Afterlife by Moira Jeffery

Afterlife by Moira Jeffery
Exhibition Essay, VANE, Newcastle & Chapter, Cardiff.

One need not be a chamber to be haunted;
One need not be a house;
The brain has corridors surpassing
Material place.
Emily Dickinson, Time and Eternity

`So everyone ends up here? You mean whether you were good or bad or whatever. All that stuff about going to hell if you`re bad... not true?
Everyone`s here?`
From After Life, directed by Hirokazu Kore Eda.

For Isaya, the angry young man in Hirokazu Kore Edas 1998 film After
Life, death brings the revelation that the road to Heaven or Hell is not quite as promised. Instead of the anticipated punishment or reward, he finds himself in limbo, a slightly shabby way station between life and death.

In a building reminiscent of a school or a social security office, angelic counsellors (themselves subject to the mundane trappings of corporate life including motivational meetings) help new arrivals to choose a single memory, which can be taken with them on their onward journey to eternity.

The counsellors not only influence, or indeed bring about change in, the choices of the dead - be they a sexual encounter or a trip to Disneyland - but they make the chosen memories visual by creating a film of them. They do so both idealistically and pragmatically, doing their best to assemble the necessary props, glean story and setting from the flawed recollections of the dead and complete the work against a pressurised background of lack of time and limited resources.

After Life is a meditation on the pursuit of happiness and a film maker`s affectionate tribute to the place that the messy and compromised business of cinema still occupies in our dreams and aspirations. Above all, however it is an exploration on the nature and meaning of memory.

Memory, in Kore-Edas scenario, is interpretative. It can be shaped, manipulated and perhaps even actively fabricated. It is in the theatrical restaging of such memories; a process that is both collaborative and creative, rather than in some idea of dispassionate documentation or the biased and sentimental nature of individual recollection, that the film`s protagonists find resolution.

It is this sense of restaging the momentary that forms the core of the exhibition Afterlife, a collaborative project curated by Hannah Firth of Chapter, Cardiff and Paul Stone, of VANE, Newcastle. The show brings together eight very different artworks, which coalesce loosely around themes of the moment and memory, truth and fiction, limbo and ambiguity.

Much of the work centres on processes of re-presentation, of collection, recollection or research. There are attempts to capture or stage a specific moment, often a moment of transition or transformation, or to visualise the unseen. These works draw not only on personal, individual experience but also on collective experience and the cultural, social and even political frameworks through which memory is mediated.

There is a pervasive atmosphere of melancholy in the works and in some cases threat. To immerse oneself in the field of memory, and to enter limbo, is also to admit to the presence of ghosts.

A number of layers of sight and seeing are present in Anthony Shapland`s film Spectate, which investigates the penumbral state in which we receive information in the twilight of the theatre, the cinema and the lecture hall. Viewing Shapland`s work we sit in the dark of the gallery, watching a projected image. On flim the camera rotates to reveal a cinema audience, in their seats, watching Kore-Eda`s film After Life. Although the gallery audience can`t see the screen, After Life is a film in which the character`s watch a film. The work is a series of concentric circles: the play within the play within the play.

Rise, Shapland`s other work, shows a similar moment of transition, arrested and presented for the camera. It is lighting up time. A street lamp flickers into life and glows orange like a synthetic sun. The dawn chorus is heard in the background. Is this day or night?