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Patrick Keiller
"Climb aboard my ship," Sun Ra instructed teen-agers assembled in Oakland, California. Met with incredulity he persisted, "you're in chains now here, space is the place."

For this artist, the map of the world as he saw it in the 1970s had no place called utopia. While extraordinary in every way, Sun Ra's is perhaps the purest and most profoundly motivated instance of what characterises the radical aspirations of the first sixty years of this century. Technological drive fuelled an impulse towards the archaic wherein space travel, machine music, glittering robes and majestic head gear pushed towards a nomadic future in the galaxy. The futurist answer to a futureless world was to leave it.

A few decades later, back here on earth, disenchantment pushes us again towards space. In Patrick Keiller's films, the space that we are being asked to reconsider however is the space around us. Much like the similarly disenchanted Epicureans, we turn now for our re-enchantment to the world of matter. Earth, water sky. Bricks, mortar, steel. Rivers, tracks, roads, and, best of all, bridges. These are the plastics that shape not just how we live, but consciousness itself. And then there are causeways that emanate from the earth's core through arduously constructed landscapes of stone fences, housing estates and factory chimneys right up to the clouds; taking us from the mythic to the mundane to the majestic, from birth to banality and back again. For yes, our landscape looks sordid and tawdry. From high voltage towers that litter the countryside through the suburban shopping mall to the crumbling cement of the city, a world of effaced relationships lies dormant. These relationships are, for each of us, by turns historical, political, autobiographical, archaic, and aesthetic. Thus our task is to enliven that which lies dormant, to stir the sentient springs that portend our awakening. I think of that dormant mass as the Archive of Natural History. Access to this momentous mix of myth, nature, history and sensation lies not behind the authority and classification systems of that other archive, but in the one before us.

Since 1980, Keiller has made films that elasticize the links between the everyday we occupy and how we think and feel. While certain themes cohere like the pre-history, nostalgia, melancholia, childhood, each is a visual encounter with specific material spaces. Each film also has a narration that tells a story, part travelogue, part faux memoir spoken with a voice that distinguishes itself in some way or another. Keiller's films ask us to enjoy a relationship between the landscape we see and a monologue we hear, a relationship that ranges from didactic to fanciful. The films produce an assimilation of the material world that is by turns sensuous, contemplative, and above all, utopian in spirit for they urge us to develop a nomad's perception of space.

Still from Robinson in Space by Patrick Keiller, 1997
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