Contemporary art Features United Kingdom

Artist’s anti-reality show

Jamie Shovlin raids the exploitation-movie archive and a related show opens in Manchester next month

Shovlin reshot scenes from various exploitation films for “Rough Cut”

When Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez made “Grindhouse”, their 2007 double-bill tribute to sleazy exploitation films and the cinemas they were shown in, they included (in some screenings and some versions of the DVD release) a series of trailers created by other directors for films that had not, at that point, actually been made. “Machete” was a Mexploitation film about a Mexican police officer who is hired as a hitman in the US; “Werewolf Women of the SS” needs no further explanation (nor does “Hobo with a Shotgun”); “Don’t” and “Thanksgiving” were particularly gory tributes to horror films in the vein of “Friday the 13th” or “Halloween”. Some would later become fully realised films in their own right. It’s highly likely that the artist Jamie Shovlin was aware of these when he started planning “Rough Cut”, his so-called “meta-mentary” based on the similarly fictional exploitation picture “Hiker Meat”. “Rough Cut” goes on release in the UK this month.

Shovlin made a trailer for “Hiker Meat” earlier this year; it was released on YouTube, along with posters and other documentation, and was credited to Jesus Rinzoli, a fictional director. Information supplied to the media requested that the fiction be maintained before “Rough Cut” was announced. Such deceptions will be familiar to anyone who knows Shovlin’s work. In 2004, he staged an exhibition at the Riflemaker gallery in London, based on what he claimed were the drawings of a missing schoolgirl, Naomi V. Jelish. The works were bought by Charles Saatchi, who was said not to have realised until later that the girl’s name was an anagram of Shovlin’s (although the artist claimed that Saatchi was fully aware of what was going on). In 2006, Shovlin held another exhibition at Freight + Volume Gallery in New York, which was called “Lustfaust: a Folk Anthology 1976-81” and purported to include the archives of a German rock band. The critic Waldemar Januszczak is reported to have described the band as if it existed, although, again, there is some ambiguity as to how far arts journalists were in on the act. Lustfaust, it goes without saying, was an invention, but given that Shovlin and his collaborators also filmed “performances” by the band, it could be argued that it was brought into existence. This ambiguity is central to Shovlin’s work, and in “Rough Cut”, he heaps layer upon layer upon layer.

Rampaging mutant sheep

The film (if it is to be taken at face value) is born out of the imagination of Shovlin’s collaborator Mike Harte, whose name is openly acknowledged as an anagram of “Hiker Meat”. Harte, it is said, imagined the scenario for the film some years earlier, never expecting it to be made. Which, of course, it wasn’t. Sort of. Shovlin sourced scenes from countless actual exploitation films (with titles such as “Blood Freak”, “The Headless Eyes” and “Godmonster of Indian Flats”, about a rampaging mutant sheep) and fashioned a film that would work alongside Harte’s script, from which the trailer was assembled. “Rough Cut” purports to be a documentary of how the scenes were reshot to make the finished film. And clearly many, if not all, of the scenes were reshot—sometimes in split-screen, sometimes juxtaposed with the originals. The tone is largely light, with much laughter among the cast and crew, giving “Rough Cut” the feel of the bonus “extras” often found on the DVD releases of conventional films. Here, the extra is the main feature, although a film is nevertheless being made. Alongside seemingly conventional insights into special effects, make-up and the perils of hiring classic cars as props are dense statements referring to “this idea of a reflexive continuum that was changed by the people involved, by the personalities involved, by the processes involved… putting into practice indelibly [changed] the concept of what the theory was in the first place”. Cheery ensemble meets theory lecture.

Behaving like a toddler

As an assembly, it has some common currency with Christian Marclay’s “The Clock”, in which a narrative is created by re-editing disparate, pre-existing scenes. As a homage, it echoes Gus van Sant’s meticulous shot-by-shot remake of Hitchcock’s “Psycho”. And in its lack of adherence to a fixed truth, it is related to Banksy’s “Exit Through the Gift Shop”. But these are solid, self-contained pieces compared with Shovlin’s refusal to tie anything down and his rejection of anything remotely resembling closure. And just in case any viewers sense some respite when they realise that the film is drawing to a close, an unseen hand picks up the camera in the closing moments and the operator runs around like a toddler, rapidly and repeatedly zooming in and out. It’s an end of sorts—but only just.

“Rough Cut” (co-produced by Cornerhouse Films) was released on 6 December. A related exhibition, “Jamie Shovlin: Hiker Meat”, opens at the Cornerhouse, Manchester, next month (18 January-21 April 2014)

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