Irineu Destourelles – Unturning.
Summerhall, Edinburgh. Until July 16th. Review by Neil Cooper
July 10, 2017
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On opposing walls, two films play out in silence, each offering different interpretations of the truth, as if on either side of an invisible barricade before battle – intellectual or otherwise – commences. On one screen, in Mr Butterwick Remembers Mrs Thatcher, a former Fife miner and veteran of the Thatcher years recounts his personal observations of some of the epochal moments of 1980s Britain. Over eighteen minutes this moves from the Irish Troubles to the Poll Tax, taking in the Falklands War and of course the Miners’ Strike inbetween. Behind the black and white footage of Gordon Butterwick, in living colour, an edition of Jeremy Kyle’s daytime TV freak-show plays out. Opposite, Glossary of Political Words gives definition to a set of twenty-first century keywords of political discourse that cut through the managerialist spin with deadpan cynicism as each word is flashed up in turn. Butterwick’s words are revealed only in subtitles beneath his image as he talks, while the glossary is given a quiet formality as each definition prints onto a rich blue backdrop. The gladiatorial hysteria of Kyle’s programme too has been silenced, while the noise normally associated with protest has been muted.
The effect of this, in the first film, is to be able to watch without prejudice. There’s no accent, dialect or sense of where Butterwick has come from other than the words projected below him. He is articulate and engaged, a voice of experience who lived through Thatcher’s attempt to destroy the working class. The ‘silencing’ of Mr Butterwick also recalls the absurd state of affairs when Thatcher’s government banned the voices of Irish republicans from broadcast media. TV and radio editors responded by having actors republicans’ words over muted footage of interviews.
The second film looks to Raymond Williams by way of Roger’s Profanisaurus, the potty-mouthed glossary of sexual euphemisms in Viz, the long-running adult comic which at times brutally depicts images of a Kyle-esque underclass who are the second and third generations of Thatcherism. Disenfranchised, the only outlet for their anger is in the vulgarian stand-offs played out with pantomime aggression mediated by Kyle and other ringmasters of poverty porn.
As a Portuguese emigre who grew up in the shadow of dictatorship, Destourelles’ world-view brings an informed curiosity to his depiction of some of the more volatile examples in British working class history and its ever-changing political discourse. For the viewer, there are choices to be made, sides to take. Do they sit and watch each film in turn, or try to watch both at once, caught in the crossfire of information from either side?
Thus far, the defining works of art to have come out of the Miners’ strike are Billy Elliot and Battle of Orgreave, Jeremy Deller’s filmed reconstruction of one of the conflict’s pivotal moments, when a new civil war spilled onto the Yorkshire streets. Unturning may be more complex than both, but, like them, it taps into a sense of roots and community that questions received notions of history and challenges those in power who get to write it.