The Acute Disaster

Video, 11.40 minutes, 2012

Script adapted from by the artist from the book Disaster Management for Libraries: Planning and Process by Claire England.

Text by Kitty Anderson for Axisweb MAStars, 2012:

‘The Acute Disaster’ (2012), is a short film comprising extracts of archive material that range from super 8 footage of Trade Union marches, to grainy black and white documentation of civilians running through the streets, ruined buildings and bomb sites, and bodies lying face down on the ground.

The footage of the marches appears to be from the UK and a banner reading ‘Paisley District Trades Council’ identifies the location of one of them. Other banners include references to Chile, indicating the origin of the more disturbing images, and the caption confirms that some of the footage is courtesy of the “Bulletin of the International Trade Union Committee of Solidarity with the Workers and People of Chile, October 1976“.

Scans of a dense publication go by too fast to read anything but the author’s name, but ‘Hayek’ is enough to reference the radical economic policies that contributed to Chile’s troubles in the 1970s, whilst providing a context for the other less traceable images, such as a collection of raw copper rocks that reference Chilean mining industry.

The footage is paired with a voiceover gravely reading extracts from a manual on disaster management, which initially appears to be related to the content of the film, but turns out to be for archives and libraries. However, the seemingly unrelated text provides a strangely appropriate context for the footage that we are presented with. Including phrases such as “emergencies are always imminent…” and “loss is regrettable…” the words occasionally correspond with the content of the film and the references to libricide become increasingly pertinent as the film flicks through images of soldiers burning books in the street, and masked assailants dousing pyres with petrol.

As the voiceover talks of the destruction of history, the viewer is reminded of the vulnerability of the footage we see, and how the period of history we are confronted with could so easily slip from public consciousness if it weren’t for the archives created to preserve them. 

‘The Acute Disaster’ is presented alongside a much shorter film titled ‘Casualties of History, Condemned in Their Own Lives’. This film is also comprised of archive footage from a similar period, but this time the images are more nostalgic, a man strolls through a park, a woman poses to have her picture taken and a young girl feeds the pigeons. The footage is complemented by a radio interview with an elderly man talking about his life and his relationship to these memories. As he suggests certain regrets, the footage starts to disintegrate until the image finally disappears, prompting the viewer to connect the frailty of the memory with the fragility of the film.

The two films are accompanied by a series of lithoprints bearing a repeated image of factory workers. The credit clarifies that the image is from a solidarity meeting in a Moscow factory, and the image is surrounded by the names of various countries as if they might be part of a diagram connecting Moscow with other locations. The repeated image is reversed, degraded and finally removed, echoing the treatment of the footage in the two films. Together, Doran’s work delicately suggests the physical decay of memory and information, whilst recontextualising found material and revealing other narratives.