A road, at night, we have seen this image countless times before, the reflective white paint of the markings float in a blackness so thick you cannot get your bearings. It submerges you this black; this is not the vaulting sky of a star spangled night, here the atmosphere weighs on you like thirty feet of water above your head as you descend to the bottom of a seabed in pitch black. The dashed markings give a hint of rhythm, like the clack of a train along rails.
A back room, banks of slot machines, the chaos of their shrill flashing suspended in photographic stasis, again the sensation of a slightly thickened atmosphere, heavier than air, thick with psychic debris. A billboard on the side of a road, a field of electric lights sparkles violet and yellow in the distance. The only people in these scenes are images within images; a man’s face on a television screen, a woman on a billboard. Other than that all we see is the evidence of humans, the environment we have built around ourselves with centuries upon centuries of additions and amendments. Resulting occasionally in architectural glitches in unused corners of the city, left over spaces, and imperfect joinings. If you look at these places without considering their function, this landscape that plays by Euclid’s rules, against nature, becomes so utterly strange as if to be almost alien. From another world; like the images in La Jetée: so totally futuristic, but showing nothing that does not already exist. Airplanes at an airport resting like giant aluminium combustion powered whales, we have created these airborne leviathans and we travel in them. Travelling to these sights without moving, like the effortlessness of being carried along by train and out the window coming upon the rubbish dumps, factory yards and overlooked ravines of the city.
Synthesiser music plays as I scroll through these pictures on my computer. Pressing the up arrow key to advance, the echoey electronic music infuses these images with a kind of cinematic reality. The scene in Stalker comes to mind where the three men silently ride their rail car into the Zone to the accompaniment of Edward Artemiev’s drifty electronics, giving in to the soporific clack of the rails. Tarkovsky’s criterion applies here: to lengthen a shot beyond the point of boredom in order reveal a new quality, an intensity of attention. Or David Lynch settling our gaze for so long on something innocuous, slowly infusing it with something uncanny that it doesn’t ordinarily contain.
What is it about these places shot through with meanings that don’t reveal themselves? A palimpsest of stains and markings on a pavement or scratched into a wall. And what does the long slow gaze reveal? Maggie Cheung under a street lamp, waiting out the rain at night, back against an ancient looking wall, the air thick with humidity. Her unwavering directionless stare concealing thoughts of deepest personal significance. Looking awfully wistful Maggie. Doesn’t matter, she’s not sharing. This corner of back alley that doesn’t seem like Hong Kong, the orange glow from the lamp, these have nothing to do with how she feels at the moment, but they’ll come flooding back to her when she revisits this place in a few months or a few years’ time.
The longer we stare at these images and wonder about their significance we start to wish they would reveal their stories, they might, slowly, if we keep coming back, but for now we just wonder why was this wanderer here, why did she record these visions? It was with music in her head, and the the orange glow of incandescent lights on concrete, the luminescent pink of of a low hanging inner-city sky slowly thickening with emotional resonances, like moths to a flame. The music lifts this experience of reality into a different emotional register, and the cinema in your head projects its images out into these leftover spaces. Spaces that in the absence of people seem alive because you know just how ordinary this place can be but its yours for this moment, and the trip here may as well have been a pilgrimage.
Innercity Pilgrim is a film by the artist Marianne Walker. She lives in London.