Video installation with sound, 14 mins 30 secs
Commissioned by Creative Time, New York as part of ‘Plot ’09: This World and Nearer Ones.
Echo, a single screen video installation – sited in a derelict military ballroom on Governors Island, New York – remembers, condenses, re-enacts and dreams the island’s historical and future relationships with the processes of exchange and transformation. Interweaving archive footage, documentary technique and speculation the video reveals the ballroom as a site used for an anti-materialistic gift-exchange ritual invented by the children of the island’s military. Echoing the histories of areas of land being exchanged (or stolen) for small symbolic tokens Chodzko’s Echo is narrated from the future to reflect on the gift economy rituals created by these military brats, producing a spell that has apparently managed to dematerialise and erode the island itself whilst also creating its double elsewhere.
Paralleling processes of memory, wondering and dreaming Echo juxtaposes two islands, Governors Island in New York (until the early 1960’s, USA’s primary military base, now uninhabited but given to the people of NY and due, in 2009, to become a ‘world park’) and Deadman’s Island, Kent (a very small, uninhabited, flat, marshy island off the Isle of Sheppey used as an unmarked graveyard for hundreds of dead bodies removed from the prison ships moored in the Medway during the late 18th and early 19th C). Governors Island grew itself through adding rubble extracted from building the subway system on Manhattan, Deadman’s Island expanded itself through the addition of corpses but is now eroding as sea levels rise.
Working with amateur film archives held by “Governors Island Brats” (children of the Island’s military personnel) and the documentation of a Kent community drama group’s re-enactment of scenes from the Island’s peculiar history of exchange and transformation a process of subversive bartering is seen to undermine normal hierarchies of consumerism, possession and value. Architectural elements from the site of the video installation (the abandoned ballroom on Governors Island) is displaced to Deadman’s Island, as ‘ruins’, creating a further folding or mirroring of place and time and unsettling certainties as to the delineation between intervention, fiction and fact.
Excerpt from interview with Veronica Kavass, for ‘On spells, ants, islands and shoes,’ Stretcher, 2009
AC.”..I guess I began by wondering about the allure of islands, and particularly wondering about how to think about one island in relation to another. Islands in their limited and tangible size and isolation become convenient receptacles for the projection of our fantasies. I wanted to simultaneously undermine and enhance this situation through folding two islands together; two islands merge and exchange their events and meanings with one another, as though in a dream, producing an impossible space but also elaborating a truth about their separate and combined identities. So, my work – a ‘documentary about a fiction’ – explores from the position of the future, the transformation of (apparently) one island over hundreds of years, and yet we are seeing this evolution through leaping between two islands. One is Governors Island, New York, for a long time a fort and military base and then an abandoned Coast Guard base. This island had acted as New York’s (even the US’s) guardian and look out. Now the island, emptied of this role, and given to the people, is about to be turned into a beautiful public park. The other island I’m working with is Deadman’s Island, a small (2 sq.km!) island off Queenborough on the Isle of Sheppey (so, an island off an island (Sheppey) off an island (Britain)). It’s very close to where I live. Deadman’s Island is a shallow marshland and was used as an unmarked burial site for hundreds of bodies from deaths from diseased (especially cholera and malaria) victims removed from prison ships in the early 19th C. There will be lots of intentional discontinuity between place, season, and time in history. There is ambiguity as to whether the video is more a documentary about a re-enactment of an event from Governors Island taking place now, somewhere else, on a different island, or whether it is more a dream (a dream of an island, or by an island) where the displacement of location is one of the many surreal folds that appear when trying to perceive either island. My video structures this diverse material through the reminiscences of someone (a fictional character) connected with Governors Island in the mid ‘60’s. And it does this from the future, after Governors Island has been transformed into a park. These (fictional!) recollections focus on a group of the military ‘brats’ (the children of military personnel who grew up on the island), and a ritualistic and anti-materialistic game, which developed into a craze across the island, involving competitive attempts to be the apparent loser in a deal. This echoes the initial trade by a Dutch settler with the Native Americans – the island being bought for ‘two axe heads, a string of beads, and a handful of nails.’ And another echo can be found in President Clinton’s deal made in 2001 (and followed through by Bush) where the island would be transferred to the people ‘for a dollar’. So, amongst the island’s youth a car would be swapped for a joke, a prized record collection for a leaf, a house swapped for a view etc…In each case a philosophy had evolved on the island by the community whereby the deal enabled both parties to be happy with it. But the greater happiness would always go to the one who seemed to be losing material possessions. The old ballroom on Governors Island became the site of these exchanges and during dances by their parents in the upper ballrooms the ‘brats’ would use the basement for these displays of triumphant material loss. Filmed on Deadman’s Island as, perhaps, a tiny contracted version of Governors Island (as though way into the future, it becomes almost entirely flooded, or perhaps since Governors Island once expanded its area through the addition of Manhattan rubble in the future it perhaps begins removing bits of itself) the video ends with a group of the “brats”, still apparently happily involved in the swap rituals, trying to make a raft from the ballroom floor. It is this element apparently part of the video installation in the Governors Island ballroom, and yet also apparently wrecked and fragmented somewhere else, and in the future, that makes an unsettling reflexive exchange between the viewer on Governors Island and the video…”
Hole, (2007), Around, (2007) and Pyramid, (2008) form a trilogy (with Echo, (2009), as a related work) presented as documentary accounts recalling events that took place in the recent past, yet, according to the present reality the circumstances for the event haven’t arisen yet. Each work seems to be both a critique of the institution and the limitations of art whilst also simultaneously becoming, through the artwork, the creation of a community’s sense of its identity and place through myth. In each work this process is catalysed by the interference of ‘an artist’ (nobody can remember the name) who has passed through, carelessly tried to do the right thing through their temporary intervention into place and community, but remained pretty oblivious to both the positive and negative impact of their actions.
A Hostile Environment (2019)
Better Scenery (2000 – )
Because… (2013) [ installation at Tate Britain, 2013 ]
Expulsion from the Garden of Eden (2015)
Slip. A Flying Prison (2011)