Pil and Galia Kollectiv: Terminal
In 2005, the bearded Slovenian provocateur and Marxist media celebrity, Slavoj Zizek, considered the glut of big budget Hollywood blockbusters like Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow and The Matrix. Each of these gave its own spin to a vision of apocalypse, and he noted that for most people now living “it seems easier to imagine the end of all life on earth than a modest radical change in global capitalism.” Such films, Zizek suggested, served a political function, promoting the idea that the end of our current way of life would also mean the end of civilisation.
The centrepiece of Terminal Equilibrium, Pil & Galia Kollectiv’s new exhibition at Trade Gallery, riffs on Zizek’s comment but imagines a very different outcome to the apparent disaster of capitalism’s ending. Terminal: A Miracle Play with Popular Music from the End of the World (2013) is a film that does pretty much what its title says. It presents a post-apocalyptic folk-play created by a fictional new society that is already taking shape among the ruins of the old, its members creating a new culture of folk plays and music from fragmented memories of the past.
Filmed in and around the surviving on-site remains of expatriate Dadaist Kurt Schwitters’ Merzbarn, built at Elterwater, Cumbria, in 1947 after he was forced to flee Nazi Germany, Terminal has an almost medieval look, all stone walls, straw and fields. The musicians play a strange mix of modern, archaic and invented instruments and the ‘miracle play’ performers don costumes that mash up Shakespearean courtiers with 50s B-movie scientists, hippy communes with monastic sects.
Terminal is both very watchable and full of ideas. It cuts between on-screen texts, music segments and extracts from a drama in which the members of the new society re-tell the story of the ending of the old world as if struggling to remember their lines. The songs seem improvised, half-familiar but difficult to pin down precisely, while the play offers us scenes in which various proposals to survive the apocalypse are suggested.
A Shakespearean Duke wants to withdraw to a ‘concrete mountain’ with his courtiers and abandon his subjects to the pestilence; a scientist runs a computer programme to draw up an inhuman but ‘rational’ plan that largely amounts to a few hundred humans becoming servants to the computer itself; and a border guard tells the Duke that space as it has always been understood is collapsing and the borders she’s ordered to guard have all ceased to exist.
Between scenes, a ragged group of musicians play oddly haunting songs inside the Schwitters barn, much as medieval peasants might have done centuries before. The borders that collapse here are as much those between past, present and future as those of the social hierarchies seen in the miracle play and the geographical borders on which those hierarchies once rested.
If Terminal is the centrepiece, the two additional rooms at Trade elaborate on its ideas and concerns. In one room, a museum is constructed full of objects that relate to the characters and events of the film: a puppet theatre inhabited by the scientists, serfs and Dukes of the play; cases of medals and coins; a painted pub-sign showing The Duke’s Ghost and Victorian family photographs where the parents’ faces are turned into those of a computer, as though retrieved from a concrete bunker where a new generation might have grown up serving its electronic leader.
In the final room, another film, Equilibrium (2013), installs two screens at right angles to one-another, each showing the façade of flashing lights and spinning tape-reels of a 1960s style computer. Two machines discuss a way of proceeding through a standard business problem, widely used as an exercise on MBA courses. Beginning in competition, the machines always return to a stalemate, their dialogue working out an equation where the rules of Game Theory (a 1950s notion of rational competition used to justify much economic and social thinking) prove themselves inadequate to any real situation.
Alongside the exhibition itself, Pil & Galia Kollectiv have also programmed a series of live events during the show’s run, starting on Thursday 29 August with a rare chance to catch a live gig by Charlie Megira and Gold Bars, and continuing with a live performance of the Miracle Play seen in Terminal (September 28) and a night of screenings of other film works made by Pil & Galia Kollectiv (9 October). All events are free, and can be booked via the Trade Gallery website.
Terminal Equilibrium is at Trade Gallery, 1 Thoresby Street, (Thursday - Saturday, 11am - 6pm) until 24 October.
Trade Gallery: http://www.tradegallery.org/
Pil & Galia Kollectiv: http://www.kollectiv.co.uk/