14 May, 2009

Artist of the week 40: Anja Kirschner

Posted by: admin In: Guardian

Georgian outlaws and themes from American folklore are brought to life in Anja Kirschner’s Hackney, finds Jessica Lack

Pirates, whores, cowboys and pomaded dandies are all part of the fragmented narratives of Anja Kirschner’s work. Building on the social and political landscapes of London’s East End (where she lives and works) to confront wider issues of poverty, gentrification, colonialism and mythology, Kirschner’s films are a patchwork that can, at times, leave the viewer floundering.

In 2005 she made a film called Polly II, Plan for a Revolution in Docklands. It was, in her own words, “a mix of sci-fi action and TV soap drama” that addressed the deliberate neglect and aggressive regeneration of Hackney. Featuring a cast of thieves, prostitutes, sailors and political dissidents surviving in a waterlogged dystopia that is about to be redeveloped into luxury waterside apartments, it was inspired by John Gay’s 1728 satire of Georgian society, The Beggar’s Opera. The flood became a symbol of the urban poor being flushed out – a theme that made the film seem prescient when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans later in 2005.

Similar concerns are visible in Trail of the Spider, made in 2008, Kirschner’s attempt at a spaghetti western made in collaboration with fellow film-maker and activist David Panos, which transported ideas drawn from American folklore to the less-than-expansive wilderness of Hackney Marshes. Made in response to a campaign to prevent the forced eviction of shopkeepers from a nearby market, it charted the story of the protest via a mix of documentary and fiction.

Now Kirschner has returned with The Last Days of Jack Sheppard, also made in collaboration with David Panos. Set in the wake of the South Sea Bubble of 1720 (one of Britain’s first modern financial catastrophes), it charts the life of petty criminal Jack Sheppard and his unofficial biographer Daniel Defoe. A strange masquerade, with its truculent and stuttering protagonist, stilted conversation, and endless scratching of an inky quill, it is not easy viewing – an unpalatable vision of greed, truth and honour.

Why we like her: For ambition. From Brechtian drama in the Docklands to Restoration comedy in Bow, Kirschner shines new cultural light on east London.

Direct action: The Munich-born artist took part in the sit-ins at a greasy spoon cafe in east London’s Broadway Market in 2005. It was while watching westerns there that she began to make the connections between the arguments over land, law and ownership that inform Trail of the Spider.

Humble beginnings: Jack Sheppard’s exploits were so popular, he is thought to have been the inspiration for Macheath in The Beggar’s Opera.

Where can I see her? Anja Kirschner and David Panos’ film The Last Days of Jack Sheppard is at the Chisenhale gallery until June 21.

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