The Mark Boulos film currently showing at Lisson Gallery is one of the most thought-provoking projects I have seen in a while. Titled No Permanent Address (2010), this three screen installation features a film Mark made during the eight weeks he spent in the Philippine jungle with two guerilla squads of the NPA – New People’s Army. Mark takes what was probably a very dangerous and potentially life threatening situation, and gets under the skin of the militants, getting them to talk about their lives before they joined the group, the philosophy they steer their cadre by, and even catches them interviewing new recruits.
When one little boy, I think he was between 13-15 years old, claims he wants to join the NPA because he wants to escape his authoritarian father, a senior militant very logically explains to him that the NPA is no escape from discipline. And he would have to be obedient and fall into line at the camp as well. The militant also goes on to say that they could arrange for a meeting between the boy and his father so they can sort things out. After that if the boy wants to go back to living with his family he could. But if he still wanted to join the NPA, then he could serve the cause better once his personal problems have been resolved. As logical as that.
But hold on! This isn’t quite logical. These are terrorists.
This is how they get you on their side!
More than the film and the characters he focuses on, I found the editing and presentation of Mark’s film remarkable. Mark only had one camera with him, and the three screens show the same film but different edits. So at times all three screens show different frames of the same scene, while at others they show the same image. And the transition is seamless, answering all questions one would have about what makes this documentary film an artwork. Art is not so much about the topic but about the presentation, and the ability to slow time down while highlighting one particular aspect of the everyday. And Mark’s film does this, in a way that no other BBC or National Geographic documentary would have been able to, or would aspire to do.
Here is an excerpt from the film. Apologies for the motion sickness that might occur from watching three screens in one.
Another earlier work of Mark’s that is just as impactful is All that Is Solid Melts into Air (2008). Comprising two large scale videos, this work shows two very different communities both locked in a struggle to control oil – Traders in the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, and members of the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta that violently oppose the damage being caused by the oil companies to the people and the environment in the Niger Delta.
Here’s Mark talking about the work, followed by the work itself.
Mark Boulos – No Permanent Address is on view at Lisson Gallery till the end of this week.