Brighton Festival 2021
Three years ago everyone’s favourite Lancastrian actress, Jane Horrocks, decided it was time to do something about that pile of dusty VHS cassettes. Knowing they held footage of her childhood, and that of her daughter Molly, and having admired the work of video artist Francesca Levi, she commissioned a piece of work about memory. The result is an installation that plays with surfaces, textures and sound in a captivating yet perplexing experience.
I’m alone in a milky-white, egg-shaped pod, trying to stabilise my body on a curved surface. There’s a smell of paint, a screen above me and one to the left, small speakers all around.
A blue sky scudded with clouds appears and then comes that familiar, broad voweled voice. Three generations of women are represented here, linked by readings from what I take to be Jane’s diary. There’s an echo on the voice which, with the layering of images over cine-footage, creates an other-worldly atmosphere that ebbs and drifts. The tone at first seems benign, but Molly Vivian’s sound montage has moments of harsh electronica and a pulse you can feel in your torso.
The shift of time is suggested through film of generic signifiers like seagulls flying forwards, then backwards, leaves falling and circling, flowers opening, birds feeding their young. These images, and some scratchy ‘interference’ graphics, overlay and half obscure the home-movies which becomes frustrating. When the memories do land they are wonderful; Molly trying to blow out her birthday cake candles is a beautiful moment, funny and heartbreaking.
Jane extended the piece to include footage, words and music about her mother, Barbara, who has Alzheimer’s. We see her in a 1960s bikini dangling a little Jane in the sea, and later on a sofa trying to make sense of the world around her, hands methodically rubbing her knees. Now the sentences from the diary begin with “Mum.” They are touching and not without humour as Barbara’s reality alters “She said she was in the garden and saw an old man sat on the wall, masturbating.”
Towards the end film brings the three together but no scene is ever perfectly clear, as if the memories are obscured by the passing of time or altered in the act of remembering.
If Yolk and Aliens tries a bit too hard to be arty in its avoidance of a prosaic narrative, it does so with heart. The lasting takeaway from the piece is the clip that is shown most purely; Jane’s bewildered, deep love as a new born girl is placed into her arms, and the arms of another woman, perhaps Barbara, splash water around her.
Camilla Clarke’s fittingly egg-like interior design is a bit problematic, and not particularly accessible. A ‘bubble’ of four (the maximum allowed) would find two people watching the ceiling video backwards. I was very ready to break out of my shell into daylight after 35 minutes to peer at the “memory museum” in the shop window. Beetle Drive, a bird’s nest, a cookery book I hope was Barbara’s and other domestic memorabilia connected the trio to each other, adding a further resonance to Yolk and Aliens, which, by the way, is a cracking title.