Mark Boulos

FACT, Wood Street
3rd October - 21st November 2013

Reviewed by Redskye

FACT presented the first major UK retrospective of the artist and film maker Mark Boulos.

Taking questions from ‘us’, the assembled ‘free buffet brigade’, was the man himself. Mark claimed to be quite comfortable exhibiting his work at FACT, attracted by Liverpool’s alleged reputation as a haven for Marxists. As he talked to us, behind him was the big sign from the previous exhibition “Capitalism works for me!” However the big sign wasn’t working, which was appropriate at the time.

The first exhibit, 'Echo', can be both watched and engaged with. I watched as the first participant stepped into the spotlight and was then superimposed onto the recorded video. He stood and waited to be impressed – after what seemed like ages he wasn’t impressed, even if the free buffet later demanded he should be. I tried it out myself and thought 'oh… beam me up Scotty'. I had a hat on and found viewing the screen difficult with the light glaring into my eyes. I was disorientated by the complete blackness, and the surround sound effects could have been far more directional. Such a clever use of technology has real potential but apart from the weird effects I really wasn’t too ‘quiche and cake’ impressed.

As you enter the next gallery upstairs you are firstly presented with an eyeball on a video screen, with Mark's face superimposed upon it. No matter how many times I looked at it I simply didn’t get it. This gallery is also pitch black with no guide markings on the floor, and a friend of mine actually refused to enter it because of that.

Moving onto the real deal with Mark Boulos I enter the ‘No Permanent Address’ presentation, which has three different videos of the same scene running simultaneously with a short delay. The Marxist-Leninist-Maoist politics of the New People’s Army in the Philippine Jungle are here given full expression. Here is a disciplined group of people with a well thought out political ideology to match, well organised on a collective basis, and the subtitles present them as articulate.

I enter the second video exhibition, the title of which is taken from the Communist Manifesto ‘All that is solid melts into air’, which continues “all that is holy is profane and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.”

I found the best place to view this is standing right in the middle of the scrum, so to speak, where the two screens face each other. The Frankie Goes to Hollywood song ‘Two Tribes’ came to mind while viewing the screen-to-screen face-off. It really is two tribes, with one side dressed to kill and the other armed to kill.

What the audience is presented with on facing sides are seemingly two irrational tribes both scrapping over essential basic commodities. We’re shown stock brokers on one screen in their flash business suits in the Chicago Mercantile exchange in 2008, on the first day of the credit crunch - all of a sudden they're shouting madly at one another as the colour coded numbers flash across the transaction screens.

On the other screen is the ‘Movement for the emancipation of the Niger Delta’, filmed in the jungle of West Africa. The militia are clearly presented as being no ideological threat from their rag-tag clothing, behaviour and how their thoughts and words are presented in the sub-titles. They express to the film maker what they're prepared to carry out to expel the oil extractors from 'their' land. It's hard to know how what to make of it, for example, here’s a few extracts.

- “If they don't remember us, I will kidnap white people.”

- “So the oil belongs to us. You come to us. We do not come to you. You come to us.”

Further statements such as;

- “I am protected by the various Awana spirits of the Niger Delta.”

- “So bullets will only fall on me. It will not kill me. It won't hurt me.”

While you can fully understand their anger, how they express it, or rather how Mark Boulos's film presents it, is rather chaotic, and in complete opposition to the discipline, structure and ideologically driven New People's Army we're shown in the other space.

The exhibition for me was neither one thing nor the other. The whizz-bang multimedia presentations didn't hit the mark at all, the films had impact but the way they were presented detracted from the valuable content.

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