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Sutapa Biswas
Sutapa Biswas artistic career has been propelled by her personal history. The birth of her son Enzo and the death of her father both symbolically inhabit her recent films.

Her son's first articulated statement that 'he wanted to have a horse in the living room' of his parents London flat, began a period of obsessive artistic gestation that resulted in Biswas duel screen 7min.16mm film Birdsong (2004).

The fusion of her child's imagination palpitating with absurd possibility, aligned with visual references to art history, heritage, and her working methodology with its meticulous planning and production values. A Canadian filmmakers gift to her of one hundred origami birds expressing rituals of leaving and farewells, impressed Biswas with their fragile and symbolic simplicity, a ploy she decided to use in Birdsong.

The opening shot is of an origami winged horse seen on two screens (with an eight second time lapse between them) gently spinning on a string and catching the light from a window. In the next doubled shot we see a small boy (Enzo) filmed in close up gazing intently at something out of frame. His silent concentration in this resolutely silent film was stylistically informed by two paintings, Petrus Christus 1460 Portrait of a Young Girl and George Stubbs 1759 image of Lord Holland and Lord Albermarle Shooting at Goodwood.

Biswas had been touched by Christus' young girls intense gaze which evokes the particular magic of a child's 'minds eye '. She had also been for some time both intrigued and moved by the image of the black servant in the foreground of Stubbs painting, whose self-contained gaze has swept his imagination to some 'other' horizon. The colours of the scene with its gold's, reds, whites, greens and browns working in tonal harmony, was mirrored in the gathering of the myriad and carefully chosen objects which furnish the room, set in the location of a derelict 1930's house used for the film. The 18th and 19th century furniture, a bell jar with a stuffed bird, a writing desk, a mirror, drapes and books co-exist with a plastic pirate ship from Peter Pan the territory of family heritage and contemporary play.

Franz Fanons 'Black Skin/ White Masks ' with its notions of desire and projection and Proust's 'Swanns Way' with its poetic concentration on the ebb and flow of time measured by light and memory, are for Biswas also implicit traces in the film. The nuances of Enzo's gaze is caught in close up where we literally 'see' him thinking as he looks down at the hooves of the huge horse (out of frame) and then moves his gaze up, taking in its full height. This shot perfectly illustrates the move from the imagined horse contained in the minds eye of the child, the world of play and make-believe and the looming reality of a large unnaturally still 'beast'. Enzo's slight wince as the tail of the horse momentarily flicks and it moves out of focus and slightly in front of the frame provides a moment of tension, the enthrallment and stillness ruptured for a moment. The child in close proximity to the animal with the power to hurt or possibly kill is transported from the expectancy of imagined desire to the reality of actual presence.

The complex temporality of film when subjected to slightly unsynch doubling, is both expressed as Newtonian time that passes at a measured rate and psychological time that is fluid and variable. The luminous quality of 16mm shot between 11 and 12 o'clock when for Biswas ' time stands still' animates the relationship with temporality that the film so clearly holds within it. Gestation and shooting time, viewing time, time lapse, time passing, and the existence of playtime in the child's imagination, activate our relationship to our own mortality and in Cocteau's words the possibility of 'once upon a time'.

In the third film sequence the room is revealed, as is the horse, the image lingers like a still painting as the child sits motionless on the sofa. The scene disappears and is replaced with the two screens once again animated with the winged horse slowly spinning 'both announcing and completing the story'. Biswas hopes to leave us with that catch between love, fear, play and abandonment and the magnification that those feelings beget.

Still from Birdsong by Sutapa Biswas, 2004
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