It starts with a cigarette.
Falsity. Truth. Ignorance. Knowledge. Progress. Withdrawal. The mind is not a passive container; it is at once retaining yet transforming all subjects that enter it. Every condition it encounters will at some time transition toward a state of flux. Consider the mind not a collector of objective information but a piece of information itself, like the thematic structure of a book rather than the spine that binds it. The mind’s individuated, cursory views can then author their own history, subjectifying the bearer’s world, or more dangerously, other minds that will listen to it. For all of us the value of truth is relational to our views of propositions that are false, and with that, we are constantly exhibiting duality. ‘Absolutes’ as the purest type of said property are also perhaps the most lauded, albeit they seem as likely to exist as those things that inhabit blind belief. Of course, we should navigate any type of information with an everlasting, critical eye. Only then will we fully reconcile the ideal of knowing with the value of accuracy. Our memories lie, history can be garbled, and an artist may foster mistrust.
With this in mind, David Greenhalgh’s artistic practice is one that examines distortion. David’s filmic narratives posit worlds filled with fallible characters and malleable truths. There are of course no absolutes here. Fact and fiction are interchangeable devices as realties are bent to confirm what we should already suspect: we need boundaries and prejudiced, immanent views to demonstrate that we make errors. ‘Truth’ then becomes a vague entity. The artist’s use of audio and video collage is well suited to these concepts, enabling him to inspire suspicion in his audience. What we see and what we hear are often malleable themselves. Nonetheless, the at times dialectical dialogue concretises our understanding that these images are not random – the art is deliberately manipulated just like the threads of truth that it analyses.
40:01 as a story of human memory and history exemplifies the concept of fallibility. Pieced together from Creative Commons and public domain media, the work utilises disparate source materials that represent the disparity of recollection itself. The man in the film represents the pendulum swinging between what’s real and what isn’t: history can be unpacked logically, yet the lessons of the past are what create a contestation of meaning - contradiction has become this character’s starting point. He is visited by images, which he then crafts an assemblage of history from. The outward effect is cleverly layered: a ‘false-film’ of false memory representing, in one way, the falsity of ultimate truths. The work’s construction mirrors the narrative by exposing the ease of fluidity between history and myth, or between discordant, visual references. One of its functions is therefore to transform us into sceptics. In doing this, David is keeping one hand in the scepticism of a once post-structuralist world, compelling us to question the reasonability of the ‘author’ and their knowledge claims. This extends to the character as a fictional construct, highlighting the concept of ‘the self’ that must be rebuilt over and over until its former manifestation is unrecognisable. On the other hand, the work capitalises on the contemporary moment, creating an idea that encourages engagement and addresses a wider, more connective issue – trust.
By attempting a discourse with his viewership, David’s work also inherently asks the age-old question: ‘does art contribute to knowledge?’ The question itself can be sourced in the problems his art observes: if knowledge is to be taken with a grain of salt, and yet studied sceptically through the prose of ‘the other’, art then may in fact allow us to acquire the right tools to learn, rather than simply impart lessons itself. We ‘learn about history and its problems’.
It probably ends with a cigarette, too.-Shane Hodges