Pushkin House in association with Open College of the Arts is pleased to present two recent films by OCA Moving Image course author Ruth Maclennan, Call of North and Hero City. The films were shot in the far north of Russia and were premiered at The London International Film Festival, in 2014 and 2016. After the screening the artist will be in conversation with Vlad Strukoff, Associate Professor in Film and Digital Culture at the University of Leeds.
Hero City is set in an unnamed city above the Arctic Circle, in the far north of Russia. A filmmaker retraces her journey to the city, talking to the images. She tells of her encounters and her recollections of what happened after her visit, between the time of filming and the time of her telling. She is aware that the images like her memories cannot be trusted to provide any certainty about what was happening, what she saw, what she felt and what it meant. The glimpsed lives of the city – gulls and pigeons, weeds and trees, trains, boats, as well as passers-by and city workers – act as a counterpoint to the narrator’s story.
The power of images and sounds of the city to conjure memories and associations, or to usurp memory altogether, is played out in the film. A museum is a stage for conjuring, its objects, artifacts and spaces become talismans, to be deciphered, or sites for imagining alternatives. The museum in the film is a composite of several museums in northern Russia, in particular the Museum of the Arctic and Antarctica in Saint Petersburg. Situated in a Baroque church, founded in 1937 at the height of the Terror, it holds the visitor and the viewer captive in all its histories.
The soundtrack brings its own associations to Hero City, from fragments of a sentimental pop song by a local choir, to the post-punk band, Baba Dunyah at the White Noise music festival, in the Russian Arctic. The film also uses fragments of the heroic musical soundtracks of the same vintage as the museum and the unnamed city in its glory days.
Call of North was filmed near the Arctic Circle in Karelia in Northern Russia, on land and on sea, in the summer and winter. Images of driving snow around a lighthouse by the frozen sea are succeeded by the endless daylight and unceasing florescence of summer. The film brings into focus a particular place – an ordinary place – on the White Sea. It follows people’s relationships with the sea, and the changes that are happening with climate change and the geo-political shift northward. The traumatic past of the ‘Zone’ – Stalin’s labour camps – and the purges, continue to be experienced as unfinished business, impossible to metabolise. The more recent economic collapse of the end of the Soviet Union, and the increasing political tensions of recent years are alluded to obliquely, hanging in the air.
The matter of place, the wetness and surfaces of the sea and land, the forces of wind and tide are the substances in which the stories, and gestures of people, are caught up in a continual exchange. The soundtrack is a chorus of sounds recorded in the field, of birds, sea, insects, grass, trees and wind, as well as boats, trains and cars, interwoven with the voices of marine biologists, sailors, fishermen, a retired teacher, a kolkhoz worker and miner, a telephone engineer, a cook, a hotelier, a little boy, and many others who live here.
Call of North is a call to pay attention to the voices that make up a place, that know it intimately, viscerally, and are of it, in the hope of grasping what living in the present moment means for life in the future.
Ruth Maclennan’s work includes video installations, photography, bookworks, performance, interdisciplinary, collaborative and curatorial projects. Her single and multi-channel video installations focus on overlooked moments, material remains and fragments of stories that reveal unresolved conflict.
Join Ruth on the 4 February in London at 4pm.
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Also published on Medium.