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Commissioned by REDCAT, Los Angeles in 2011, The Struggle against Ourselves seeks out the false starts and forgotten dreams of the early avant-garde, tracing the appropriation of radical aesthetics by mass entertainment through exploring the legacies of cinema as a social and political medium. The film re-enacts an acting workshop from 1920’s post-revolutionary Russia by Vsevolod Meyerhold (1874–1940) in present day Los Angeles, the heart of the American film industry. This gesture of estrangement tracks the lost possibilities of a cultural moment and explores how the poetics of form in the avant-garde revealed a deep and complex political context. The film revolves around a workshop between theatre director Chi-wang Yang and students from CalArts, restaging a series of Meyerhold’s ‘études’, symbolic physical gestures that resembled elements of dance. Meyerhold would later be denounced by Stalin as a traitor to the project of Socialist Realism, yet Meyerhold intended the movements’ form, and synchrony of the collective performing body as a political display that would raise the consciousness of the working class. Jones draws links between Meyerhold’s project and the later Hollywood spectacle of Busby Berkeley film productions in which the collective performing body is machine-like and transformed to spectacle.

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The uncanny formal resemblance between the two performative languages of Meyerhold and Berkley embody a legacy of militarism and violence through their regimented, choreographed actions. Unlike the mechanised perfection of the latter, however, The Struggle Against Ourselves features students striving with a dedicated honesty – sometimes succeeding, sometimes faltering – to recreate a series of études, relying on group cooperation as well as an intense bodily dedication.

In its final stages, this hypnotic and melancholic film shifts from rehearsal to a performance in which the actors are isolated against a blank backdrop, as if temporarily suspended in an alternate space that still holds potential for the present. The film’s haunting Bach-inspired soundtrack features a performance by Jones’s frequent collaborator, theremin virtuosa Lydia Kavina. The film frames the cinematic space as a haunting of a shared cultural memory and experience as well as the pathos for the future that never arrived.

Installation Swiss Institute 2017

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