Andrew Kötting: Who You Walk With Alters What You See
Towner Art Gallery until 31 December
If you have an interest in film that falls into the British psychogeographical genre you are likely to have come across Andrew Kötting, a local to St Leonards on Sea for over 15 years and an award winning film maker. The exhibition currently showing at The Towner includes three films which fall comfortably into a surrealist ‘exploring through walking’ category, much aligned with Patrick Keiller or Iain Sinclair’s work, the latter a collaborator here.
While the films have been shown outside of a gallery context, the exhibition assembles a broad range of ephemera related to each film, such as Anonymous Bosch’s stunning pinhole camera photograhs and daughter and fellow artist, Eden Kötting’s moving drawings and paintings.
‘Explor[ing] the outer reaches of the M25’, Edith Walks, is centred around Edith Swan Neck, King Harold’s first ‘handfast’ wife who, according to folklore, identified his body in the battlefield. A costumed group of four walking at a sort of military gait to a snare drum contrasted with the soporific singing of Edith’s ghost and the playing of bicycle wheel spokes with violin bows. By Ourselves follows poet John Clare’s footsteps through an exhausting walk along motorways, through fields and into suburbia by Sinclair, Kötting (as the Straw Bear), Eden (as Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz) and Toby Jones (as the ghost of Clare). In the end Clare becomes “foot foundered and broken down”. Swandown tracks a 150 mile journey along waterways from Hastings to Hackney in a Swan pedalo (from Hastings boating lake), during which Kötting discusses various topics with guest pedallers such as Sinclair, comedian Stewart Lee and graphic novelist Alan Moore, through quintessential English landscapes and an almost physically present history where the birds in the trees are “the entities of people who once lived in this place.”
On first viewing there seems to be an almost exclusive white male voice throughout much of the film-based work. While Edith Walks revolves around the (almost silent) figure of Edith Swan Neck acting out an imagined devotion as unrecognised wife to a King while surrounded by men talking about her dead husband, the film still feels devoid of a female point of view (surely there is more to Edith than being a wife and mother). To feature Clare as a subject, whose misogyny is discussed in the film, and his journey in search of his long ‘lost love’ (does she want to be found?) or references to the drownings of Ophelia and Virginia Woolf in Swandown feels like a silence that can’t be ignored. Unless that is the point.
Having said that, I admire Kötting’s work. It is difficult not to feel a connection to the personal vulnerability and feeling of endurance, demonstrated in the act of (long) walking, for example, and the folkloric treatment of universalities like death and pain, though dealt with with quirky idiosyncratic humour. I was reluctant to return to real life and leave the dimmed gallery with the sonic aesthetic of multiple soundtracks amongst the ephemera or ‘evidence’ of the film-making process. Of course I have said so little about Eden’s work (is this irony?) which I find truly engaging with a depth of emotional communication that I find hard to explain. You will have to go see it all for yourself. Highly recommended.
Andrew Kötting: Who You Walk With Alters What You See, Towner Art Gallery Eastbourne until 31 December, Tues – Sun 10am – 5pm, free entry