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FOOD FOR THOUGHT,
on attraction and repulsion in Jack Wormell’s Holy Waste (2020).



 




Notes: 
(1) Excerpt of film available at https://jackwormell.com/Holy-Waste (accessed 26/02/2021)

(2) L. Aragon, Paris Peasant (trans. Simon Watson Taylor; Exact Change: Boston, MA, 1994 [1926]) pp.47-48


(3)  A. Breton, “Surrealist situation of the object” (1935), in Manifestoes of Surrealism (trans. Richard Seaver and Helen R. Lane; University of Michigan Press, MI, 1969) pp.255-278


(4)  L. Aragon, Paris Peasant, pp.5-11, 47-48

(5) P. Virilio, Negative Horizon (trans. Michael Degener; Continuum: London & New York, NY, 2005 [1984]) p.27

(6) G. Deleuze, Francis Bacon: the logic of sensation (trans. Daniel W. Smith; Continuum: London & New York, NY, 2003 [1981]) p.108


(7) Ibid, p.86


(8) See the text accompanying Holy Waste on Wormell’s website: https://jackwormell.com/Holy-Waste (accessed 26/02/2021)


(9) In S. Daney, Postcards from the Cinema (trans. Paul Douglas Grant; Berg: Oxford & New York, NY, 2007)


(10) Ibid, p.24-27


(11) P. Virilio, Negative Horizon (trans. Michael Degener; Continuum: London & New York, NY, 2005 [1984]) pp.34-35


Author:
Gareth Evans received  his PhD from the University of Bristol in 2017 for his thesis on emancipatory vision in the work of Stan Brakhage, a chapter of which was published in the collection of essays Stan Brakhage the realm buster (edited by Marco Lori and Esther Leslie, 2018, John Libbey Publishing: East Barnet). He is currently an independent scholar, living and working in Oxford.


F5 / Food for thought: on attraction and repulsion in Jack Wormell’s Holy Waste (2020)(1)

Author - Gareth Evans
Published: 10th May. 2021


A black screen: traffic, the sound of a city road. A body shuffling along in its stride. Footsteps on concrete. Intertitle: ‘As I walked briskly down the road / I saw something that caused my feet to slow’. An everyday flow arrested; interrupted by an uncommon encounter. Image: the gaze of the walker hovers over a pile of discarded food on the pavement, a bright sublime synthesised note provides the tone of this revelation. A slow-motion descent to the object and, in image after image, the camera sculpturally attracts our eye to the shapes of this melange; it’s stacks of chocolate cake, peppers, potato, tomato, salad leaves and other, less identifiable, remnants. Glidingly, we traverse the architecture in this landscape inhabited by ants. Or else, the camera caressingly lingers on a vibrant composition, the beauty of broken colours and textures against the smooth, grey, mottled stone. Attractive to me in one sense, yet repulsive in another. This mixture of once desirable food dumped in the street, crawling with insects, disgusts me, it makes my stomach turn. A revulsion that embraces the lack of putrefaction; there is something still edible about this dish. Momentarily the gaze regains its distance, not quite leaving the encounter but hesitating. The sound compliments this wavering between attraction and repulsion; the synthesised notes decay, distort and finally cease with a crash. Gloopy gastric noises vegetating in the mix regurgitate, discordant garbling and the babbling of playing children pull us from the sublime encounter to an object nauseatingly prosaic and too proximal. Still the gaze hesitates, slightly reframing a shot, edging in a little, and a little bit more, keeping the body in this encounter before regaining that sense of attraction, that wonder. The sublime synthesised notes accompany the retention of this desire. Over the last few sweeping aerial images of the object the filmmaker’s voice floats to the surface, paraphrasing the words of Louis Aragon: “It was though the world was built simply to provide the occasion for a few attempts at still life.


Our encounter with the object does not end in the way it began in Holy Waste. The arrested walk does not continue and, in the final image, the gaze drifts slightly away from the object whilst lingering close to it. The distance of eye to object is attended by another, one framed by the written and spoken texts: the distance between ourselves as spectator and the gaze of another, the walker/filmmaker who is distracted by the object, whose practice composes this encounter. There is a staging of this gaze itself for our thought: not only the distances of the eye to the object, the affects of attraction and repulsion that are felt through that gaze, but also another distance that encourages us to question the forms cultivating these sensations. We find ourselves asking what kinds of attraction and repulsion are these? Or, rather, how have I a sickened stomach and an enchanted eye? Why do they feel natural forms of bodily response to these images? And, what do the adapted words of a Surrealist poet in 1926 have to do with these sensations?


Leaving for a moment the important difference in the adaptation of the line from Paris Peasant, we can first of all note a clear association that Jack Wormell has drawn from Aragon’s text to the encounter with food waste on the pavement: in both works a type of gaze is being figured, one that is attracted by an arrangement of objects, a composition that arises as part of the everyday yet is not subsumed in our normal perceptive modes. Such a gaze, in specific encounters, denaturalises some of the ways by which we normally experience the world. For Aragon, as a flâneur in the arcades of the Passage de l’Opéra, the sudden solidity of space around a passer-by, a piano in the street, and the sense of a car squashed under its driver, are so many chance arrangements caused by the ceaseless mobility of the world; arrangements that can offer us a sudden vertiginous disruption of our stable sense of reality (2). They are like the Comte de Lautréamont’s chance arrangement of a sewing machine and umbrella on a dissecting table, an arrangement that André Breton would later identify as the quintessential image of a Surrealist object, mysterious in its significance (3). For Wormell, as a pedestrian on the London streets, the gaze becomes captivated by discarded objects whose formations are the result of accident, disuse and unwantedness. Objects in whose unique forms we can experience and practice a type of seeing that is revelatory in two ways: aesthetic and archaeological.

These arrangements of objects and their environment are a key aspect of Wormell’s filmmaking. Not only do we find them in Holy Waste, but also in the fly-tipped patches of wasteland under a slip-road in Scree Fucking Junk (2014), or in the disused, fenced-off, recycling zone, infested with weeds and strewn with litter, in Area by Road (2020). Compositions of public displays of refuse are frequent images in his work, such as the bags of rubbish and full bins that are glimpsed in Garbage Helicopter Composition #10(b) (2019), and the ‘zany’ blue and pink plastic sacks of waste, and the detritus in a stream in Movie Reviews (2016). These images are part of a tension that Wormell’s work often situates between the planned designation and utility of spaces, and the aleatory disorganisation and disruption of these spaces, which sprout joy in an encounter with their forms and arrangements.


This is where a key difference resides between the gaze in Aragon’s text and Wormell’s in Holy Waste; a difference that accounts for the adaptation in the line taken from Paris Peasant. Aragon writes, ‘It looks rather as though for God the world simply provides the occasion for a few attempts at still-lifes.’ Banal, everyday objects and their arrangements are key for both artists, but for Aragon there is a conducting force that he refers to in this section as ‘God’s imagination’; an imagination which seeks to produce unwonted arrangements for the eye. However, throughout Paris Peasant this imagination is not in fact situated as that of a higher power but, rather, as the narrator’s own; an imagination that becomes creative through delirious encounters, which arises in the relation between his perceptions and chance arrangements. It is ‘an imagination attuned to infinitesimal and discordant variations,’ where the eye does not see as reason dictates. These experiences are relayed through a practice of writing utilising metaphoric tropes as a means of expressing vertiginous transformations of the everyday. For example, the point at which the light from the street confronts the light of the arcade ‘like a woman adorned with all the magic spells of love when daybreak has raised her skirt of curtains and penetrated the room gently.’ What is attractive to Aragon’s gaze is the transformation of reality under the aegis of an imagination whose associations of images undermine rational modes of perception and signification (4).

Wormell’s omission of ‘God’ is certainly intriguing with regard to how each artist situates these gazes in their respective societies. Throughout Paris Peasant, the playful subversion of Aragon’s appropriation of ‘God’ disparages the moralising role of Christianity in the crises affecting European society following the First World War. Whereas the omission in Holy Waste perhaps indicates a respectful wariness towards the use of the term and, more generally, to the role of religion in a world considered post-secular and globalised. However, what is more to the point regarding the form of attraction in the latter is that the food waste is not staged as an object encountered by an imagination whose transformation of the everyday into a delirium reveals the absurd in the rational. The conducting imagination of a ‘God’ is omitted in favour of fully asserting the direct bodily encounter with the object, an object that is a chance composition of the world resulting from human agency. Wormell’s adaptation of the line indicates that the staging of the gaze in its attraction towards the object is in terms of an aesthetic experience that generates singular visible forms through a mobile encounter, rather than being an object for the subjective transformations of reality figured in Paris Peasant. This kind of attraction is much closer to Paul Virilio’s description of his revelatory experiences of seeing emancipated from the consensual strictures of normative vision:


From my focus upon the valueless object, I slid over to a secondary aspect, just to the side. The banal object did not turn into a privileged object, there was no ‘transfiguration’. Something more important happened. Suddenly, before me, new objects appeared, bizarre serrated or notched figures; an entire collection of articulations had become subtly visible and these objects of observation were no longer banal, in any way, or insignificant. Quite the contrary, they were extremely diverse, they were everywhere, throughout space, the whole world was full of these new forms, it was like an unknown vegetation that proliferated around me, useless objects brought forth the appearance of momentary objects of great complexity, the position of things triggered new exotic forms, forms that escape us although plainly visible, habituated as we are to trivial geometries (5).

The gaze in Holy Waste is attracted by the exotic forms, the singular compositions of colour and shape, that it can locate and sculpt in its movements around this found pile of food. There is a great joy in this intimacy with the object: camera movements glide over a landscape that mixes glistening banana tones flecked with strawberry beads, crisp contours paired with marbled purées of a rich golden lemon, and a friable field of chocolate spattered with creamy porcelain globules verged by spikey green contortions. Tracks, pans, tilts, swoops and drifting camera work take pleasure in lingering over this object. The eye is encouraged by the speed of these sculptural movements to caress the amorphous architecture of this arrangement of food waste, to be attracted by this practice of finding a type of visual complexity in the banal. There is certainly a sense of touching with the eyes: an aesthetics of a haptic form of vision is prevalent in the attraction of the gaze in Holy Waste. It is a haptic form of vision that Gilles Deleuze, in relation to Francis Bacon’s practice of painting, described as ‘sight discover[ing] in itself a specific function of touch that is uniquely its own, distinct from its optical function.’(6) Deleuze also highlights the consideration of sculpted form, in particular bas-relief, that played a role for Bacon in eliciting a haptic visuality in the experience of his work; in the broken contours and patches of a figure, their relation in shallow depth with fields of colour, and the geometry of an armature in loose perspective (7). In a similar fashion, the images in Holy Waste taken at an aerial distance from the food, and the descending movement to the level of the arrangement, make the relation of ground, with the hint of its regular grid geometry of pavement slabs, and the shallow sculpture of the object upon this surface, key to the lure of the amorphous forms for a haptic vision. The eye is attracted, drawn down to be intimate with an object that would be commonly ignored in an environment usually traversed. Here the eye finds something wondrous and complex.


However, just as a particular form of touching belonging to the eye enchants and attracts us to certain qualities of the object, attends us to a revelational encounter with its singular forms, another bodily relation to the object mediated by vision repulses us. The affect of repulsion in Holy Waste exists in a relation between the eye and the stomach, a relation that is gustatory as much as gastric. The same images, the same slow scaping movements, attract us in a different way to the edible and appetising qualities of the object as food. These movements are styled in a way that has become clichéd in the photography of food on televised cooking shows and in advertisements. Wormell refers to his work as an editor on videos promoting food festivals in which the images cast their object in a ‘luxurious’ light (8). In such images, food is made desirous by a range of means that are inseparable from its positioning as a commodity item. This staging of food inextricably entwines our vision with our sense of taste and the pleasure derived from eating. When this style of photography is ‘inverted’, as Wormell writes, and applied to a mixture of food in a state that we consider unappetising the affect is a ‘depraved’ one, eliciting repulsion from the spectator.


Yet this repulsion reveals something by way of the inappropriateness we feel in the use of such movements to objectify the food waste in a desirous manner. This revelation is reminiscent of Jacques Rivette’s condemnation of Gillo Pontecorvo’s use of a low-angled tracking shot in Kapo (1960). Rivette finds abject Pontecorvo’s choice to smoothly reframe in close-up the body of a concentration camp prisoner, resting against the electrified fence upon which she has flung herself rather than be degraded further by the regime of the Nazi guards. In his essay The Tracking Shot in Kapo (1992)(9), Serge Daney expands on the importance of Rivette’s critique, finding that the camera movement is used to attract the viewer to the body of Emmanuelle Riva, it creates a necrophiliac gaze. Daney judges the movement as too dependent on a motivation to compose a portrait of a beautiful martyr in close-up, and in doing so becomes unfaithful to the justness we should feel toward Terese’s resistance. For Daney, Pontecorvo’s revulsion of the camps in Kapo is only ideological, not physiological, otherwise he would have felt the abjection of such a choice of shot used in so conventional a manner.(10)


Rather than suggest that all uses of tracking shots and close-up framings are abject, Daney and Rivette denigrate the particular uncritical and conventional use of the movement in Kapo, which creates for them an unethical image of its subject. Holy Waste, on the other hand, knowingly subverts the values of the type of camera work used to make food seductive. In doing so, Wormell turns a naturalised affect of attraction into one of repulsion that draws us to a critical appreciation of its conventional affects. It is in this sense that, I believe, the film offers us an archaeological practice of seeing: the staging of a gaze that is repulsed by its object in such a way as to make apprehensible an acculturated expectation to be seduced by images of food, a seduction that has become inseparable from seeing food solely as a commodity item. Our repulsion makes us aware of how habituated we are to seeing food in this light, how much our ways of seeing the world are conditioned by commodification, and how much this limits our experience. As Virilio writes,



Today we are no longer truly seers [voyants] of our world, but already merely reviewers [revoyants], the tautological repetition of the same, at work in our mode of production (i.e., industrial production), is equally at work in our mode of perception. We pass our time and our lives in contemplating what we have already contemplated, and by this we are most insidiously imprisoned. This redundancy constructs our habitat, we construct on analogy and by resemblance, it is our architecture.(11)


By subverting conventional commercial techniques of imaging food, and instead staging a form of vision attracted in a different way, with a different desire, to looking at this object of waste, Wormell’s practice breaks free from some of these perceptive prisons. There is a desire in Holy Waste to emancipate the body from ways of seeing that have become naturalised in accordance with a culture regimented by profit, limited by the commercial. The film shows a kind of vision that desires to encounter the world with wonder and joy, a vision open to uncommon forms, rather than the spoon-fed sights and significations of a common market. This is part of the politics of Wormell’s work, he shows us an emancipatory practice and the revelations it offers, and in doing so, hopefully, we can be encouraged to perform and share our own.


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