& SJ Fowler
“[Animal Drums] is not a film, it’s a poem.
Evidence. Dialogue. Witness.
A mediated anti-poem for a metastasising city.”
Picturing the particular, baffled and morbid character of English attitudes to mortality, The Animal Drums depicts the specific influence of urban space on the psyche. With new writing from Steven J Fowler, and cameos appearances from Stewart Home, Iain Sinclair, Lotje Sodderland, Simon Christian, Edie Deffebach, Andrew Breaks and Stuart Westerby, this feature-length poem pictures a poetry that tries to fill the lacuna built by the kind of alienation borne by living out life in a shapeshifting city.
If you’re fortunate enough to have perceptive friends, whom, deep down, don’t wish you disappointment, then they’ll likely tell you, cautiously, what your work is about. Just as a good friend will tell you, you can’t keep a wild animal in a small London flat and then be surprised when it bites you.
My friend Camille Brooks has been a film projectionist in London cinemas for three decades. He’s seen a lot of films. He told me The Animal Drums is about the uncanny sensation of being in a part of London where you once were for the first time, and realising, in that moment of memory, not that things have changed, for London has never not changed, but whether actually it is the same place. These are different sensations. When you revisit your childhood home, yes, everything is smaller than you remember, and experiences, strangely of course, can lay themselves around you like tracing paper. But in London, to be by the grand union canal out past Willesden Junction, where I first was in the city over a decade ago, and where we shot so much of the film, is to arrive at a place that makes one feel as though one was never there at exactly the same moment of knowing you were.
The film is about development, sure, but not capital. It’s too ludic for that. It’s about people being squeezed, sure, but not because of greed. This is too much like a thing that everyone knows, even the greedy. The film is about the possibility of invisibility in the city. Can we still hide our weird behaviour? Our misdeeds and fetishes, and stupid hobbies like writing strange texts almost no one wants to read? It is about the beauty of a certain geographical space, so densely furrowed that it has no light left for the kind of “clarity” that produces righteousness, the pretence of entirely black and white thinking and morality, and no matter how much small clusters of human animals in London think they are on the ball, just one paper thin wall away, no one gives a shit about what they think or do.
My friend Gareth Evans said The Animal Drums is the first full length film poem he’s seen in the 21st century. He has a tendency to be too generous. But the film inevitably has a kind of abstract linguistic drive as its base. Josh Alexander and I were interested in whether film grammar is a metaphor or might be taken literally. And if it’s a poem somewhat, then it’s also a documentary, quite apparently and it’s also a narrative melodrama with found actors. It’s an attempt to use very specific technical tools, available only to the medium of film, with its manipulation of so many sensory elements, to generate something closer to what I take a poem to be.
Inevitably, watching the film for the first time on a cinema screen at Whitechapel Gallery, I realised it is about finding one’s own self-interest absurd, and how this is inescapable. That any turn to the outside will only reinforce the inside. That the harder the concrete, the softer the brain, the quick the chaos, the deeper the silence. The film pixelates my body, distorts my voice, sits me next to people I’ve met and breaks open our conversations into what they are. It evokes the small marginal shadows that seem so much more cavernous in the past and shows almost nothing in the slips of darkness. It watches wormwood scrubs, Kensal Green cemetery, new Whitechapel, an awkward performance, the India club, the catacombs of some city church you won’t know anyway. It can be such a despondent film, because it’s always sad and funny to realise how ridiculous one is. But it made me and a few other people laugh. This seems fitting, given its subject matter, that the experience of its own makers seeing it, was a slightly flat disturbance in an image no one was watching.
SJ Fowler, January 2019;
first published in Hotel #5
Animal Bones/SJ Fowler キ
My wife wakes up screaming, scaring the animals who care for her.
What is everywhere but never visible?
And what is the difference between that which is inevitable but hidden,
and that which mode it is to try and ignore?
Juddering sick people, a sickening populace, blossoming.
The balance of the thing under your skin you will never see.
You can take it on faith it’s there.
Or come to see five thousand examples of proof.
Under your finger as you point to the whiteboard.
Beneath your hand as you scoop cereal into your mouth.
Under your scalp as you headbutt like a goat raised in the public house.
Beneath, but visible, over your chest and middle back,
a hog bone pressing through a bone.
The predator tears out a spine like it were a hotdog,
as I do to my sardines.
Honestly its fine, love, it’s all you can do to avoid,
to convince yourself you’re avoiding it.
But it’s going one way anyway, anxious or brave, comforted or awkward,
white or with small patches of hair, flesh and skin remaining.
It is all the same in the end.
A human pyramid post-mortem.
A geometrical presentation that is both aesthetically striking,
and in this day of limited living space and sky rocketing
real estate costs, an eminently practical solution.
For it is right the dead should take up less space than when they were living
and be divorced in pieces amongst each other.
You are witnessing the afterlife,
the meadow of ready real boring lambs.
The heaven where everyone is tired,
like on earth.
The village where we will all end up,
where once more you may trust your neighbour.
Prompt Note; Animal Drums/ き
DISCRIMINATIONS OF LONDON LIGHT
‘I CAN GET AWAY WITH ANYTHING’
No, Steven. You can’t. That’s the whole point. You are going to be held responsible, you are responsible: for every frame, every breath. That’s the contract.
BLAKE MOSAIC UNDERPASS
WRITER’S SHIRT SELECTION
RAILWAYS INTO SHEDS, CEMETERIES,
JUNK FOOD PARKED IN EDGELAND EDENS
LOOKING FOR DRUGS
‘EVERYTHING’S THE SAME’
‘HAVE A SAFE TRIP TO NOTTING HILL’
‘I TALK QUICKER THAN I THINK’
ICE-CREAM LICK RELIEF BABY
‘IN JAPAN, THEY’RE SEARCHING FOR OYSTERS:
SOCIALISING IN LONDON
BORING IF YOU DON’T DRINK
DRIVE FOR TWO HOURS EVERY DAY
FILL THE HOUSE WITH WILD BIRDS
ALCHEMY OF PANIC
RATCLIFFE HIGHWAY KILLINGS
LACK OF DARK SPACES
CHURCH AS REFUGE: MOUTH OF HELL
LAMINATED IDENTITY BADGE
RETURN TO WEREWOLF
BAG OF PIGEON HEADS
ATTACKED BY A PIGEON IN THE PARK
SAT NAV TO NEXT PUB
‘GONE. IT’S BEEN DONE’
‘NO PROBLEM AT ALL’
DRINKING IN THE COACH & HORSES
‘HAVE YOU READ DEREK RAYMOND?’
PATH ENDS IN BIRMINGHAM
THE UNFINISHED WALKWAYS OF THE DEAD
NOTHING IS FINISHED
‘IT’S NOT A FILM. YOU WAKE’
VOUCHSAFE ME MORE SOUNDPICTURE!
IT GIVES FURIOUSLY TO THINK...
LISTEN, LISTEN! I AM DOING IT.
HEAR MORE TO THOSE VOICES!
ALWAYS I AM HEARING THEM...
(13th December 2018)
Joshua Alexander is a visual artist whose work often combines poetry and moving image. His film Ghost Machinery was recently nominated for the international prize at Zebra Poetry Film Festival in Germany in 2018. He has been commissioned to make short films by several organisations including The Austrian Cultural Forum and English Pen. He has screened work at various events including A World Without Words and Kakania, and in 2014 he had a solo exhibition of photography work at The Hardy Tree Gallery. He is currently taking the MFA at Ruskin School of Art.
SJ Fowler is a writer and artist who works in poetry, fiction, theatre, film, photography, visual art, sound art and performance. He has been commissioned by Tate Modern, BBC Radio 3, Whitechapel Gallery, Tate Britain, the London Sinfonietta, Wellcome Collection and Liverpool Biennial. He is the director of Writers’ Centre Kingston and European Poetry Festival. See here.
Iain Sinclair is a British writer, documentarist, filmmaker, poet, flaneur, metropolitan prophet and urban shaman, keeper of lost cultures and futurologist.
— A poem, excerpted from the film, first published in Hotel #5.
— Sinclair’s ‘Prompt Note’ was composed and read especially for the premiere of Animal Drums at Whitechapel Gallery. Thw poem was published exclusively in Hotel #5; with the exception of a single digression, the poem is a cut-up comprising lines, images and impressions lifted directly from the film.
An audio recording of the one and only reading of Sinclair’s ‘Prompt Work’ serves as the introduction to the Hotel and New York Tyrant collaboration, ‘Mother Pig (Opposing Disneyland)’ [Tyrant Hotel #3]; and a recording of Fowler’s ‘Animal Bones’ serves as conclusion.