colour, stereo, dimensions variable
loop duration: 16 min. 10 sec.
Elsewhere begins with a new dawn enveloped in mist. Over lingering panoramic shots of a cityscape, a nuanced ambient soundscape paints an abstract rather than physical reality. As the sun rises and colour gradually seeps in, a traveller gives an account of a place remote in time and space where she has recently arrived. The sense of dislocation is emphasised by the floating screen of this installation, as the viewer hovers god-like above the metropolis. Initially voice and image blend seamlessly; full of admiration the narrator sketches the outlines of a utopian society. But increasingly audio and image pull apart and a rift between the spoken virtues of this (non)place and the polluted urban environment surveyed by the camera becomes apparent.
The shimmering city is Los Angeles, filmed from Fiona Tan’s residency studio at the Getty Institute in 2016-17. Clouds float gently past, distant jetplanes glide across the screen, coming in to land, cars on the highway catch the sun like ripples. As day turns to night on screen, our guide reflects on the static world in which she finds herself, where nothing changes and history has ground to a halt. It is strangely bloodless and alienating in its saccharine wholesomeness. Tan focuses her camera on the evidence of human systems that order society, skyscrapers, flight paths and highways, beautiful only from a distance.
Elsewhere is a meditation on time and memory, human needs and desires. Its language deftly fuses the idioms of canonical texts by Thomas More, Tommaso Campanella and William Morris with the parlance of contemporary marketing. The juxtaposition of sound and image offers a contradiction which is pertinent and perhaps prescient. We may be haunted by the failure of utopian schemes of designed perfection but dreams for a better future still retain their lure.
Filmed on location in Los Angeles
Script, Camera, Editing Fiona Tan
Sound Design Hugo Dijkstal
Voice-over spoken by Laurel Lefkow
Elsewhere - Fiona Tan (voice-over transcript)
Typically you arrive after a long and arduous journey. Alternatively and always unsuspected, you awake one morning to a completely new life. Wherever you have arrived at, its location is remote and difficult to get to. Great distance has been crossed, either geographically or temporally, usually both. Often it is an island; it is always a nation. It is self-contained and self-sufficient. It must always be new, even if it’s an old idea. Without exception these places all achieve the same thing.
Regardless of how the destination has been reached, the light is golden, the weather fair, the air is pleasant, cool and above all clean. You walks the streets in awe and amazement. The mood is an enticing mixture of both vibrant activity and restorative calmness. Daily proceedings are efficient and well-organised. The people you encounter are – without exception – friendly, attractive, well-dressed, and never in a hurry.
In my case, I believe we arrived the Saturday before last. But clocks and calendars run differently here and I have not yet mastered how to tell new time. Since my arrival I have experienced so much, so great is the joy I feel inside, that it feels as if my heart could burst.
The people here are much amused by my reactions and my behaviour, and also by my old-fashioned accent and turn of phrase. Language has changed a great deal, so I struggle to understand all that my new friends tell me. All the same, let me list for you as much as I can. What I have to report may sound incredible, but all is most certainly true.
When I wake in the morning, what strikes me most, is how quiet things are. Birdsong is the first thing I hear. Cars are nowhere to be seen – people walk, run and ride bicycles. When I look at the blue sky I see no white exhaust plumes and I hear no engine roar. Public transport glides swiftly and hovers noiselessly. It is punctual and free for all.
Yesterday it suddenly dawned on me, the realisation that men and women of all kinds are truly equal here. And when it comes to skin, people here are colourblind. There is no need for exile, we all come from elsewhere. They tell me that peace is a simple and wholesome reality; for generations, there has been no war. Conflicts are dealt with before they can escalate. I need to study this in more detail, but I have every reason to accept this as true.
The population need only to work a few hours each day. In fact the concept of work hardly exists any more, for it is in any case voluntary. Technology is unobtrusive, serving its user rather than enslaving her, and it has been explained to me that electricity is no longer required. My friends here work and play with highly advanced and finely tuned devices of intuitive and elegant design. They remind me of musical instruments, made for and by the human body.
Grapes, nuts, apples, pineapples, mangos, avocados – all are fresh, juicy and locally grown. Without doubt, the dishes I have been served are the most delicious I have ever tasted. Everywhere I go, the people I meet I find in good spirits and possessing a good sense of humour. As all possession is shared, there is no more robbery, no need for greed. There are no locks on any doors. Money too is a thing of the past.
There is unbridled individual freedom, but there is also a heartwarming sense of community. True freedom is found here: freedom from injustice, from wrong-doings, from inequality. Freedom from fear and anxiety for the future. Freedom from racism, discrimination, from ruling classes.
Poverty, violence, injustice, all these and more are known only as vague ghosts of the past. Famine, hunger, epidemics are merely myths from days long gone. Disease still exists, as does pain and ill health, but certainly not to the degree that used to be suffered. Overpopulation is non-existent. Slavery and exploitation likewise. The basic needs of each are all ensured.
Finally humans have found a way to live interdependently with nature. When the balance is upset, it is soon restored. Nature and mankind are no longer in opposition. Cities are limited in size and have been relocated suitably. The countryside is wild and untamed and is left that way.
Perhaps the weather and the light are the one thing which haven’t changed. Perhaps this is indeed the true City of the Sun adorned with gently winding boulevards, breathtaking vistas, the occasional ivory castle and pale pink palace.
Great advances were made, and now, in this glorious present, not much needs to change. This is an era of stability and change is no longer required nor is it desirable. Although it is hard for me to comprehend I believe the very concept of time has changed as well: Soon can mean later and later often means now. My days here fade into one another.
Late last night I sat with a small group of people sitting comfortably around a fire. They began to speak softly of a nostalgia for future ruins. They expressed a longing for shadows, for dirt and grime, or a certain messiness – for chaos even. They dream of a serendipitous kind of imperfection, for beauty which cannot be thought out in advance, which cannot be designed but can happen only by chance.
But before long they returned the talk to the current times and to their contemporary lives. History? – maybe it’s stopped, for what is there left to measure and evaluate? Maybe this insular slippage is also a blissful kind of forgetfulness. They say here, in order to remember something, that it must first become forgotten.