The Alienation Effect, Savage Presents Jean Michel Jarre and Cezary Bodzianowski’s Tea Back, Spike Island, Bristol

Text by Regina Papachlimitzou

Two exhibitions currently run parallel to each other in Spike Island, with a variety of motifs exploring themes common in both exhibitions: alienation caused by displacement, by repetition, by betraying the incidental circumstantial nature of context and its undeniable significance in the creation/destruction of meaning.

In his first UK solo show, Tea Back, Cezary Bodzianowski explores the theme of alienation by removing a series of objects from their ordinary context and re-introducing them in an alternate set of circumstances, setting in motion absurdist situations in the process. Tea takes central place in the works exhibited: a quintessential feature of daily life in Britain, tea is also, more specifically, employed as a leitmotif in direct reference to Spike Island’s previous incarnation as a tea-packing factory.

The eponymous Tea Back consists of a looped film sequence showing the artist donning a giant teabag and wondering aimlessly around familiar Bristol locations. Bodzianowski engages in a range of everyday activities including crossing a street, sitting at a bus stop ostensibly waiting for a bus, mingling with the crowd and enjoying a riverside stroll. Apart from the occasional heckle, Bodzianowski performs these actions unnoticed; this further intensifies the effect of alienation originally created by the removal of a generally unnoticed item of nutrition from its usual surroundings and the subsequent (dis-)placement of this object, in exaggerated dimensions, into the streets of a busy city. By drawing our attention to the incongruity this displacement causes, Bodzianowski makes a poignant remark on the colonial/industrial circumstances on which a city’s prosperity is built, and the way these can be potentially swept out of view through the re-appropriation of previously industrial buildings and their enlistment to the cause of urban regeneration.

The alienation effect is enhanced by the introduction of an ordinary household door into the entrance of the main Spike Island gallery; the door creates an inappropriate sense of homeliness, and the placement of an usher next to it, responsible for opening the door and showing the visitors in, further extends the idea of being welcomed into someone’s home. Any notions of warmth and domesticity are quickly shattered however, when the same door makes a re-appearance in the smaller, adjacent gallery, this time as a projected image on a wall, two-dimensional and hermetically closed, in Stirring the Tea Doesn’t Make It Sweeter But It Helps The Earth to Turn.

Alienation and the breakdown of communication are also explored in Savage’s works I Didn’t Know Anything Then and I Still Don’t Know Anything Now and I Asked You A Thousand Times. The former work consists of a nine-metre long display of a collection of beginners’ guides, covering a wide range of themes: painting, Photoshop, aliens amongst us, flora, black women, criminal psychology, oriental rugs, mathematics, photographing moles, Georgian (with 2 audio CDs), changing the world, and the list goes on –there is virtually no subject, no aspect of human experience that is not, in one way or another, referred to or touched upon by the guides displayed. Savage’s preoccupation with humans’ motivation for learning brings with it an inevitable bitterness, a unshakeable sense of failure: the very fact that there probably are beginners’ guides for anything you could come up with should be uplifting and encouraging, but in the event it only serves to underline the superficiality of contemporary pursuit of knowledge, the lack of a genuinely heartfelt motivation behind it. Only too often, the work seems to suggest, once people get past that initial stage of learning, only too often are they content with a smatter of understanding.

I Asked You A Thousand Times is a filmic collage made up of segments from various films in which the phrase ‘What do you want from me?’ is repeated under differing sets of circumstances. The tone in which the phrase is uttered serves to communicate a genuinely surprising range of emotions, from confusion, frustration, and anger, to sadness, sexual allure, fear, or giving up; the segments show characters using the phrase to address an equally wide range of audiences, from mentors, friends, or strangers, to aliens, lovers, enemies, and everything in between. The gamut of human experience expressed by that innocuous phrase is remarkable; yet the whole point of the work (which lasts for 24m) is to have the phrase repeated ad absurdum – to have it repeated to the point when we begin to realise that, really, the occurrence of the words ‘Want do you want from me?’ in such an incredible variety of films betrays the phrase’s provenance as a Hollywood cliché, an utterance empty of meaning. If you think about it, when do people, in a real life situation, ever say What do you want from me? It sounds unrealistic because it is unrealistic, a Hollywood soundbite recycled and rehashed enough times to numb the audience’s realisation to the fact it carries no meaning.

In Savage Presents Jean Michel Jarre and Tea Back, Savage and Bodzianowski showcase a series of intriguing works, in the heart of which lies a fascination with the absurd, and a simultaneous desire to draw attention to the creeping alienation finding its way into everyday life.

Savage Presents Jean Michel Jarre & Cezary Bodzianowski: Tea Back continue until 27 November. If you are visiting Bristol from 16 – 20 November you might also want to check out Encounters, the UK’s longest running competitive short film and animation festival. The 2011 Programme is online now and with Bafta Masterclasses from the likes of Sam Taylor-Wood, it’s looking very good!

The Aesthetica Short Film Festival is the first film festival ever to be hosted in the historic city of York. The festival is a celebration of independent film from across the world with 150 films being screened from 30 countries. ASFF opens 3 November and continues until 6 November. For tickets and further information visit the website or call (+44) (0) 1904 629 137.