Review – Who’d thought I was describing a film set in Peckham? Larsen’s film 343 Perspectives showing at Peckham Space, quietly reflects on themes of isolation and community in a residential area in South London served only by one form of transport – the 343 bus.
Larsen worked with the North Peckham Area Stakeholders’ Group, using the 343 bus route as a connecting thread for dialogue. Approaching strangers en-route, some invited Larsen into their lives; sharing their most intimate spaces both emotionally and physically. The film is a series of poetic personal portraits, vignettes juxtaposed in random order; Haiku-like experiences re-framing and transforming the world around us. Watching the film mimics everyday urban relational interactions: a series of glances, of random duration, shifting juxtapositions, interwoven -continually coming into being.
Witnessing these portraits you get a sense that Larsen’s tapped into their souls – encouraging them to just be who they are, expressing the joy and struggle that comes with being human. You don’t get the sense that there’s a camera anywhere, or that they’re self-consciously ‘speaking to camera’. Heart-felt expressions of authentic thoughts, feelings and emotions: a refreshing contrast to media interpretations of Peckham, couched in stereotype and cliché.
Larsen’s clearly a highly skilled communicator as all the portraits speak (some are visual observations) a truth that’s unique to their particular situation, yet universally connecting: dreams of hope, despair and celebration. Rapper Evans articulates the reality of living on his estate. Taking us into his home, he openly talks about his time in a mental hospital and his determination to make a name for himself through poetry, music and catering. Another portrait shows a group of men in a cafe in heated discussion about something they clearly feel very passionate about. The communication is beyond language: despite differing viewpoints, there’s an atmosphere of listening and camaraderie. Without the distraction of language (not in English) you are free to observe the more subtle aspects of human communication.
The potency of the work is further emphasized by the Zen-like layout of the gallery space. Blacked-out and with simple central seating bays, it’s clean and free from distractions; allowing viewers to relax and just experience the film unfolding, pleasantly mesmerised. Content and cocooned, I watched the film for almost an hour – not something I can naturally do! Sarah McLean, Peckham Space Assistant, mentioned that a group of schoolchildren had come in earlier and quietly sat watching the film for some time. I think the power of the film lies in its subtlety. Effortlessly, without overt campaigning, direct action or trying to ‘do’ – the process of watching the film is an experience of being gently opened up, a receptivity to humanity.
Larsen’s practice has an essential ‘dialogic’ element (like Sonia Boyce, Gayle Chong Kwan, Suzanne Lacy, Stephen Willats) where the project unfolds through a cumulative process of dialogue and exchange; connecting locally, historically and socially. Relationships developed over time and shared intimacy are key features of meaningful dialogic work, and a critical part of the commissioning process at Peckham Space. But this discursive element can sometimes be problematic in the context of a gallery space. Information overload about the process (requiring time and intellectual engagement from viewers) can sometimes compromise or distract from the aesthetic value of the work: the critical balance of ethical versus aesthetic. The participatory project down the road at South London Gallery in May, by Febrik (Play, I Follow You), came across as a show about accountability – a show-and-tell presentation of ‘what we did’; more suited to a conference setting rather than an art gallery. By contrast, Larsen has created a film that can be interpreted on many different levels (ie accessible to a wide audience with different interests) and is aesthetically extremely beautiful.
Softened and nourished, on leaving the gallery I decided to sit outside in Peckham Square and watch the world go by; allowing the quiet transformative power of the work to take effect. – Reviewed by: Manjinder Sidhu