Anja Kirschner (born Munich, 1977, lives in London) and David Panos (born Athens, 1971, lives in London) collaborate on both moving image and music projects. As part of Nought to Sixty they are showing a new film, Trail of the Spider (2008), addressing themes of class conflict and displacement through the transposition of the Western genre onto contemporary London.
Kirschner's work spans a number of disciplines, including film, painting and music. Since 2003 the artist has made a series of films which combine documentary, literary and historical sources and reference popular genres such as sci-fi, soap opera and action adventure. These films' increasingly elaborate production and use of digital effects gesture towards the scope and conventions of mainstream cinema, but subvert them through the use of non-actors and narratives that are rooted in the political conflicts of London today.
A previous work, Polly II - Plan for a Revolution in Docklands (2006), portrays the flooded ruins of East London in a fusion of Ballardian sci-fi dystopia and 18th-century social satire. Borrowing themes and characters from Hogarth and John Gay - in particular Polly (1728), Gay's heavily censored sequel to The Beggars Opera (1727) - Kirschner's film shows dispossessed workers, political radicals, whores and pirates negotiating the deliberate flooding of their city by the agents of high finance and property development. The staging of the film in the manner of a Brechtian 'learning play', and the use of vignettes of dissent and debate, highlight the complexities of social and political transformation.
Trail of the Spider collides filmic references - such as the stylised violence of the Spaghetti Western and the sentimentality of golden era 'Horse Operas' - with the suppressed history of the multi-racial American West, where many cowboys were black, and alliances that crossed racial boundaries were common. Shot in Hackney and Essex, the film recreates the epic panoramas of the Wild West using landfill sites in the Thames Gateway, gravel pits serving the Olympic Park, and the vistas of Hackney Marshes - an area affected by the land grab accompanying the 2012 Olympics.
Using the standard Western plot devices of the 'arrival of the railroad' and the 'end of an era', Trail of the Spider explores the compromises and ordeals of a population facing a new order, as a territory once characterised by abandonment - but relative freedom - is brought back into circulation. Many members of the film's cast (themselves residents of East London) are in a sense playing themselves, although speaking through the filter of Western mythology and melodrama. Subtitled A Passage Through Limbo, the film creates an allegory of the shrinking space for self-determination and collective agency - in an urban reality increasingly determined by financial speculation and private interests.
Read more about Trail of the Spider at anjakirschner.com/trailofthespider.html