Afternoon Dust

Jeremy Millar — XDO XOL

I wrote about Jeremy Millar’s film Daphne before, but his new work, showing as part of Whitstable Biennale 2014, feels bolder and more substantial. It features a flat, fog-covered landscape, a bog or fen, clay formations covered in shrubs. The only human presence is that of a solitary man, who sits quietly by a stream or shelters inside a derelict, abandoned concrete building. The film ruminates on the landscape and upon the actions of the man, which range from passive contemplation to patient, focused activity.

Who is this man, and why is he alone in this soggy, isolated place? He is wrapped in a grey blanket, like a beggar or the survivor of some disaster, yet his suit, white shirt, and trimmed beard are all immaculate. He works purposefully, but does not seem to be struggling to survive. He seems neither surprised nor perturbed by his situation. And this landscape: foggy and empty, yet not atmospheric; natural and unspoilt, yet not picturesque. It is as if Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer had gone away to war, returning one day, physically unharmed but dead on the inside, to find the craggy mountains flattened and turned into clay. And thinking nothing of this. A kind of anti-sublime: not the mutually reinforcing binary of majestic peaks and sovereign male subject, but instead a kind of smearing, a blurring of distinctions, a shared becoming-mud.

Maybe this still overplays the significance of the man’s inhabitation of the landscape; perhaps he is only there because a film about the landscape alone would have seemed too impersonal, too silent. Perhaps we still need some sort of frame of subjectivity in order to make sense of a terrain, generating our own frames in the absence of a supplied one; perhaps the man is there to head off precisely this kind of projection, this habit of looking. Perhaps he is there to undo the landscape as a landscape, to turn it back to clay and shrubs and dampness.