The award-winning new film Sack Barrow by British artist Ben Rivers is presented in the Hayward Project Space. The 16 mm film recently received the Baloise Art Prize at Art Basel 2011.
In his films Rivers explores forgotten places and biographies. In Sack Barrow, he takes as his subject Servex Ltd, a small, family-run electroplating factory on the outskirts of London. Established in 1931 to provide employment for limbless and disabled ex-servicemen, after many years of struggling to remain a viable business it finally went into liquidation last year. In June 2010, Rivers filmed the factory’s last working month, later returning to film its empty spaces following its closure.
Sack Barrow is a document of a vanished world of labour and production, out of step with the demands of contemporary capitalism. Focusing on the workers’ worn faces, their slow, methodical movements, and the stalactite-like build ups of toxic chemical residue on the plant’s machinery and architecture, Rivers calls our attention to time expended and lost. In the film’s third ‘chapter’, we hear a female voice read a passage from the art critic, anarchist poet, and ICA co-founder Herbert Read’s 1935 fantasy novel The Green Child over footage of the factory staff taking tea. Describing a journey through water into a crystalline grotto illuminated by greenish, phosphorescent light, Read’s words may allude here to the factory’s cave-like appearance and to the transition from one (historical) reality to another.