Monday, 29 March 2010

Images Forever

There is a wonderful moment in the super8 home movies of Jimmy Watts, in which his son, as a young boy, is dressed as a stage magician performing simple tricks by utilising the camera's ability to stop time. Pausing the film the boy can remove a cup from the table and make it look, via the magic of cinema, as though it had disappeared. It is an image from three or four decades ago, from what Jimmy calls "the good old days," when they first moved into the Market Estate. The images on the screen of a happy, thriving estate, a hive of activity in an exciting modern setting, reflect some of the utopianism of the estate's first residents.
On the 7th March, the Market Estate in Islington was demolished, its secure tenants having been moved to a new development across the street. The day before its demolition, an exhibition was held in the building's corridors and empty flats. Seventy-five artists, sixty-six different site-specific projects, engaging with the building, its spaces and its history. Somewhere up on the second floor, down the end of one of its 'streets in the sky', was the flat formerly owned by Jimmy Watts.
French artist Clarisse D'Arcimoles met Jimmy some two months previously, and, in her words, he "shared his life" with her, told her his story, showed her his old photos and home movies. He even gave her his typewriter. With these fragments, D'Arcimoles developed a work that Anthony Gormley would describe as "incredibly beautiful." A journey through his life, that is at the same time a journey through the life of the estate - as much a living character as anyone in this story.
In one room, his photos are presented with short pieces of typed texts, often poetic and only figuratively related to the image. The presentation recalls certain works by Sophie Calle. For one such image, of Jimmy thirty years ago, leaning against a wall in the grounds of the estate, she has had him recreate the same pose, in similar clothes, and placed the two images side by side (she has been doing a similar thing with her own family photos). The caption beneath, "Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall ... " attests to the fragility of memory, the irreversibility of time.
The living room had been left as it was, but the lights are down low and Jimmy's Super8 films are showing. Sat in his sofa, we watch them as he might have done himself. The recorded voice-over he provides becomes a sort of interior monologue. "I shall treasure these images forever," he remarks. One can't quite imagine today's amateur photographer, drowning under terabytes of images, to treasure each moment with quite the same expectation of permanence. Jimmy's films remind us of some of the magic in freezing time that gets lost with the ubiquity of the digital.