Jesse Jones 'The Struggle Against Ourselves'30. Jun - 26. Aug 12 / ended Spike Island
The work of Irish artist Jesse Jones seeks out the false starts and forgotten dreams of the early avant-garde, tracing the appropriation of radical aesthetics by mass entertainment. The artist is particularly interested in the social and political legacies of cinema; by revisiting twentieth century revolutionary movements through their cultural manifestations, Jones proposes that new forms of collective action and self-representation may yet be possible.
Her 2011 film 'The Struggle Against Ourselves', exhibited here for the first time in the UK, transposes the post-revolutionary acting workshops of Russian theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940) to Los Angeles, the heart of the American film industry. There the artist worked with students from CalArts to restage a series of Meyerhold’s ‘études’, symbolic physical gestures that resemble sequences of dance. Later denounced by Stalin as a traitor to the project of Socialist Realism, Meyerhold intended the movements’ form and synchrony as a political display that would raise the consciousness of the working class.
Jones draws links between Meyerhold’s project and the later Hollywood spectacle of Busby Berkeley film productions, both of which enact a legacy of militarism and violence through their regimented, choreographed actions. Unlike the mechanised perfection of the latter, however, 'The Struggle Against Ourselves' features students striving with a dedicated honesty — sometimes succeeding, sometimes faltering — to recreate a series of études, relying on group cooperation as well as an intense bodily dedication.
In its final stages, this hypnotic and melancholic film shifts from rehearsal to a performance in which the actors are isolated against a blank backdrop, as if temporarily suspended in an alternate space of an imagined future that never arrives yet holds potential for the present.
The film’s haunting Bach-inspired soundtrack features a performance by Jones’s frequent collaborator, theremin virtuosa Lydia Kavina. For this installation at Spike Island, the music continues beyond the end of the film, triggering a synchronised display of lights that illuminates the stage-like seating area. This gesture extends the space and rhythms of the film, implicating the viewer momentarily in a wider struggle toward unified action.
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