Recently I became part of an international collective of artists called Agitate:21C. In its short existence, it has attracted about 300 outstanding experimental, avant-garde, and generally ‘other’ artists from around the world, including film-makers, poets, curators, critics, lovers of the arts, and just about any kind of alternative creator, focused on any medium, genre, style or form.
Originally part of a larger art installation created for Alchemy Film and Moving Image Festival, Alphonso’s Jaw was the first poetry film I found via A21C. It is written and directed by Scottish artists Sarahjane Swan and Roger Simian, also known as Avant Kinema. Sarahjane appears in the film and voices the piece in English and French. I find it virtuosic in its fusing of word, soundscape and image, as well as deeply moving in its meditation on the timeless horrors of war in the lives of individuals.
This is an excerpt from what the artists have to say on the film’s page at Vimeo:
The installation, and our subsequent short film, were inspired by our fascination for two objects we discovered amongst Edinburgh University’s Anatomy Collection: (1) the cast of a disfigured face; (2) a prosthetic jaw constructed on an early nineteenth century battlefield.
Through some research we unearthed the story of Alphonse Luis, a young French gunner struck by shrapnel at the Siege of Antwerp, 1832. Having suffered horrific facial injuries, losing his lower face, Alphonse’s quality of life was eventually improved when the Surgeon-Major and a local Belgian artist collaborated on the construction of a silver prosthetic jaw, painted in flesh tones and adorned with whiskers.
We uncovered historical accounts of Alphonse Luis’ injury, surgery, recuperation and rehabilitation in medical journals of the day, and drew on these for an exploration of identity, disfigurement and reconstruction.
In Alphonso’s Jaw we imagine that Alphonse Luis has become dislocated from history to exist outside of any specific time or place, trapped in eternal convalescence, soothed by the dreams of his Battlefield Muse, who is equal parts Night Nurse, Scheherazade and Beauty from Beauty and the Beast. Luis’ Battlefield Muse is, in turn, both horrified and fascinated by her patient.
The poem, titled “Beauty and the Silver Mask,” can be read at Avant Kinema’s blog, in both its full English version and the short fragment of it spoken in French, which was translated by Raymond Meyer.