"All that really happens is a depressed 33-year-old watches a video tape."--Ross Sutherland
Sutherland's self-deprecation is just another layer to his intricately structured and dense experimental work, Stand By for Tape Back-Up which played at the Forest Fringe in August. He mixed spoken word, looping video, and an affinity for 80's movie and TV culture and created a personal, funny, and moving work that was complex, smart, and sometimes a little overwhelming (in the best possible way).
Sutherland looks at repetition and nostalgia and sets them in motion against depression and fear. He recounted a story about his grandfather taking him to the movies when he was 4-years-old to see Ghostbusters. He was terrified of the movie--being far too young for the humor and massively susceptible to the frights of scary ghosts--so his grandfather took him to see it every day for a week. His grandfather's philosophy being, "Through repetition we can vanquish fear."
|The remote control is like the size of the TV. Also how close is my brother to that TV. Very close.|
His grandfather has since passed away and he inherited a videotape that he and his grandfather used to record their favorite TV shows to. He uses this fragmented VHS tape as the backbone to the piece and as a structural device to riff off of. And what did this talisman video tape contain: the opening credits of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, an episode of the game show Crystal Maze, the Thriller music video, and a Nat West advertisement. The banal and the quotidian, in Sutherland's hands, become a moving diary of chapters of his life.
Looping scenes and clips from the video he'd tell stories and perform his poetry against this projected backdrop. His words and gestures fall into sync with the video at times and yet as the same scenes would pass around again in the loop, he'd mine a new synchronous twist such that the meaning of the images or words would resonate differently with each pass. Whether gesturing in step with the Thriller video, interpreting the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as taking place in the afterlife, or describing how a cat-scratch turned into a near-death experience, Sutherland manages to weave the funny, sad, and profound into cohesive chapters in the show.
Layering and recontextualizing the found footage he builds up a whole new text on the most unexpected foundation. The accessibility and familiarity of the video material belies the substantial structure, skill, and elegance of Sutherland's writing. Distilling the separate parts would never express the brilliance that is the collective finished product.
I do love a post-modern pastiche. And no matter what I say about this work it will not do it justice. As the deluge of images and words rushed past me, the experience of synchronicity and his connection to the past stayed with me.
When Sutherland says, "I think I've worked out what I'm supposed to do here," trust me he has.