Currently on show in Southampton City Art Gallery, on the last leg of its tour with the British Art Show, Charlotte Prodger’s Max The English Bull Terrier Trancing (2014) is a sculpturally emphasized Hantarex monitor showing internet-culled footage of the eponymous dog’s curious response to being scratched on the back with foliage. The work is typical of how the Glasgow-based artist foregrounds found strangeness through analogously fetishized modes of presentation.
The 32-minute, single-screen film BRIDGIT (2016) – the sole work in Prodger’s latest show – is, however, more of a piece with last year’s Stoneymollan Trail, an hour of clips compiled from footage and voice-overs recorded over two decades, which form a notebook of sorts. The ‘permanently filming’ tradition of Michel Auder and Jonas Mekas is updated for the ubiquity now routinely achieved via the iPhone. The scenes in BRIDGIT last, at most, four minutes – the phone’s memory limit: the medium is, as usual, fully exposed in Prodger’s message.
What we see is a series of near-static shots selected from a year’s recording of the countryside near Aberdeen – fields, hills, the passage of a ferry, then a train – and internal shots of Prodger’s home, in which her cat seems to exhibit its own trance behaviour in response to a naked light bulb.
What we hear is the sound as recorded by the iPhone – including music inside the flat, birds and machines outside – overlaid with Prodger’s narration. The voice-over mostly consists of personal anecdotes, some of them explicitly flagged as diary entries. The artist talks of her teenage years in Aberdeenshire – taking acid tabs, working as a care assistant, coming out – and of her conversation with the anaesthetist prior to a recent operation, wryly recollecting occasions on which she has been mistaken for a man or for her girlfriend’s mother. One dialogist compounds the offence by assuming that Prodger will feel awkward about her sexuality: ‘Don’t have a problem with that, my son’s gay.’ Cut into this, with no change of tone, is an extract from The Modern Antiquarian (1998) by the hallucinogenically inclined pop star and standing stone obsessive Julian Cope, as well as quotes from Allucquére Rosanne Stone, who wrote presciently in the mid-1990s on technology as prosthesis – which is exactly how Prodger has come to regard the iPhone, so natural a part does it play in her life.
This material follows multiple chronologies: pre-historical, seasonal, transportational, biographical, technological. The anaesthetist, germanely, explains how people may have no idea what time has passed when they come round: ‘Some don’t know they’ve been to sleep, “When’s the operation,” they say, thinking it’s before instead of after.’
In effect, the film is a collage on four levels: the surface calm of the visuals, the atmospheres generated by the ambient sounds, the themes explored by the writers cited and Prodger’s own notations. Though the latter are casual enough to seem unconnected, they speak to an underlying theme: how identity shifts with time. The implication, perhaps, is that we should remain open to change in ourselves and avoid fixing the identities of others. As Cope explains: we can’t know which of many possible names contemporaries used for the Neolithic goddess of the film’s title – Bridgit / Bridget / Brizo / Bree. Likewise, Stone states that names ‘weren’t codified as personal descriptors until the Domesday book. The idea behind taking a name appropriate to one’s current circumstances was that identity wasn’t static’. That’s the very opposite of artists cranking out market-ready iterations in an expected style. As this latest, impressive expansion of her practice indicates, there seems no danger of Prodger being constrained by a fixed identity, however much she may ruminate on how she came to be who she is.
First published in Issue 184