Best known for his ethnographic excursions into remote areas, Ben Rivers’ short film series Things focuses instead on his own immediate, domestic surroundings, and the familiar, often treasured objects he turns to for comfort. He developed the series as part of Stay Where You Are, a year-long project in which four artists and writers, known for their wide-ranging travels across the surface of the planet or through the realm of the imagination, pause to reflect on the appeal of the local.
While most of Rivers’ works portray quaint characters with alternative, hermit-like lifestyles who have chosen to live off the grid, Things gives us a glimpse of his own everyday surroundings. Composed in four installments (Winter, Spring, Summer and Autumn), the first episodes highlight the objects that he has collected that turn a house into a home, and the animals and nature that can be found directly outside. The last episode however, as Melissa Gronlund describes the installation of the film in his 2014 show at gallery Kate MacGarry, “is a 3D digital rendering of his apartment that is partially stripped of all the information that, until now, had proved so important to the beginning of the film. This was in some ways a technical consideration—the video game designer whom Rivers commissioned to make the rendering could only accommodate so much visual information—but it turns the film into one of two halves: the first, a personal history, staged through what he has collected along the way (carved stone heads, movie stills, and old, inscrutable photographs); the second a non-place, antipathetic to these things, and which, in its eerie artificiality, looks distinctly fictional—a stage set of what the home of a ‘creative artist’ might be.”
The result is an alienating look at his own familiar surroundings. Rivers has a knack for presenting fact as fiction in his documentary works, making us question the authenticity of his very authentic subjects, and wonder whether the person we see is acting out his daily routines for the camera, or if the camera and Rivers himself have become negligible enough to ‘act naturally’, whatever that may mean. Turning the camera on his own life however, seems to have mostly confused himself. While we get what feels like an honest, documentary-style view on what the artist surrounds himself with, we never get to see the artist himself. And by removing even the objects we’ve just seen from that final episode, one is left to wonder what was even real to begin with…
16mm on video, 2014, 21′