A LETTER TO AN UNKNOWN PERSON NO. 5 1996
Rachel Lowe (1968 – )
- VIDEO, 1 MINUTE 40 SECOND SUPER 8 FILM ON VHS LOOP
- Accession number
Mp>The sequence runs again and again: from the backseat of a moving car the camera views a hand scribbling on the inside of the window with a black marker pen. The lines are long, looped, scrawled – a kind of artless graffiti (or vent for childish cravings on long journeys). If this is a letter to an unknown person it’s an indecipherable script, with illegible characters quickly running into a knotty mesh. Still, the mesh contains questions: how far do you impose your story on your surroundings? At what speed are you travelling?
Lowe is intent on capturing the experience of time and has set herself the impossible task of drawing the landscape directly onto the transparent glass as she sees it in passing. Of course the moving scene and her lines can’t possibly match up. Speaking about the work soon after she made it, she said, ‘It’s about our desire to capture a moment in time and the fact that you never actually can – it’s just i
Through the window, the background passes by every five minutes or so, evoking the basic technique used in old-fashioned animation – a circuit of images being repeated on a loop. The landscape is flat, with yellowish arable fields and splodges of green tree and the sky is blue. Against the colours of high summer, there are brick houses, red roofs and a concrete flyover flying into the distance; cars and trucks overtake our vehicle; the flash of a red Royal Mail lorry puts a stamp on this as England. This film is a love letter to passing time, to the meaning of place, but its title also echoes ‘the grave of an unknown soldier’ – that insignia of national identity in the entrance to Westminster Abbey. The anonymous memorial stands for many, and demands stillness.
The hand in A Letter is the hand of the artist, although the rest of Rachel Lowe remains off-screen: the focus is on the film itself rather than the performance. As a study in motion (after each loop the film starts again with a clean window screen), it recalls Muybridge’s studies in stop-motion towards the end of the 19th century, capturing movement through photography. In 1998 Lowe was taking a wary view of late 20th century technology – and its habit of increasingly making decisions for you. Lowe preferred to be in touch with the changes she imposes as a physical process. Instead of filming on a video camcorder, A Letter was made as a Super 8 film loop and only after its first exhibition, at the Photographers Gallery in London, did Lowe have the film transferred to video. The production of Super 8 film cameras was halted by video cameras in the early 1980s, but for Lowe it was imperative to shoot on film, which she could handle with her own hands; the uneven quality, its jumpiness and irregularity, and the way it is exhibited as a loop on a projector, gets somehow closer to the capricious way that our eyes process movement.
A Letter upholds drawing, as an exercise at the core of visual practice (Lowe would draw the view from her studio on the actual window that she was looking though). The idea of tracing turns up elsewhere in her work: in A Rough Outline of the Plot for example she films a television set playing an excerpt from a film, except she has also drawn in marker pen over the screen. The original film has been reduced, through visual Chinese whispers, to a rough outline. This is a film of a film, and Lowe enjoys the repetition and the loopiness of the concept. As the title suggests, A Letter to an Unknown Person No.5 is the fifth attempt; Lowe has repeated this journey a number of times to get a final cut.
( ) Interview with Rachel Lowe, Brixton, 10 December 1998. (a href=”http://www.safebet.org.uk/intervws/rachel.htm”>http://www.safebet.org.uk/intervws/rachel.htm</>