[Written by Hester Mauduit ]
[Image Credits: Promotional Images for Better Rainfall]
Better Rainfall Lizzie Watts and Yvonne Zhang CCA Intermedia Gallery 11-27th October 2019
Better Rainfall is a video-graphic work by Lizzie Watts and Yvonne Zhang projected on a loop on three screens in the Intermedia Gallery of the CCA. The handout explains that “it is a multi-channel video installation centred around the multi-species residents of a fictional British suburb” and that “seemingly isolated bodies are brought into the temporary communion of a surreal choreography”. If that sounds somewhat abstract to you, don’t worry. That’s the point.
Let me set the scene first.
You experience the video sitting on a wobbly wooden bench, in a brightly-lit small room that smells of fresh paint. The rustic environment of the gallery may have nothing to do with the artwork but it does keep you grounded in the present — an almost forgotten sensation once the 8-minute video starts: your senses are about to be overwhelmed with different impressions.
The video starts with a poem (or a poetic description) of the experience of being absorbed by a large body of water. While this is happening, images of a British suburban town and of some generic domestic interiors are shown on the screens. After the scene is set, we are introduced to the main characters of the video: a young boy, an adult woman, and several insects and reptiles. The video itself is an intriguing combination of animation and live action, overlaid with special effects such as rain and thundery skies. In fact, the weather plays an important role as the main narrative of the video is the passing of a storm and the surreal effect of displacement it has on an unnamed town and its inhabitants. The various inhabitants contemplate the weather without really reacting to it in the first half of the video, then start to be affected by it towards the end. They begin to float and are shown drifting and dancing in an abstract, cloudy space (possibly the heart of the storm) as the electronic music swells.
The tone of the video is determined by increasing and decreasing levels of urgency. It rises with the sound of various storm warnings, rain and thunder, beeping of electronic devices, and an indistinct voice-over, which all contribute to a state of alarm in the viewer. It suddenly drops when music takes over from domestic noises. The inhabitants are now displaced from their environment, disconnected from the noisy outside. Because they dance so calmly, you find yourself at peace. This could be interpreted in two ways: the more positive reading is that we – just like the individuals in the video – are not affected by changes in the world around us. A more negative reading is that we isolate ourselves unable to face change but this ultimately can result in deeper fear of the unknown and loneliness. The video subtly interconnects the opposition between connection and seclusion, the real and the surreal, the ordinary and the extraordinary and relates them to a specific space of the British suburbs. The contrast between realistic and unrealistic images, the unique editing and its subject-matter challenge the stereotype of the small town ‘where nothing ever happens’. Moreover, it raises existential questions such as whether we are affected by changing conditions and whether a state of crisis brings disconnected individuals together. Ultimately we wonder if connection even exists in spaces of isolation.
Better Rainfall is strange. It has a disorienting effect on the viewer and you walk away not knowing if you’re feeling lonely or just existentially alone. Once you get past the sensory overload of the video and focus your thoughts not on individual aspects but on the effect of the work as a whole, you realise that all the questions going through your head while watching the video are exactly what the artwork cleverly tries to answer. Leaving all initial existentialism aside, Better Rainfall reminds the viewer of the magic of something as mundane as a storm. And more importantly, it makes you want to go and talk to someone about it, leaving aside the isolation and disconnection as seen in the video. Essentially, this work answers its own query, and I believe that it encourages — out of the two readings I proposed — the more positive one.