Thuistezien 266 — 15.05.2021

Simon Gush

‘Analogues’ is a series of three short videos by artist and filmmaker Simon Gush (1981), that address the idea of political belief. Made in collaboration with writer and performer James Cairns, the videos produce three scenarios, each an analogy which attempts to understand an aspect of how this belief might function. The first video, ‘Vacancy’, meditates on the relationship between belief and act. The second, ‘Plainsong’, describes the dizzying effects of a crisis of faith. ‘Distance’, the final video, seeks to imagine the effects of a world devoid of belief. All of the movies are situated in Johannesburg, South Africa in 2011. Johannesburg is a workday city which, both historically and today, is highly defined by labour. The concept of work plays a key role in relation to how work ethic and politics is defined in this city and the longstanding representation of labour.

A plainsong is a body of monophonic chants sung in Latin, developed during the earliest centuries of Western Christianity, with its own notation system. It has a non-metric rhythm. As the repertoire of chants increased, there was a need for standardization. Even though musical manuscripts were written, the performers still needed to memorize the chants through oral traditions before interpreting the notation.

Fitting this as a title alludes to a tension between bureaucracy and justice that is present in the film. Justice as this free-flowing, unstandardized and often ambiguous desire for what is ‘right’ (for whom?) and bureaucracy as a way to tame it, through applications, forms and formats. In the video we see a presentation given by a spokesperson of Cosatu, the Congress of South African Trade Unions, as part of the employee engagement program. The background poster says ‘Organise! Educate for socialism’, while the presenter addresses the audience as comrades, telling how he is representing their best interest. At the same time, a woman is staring at the stage with a blank look on her face, perhaps even sulking. While collecting the forms, the woman starts asking the spokesman about a personal case she is trying to get together. In response, the man is reluctant to finish his sentences, eager to get away or be distracted. The Violin Sonata No.1, Op. 80 starts playing and there is a shot of the empty room and the city.

This piece was written during the Second World War by Sergei Prokofiev. He had been composing under Soviet imposed limitations. Yet during the war years, restrictions on style and the demand that composers write in a 'socialist realist' style were slackened, and Prokofiev was generally able to compose in his own way. Still, the Soviet government often pressured revisions of his operas.

Another analogue for the tension. When the music stops the man comes in again to dismiss her of her task. She presses her case. Upon the question ‘Why?’, she answers ‘For me.’ Agitated and interrupting he keeps pointing to reasons out of his power; ‘They won’t consider it’, ‘You’ve got nothing’, ‘In my professional opinion …’ until a surrender enters. Her plea is one of humanity and altruism on the man’s part. Where initially he dissociated from himself to take comfort in the bureaucratic role, he eventually really answers: ‘You don’t have a chance with people like me. The main reason I don’t want to help you is that I just don’t want to.’ Silence falls and both look disillusioned in a different direction, as a still life. A vertiginous shot of moving cars, trains and people on solid layered infrastructure. ‘Good afternoon, comrades … Let us bow our heads in prayer for the workers of our country’ and the show starts again, along with the music.

Text: Yael Keijzer