This is the successful 1998 proposal to the Arts Council of England and Channel 4 for the film that was ultimately titled Furniture Poetry
A bowl of fruit sits on a circular table in the corner of a living room. Two people enter and while one lifts the bowl the other removes the table and replaces it with a rectangular table of similar size. The bowl is put back on the new table and the people walk out. They come in again to perform a similar task this time returning the circular table to its place. The process is repeated, and then the tables change without anyone’s intervention. They change again and then again, quicker and quicker, until they seem to merge into a synthesis of the circular and rectangular. Still surmounted by the unchanging bowl of fruit, they hover, flickering in the centre of a perfectly static domestic scene.
In another corner of the room an armchair changes shape. It flickers between two forms, one small and green the other larger and blue. The flickering slows and the chairs seem to be trying to squeeze themselves into the form of the other. The transition slows and the eye can begin to separate the two. The identity of each object can be seen for a moment but it seems uncertain which is dominant. Suddenly a straight back chair, previously static, jumps into the shape of one with arms. Both variants take each other’s shape for a fraction of a second and as the change becomes quicker they stretch like elastic to fit into each other’s shape until they finally blur into an amalgam. Elsewhere a cup and a mug alternate places. A cat and dog perform a similar dance. Objects never change position, they just transform into each other at all times surrounded by the tranquillity of a domestic setting. Sometimes a person watches impassively, as motionless as a statue. Finally the camera passes through the rooms of a house in which no object can stand its gaze without shivering, trembling and changing into the shape of another.
The objects of the nursery and its immediate environment, furniture, domestic animals, flowers and plants of the garden, are unstable and restless. They do not have the substantiality they seem to gain when viewed by adult eyes. The objects wear their outward appearance as arbitrarily as the way the sound of the word carries its meaning for those who first hear it. It seems the appearance of an object can be changed at will, as casually as one changes one’s clothes.
The imagination of the nursery with its limited experience cannot move too far, and the vocabulary of change is consequently narrow. Chairs change into different chairs, jugs change into different jugs. Each object has within it the seed of another, sometimes a similar object, sometimes the opposite (ice and fire), sometimes with an oblique connection (a goldfish and a butterfly). The relationships do not change beyond the primitive, the childlike and occasionally the banal. The results are sometimes strange, sometimes comical, but are always material and particular.
Samuel Beckett, quoting Giambattista Vico, writes ‘Poetry… was born of curiosity, daughter of ignorance. Poetry was the first operation of the human mind, and without it thought could not exist. Barbarians, incapable of analysis and abstraction, must use their fantasy to explain what their reason cannot comprehend. The figurative character of the oldest poetry must be regarded, not as sophisticated confectionery, but as evidence of a poverty stricken vocabulary and of a disability to achieve abstraction.’
The film is neither abstract nor narrative. It is strongly figurative and without causal links. There is no allegory or myth. Metaphor is nascent and half-formed. The film is entirely literal and holds no secrets from the viewer. What one sees is the result of the coincidence of the material world in one of its most material forms with a mechanical device (the single frame operation of a camera). It is the result of the intersection of a machine and a series of common objects. It is a pure film in the sense of a language game being pure language, inexplicable in any other form, meaningless when translated into another language structure. It is presented like a lesson to the viewer with the objectivity and dispassion of a scientific experiment.
Beckett continues: ‘Poetry is essentially the antithesis of Metaphysics… there is an inability to extract the general from the particular’. There are no lessons to be learnt from this film. Nor is there any element of the spiritual or transcendental. There is no transubstantiation here, only perhaps a slight transmigration of the soul of the object in which, for instance, a chair is reborn with plush upholstery and a pair of arms.
The process of the film is akin to alchemy which, imbued with people’s dreams and aspirations, failed to turn base metal into gold and yet was the great grandparent of the industrial revolution. In this film the film-maker turns away from the vast achievements in narrative and illusionism of contemporary animation and reaches back to the distant ancestors of pixilation that should have lived, but never did, and finding none, tries to invent them.
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