Online exhibition of an event held at MayDay Rooms, 31.10.22
Arrows navigate to still images
Blood Disorder QEII is an essay film with a supernatural blood mutation theme, about the British Monarchy. The work was made partially as a response to the Platinum Jubilee, and sets out to address the racism, patriarchy, and militarism that we feel are implied by the persistence of royal symbolism. Parts of an interview, conducted on BBC Radio 5Live, of an anti-jubilee party attendee recur throughout. Some of the visual and audio footage is our own, while much else is clearly sampled. The film carries an intent to redirect elements of the royal’s mythology away from positions of support.
‘All the World Needs a Jolt’ is an 18-minute film about a witch who’s a pizza delivery driver, casting
spells against the cost of living crisis. Our title came from the book Caliban and the Witch by Silvia Federici, which was a key
text for us. The book explores the connection between early capitalist witch trials and the need to
institute patriarchal rule through violence. In the film, we used newly made woodcut-images during the witch’s spells, to interweave the sense of a history of feminist political struggle.
The modern-day witch’s magic drew from the collective struggles of 16th century witchcraft.
The witch is an isolated character, which made it difficult to express the wider scale and damage of the cost of living / cost of greed crisis. The main scene where we attempted to do this was in a fantasy sequence after she drinks a botched potion. She imagines she is a queen, but her dreamed power-trip is disrupted by the sound of a 2022 protest outside Scottish Power.
The witch perceives herself to be a lone fighter against the evils of the capitalist system, there’s no way she can win. The original idea for the film’s ending was a tragedy - the tragedy of a revolution who’s time has not yet come. However, given this bleak perspective is always accessible to us, we decided to try to end with the potential for renewed collective struggle. We did this through the witch’s coworker arriving and casting a vision spell to reveal a coven, or network of witches, giving a message of solidarity. To achieve this scene, we solicited videos from women and people of queer gender identities, saying ‘our roots run deep’ in a language other than English. We ended up with Albanian, Irish and Assamese.
Pil and Galia Kollectiv, United Dead Labour, 2022, 22mins
Cut-Through Collective: You've put together this play, United Dead Labour, with Frank Wasser. It's about decomposing corpses who begin labour organising in their graveyard. What got you thinking along this slightly morbid path?
Pil and Galia Kollectiv The pandemic certainly contributed to our somewhat morbid perspective, given so many were dying around us (and of course once a goth always a goth). But we were mainly thinking about organising the dead because of our growing involvement in UCU, the university lecturers' union. We had become at once more interested in unions and quite disillusioned with the reality of their operation in the UK today and at our workplaces specifically. One issue that became especially concerning to us was the decimation of our pensions. At the University of Reading, the union agreed a pay and hire freeze deal with management that meant we could only fight for pensions, not pay or casualisation. At the same time, we became aware that we were losing £350,000 in deferred pay due to the changes to the USS pension scheme valuation, yet another accountancy trick used to defraud us of our wages. It increasingly feels like we will never get to retire at this rate, and so we started thinking about work beyond the span of our lifetime as a kind of morbid joke. We've always been interested in taking jokes to their logical conclusion, though, and thinking about this more seriously made us realise that value production stops at nothing, because the potential for extraction is infinite. When the globe was fully captured by capitalism in its imperial stage, the economy turned from spatial expansion to temporal expansion, also known as debt. Once the future is fully colonised, extracting value from our human remains stops sounding outlandish. In fact, during the lockdown period, we found that students were being taught by dead lecturers, whose prerecorded lectures were owned in perpetuity by universities. Both our digital footprint and our corporeal leftovers are ripe for exploitation within a system that can only continue its death spiral obsession with growth through the valorisation of labour.
C-T: The piece confers a kind of dignity upon your subject matter that feels tied in to a critique you're making, possibly about profanity and redemption?
P+G: We certainly wouldn't use religious terms like profanity and redemption, but we are very interested in going beyond irony and not just pointing out that things are bad. We don't want to be cynical about unions, but we did want to use the project as a way of probing their complicity. We had watched the film The "Leeds - United!" and the series "A Very British Coup" and "Bill Brandt", which all made us think about the cooptation of legitimate resistance and the possibility of exceeding its boundaries in the UK context. At the same time, we hope to make space for a more idealistic view of organising that isn't just a bureaucratic function of the system. Once we recognise that we are all 'early career rotters', maybe there is scope for organising on the international level required for overthrowing the system that necrotises us on a daily basis, replacing a dead union with a union of the dead. In future extensions of the project, we hope to also touch on the tension between some variants of green politics and some versions of marxism in relation to the anthropomorphisation of the environment and the question of growth/degrowth.
C-T: Organising can be quite an intensive labour process, whether that's of living or apparently dead things. How did you find the time to make this work?
P+G: We don't think anyone has ever asked us about the time involved in making things happen, and we think it's a super relevant question! Supposedly, our work allows for 'research time', but between unmanageable workloads and childcare it is hard to find the time to do anything more than maintenance. Moreover, the project started over lockdown with the realisation that live art was not going to be possible, so we knew we couldn't make a large ensemble piece at this stage. We had started to think about making short vignettes and collecting them together for shows a few years earlier, when we had a child and too much university work to be able to make work that involved longer production periods. This developed into an idea of making a 'distributed theatre', a flexible form that could involve short films, scenes from live theatre, bits of animation and so on, to be viewed separately or assembled as necessary. For United Dead Labour, we wrote the script and made the props and costumes in the evenings, after our child was in bed. The idea was that one performer might imply more in the context of talking about organising, as we have always been more interested in collective bodies than individual stories. We had a few run throughs with Frank, but mainly we trusted him to learn and interpret the lines. We tend not to work with professional actors, but we had seen his own performance work and really imagined the script in his voice, so we were grateful he was willing to perform for us. The other performers were recruited more incidentally on the spot.
C-T: Can you say how you chose to include music?
P+G: We nearly always work with music, as that is the medium we find the most exciting. Growing up in Jerusalem, far from any kind of contemporary art scene, music (and film) was our entry point into cultural production. We were music journalists before we were artists, and we were interested in art school precisely as the ground zero for a particular idea of music as a conceptual, subcultural practice. It took us a long time to summon the courage to actually make music, but we were using soundtracks and collaborating with musicians from a very early stage in our art practice. With this project, we had hoped to make songs about unions and death as part of it, but in the end Frank volunteered to learn Woody Guthrie's "Union Burial Ground" and we decided it was perfect as it was, without further intervention. We had watched the Joe Hill biopic and been inspire by his use of music in this context too. Music has a long history in union organising and resistance more generally, and we think there is something about the way it gathers people together and distills ideas into simple forms that is very useful. The way music intertwines words with sounds and performance allows for complex constructions of meaning that can at the same time be accessible and applicable in multiple contexts.
C-T: The play carries off allusions to the politicisation of death with a nod and a wink. Every year on April 28th is Workers Memorial Day, whose slogan is 'Remember the dead. Fight for the living.' What do you imagine the union of corpses doing to commemorate this?
P+G: We did not know about Workers Memorial Day, but that's a useful reference - thanks! We would hope that the dead would go on strike and stop rotting for a day in remembrance of the living.
Infernal Histories of Communism, Many Unhappy Returns, a talk by Esther Leslie, covering the Paris Commune, Soviet monuments, Situationist art-texts, and encounters with Lenin.
Dolly Rae Star reading Leaf Litter
Dolly Rae Star’s poetry addresses the invisible, whether that’s the invisible dimension inside us or the phenomena outside us that are hidden by reality, i.e. by normative reality which is its own ideology. The ghost dimension is part of both: her work contributes to a political perception of Halloween, the event date of Spectres Haunting, as a festival of modes of being that are suppressed in daily life and have the potential to change the way we live.
"This world that doesn't seem made for us
It's our world."
Rob Kiely reading Bridge Poem
Rob Kiely has studied and written about satire as a demolition of what shouldn’t exist, including the satirist themself—since the best satire is written from a place of disgust, a disgust that’s the result of oppressive power that needs to be destroyed. His poems work themselves into the nasty dreams of corporate desire, against which Halloween can call up the dead as a counter-power, a vision of the future incompatible with Elon Musk’s.
"You build a bridge and then you burn it
You build a bridge and then you bury the workers who built that bridge and the foundations of the next bridge
And you burn the last bridge and don't talk about that one anymore
No one does."
Workers' Inferno pamphlet, a 48 page pamphlet with short
essays, poetry, and visual art. Featuring work from all the artists in this digital exhibition plus more from the collective and further afield.
Available on request from our website