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Rachel GarfieldClick here to Print this Page
Keith Piper
Walter Benjamin, in 'The Storyteller', makes a distinction between the writer of history who explains the world, and the chronicler who tells a story of history to model a future.

He suggests that the importance of telling stories lies in the ongoing interpretive possibilities of the form .(7) This is apparent in Piper's repetitive retakes of works as well as through his continual remodeling of the same motifs through different manifestations in separate works. In each retelling the meaning shifts, alerting us again to contingency, for example in Piper's most recent film The Perfect City.

The Perfect City embodies the chronicler through the narrator. Benjamin describes the chronicler as the medieval precursor to the historian, who interpreted the world through 'the divine plan of salvation' unlike the historian who is striving for 'accuracy' and 'explanation'. In the film, the narrator recounts his task of designing a city as a cautionary tale. The narrator is the artist, glimpsed in the opening shot. He builds, literally, a city out of card printed with medieval architectural illustrations, while he contemplates the implications of the city as a poetic device. Other visual references skip through time: such as a Breugel painting of the Tower of Babel, contemporary commercial skyscrapers, and digital architectural drawings. Piper's earlier installations of A Ship Called Jesus and the Exploded City are both reworked here to powerful effect. In The Perfect City the collage has given way to montage and the viewer experiences the unfolding of thoughts through the imagery, sound and narration of it's essayist film form. It is slower in pace than many of his other pieces, although still dense. Divided into five days, its thematic chapters act as a holder of memories - of drowning; of contamination; of amputation; of cleansing and of burning. Despite the evocation of memory this is a nostalgia free zone. The sound and image are more like science fiction than psycho-geography. The narrator, if anything, is doom laden, a Jeremiah, the voice of god, imagining a future by looking through the past; a further example of the way in which Piper draws deep for a commentary on the contemporary. Blackness is naturalized here through reference without foregrounding specificity and the subject is the Subject of Power.

(7)Benjamin, Walter, 'The Storyteller', Illuminations, Pimlico, 1999, p 95
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