Filmed over the course of two freezing cold nights in a forest outside of Stoke, David Bethell’s enigmatic film, ‘Fleeting Flights’ (2019), follows a man’s attempt to escape his own self-induced purgatory by building a wooden balloon. The piece will make its debut later this month as part of the Staffordshire-based artist’s solo-exhibition at HOME (Manchester), leaving the exact nature of the character’s purgatory or why he is trapped within it a mystery for now. And well may it remain so, given the sense of abstract futility that often characterises Bethell’s work. Open-ended narratives that evade neat explanation are perhaps something that we need more of at the moment.
Occupying an isolated, candle-lit cabin and engaged in acts of physically-demanding manual labour, the film’s protagonist seems out-of-step with our contemporary present, though not obviously belonging to any particular past either. The dream of escape might well resonate with many across the ages, while the folly of his efforts could easily connect with the abundance of senseless productivity that characterises much of life today.
As well as marking the artist’s first venture into film, the exhibition also brings together many of the other carefully-crafted wooden contraptions that have thread throughout Bethell’s practice to date and featured in performances that no one has seen. These performances test each object to its material limit or point of inevitable failure, after which wooden panels begin to crack and splinter; the detritus becoming the basis for new objects – maybe signalling hope and rejuvenation, or equally Kafkaesque repetition.
Each of the artist’s works engage with the history and topology of the place in which they occur, and it will be interesting to see how this dimension of his practice translates into moving image. As the culmination of his most ambitious project to date, Fleeting Flights represents an important point in Bethell’s career and should provide a playfully sibylline experience for visitors.
Curated by Mark Devereux Projects and Bren O’Callaghan.