Q&A with Vicki Bennett
Creator of Citation City
14 November 2016
Citation City is a 42 minute audiovisual performance by Vicki Bennett, under the name PEOPLE LIKE US. It sources, collages and edits 300 major feature films in which content is either filmed or set in London, creating a story of the film world living its life through extraordinary times of change, to see what happens when these multiple narriatives are combined. It's showing in DCA Galleries on Wed 23 November 2016 at 19:30. We caught up with Citation City's creator Vicki Bennett to find out more about the project...
Tell us a bit about how you created Citation City, and what you found most interesting about the process?
It comes from reading The Arcades Project - a beautiful, delicate and magical book compiling thousands of cuttings collaged together by Walter Benjamin all depicting aspects of Paris in the early 20th Century. The reason I liked the book beyond it being like a thesaurus, is it is so ahead of its time in the way that he pieced together content, completely the same way that I, and many collage artists work. I collected around 300 feature films based or set in London and watched them all - looking for repetitive narrative, visual content, anything that I could find that was reoccurring and then wrote down the different stories that were reoccurring, and what was interesting was that they had a lot in common with the subject matter both of The Arcades Project and also with right now.
What is it about London, or any city, that inspires you to explore it in this way?
It's one of the most popular cities to be depicted in fiction and film - and there are so many different versions of not only London, but every large city, and all of them are correct depending on your own experience. The city is also a place of cultural refuge, which is why it is so vibrant, diverse and changing. In film, it is the stage for just about every possible plot that you can imagine, which makes it fun to play with when creating new audiovisual work.
Citation City uses fictional movies rather than documented reality - what did you discover, as someone living in the city, about London while creating the project?
I further discovered the changes that have taken place over a relatively short period of time, industrial areas being demolished and wasteland disappearing in place of tower blocks and luxury apartments. For instance, where I live in South West London was a common place to find a car chase because of the vast amount of factories and industrial wasteland, whereas now that is 99% gone. I also discovered that our concerns do not change. We are still worrying about the same things - about being followed, watched, polluted, in a state of poverty and on the brink of war or in a cold war. On the upside, we celebrate the greatness of our architecture, our river, our traditions, our fashions, music, culture and forward thinking.
"I also discovered that our concerns do not change."
Using pre-existing content isn't creating a cosy piece of nostalgia - the cycles of repetition in fiction are the same as reality, and mark as signs and warnings of what is also to come. Some of the fiction reflects the Reagan Thatcher era, and now we are living in the Trump Brexit era. Using archives isn't about the past in any more of a way than using any other kind of palette. We are all dealing with the past... in every moment of the present.
There are many different decades, fashions, areas of London that crop up during Citation City - the fashions and people change while the backdrops stand still. Were there any areas or landmarks that you noticed featuring in footage year after year?
I think I'll answer this one with film stills...
In order to re-create cultural history, how important do you feel it is to allow open access to archives for creative use?
Archives ARE our future. An archive is a library, a time capsule holding information which we need to interpret in order to understand more about whatever our chosen subject is. The idea of privatised archives that you can only access if you are in academia or can afford it, is terrible. Same goes for any kind of publicly available pre-existing document. If something is published then there has to be the possibility to creatively interact and comment upon this without the bogey man coming to visit you, or what kind of world are we living in?
Although the film is complete, you previously described Citation City as a process that is 'never ending'. What's next?
Yes, like most things in life, we have our deadlines - and mine arrived and Citation was "completed", because I ran out of money and I had a booking to premiere it at transmediale in Berlin.
"It goes beyond one particular place, it's about all of us, and how we live and how we concern ourselves with different things."
However, I could have carried on with this for a couple more years and I would have gotten more and more specialised with different narratives and tangents just through the process of looking at everything more and more. This would have made it popular to less people but it might have made it better too. Well it would have made it different! Currently I am working on a 10 screen / 8 speaker surround audiovisual work which has taken me this year and into next year. But I may return to Citation City and make one for New York. I just need a spare year, ha ha! For anyone coming to see Citation City - this is a humorous and playful project which also, I hope has a lot of depth and can be engaged with on many levels, i.e you don't have to know about any of the content, or you can know a lot about it, same goes for London - you don't have to care about London for it to be interesting, it goes beyond one particular place, it's about all of us, and how we live and how we concern ourselves with different things.
Thanks Vicki! You can come along and see Citation City in DCA Galleries on Wed 23 November: for tickets and more information click here.