Andreas Horvath, <em>Earth's Golden Playground</em>, 2013

A Look Ahead to AV Festival 14: Extraction, by Andrew Latimer

After its biennial break, AV Festival returns in March to deliver local and international multimedia art to the North East. This year’s festival matches previous editions that choose a specific – commonly global - theme and present a mix of curated and commissioned work, much of which has never been shown in the region. This year, AV Festival: Extraction sees a panorama of new exhibitions, live music and films that plunge into the undocumented territories of the earth, in search of debates about the raw materials we use for industry but so readily abuse. 

This central motif has many manifestations. The idea of ‘extracting’ resources from the ground is explored quite literally in the work of Chinese documentary filmmaker Wang Bing. In 2014, Crude Oil (1 – 31 March), West of the Tracks (1, 2 & 3 March) and Man With No Name (4 March) all receive UK premières, alongside regional ones, unpicking the role of heavy industry and its relationship with finite materials, labour, success, profit and poverty.

These themes hook up to the concepts of disaster, greed and corporate identity in the wider film programme. The Radiant (10 March) and Pripyat (13 March) react to nuclear tragedy and economic destruction, the former assessing the outlook for a nuclear-vulnerable Japan after Fukushima, the latter depicting the lives of survivors from Chernobyl. Two focal highlights include the UK premières of Rachel Boynton’s Big Men (19 March), which exposes US oil corruption in Ghana, and Andreas Horvath’s Earth’s Golden Playground (20 March), a fascinating portrait of a dying tradition: the Klondike gold rush in Yukon, Canada.

Extraction adopts an altogether more militant position over the Postcolonial Cinema Weekend (7 – 9 March). In an exciting break for both audiences and academics, the programme welcomes leading filmmakers to screen and discuss their work. The collection of nine films exorcise the treacherous ghosts of colonial interference and invasion: highlights that relive the quarrying of culture and life itself that destroyed Italy in the 1920s and 30s (Pays Barbare, 7 March), through to the inheritance of such egregious legacies in the modern day (Palácios de Pena, 8 March).

Away from the ugliness of extraction, a beautiful sonic examination of resources takes place during the Digging for Sound strand. Lee Patterson’s Orefield (14 March)ushers us on a journey into the North Pennines lead industry, as he presents an auditory adventure through eerie mineshafts and clanking machinery. Meanwhile, Chris Watson’s guided walks along Embleton Bay and Pat Collins’s pursuit of silence are two contrasting yet complimentary projects that aim to discover undetected hums. Fittingly, the pair will also share a Q&A to discuss their collaboration (21 March).

The backbone of the festival remains in the exhibitions however. Do not miss Akio Suzuki’s oto-date Newcastle: a sensory tour around Newcastle which encourages participants to stop and absorb the curious echoes bouncing through the city centre. Continue your journey to the two group exhibitions stationed at the Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art and NGCA, Sunderland. The first is a comprehensive spotlight on the area’s success as a global iron and steel industry (Metal), the second a historical pathway back to the Stone Age to measure the chief material’s geologic impact (Stone).

This is a festival where to see a variety of multidisciplinary work informs every project. Film is boosted with taste and touch, from walks on the shorefronts to the handling of nineteenth century stone models. There is a need to extract from as many strands as possible to get the deepest insight. Here’s to a month of celebrating the very environments that allow us to be creative.

Andrew Latimer