of the family, who’s experience is followed so closely by the film, move away and wake up to celebrate Ramadan without its traditional splendour. If at all. 

Whereas a problematic view of globalisation is provided through Nashashibi’s work, Melior Street, 2011, by Charlotte Ginsborg provides us with an altogether more uplifting take on how the identity of home can be preserved in a place of perpetual cultural flux. The experimental film shot near London Bridge offers an intimate view of the cosmopolitan street, and crucially presenting this as no fairy-tale. A frantic string score accompanies the film alongside bizarre staged scenes and real-life testimony from those living on the street. The friction that stems from residents trying to grasp onto their identity during Ginsborg’s film nevertheless goes on to reassure me. Cacophonous architecture perfectly reflects the streets diverse inhabitants, while an overarching respect develops during the film project between its residents. The possibility to facilitate setting up a home in a global street is explored, laying out the challenges that exist whilst proving that understanding between all sides produces synchronous beauty.

Charlotte Ginsborg, Melior Street, 2011. Courtesy the artist and LUX, London

The films of Ben Rivers and Willam Raban also occupy their own dialogue within the programme. Raban’s 35mm film About Now MMX (2011), maps the City of London from the perspective of an East London tower block at a time when the scars of the 2008 financial crash were still fresh. The film exposes the politics of the city, with high-rise social housing contrasting against the private goliaths guarding the Isle of Dogs. By fracturing the spatial sectors of the city, Raban encourages the viewer to reflect on the spectrum of environments that are identified as home by disparate Londoners, who importantly all possess the common ‘home’ of London. The film considers those left behind and those leaping forward, and the pace of the film reflects this volatile passage caused by global forces driving separation. From Raban’s celestial sequences I am left to imagine an ‘other’ presence steering the fate of the city; a metaphor for governmental power perhaps. An esoteric barrier standing between the haves and the have-nots. ‘The left behind’ continues to be explored in Ben Rivers film Sack Barrow, 2011, set on the outskirts of London, which follows a family-run electroplating company during its liquidation. The business supported the family to live a modest lifestyle; before global trade forced tumbling production costs, leaving small producers and industries inevitably having to adapt or risk bankruptcy. The different ideologies these men occupy in comparison to the economy surrounding them results in isolation, this isolation ultimately leading to liquidation. Rivers’ film studies the beauty, routine and defiance of a group of workers that represent a commonplace scenario across cities, where families are powerless to maintain their way of life due to a shifting economic model. 

Two of the artists represented in the programme, Helen Cammock and the Black Audio Film Collective (BAFC), focus on the ideas of home through the lens of Blackness. Both coincidentally, or perhaps significantly, set partially in London – in fact, so too is over half the film programme. One can question whether this repeated discussion is celebratory or critical of London as a contemporary metropolis. Twilight City, 1989, by the BAFC is in itself a critical appraisal of London during the Thatcher government. Where Black, poorer communities in London were left exiled and abandoned in their homes as the rest of the city’s economics boomed. Cammock’s film There’s a Hole in the Sky Part II: Listening to James Baldwin, 2016, goes onto discover the reasoning behind the migration of black people, more specifically writers and dancers who went in search of greater recognition. The perceived fortune that London offers is broadcasted through media streams, however, reality regularly deviates from this dream. As capitalism drives globalisation, competition seeks to rule. There has to be a loser, and these films show the friction caused by deciding who wins and who loses. 

Helen Cammock, There’s a Hole in the Sky Part II: Listening to James Baldwin, 2016. Courtesy the artist, Arts Council Collection and Southbank Centre, London

The Home Economics: Film Programme sets out to explore the notion of home as influenced by the economy and environment. The programme succeeds by existing to reflect the complexity that is the modern concept of home; my journey through the eight films enabled me to reflect on what the home is to me. As Lucy Parker explores in The Home and the World, 2010, the scale and perspective you choose to adopt will then radically alter what you perceive to be important for existence. The programme’s depth allows the viewer to pick up on smaller sub-themes, and my take on globalisation merely offers a singular strand of what constitutes the moulding of home.

Home Economics: Film Schedule

31 August–13 September 2019; Rosalind Nashashibi, Lucy Parker, Ben Rivers and Margaret Salmon.

14 September–28 September 2019; Charlotte Ginsborg, William Raban and Black Audio Film Collective.

Helen Cammock’s film, There is a Hole in the Sky Part II: Listening to James Baldwin is now displayed on the Digital Array in John Hansard Gallery’s foyer until 17 October 2019.

Featured image: William Raban, About Now MMX, 2011. Courtesy the artist and LUX, London

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