13th April 2007 — 27th May 2007
Nashashibi's Bachelor Machines Part 1 is an effectively seductive 30
minute film. It recounts the voyage that takes place by the freighter
ship Gran Bretagna as it makes it way from Italy to Sweden via
Portugal, Ireland and England. Although it is a specific journey being
undertaken by the crew to transport the cargo, all sense of time and
distance quickly gets lost. So, what is the purpose of this voyage? -
There are no clues as to whether they are transporting goods between
Italy and Scandinavia or going to pick something up. As a background
sound to writing this review I've been listening to Nurse With Wound's
Salt Marie Celeste - an hour long piece that barely alternates from a
synthesized wave-like sound - there is something similar in the film in
that the Gran Bretagna also becomes a ghost ship drifting around the
Med, but the crew on board this boat are very visible ghosts.
The film of this voyage is segmented into 25 short scenes beginning, obviously enough, with a Prologue depicting the boarding of the boat. I imagine that, aside from the inherent theme of the journey/voyage, the number of the scenes is a reference, in part, to the influence of Pynchon's Mason & Dixon novel mentioned in the press release. Part 1 of his book is written in 25 mini-chapters and also dwells upon the journeying aspects of the story; the two protagonists travel to South Africa and Charles Mason also makes a solo trip to St Helena.
In the film what occurs in these 25 scenes is of little consequence opposed to the lingering shots that expose an eerie calm and somewhat graceful form that is to be found in the design of the ship's fittings, such as portholes, lockers and corridors to the silent bobbing of this vessel on the sea. The whirring of the projector in the Chisenhale gallery space is a soothing mechanical noise alongside these contemplative vignettes of the sea, but, to give an example of how much little happens, here is a section of the notes I tried to make in the dark whilst watching it:
Scene 6. Meeting. Close up of officer - scar on hand.
Scene 7. Lights on deck. Corridor.
Scene 8. Rest room. Coffee conversation. Telephone call.
Scene 9. Bunk / officer in his abode.
Scene 10. Portholes. Kitchen - movement of boat.
Scene 11. Dancing in canteen. Sit down. Slide doors.
Scene 12. Below deck.
Scene 13. Square portholes. Face like. Sailors not working.
Scene 14. Not working. Into dock. Landing/blue rope.
I agree that this not very edifying, but that is what is so interesting about the film, this apparent lack of production and activity on board. Normally I would be frustrated at not being able to speak Italian therefore failing to understand what the officers are talking, and frequently laughing, about, but I suppose we are watching them as the Bachelor Machines of the title. Their only real purpose is to be cog-like, enabling this female vessel to manoeuvre across the globe.
The crew of the ship are able to have their limited fun though, as above, I mention 'Dancing in canteen', this is a little jokey dance sequence that happens in the dining room between two of the crew who should in fact be preparing the dining area for the officers who soon after come in to sit down and eat. Sometimes the omniscience of the internet can be depressing - from a gentle bit of Googling I found out that this seemingly mysterious ship Nashashibi used to film aboard, is in fact, part of the 'Grimaldi Freighter Cruise' experience. Ostensibly a cruise like any other, where the passengers can "enjoy contact with the officers and crew and often become part of the shipboard family." This is why the crew all appear so relaxed and listless. It transpires that they are slowly delivering cars to European ports whilst also being some kind of entertainment for the paying passengers. Ultimately, though, this doesn't matter because the allure of the film comes from the loitering of the camera, whether focused on barbells in the unused gym or solely on the sea.
64 Chisenhale Road
London E3 5QZ