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BARBICAN LIFE


individual fate in a land removed from us in time and space, the viewer is invited to compare and consider his own destiny. So across the gulf that separates us from the past and from each other the film binds the whole physical world into a vast panoramic still-life of our fragile mortal predicament.


When the soldier meets water again it is the sea. It blocks his progress, returning him to err across the land. Water was his baptismal passage. As a bridge or a barrier, water is a zone of transition from one state to another.


If


he enters the ocean here, it is to pass into the transcendent. The soldier is not ready. Water marks the metaphysical unknowable surrounding the material world – it is on the land that the soldier's life must play out. It is amongst earthly things that life must be lived and death contemplated. He must walk the land. He carries his gun. He is a wary visitor here. But he uses the sophisticated tool not to fight for the aims of a complex ideological war but for the more primary need to survive on the land – his first positive act is to use his gun to shoot a rabbit. In this reborn life his human tasks are basic and devoted to preserving his life. He hunts. He finds shelter in a ruined farmhouse. He makes fire, cooks, eats, cleans and treats his body, wraps himself in a shroud and sleeps. Only in his dreams does the war return in the form of a fascist soldier who stands over his sleeping body to shoot him at close range. On waking he walks again. Now he passes through fields of poppies, reminders of other battlefields, of all other fallen soldiers. Until now the soldier has been limited to the outer surface of the earth, but lying amongst the tall poppies he is received into the shadowy undergrowth and loamy earth.


Like all men's lives, the soldier's journey is long , circular and made of oft-repeated gestures. After traversing the land he finally meets his true fate and the answers to the questions are revealed to him. He does not speak words, but only acts, action being the only language that affects the land. And this Spanish land bears the imprints of centuries of human acts, traces made light and diffuse with time, merging with the land like the whispering winds flowing over the grasslands in the opening frames of this film. Amongst these myriad scattered traces of time past, the acts and bones of the soldier attest to his being part of the land. The land is not eternal but it survives so much longer than the brief passing of individual men. The earth is a vast archaeological site of human experience, its landscapes the sum of all mankind's close working with and against nature. In this humanized landscape we can sense and imagine the particular and private experiences of individuals. So an orderly grove of olive trees in brilliant sunshine transports us through time to a soldier shot in a forgotten skirmish of a confused and bloody war. That the land resurrects our predecessors for our contemplation and sympathy reminds us that we too are the ancestors of the future and our brief passage fits into the chain of beings that stretch from the imperfectly known past into the unknowable future. It is this humbling reminder of our shared mortality that emerges from contemplating the Still-life.


The still-life is a memento mori – an artefact that reminds us that we will die. Mark Maxwell's film presents a soldier taking gradual leave of his life, walking through the basic acts that make him a man: hunting, eating, finding shelter, the


Promethean art of making fire. This sets him apart from other animals. This walking the land appropriates the foreign soil. Though he must ultimately relinquish the land and all earthly things in death, it has become his land through his having lived, acted, thought and died there. Maxwell expands the micro-instant of death from a fatal bullet to the side of the head into the breadth of a man's entire life. This stretching time permits the man a contemplative period in which he takes leave of life by walking the land and communing with the earth and the countless lives that share, have shared and will share his destiny. Ars longa, Vita brevis, can be translated as life is short and art endures for just a bit longer. Neither is eternal. But expanding and prolonging the trace of individual presences through industry, farming, architecture and art, makes all the earth resonate across centuries with the shared destiny of all things. Rather than a pan- theism, Maxwell's memento-mori describes, and is a part of, a pan- anthropism where man's hand, and so also his fate, is written everywhere in the land. When the limits of the material world are described, God is always suggested. In the film, God is there in a glimpse of Jesus on a cross, the soldier's baptism, his last meal, the white shroud in which he wraps himself to sleep. But God and his transcendence inhabit the periphery, in the unknowable void beyond the life described. The film concerns itself with the destiny of material things. The Still-life is a reminder of the tragic brevity of the individual life. We die alone. But it is also a consolation because this solitude can be broken through the contemplation that all things on earth share our lot.


Mark Maxwell is a resident of Willoughby House and works in various art forms. Residents may have seen his installation in St Giles Cripplegate to celebrate Milton’s 400th Anniversary three and a half years ago (see thumbnail picture as a reminder.)


For more information visit Mark’s website website www.markmaxwell.co.uk or his Wikipedia entry http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ Mark_Maxwell. A trailer for the film, which was made in Andalucia in Spain can be seen at http://www.filmannex.com/movie/naturaleza- muerta-still-life/29238. Perhaps one day it might be shown at the Barbican Arts Centre?


Underwater scene from Naturaleza Muerta - Still- Life.


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