Cherry Kino

Cherry Kino

Thursday, 4 April 2013

New film: The hex of ergot (popping corn)


I've made a new film! I was invited by the Leeds-based art collective Spur to take part in a micro-residency of one day (the Spur Exchange project) at the Corn Exchange, Leeds, and to make a piece of work. This was organised in collaboration with Project Space Leeds too. I willingly took them up on their offer, and made a film in one short day, entitled 'The hex of ergot (popping corn)'. It is a very colourful piece, shot on my Nikon R10 Super 8 camera, and hand-processed in the residency space. There was no dark room so I used a black changing bag to load the film, which worked great. 

So, I hadn't come to the day with much planning at all in terms of what I wanted to make. I knew it'd be a Super 8 film, I knew I wanted to link to the Corn Exchange's history, and I knew I wanted it to be edited in camera, because time was very short and I have enough projects that are in progress, so I really wanted this to be an exercise in completing a piece in a short space of time - a kind of cathartic experience for me, since most of my films take years to finish! I had this experience once before, with a film I made in about 2 hours called 'Chrysalis', as a response to the artist Paul Miller's installation 'Quantum Suicide'.

The Spur project space (unit 23, upstairs in the Corn Exchange for one week) was a bright, lovely space to be in, that Spur had decorated with giant orange cushions, flowers, and there were supplies like coffee, jaffa cakes, and coloured paper. For some reason I felt it was a very Dutch experience - I've been to Holland quite a lot, and really like Dutch design, and their love of colours and clear, bright spaces. But maybe, come to think of it, it was the huge orange cushions! Orange being the Dutch colour 'n'all. A few doors down from here is a new sweet shop selling sweets of old, like rhubarb and custards, popping candy, willy wonka's gobstoppers and the like. 

Somehow, I felt that this sweet shop was really meaningful in an idea that was beginning to come together. Years ago, as a teenager, I read about the Salem witch trials in the 1690s, where more than 250 women were hanged for supposedly being witches. Modern research suggests that the strange behaviour in the town - which was put down to demonic possession and witches' curses - was probably the result of ergotism, which is a toxic fungal infection often caused by eating moldy grain, that can lead to hallucinations and convulsions and other strange effects. Since I had in mind already the fact that my day would be spent in the 'Corn' Exchange, I felt that it would be interesting to relate my project to the space's past history (grain trading) and current state (up-market shopping and eating). The Salem witch hunts sprung to mind while I was in this sweet shop. I realised a few hours later, many sweets having been purchased for filming (and eating), that there is a witch logo on the popping candy ('Fizz Wizz') I had bought! I don't know if that triggered the thought, or not - either way, it's a very interesting synchronicity, don't you think?

Since I was going to make a film edited in camera, I needed to film the title first! This was a bit of a leap of faith, but I trusted my intuition and what I'd seen in the sweet shop, and went for it - 'The hex of ergot (popping corn)'. What was going to emerge from this title was unclear, but I committed myself to the title and trusted in the process.

So anyway, I filmed the sweets, and then I walked around all the shops in the Corn Exchange and filmed various things I saw, choosing the most colourful and sparkling and shining and 'glowing' things that caught my eye (I wrote part of my Masters on re-visioning fetishism in experimental cinema, and have a deep interest in things considered 'fetishistic', and have my own perspective on what a fetish is). I realised, after making my film and hand-processing it, that an idea had now fully formed and was now a material film, ready to be projected.

A very, very big thank you to Spur, and also to Project Space Leeds (PSL) - I had a great time making this film and am very grateful for the experience!

Here is the synopsis for 'The hex of ergot (popping corn)', that I wrote at the very end of the day, after all these threads had woven together to create a work:

'A Super 8 work edited in camera, and shot and processed in one day during the Spur Exchange artist residency, ‘The hex of ergot (popping corn)’ is a musing on the connection between grain, ergot (a poisonous and sometimes hallucinogenic fungus that can grow when grain is damp), the witch-hunt trials in Salem in the 1690s, and consumerism in Leeds. While popcorn and cinema have a long and well-known affinity, the Spur Exchange residency took place in the Corn Exchange, where corn and other grains used to be traded. It’s now full of shops and restaurants, and has a carefully monitored aesthetic and ambience. My film came from a feeling that these things are all connected. More than 250 women were hanged for witchcraft in Salem because of strange behaviour that was attributed to demonic possession or witches’ curses. Modern research suggests that this was probably the result of ‘ergotism’, a toxic fungal condition caused by ingesting mouldy grain that causes hallucinations, convulsions and many other violent physical manifestations. The bright colours and gaudy trinkets in the shops in the Corn Exchange made me think of a kind of sugary, gobstopper-coloured hallucination, and that altered states and consumerism are closely connected. I then started thinking about systemic candidiasis (a condition a huge number of people unwittingly suffer from), where consumption of sugar leads to an overgrowth of fungus in our bodies causing mood -swings and depression as well as many other imbalances. This then causes a sugar addiction and further deterioration, creating a vicious circle.

As for the fate of hallucinating shoppers…  only time will tell.'

Thanks for reading!

x Martha

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