Love letters – The Cloud Collector

To continue an intermittent series of blog posts about artworks I love, I want to talk about The Cloud Collector by Lisa Stansbie. It occurred to me that my first two posts are both about artworks that are very verbal. The Black Tower and Let Me Take You There both have spoken monologue soundtracks that are core to their structure and how they convey meaning. Yet both films depend on a visual image or motif as a central element (a photo of a field in Rooney’s work, the recurrent black tower in Smith’s). To diverge briefly, this also makes me recall another film – Rules of the Road, by Su Friedrich – which tells a story of a relationship break up by way of recurrent sightings of of a brown oldsmobile car. I loved this work too, but alas have only seen it once in the distant past and so I probably can’t write about it in a coherent way.

For now, I want to talk about Stansbie’s work. ‘The Cloud Collector’ is similar to the above in its use of a simple visual image track, combined with a monologue voice over. But the weighting between word and image is shifted slightly. The soundtrack is structured around titles for the top 10 best selling novels of the 1950s. Elusive titles, such as ‘The Adventurer’ and ‘Across the river and into the trees,’ have been used as the basis to write a short narrative about a character called ‘The Cardinal.’ At first it seems that the images – a series aeroplane jet streams in a blue sky – act primarily as a holding mechanism, keeping the viewer’s attention as they listen to the winding narrative. But as I listen I realise that these photos have an impact on how I make sense of the story.

I love the work firstly because of its nice turns of phrase. The ‘poetry’ of the book titles seeps into the manner of the narratives telling. For example the video begins: ‘Delivering the news to those who still required it in paper form, he rode his rusted BMX along Joy Street each morning.’ I found myself enamoured by the language, the tone of the voice on the soundtrack and its pacing. I had to watch the video through a few times to work out what the Cardinal’s story actually is. The Cardinal, we are told, is a collector. He looks up at the sky and he has a camera. The soundtrack, the work’s title and the images collude to suggest a tale of a man who photographs jet streams. The project begins with a list of titles and a challenge for the artist to build these into a story. It ends with a densely packed video piece where word and image playfully combine.

I don’t know why Stansbie chose to use 50s novel titles in the production of this piece. The video is one of a series of pieces in which she used lists of words as the basis for writing stories. Other instances have included the names of racehorses and Airfix aeroplane kit names. My interpretation would be that it’s perhaps something to do with the nature of information in our contemporary internet-drenched world (and as I type this I am dimly recalling another work exhibited alongside the Cloud Collector that I think was to do with the associative nature of hyperlinks). Certainly there’s something appealing to me about an artwork that takes a series of words and uses it to generate something new. It produces one story out of a series of endless possible stories and then shapes this into something quite formally tight, neat and satisfying.

Lists, collections and artworks are all ways to delimit and to organise the mass of stuff that we encounter in the world.