An excerpt from the booklet essay by Erika Balsom
“I am convinced that the future is lost somewhere in the dumps of the non-historical past; it is in yesterday’s newspapers, in the jejune advertisements of science-fiction movies, in the false mirror of our rejected dreams.” These words are Robert Smithson’s, pulled from the artist’s article The Monuments of Passaic, published in the December 1967 issue of Artforum. Carrying a paperback copy of Brian W. Aldiss’s Earthworks (1965), a dystopian science-fiction novel set in a future England in which the land is poisoned and the sky is “a great black and brown shield on which moisture gleamed,” Smithson boarded a bus to New Jersey. Navigating through the sprawl, he took photographs of industrial landscapes, so many ‘monuments’ to an artificial world without history and in which chronology has collapsed. All that remains are “memory-traces of an abandoned set of futures” that had leaked out of the movies and into suburban dreams.
The words are Smithson’s, and famously so. But they might easily come from the mouth of Ben Rivers, an artist who is interested in science fiction not for its narrative contrivances but for the thinking it enables concerning survival, inhabitation, and the marks humans have made on the earth, for better and for worse. The worlds made and captured in Rivers’ short films defeat historical time, with all its aspirations to linearity, legibility, and progress. They leapfrog back to archaic cave paintings and forward to what might remain after much of what exists now has met with apocalypse. Past and future tend to fold in on one another, with chronology made malleable by an imagination nourished as much by the wretched cityscape of Max Ernst’s La ville pétrifiée (1933) as by the rising tides of J.G. Ballard and the lurid theatrics of Hammer horror films. Travelling across the globe, and especially throughout his native England, Rivers finds and creates his own monuments, in ways that are at once intimate and expansive.
As much as Rivers may be an heir to Smithson, a crucial difference must be acknowledged: whereas the latter’s Passaic photographs depict depopulated terrain from which both the vivacity of life and any idea of untouched ‘nature’ have vanished, Rivers gravitates to inhabited places, capturing them as they and those who reside within them shift and change.
In the short films he has made over the past two decades, he records his encounters with artists, geologists, children, friends, workers, mudlarkers, masked utopians, sailors long gone ashore, scientists, collectors, travellers, and more besides. Even though these films often move away from the span of a single human life as the measure of things, and even though they frequently encourage us to apprehend glimpses of the present as future ruins, they remain obstinately anchored in the existence of specific individuals. These films, however unsentimental they may be, are soaked in feeling, animated by a stubborn love for people, deeply embedded in human relationships – something that is nowhere to be found in the deserted, frozen images Smithson produced on his solitary outing to New Jersey in 1967.
Erika Balsom's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.
Blu-Ray & DVD Reviews
i. Listen to Britain: On the Outskirts with Ben Rivers
ii. An interview with artist Ben Rivers
iii. River's Edge: Ben Rivers at Views from the Avant Garde
iv. Willing Spirits: Ben Rivers versus Albert Serra
UK / 2003 - 2022
Total running time:
Sound: 2.0 Dual Mono;
2.0 Stereo LPCM
Black and white / Colour
Original aspect ratios:
1.37:1 / 1:78:1 / 2.60:1 / 2.85:1
Blu-ray: BD50 x 2 /
1080 / 24fps
Region ABC (Region Free)
Release Date: 27 Nov 2023