We Have An Anchor That Keeps The Soul

After the premier of Jem Cohen's new piece, We Have An Anchor, all I wanted to do was sit in silence and take in the beauty I had just seen, tranced into a contemplative space of anthropological wonder. Jem's piece was a truly inspiring work (so much so two friends of mine in attendance have already replaced their old/lost cameras since the shows end!) built upon a base of simultaneous multiple projections of footage in various film formats from trips to Nova Scotia's Cape Breton over an extended period of time, mixed with poems, stories and cultivated text by writers hailing from the area all set to a compelling live soundtrack performed by an extraordinary group of musicians.

The footage, like most of Jem's work, was a deeply lush portrait of a place in time focusing on the otherwordly/unhinged dynamics of the landscape, those living within it and the culture created by it. Also, like most of Jem's work, there is a palpable intensity just on the edge of every moment, a small flash or color that sets his visions apart from others, like every real auteur. Oceans, people, domesticated animals, birds, detritus, decay are engulfed by Jem's historicism and intellect looking for the meaning in a gesture, the artifact in the seemingly mundane, allowing for the pictures he creates to take on a whole other language of existence that often goes unnoticed in the present of everyday life. He does all of this, and even more that I don't know how to begin to put into words, with his complex and gorgeous eye, carving out what it means to be today but keeping in mind the continuum of time, a serious feat that I truly think should be the basis and reason for the existence of all art! Way to go Jem!

Then there was the music of course....THE MUSIC! It is, as expected, hard to describe what happens when members of Fugazi, The Dirty Three, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Silver Mt. Zion and The Quavers get together to make music. I almost want to call it international punk: a pulsating vibrant yet spooky Scottish/tribal tonal palette on a bed of layered, softly crunchy feedback coming from multiple electric guitars, a pump organ, extreeeemly musical violinists (oh my goodness I've never seen anyone play like them before, a unit of two string players with the whole package- texture, harmony, melody, ease, heft- AMAZING!), a bed of pedals and amps and the sweeping, powerful, expansive drumming of Jim White. The stage was littered with so many effects pedals whose clicking on and off somehow added to the presence of the piece in this really weird, unexpected way. It was almost as if the actions of the band clicking their pedals highlighted the elements creating the sounds, a fusing of technology, humans and music (a thing that I think the venue, EMPAC, provides the perfect stage for) placed in front of the ethereal projection of the changing world, made the physicality of being there and hearing there and seeing the musicians a shared experience, further reinforcing the core values of the piece itself.

I know Jem Cohen is brilliant but this piece was above and beyond any expectations I could have had. Jem is an artist, an anthropologist, a thinker and a culture maker who sees the value in art and strives to produce work that is consistently important and relevant. He sees the world in his own particular way and, as evident in his work and the very medium he chooses to work in, this view is one that encompasses all of time into a moment, poetic documentary at its finest. I know he is often seen as an experimental filmmaker but Jem is much more than that: Jem is a genius, plain and simple! Each film a contemporary, breathtaking relic that we should all be proud will be in existence forever in time while also always being present in the moment. (Pictures of ephemera from We Have An Anchor: post show stage, Jem's self-labeled coffee cup, musician notes/cues)

Also, a special shout out to Jem's partner Megan Cump, a visual artist whose support has blossomed them into some sort of an image making power couple (Edit: Jem disapproved of previous phrase) that I am humbled to know! The beauty they put into the world, together and apart, is more than inspiring!



 

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