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Rachel GarfieldClick here to Print this Page
Keith Piper
A Ship Called Jesus was an installation that explored the relationship between slavery, Christianity and the Black community in Britain; positing the Old Testament as a force for identification both in activism and in conservatism.

In the Perfect City the bible is a cipher for the city as a symbol of the exertion of Anglo -American power over its subjects. It is also Piper's acknowledgment of Christianity as the cornerstone of Western ideology in the contemporary world, or at least of the triumph of Christian ideology in a US dominated post 9/11 world. This is a film of paradox that both confirms and confounds its god-like narration. In the final chapter, 'Day Five: The Memory of Burning' The Perfect City's overriding thesis is revealed through a reference by the narrator to two angels sent to Sodom and Gomorrah to search for ten pious men to counteract the city's tendency towards chaos .(8) The two angels are represented by medieval illustrations; two B29's diving over Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the narrator flicking through photos of scarred and burned victims of war: the narrator ponders, "I wonder for God's fondness for the purifying flame?". Clarity is brought at the end of the film - the United States of America is referred to as "The nation of control', while in front of the burning card city, a photo of the twin towers of the World Trade Centre is held aloft by the gloved hands of the narrator, also a metaphor of the twin angels, no doubt. "No more water, fire next time" . (9)

The voice of Keith Piper's films is distinctive: judging the system and finding it wanting. We have come to expect a neo-minimal trope from work that operates through a transnational critique, but in this respect amongst others Piper stands out, against the grain, offering a singular voice of complexity and agency in the face of the injustices of history. It is unusual to find so strident a voice amid the cacophony of neo liberal critiques of the status quo. And it is the voice that remains long after the complex overlay of imagery has left the screens.

(8)This is somewhat reminiscent of Zygmunt Bauman's analysis of the Modernity being an ideology of order and anti-Semitism a cipher for the anxiety of the lack of order that Jews represent by being international - the weeds in the tidy garden of modernity. (9)As often with Piper's metaphors there are several layers to this reference, the phrase is almost certainly a quote from the James Baldwin (1963) novel however the sci-fi TV drama directed by Tom Mclaughlin (1993) and a documentary about the riots in Crown Heights (1992) were all of the same title.
Rachel Garfield, August 2008
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