Leslie Thornton pushes the moving image to its limits, by exploring the enduring influence of technology on our daily lives. Her bricolage of archival footage, video and still images, and digital media is designed to “position the viewer as an active reader, not a consumer”. These multiform film and videos conjure the collision (and collusion) of film and video processes, incorporate non-verbal narrative structures with a formless approach to time, and dissolve the divisions between documentary, fiction, science and popular culture.
Leslie Thornton, ‘Peggy and Fred in Hell: The Prologue’, 1984, video, 19m40s.
Thornton’s film and video works are provisional and ongoing, subject to adaptations and repeated iterations. Her mutable methodology is nowhere more apparent than in the episodic magnum opus, Peggy and Fred series. In the original, Peggy and Fred In Hell: The Prologue (1984) (soon to be featured in Rosa Barba’s screening programmeSubconscious Society) the two titular children navigate a quasi-apocalyptic landscape littered with technological debris. As castaways in a wilderness of signs, Peggy and Fred are “raised by television”: their experiences are shaped by a palimpsest of science and science-fiction, new technologies and obsolete ones, half-remembered movies and the leavings of history. Representing children as the unwitting inheritors to our abuses of technology, Peggy and Fred plays out in a prophetic tone, with Thornton’s juvenile protagonists creating their own futures in a present-tense nightmare.
Leslie Thornton, ‘Anola Star (Binocular)’, 2010, archival pigment print on cotton rag paper
In more recent work, Thornton’s signature meditative camerawork moves beyond a focus on human experience to posit an analogy between technology and the natural world. Supple animal physicality is reflected through elegant mathematical abstraction in Binocular (Black Parrot) (2010), a video featured in Shanay Jhaveri’s Questions of Travel. Examined through the presentation of two circular fields projected into a black screen, Thornton relays instinctual animal behaviour displayed on the right through digital morphology on the left, folding the documented image back on itself to create an exquisite centripetal pattern. Reminiscent of a kaleidoscope, Thornton’s fluid translation of innate, natural expression into the production of an abstract image offers a glimpse of the world beyond the material, prior to language and absolutely ‘other’.