‘The Black Tower’ is an experimental remake of John Smith’s 1987 film that examines the ethics and aesthetics of witnessing and memorialising in the wake of the traumatic fire at Grenfell Tower in London in 2017 - a catastrophe that killed 72 people and had a seismic impact on the lives of hundreds of residents and on the national psyche. The starting point for this research project was the crowdsourcing of aftermath photography of the Tower following an Open Call to join the conversation between event & representation, myth & reality, and the notion of ethico-political memory in our digital, networked culture.
In the film, we enter the reality of a notional character preoccupied with a Black Tower that seems to follow them around, eventually driving them to oblivion. As the original looks towards the medium of 16mm film, this project asks how a 21st century digital remake can look through John Smith’s eyes and then outwards towards the construct of Grenfell Tower. The honesty of the digital medium might offer ways of seeing to consider notions of aura, authenticity, authorship and spectatorship, while paying homage to the original’s masterpiece.
We watched the Tower transform overnight from presence to absence - and then again ad nauseam through the prism of mainstream and social media in what constituted a theatrics of visibilities. On that day, trauma and representation experienced a temporal collapse as the privilege of circular viewing is reenacted as a power relation. As an architectural and visual anomaly, the ‘monument’ became a culturally, politically and historically resonant site of trauma. The various scopic regimes that have burdened the residents before and after the fire have constituted a failure of representation or an ‘erasure of an erasure’. As the real of Grenfell appears and disappears through the power of images, its monumentality hides in plain sight. The concern here is the disappearance of this colossal trauma into myth, becoming impossible to perceive and indistinguishable from other events of political violence.
This project sets out to investigate the possibility of an encounter by interrogating the troubled image. Politicising this collective trauma is an attempt to interrogate ideological memory by working through the politico-aesthetic conditions that made this media-borne disaster possible. Engaging with the traumatic image is to see how art - as a way of seeing and doing - can offer up valuable critique into the ethics and the politics of this impossible image as the tragedy that befell ordinary Londoners that day quickly turned into a mediatised event for public consumption.
Crucial that the images for the film came from ordinary Londoners who documented the aftermath, here we consider how a networked connectivity can link individual consciousness to cultural memory. In the post-Grenfell moment, we can ask how it is even possible to represent the unrepresentable when the impossible had already been imagined and forewarned by local residents. This project has resisted the urge of prohibition in order to research the possibilities and ambivalences of bearing witness through the performative aspects of the traumatic image. As the film is mediated through the collective eyes of Londoners, this shift troubles the position of viewer and witness in our visual culture. The film was projected at three sites across London. The research project has a dedicated website with an accompanying Word Piece, an ongoing archive and won the Alan Little Award. This project is completely self-funded and not for sale.
The starting point for this research project was an Open Call for images of the remains of Grenfell Tower from Londoners to perform a critique of the traumatic image by re-telling the story of John Smith's original ‘The Black Tower'. Here we enter the reality of a notional character who seems to be followed around by a tower. The story opens up an ethico-political space to consider perception and disappearance, memorialisation and the spectacularisation of this monumental trauma that befell Londoners on the day - as event and representation collapsed before our eyes. The film is mediated through the collective eyes of Londoners who documented the aftermath of the violence that killed 72 people and had a profound impact on the lives of hundreds of residents and on the national psyche overnight. This shift attempts to trouble the position of viewer and witness in our networked culture to help see the unseen. The digital film was projected at three sites across London. The research project has a dedicated website with an accompanying Word Piece, an ongoing archive and won the Alan Little Award. This project is completely self-funded and not for sale.
PLEASE REFER TO WORD PIECE WHICH ACCOMPANIES THIS FILM PROJECT.