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Dave Lewis - Field Works - ArtSway - 6 February - 28 March 2010

"An awareness of their difference is central to the ways in which people express their attachment to a locality." [1]

Field Works has been conducted in Sway, the New Forest, Hampshire and Newtown, mid-Wales, by Dave Lewis as photographer and film-maker, who combines these roles with those of the anthropologist and ethnographer looking at cultural identity and locality.

Lewis's work is informed by the problem of how to present a black cultural perspective in both a creative and an ethnographic sense. While it would be misguided to over-emphasise this sense of difference, it seems significant in terms of an accurate reading of the work. Lewis's characterisation of himself as 'the stranger', entering and studying these communities, also conceals his own identity, and makes a key quality out of this concealment. After all, it is primarily a documentation of these villagers, and the features of their lives in their communities. But Lewis wants to explore aspects of his own identity, as artist, as male of black background, as film-maker, as a 'stranger' in the context of these locations.

He is himself therefore part of the subject of the work, he appears in the work, and these interventions in filmic terms are part of the humour and sensibility with which he carries out his portrayal of locations and types. The particular discursive complexities of subject-hood, in terms of a convergence of elements, of cultural particularities which describe how the film-maker is part of the document, together with the subjects of the work. The 'stranger' is in a position of influence, both in terms of his use of the camera, as well as an awareness of an ability to portray, the intersecting lives of the villagers.

And yet this influence is ambiguous. The notion of foregrounding himself, putting himself in front of the camera, both questions and amplifys this projection. He is both object and subject, almost a 'fictional character' who portrays his own identity in generic terms. He is present in the films, unlike the usual hidden "enunciating agency" [2] who explicitly denies "The point of discursive origin [which] is hidden or veiled, it exceeds the spectator, who lacks any access to it. Oudart refers to cinema's unseen "speaker" - to the foreclosed site of production - as the "Absent One"."[3]

It is very thought provoking when you see him appear within the work itself, appearing as the viewer of the landscapes, sometimes standing statuesque and still on a rock near to Newtown, referring in part as this pose does to the white male's past desires to 'own' the land or to colonize it. This happens on one projection while a woman practices Welsh phrases. She tells Lewis that she was English when she moved to Wales, and although the Welsh language helps to give a strength to the Welsh identity, it is simultaneously a barrier to integration; the woman had lived in Wales for over twenty years and still didn't feel fully integrated.

It is in this way, using split screens and multiple projections that Lewis manages to generate discursive formations[4] between residents of these villages and his own cultural identity and role as viewer and conductor of this socio-political-geographic experiment and portrayal.

A DJ 'feels he belongs', as a professional broadcaster, although he sometimes finds the Welsh town names hard to pronounce, and he feels that the sense of identity in terms of Welsh heritage is strong and 'has to be embraced'.

The screen is split, and Lewis looks out of a window; in the act of looking, of possessing the view, his back to the viewer of the film so that he is an active subject made visible, as part of an exploration of how his own identity affects the portrayed. He walks through the town landscape and there is a shot of 'The Black Boy Hotel'.

Lewis though, doesn't objectify, but carefully builds a set of discursive relationships with the ethnographic material he has gathered, enabling him to 'flip' axiomatically the relationship, post-colonially, with the subjects of the work. He talks with a taxi driver who was 'born and bred in Wales', and yet still feels like an outsider in Newtown.

In relation to Sway, Lewis walks across the New Forest landscape, his back to the viewer, naked to the waist, a reference to his cultural heritage and identity, as well as the portrayal of the wandering hero in film, at one with the physicality of the territory. One of his subjects asks him 'Do you feel like a stranger?', and Lewis replies 'I'm glad you asked me that.'

A woman talks about the 'pockets in Sway', the groups of people connected with either the school or with the Church. Apparently, fitting in is very difficult if you're single and have no children. The Vicar of Sway then talks to Lewis about Remembrance Day, and thinking about the world, saying that he 'treads lightly' to avoid feelings of nationalism. But he says that 'the world feels such a different place'. The important thing for the Vicar is the sense of 'loving and being loved' and 'feeling part of a community'.

This video juxtaposes darkness, in one of the blacked out screening rooms in the gallery, when there is 'no projection', with people talking about their experiences and perceptions, which gives the words, which often intersperse the projected images, more weight.

The photographs, displayed in the main gallery of the exhibition, are mostly of carnivals; Sway Carnival and Llani Carnival, as well as the Newtown Charity Run. There is something both ordinary and yet extraordinary about these images, where again, there is a reversal of the history of one cultural identity looking at others, which within the exhibition 'frames' the work and affects how the images are read. This is all done however in a discursive, open ended, even slightly humorous way.

Sarah Thompson 8/2/10

www.artsway.org.uk

Dave Lewis : Field Work is a co-commission by Autograph ABP, ArtSway and Oriel Davies Gallery. Field Work will be exhibited at Oriel Davies Gallery from 17 April - 9 June 2010.

[1]Christopher Wright, ArtSway leaflet accompanying the exhibition, Dave Lewis, Field Works

[2] Kaja Silverman, The Acoustic Mirror, Indiana University Press, p11

[3] ibid

[4] Michel Foucault, The Archaeology of Knowledge, Routledge, p34