web analytics

How Can I Stop Watching A Video That Never Ends? / The Karlín Studios, Prague

How do you stop watching a video that never ends? In other words, Jan Martinec’s seven minute video seems to be asking, how do you break the circuit, the endless, convoluted, informational loop that the world has become?

One of the three voices we hear as the film, beautifully shot in China, Martinec’s currently adopted country, admits to being ‘broken’. He sounds like either an ex-soldier or someone who’s been in a war zone. “I close my eyes and see bombs falling” he says as the camera glides over a contrastingly placid mountainous landscape, “faces falling between my screens.”  In dry, weary tones, he tells us how isolated he feels, a fragment adrift – “just a touch and I spin”. A fragment which hasn’t escaped the world but remains trapped within it. The world Martinec’s film encapsulates is the slick and glossy world of the tourist promotional video, of the glib National Geographic documentary. “ I am slick and glossy” this lost character adds, but as though these are symptoms of some lethal infection.

In a suitably smooth and glossy shift, we next hear the voice of an Americanized Chinese woman who tells us of some nebulous epiphany. “Since I changed my attitude I’m surrounded by positive people” she says, and goes on, slickly unexcited, detailing verses from the standard Positive Thinker’s Bible. The ‘key to happiness’ is avoiding anything ‘negative.’ Criticism is equated with negativity and has to be completely avoided. While she’s expounding these bloodless nuggets of pseudo-philosophy we’re flying over what look like large, newly built, or recently abandoned, detached houses with swimming pools on their roofs. The dry white concrete of the pools seems never to have felt the touch of water or the houses lived in.

The third and final voice we hear escorting us over a Chinese urban and rural landscape, which seems to be either in the process of being reclaimed by nature or brutally snatched away from it, is that of a stereotypically progressive CEO. The CEO is concerned with how people deal with disputes and disagreements. Formulating the perfect ‘social dispute mechanism’ will allow him and his ‘dis-organization’ to build a world ‘meta-community.’ This glorified hipster drivel is taken from Rick Falvinge’s (CEO of Bitcoin Cash) ‘Letter From The CEO,’ extracts from which are printed on a handout  available in the exhibition space. It’s standard Capitalism With A Smiley Face, though there is a certain boldness to some of the pronouncements, particularly “liberty is a side effect of profit,” and the fact that Martinec has printed the extracts indicates that this kind of thinking is his main target. He certainly delineates the gruesomeness of this simple-minded Brave New World with seductive visual energy.  We glide up the smooth, close fitting geometrical transparency of a super-skyscraper, while the CEO, joined in a duet with the Ultra Positive Lady, dispenses further snippets of Utopia. We never reach the top of this Tower of Babel-like structure, a Tower of Babel dominated by one arid idea, and the final image of the video, that of a dead pig being washed back and forth by the tide in a slightly comic semblance of life, reinforces the bleak sense that there’s no breaking away from the all-seeing, all-embracing, ambitiously omnipotent grip of today’s internet-packaged data-saturated world.

Though there is room for different interpretations in Martinec’s short but allusively rich film. The camera rises higher above the dead pig until more of the beach, where three people are strolling, comes into view. For a moment they seem to mimic the movement of the tide-tossed pig before walking on,  and there’s a hint that these people are part of the next wave, the next step in our social evolution.

Bleak or residually hopeful the film has a certain degree of hypnotic potency and the whole event is alluringly arranged courtesy of curator Caroline Krzyszton, including a very large comfy sofa facing the screen in a suitably shaded room leading into the studio‘s larger exhibition space. While the studio itself is contained within the  atmospheric echoing space of the dilapidated Nineteenth century Karlín army barracks, the walk through which engenders a pensive and receptive mood.      

How Can I Stop Watching A Video That Never Ends?
Jan Martinec
The Karlín Studios
Prvního pluku 2
Prague 8

Images courtesy of the artist and the gallery