Q&A with Graeme Arnfield

Q: Tell us a bit about your career to date

Graeme Arnfield: I have been making artist films professional for the past five years with a particular focus on producing sensory essay films from found materials. I’m often drawn to viscerally embodied imagery found online, and using these images in conjunction with methods of investigative storytelling to explore issues of circulation, spectatorship and history. Research topics have included: the politics of digital networks, the distribution of ecological matter such as peat and asbestos and the adaptive circulation of global and local histories. My work has been presented worldwide including Berlinale Forum Expanded, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Courtisane Festival, Berwick Film & Media Arts Festival, European Media Arts Festival, Transmediale and on Vdrome and e-flux. I graduated with a Masters in Experimental Cinema at Kingston University.

Q: What does selection for Push mean to you?

GA: Selection to Push means a lot to me, both in terms of giving me the opportunity to make The White Ship, but HOME, when it was Cornerhouse, was the cinema where I got my education. As a teenager I devoured the programming there and its importance as a space can not be understated in why I make artist films. A notable screening that comes to mind is being overwhelmed by Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s Leviathan with just one other person and having a conversation afterwards about the possibilities of a more sensorially visceral cinema. It was also where I first screened a very early film at a Filmed Up event, so to have the opportunity to produce The White Ship for Push feels like a full circle moment.

Q: How has the last year affected your practice as an artist?

GA: The last year has been a challenge, much as it has been for everyone, from cancelled screenings to scrapped future plans. Personally as an artist whose first impulse is found footage I have managed to continue producing work in some fashion. At the start of last year I premiered a film, The Phantom Menace, at Berlinale which was an amazing experience. I was looking forward to touring with that film, which sadly has not happened, though it has screened in many places I have not had the opportunity to see it with an audience since then. I’ve found being together in the dark is of vital importance for future work, it’s where I learn what type of films I want to make next and what tactics I would like to experiment with – not forgetting the lost conversations had when meeting other filmmakers and curators which are a constant source of inspiration and care. I’m not sure we will be able to gauge the true extend of what this time has meant to artists, materially and emotionally, until way in the future.

Q: What do you hope the audience will take away from your film?

GA: I hope that the audience first off enjoys the film and gets lost in the sensory aspects of it. One thing that we kept returning to while writing the film was trying to transmit the solidarity and care between our two characters as they stare into the night’s sea, pondering their uncertain futures. It was important to us to make a film about some kind of class solidarity, of realising who you should be fighting, of seeing your struggles in the struggles of others, seeing theirs in yours and holding yourself and each other to your common purpose, not only of managing loss but re-building a better future together – in this way I hope the audience can trace the connections between the uncertain future that is unfolding in real time for our 12th century workers and our own precarious futures in the age of ecological collapse… or at least enjoy listening and watching the sea for 10 minutes.

Q: What comes next for you after Push?

Duncan McKenna (who co-wrote The White Ship) and I are currently planning the next chapter in our collaboration around lost ships and the collapse of the future, which comes from research into a religious community ravaged by a storm in 17th century Estonia. Hopefully, travel permitting, I would like to do a residency in Tallinn in the summer to make that film. While I wait for funding for that I am currently making a psychedelic found footage film about the connection between butterflies and the birth of a malicious computer virus, splitting the difference between systems literacy and ecological fantasia. This has been a project I started researching many years ago and has finally found some kind of form during another lockdown.

The White Ship is a Push 2021 commission, and will be screened at HOME later this year. For more details about HOME’s upcoming programme, sign up to our newsletter, here.