Ennui

Or, Ambiguous Disassociation

Audio: T.S. Eliot reciting his masterwork The Waste Land.

2013

Digital projection + audio

Part of the Tampered Evidence exhibition hosted by Blitz

The coupling of such seemingly disparate elements as the fashion catwalk loop and T.S. Eliot reciting his masterwork The Waste Land pushes the viewer into a reality brought about by ambiguous association.

The ten second clip filmed at the London Fashion Weekend is divested of its accompanying ambient music to be replaced by a uniformity of voice reciting a work that abounds in reference to classic literature from various global cultures, many of which are more than a little obscure; a text that is not always easy to comprehend. Through the poem’s constantly shifting voices of different speakers, T.S. Eliot seems to be making reference to the decline of Western culture through highlighting the cultural divide of modern society, with The Waste Land acting as this intellectual rift; a no man’s land which divides society into the intellectuals and the others. In this poem, Eliot is somehow haughtily snobbing modern man and his disdain for anything worthwhile, like great art or spirituality. Seemingly, Eliot highlights this heedlessness as the main reason why many cannot make anything out of such a great work of literature as The Waste Land. This is of course an overtly pretentious statement which is however backed by the reality that the work is about the decline of western culture and the beauty that this culture once possessed in the classical period. In a Europe traumatized by World War 1, with an upsurge of general disenchantment and pessimism on one hand and the proliferation of the new spirit of modernism on the other, The Waste Land was soon referred to as “the work that best expressed the mood of postwar generation disillusioned by the loss of ideals and faith in progress.” Perhaps Eliot intended The Waste Land as the eulogy that high culture deserved, and, in a spirit of despair at the condition of modern society, he intended it to be hard to read.

Alexandra’s careful twinning of these two performances seems to highlight this symbolic rift in enlightenment and extend its grounds to contemporary society. The nauseating repetition of such a small portion of the models’ catwalk performance hijacks the viewer’s attention from the occasion’s main objective – that of displaying high fashion’s artifacts – to highlight the overall mise en scène of the occasion, reiterating the fashion industry’s form through the characteristic saunter of what culture has termed as models, prototypes of today’s male and female appearance.

The audio further stretches this metaphoric breach by pointing us away from this concept of appearance and makes us simultaneously concentrate on two contrasting cultural forms – on one hand the demanding verse, and on the other what many consider the hollow vanity of the fashion show. This work is steeped in nihilism as it attempts to recreate Eliot’s rehabilitation of a system of beliefs in a sensibility of a higher order within the reality of today’s frivolity.

words: Vince Briffa