40 minutes, 2010
and installation comprising photography, archival photo- and film- documents, posters, wall-hanging, postcards

Anarcadia is a video projection and accompanying installation comprising anonymous archival photo-documents and film, late Soviet-era posters, a hand-made wall-hanging, a set of postcards and two photographs.

Anarcadia is shot among the desert expanses of Kazakhstan. Into this shifting, elemental landscape, Maclennan introduces two iconic characters: an archaeologist and a prospector.

For both protagonists, the lie of the land merely prefigures a deeper preoccupation with what lies beneath – an excavation of the forgotten legacies and uncertain narratives of history, as well as an increasingly frenetic material probing (gathering pace throughout this part of Central Asia) for pockets of mineral wealth.

Overlaying rival trajectories and competing incentives, Maclennan’s overlapping, often contradictory stories echo the fundamental indeterminacy of the desert landscape itself: unreliable, unpredictable, even treacherous, yet still a beguiling, open-ended canvas for human hopes and dreams.

In the adjacent gallery space, a selection of photographs from Kazakhstan’s National Archive of Documentary Film and Photography provide visual reference points for the film. However these images of railway workers and stations in the desert are themselves fragments, testimony to forgotten stories, fixed and preserved for the sake of a future history, but now hanging like apparitions from an unknowable reality. These images of places and people summon up the illusion that history can be represented, grasped, and identified as a set of facts. However the images themselves disrupt this view instantaneously just as they propose it. They gather associations, evoking history, and the geography with which it is intertwined, as an uncertain, shifting terrain.

Photographs taken by the artist during filming in Kazakhstan suggest both a time outside time, and human activity just beyond the horizon or frame. An embroidered hanging, a typical yurt adornment, conjures up images of traditional nomadic life and timeless artisanship. The boldly date emblazened date however swiftly unravels that narrative weave. Soviet posters celebrate seventy years of the ‘subbotnik’ – voluntary work usually undertaken on Saturdays, imposed on workers to help them build the Proletarian state even in their time off. The date of the posters—1989, just before the dissolution of the Soviet Union—gives them another meaning today.

A fragment of a film made in 1930, also from the Almaty archive, shows the importance of the railway for the building of empire. The influence of Soviet avant-garde film and photography on the anonymous film-maker is striking, with angles reminiscent of Rodchenko, and shots recalling Vertov and even Eisenstein. The film is more subtly illuminating and suggestive than its propaganda message might imply.

Anarcadia is commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella and John Hansard Gallery, with the support of Stills Gallery, Edinburgh and Ffoto Gallery, Cardiff, presented in association with Castlefield Gallery, Manchester. Supported by Arts Council, England, the British Council, with additional support from Henry Moore Foundation.

Exhibition at John Hansard Gallery, Southampton, November 9th 2010 to January 8th 2011 .
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