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Beneath Our Skin

Geographers say there are two kinds of islands. This is valuable information for the imagination because it confirms what the imagination already knew.

— Gilles Deleuze

In Martin McDonagh's 2008 film In Bruges, two hitmen are sent into hiding in the Belgian city of Bruges by their British boss. Bruges is a picturesque tourist town, the best-preserved medieval city in Belgium, and the two killers have little to do there other than discover the physical environment through their alienation. When Ken suggests to Ray that they visit a cathedral, Ray asks, "what's up there?" Ken replies, "The view." "The view what?" Ray asks. Ray's reluctance to engage with the environment distinctly marks the unbearable impossibility of forming a relationship with their surroundings. As the story continues, the two hitmen are forced to reconcile the fact of their having no more reason to be in Bruges than anywhere else with an image of the town as a specific location. Here, the conditions of space and subjectivity converge—the hitmen and Bruges together ask how it is possible for an individual to relate to a place without having a specific role or function in it. In essence, how might a gap between subjectivity and location be presented within the image to create zones for other relationships to be formed between them?

In his films Blissed (2005) and Finally (2006), artist Knut Åsdam focuses on young people and their interactions with the physical environment of a city. Gestures of looking, walking, and speaking are performed by a group of young people in spaces with little relation to the subjects' interactions. From these gestures, Åsdam teases out mini-narratives by constructing monologues from these interactions. Set in a commercial city center in historical Salzburg, the young people in the film respond to each other and circulate throughout its public spaces. In Finally, the connection with the spatial environment that its subjects seek through gesture and language is not found. The work is one of the finest examples of a gap between an architectural environment with its own conditioned memory (marking the present time) and the gestures of the individual. In the scenes, three young people try to communicate, move, fight, and utter monologues that appeal to the space for a connection when the historical garden, sculptures, and buildings around them remain still. As Åsdam searches for an aesthetic narrative in a place where the architecture is heavy with a specific history, a loss of identification with a space (as we find in In Bruges) emerges.

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