Here’s a joke from the 1970s:
“What do you do when you see a space man?”
“I don’t know, what do you do when you see a space man?”
“Park in it, man”
In collaboration with the East Anglian Film Archive, filmmaker Sarah Wood and writer Ali Smith presented their exclusive short film ‘The New Space Age’, a short story spoken by Smith over various shots collaging perspectives in East England. They chose to begin with this joke, I believe, because it speaks what the rest of the film is about – a joke spoken far back in the past that has more relevance now than it did in the context it was spoken.
Smith guides the video with an anecdote about an altercation she had with her new neighbour. She asks her new neighbour to move her car from the emergency space reserved for a plumber to park in and pump raw sewage from the street. She refuses. Smith stays by the parking space, pondering what space is, before the neighbour begins filming her – Smith decides to smile and wave into the camera as if she were family capturing the moment.
Whilst hauntingly old (much of the footage dates back to the 1940s), Smith’s anecdote about an altercation she had with her new neighbour brings the narrative to the present, accompanied by animations to remind the audience which decade it is, and to dictate her story in a contemporary visual form.
Tetris emerges from the scratchings of decades-old recorded video, an ancient map of ‘Roman Britain’ being measured and notated, Space Invaders come out of nowhere. Tetris refers to who decides where the pieces fit, and who owns the space where the pieces must fit into, and who is affected when the pieces are mis-arranged. Roman Britain refers to the dividing of land for whoever claims it. Space Invaders refers to, well, those who wish to invade your space and conquer it.
Underneath these animations, there are many striking images; underwater barns and houses accompanied by the sound of rain and wet crunching footsteps, rocks break into the water, sending waves crashing, a child smiling into the camera preparing for a picture but receiving a video instead.
Eclectically sourced, from amateur travelogues, to professional videographers, to intimate home movies, the shots capture a diverse assortment of locations, including the North Norfolk Coast, Primrose Hill Farm, Cambridgeshire Fens flooding, and a family’s holiday by the Suffolk coast.
Following the film was a conversation between Ali Smith and UEA Live Co-Director and lecturer in Creative Writing at UEA, KR Moorhead. During this, Smith answered questions from UEA students.
On the question of the border of our dwellings, Smith answered with more questions, asking why, with 80 million displaced people, we are still concerned with borders and identity, and that Covid lets us know “there are no borders, we are just ‘in the world’”. She then tells a story about her house becoming overrun by ants, and her own decision to allow the ants to dwell in her space, as who is she to disallow them?
On her playful language and the title of her novel ‘There But For The’, Smith explains that “words imply themselves… like an echo chamber, more and more things round it, and we make meaning by those surroundings, and we make them from the point of the monosyllable to the multisyllable.” So, each ‘there’ represents a bigger and subsequently smaller ‘there’, and the same can be said for each individual syllable, fitting together like a puzzle to fit a congruous meaning. She also explains her appreciation for translation, and how non-straightforward and multi-dimensional the practice is, having to reconstruct the world of the writer using new bricks and structures.