Jordan Baseman - Dark is the Night - ArtSway - 21 February - 5 April 2009
Sexuality is an important boundary between the self and society.Jordan Baseman is interested in these boundaries, as all three films look at male sexuality and the construction of the self. These film works were made in and around Soho, London, and they test the boundaries of documentary film making at the same time.
Nasty Piece of Stuff, is an interview with a resident of Soho, Alan Wakeman. Wakeman talks about being gay before legalisation. Working late one night at the office, he takes a break and wanders along the King's Road. Here, for the first time in his life, he picks up another gay man. They go back to Wakeman's flat, with disastrous consequences.
The emotional turmoil Wakeman communicates in this narrative is reflected in the camera movements, documenting busy London streets. The film footage, which is abstract in its dynamic quality, is continuous in editing terms with the pattern of Wakeman's speech. This has the effect of building up the drama of the recalled event. The flows of the film carry the viewer along, and echo Wakeman becoming carried away and getting into trouble. It was his first intimate sexual experience, and he obviously still feels distressed when he talks about it.
The second film, Dark is the Night, is the story of Lucy Browne, a transexual prostitute. She describes her life, going from marriage and a nine to five job, to her transformation into a transexual and then into a prostitute. She is able to talk freely about what she does, even objectively. She thinks we are all prostitutes, selling some aspect of ourselves. She negotiates the boundary of her sexuality by describing what she will and won't tolerate, and the types she won't work for, including 'black and Asian men'. She describes being a transexual, and changing her identity from being a husband and father.
This film is completely absent of people. There are shots of empty Soho streets, which appear like a stage or film set; a place of negotiated boundaries. This absence of people, 'characters', puts all the emphasis on what Lucy Browne is saying. It enables a level of confidence, which perhaps wouldn't be possible if she was on camera. This is 'down time', a glimpse behind the scenes. Lucy is in control on this set, and the inherent dangers of her profession are left to the imagination. She talks about altering her body using silicone, and her ambition to return to the drag circuit.
There are shots of cigarette butts on the pavement, a polystyrene cup someone has placed upturned on one of the spikes of a railing, a tissue. People really do live this life, in search of some erotic fantasy. It is all about sex as an 'act', where emotions are separated and coolly assessed.
The final film in this trilogy is The Dandy Doctrine (A Delightful Illusion). This is a portrayal of a contemporary dandy, Sebastian Horsley, an artist and writer who lives in Soho. Horsley talks about dandyism, 'a woman can't be a dandy', as Baseman's camera lens surveys the detail of his living room. The documentary style leaks insights around the edges, like its subject, and Horsley is fascinating to listen to. "Failure is the difference between our expectations and success" he says at one point. He has an endless supply of quotations. He won't have sex with middle class women, 'I will only have sex with tarts or titled ladies' he says. This puts his attitude to sex in a similar, but different, vein to the prostitute. Above his fireplace is an artwork made of skulls.
Baseman is clearly fascinated by the English and their sexuality, but in documenting the dandy one hopes that dandyism will last.
Dark is the Night is co-commissioned by ArtSway and The Photographers' Gallery, London.
Baseman will be exhibiting at The Photographers' Gallery from 24 April - 14 June 2009
Victoria Halford & Steve Beard