COnscription explores the call-up to military service for people who don't 'fit the mould'. The four-channel film is on show at the Old Truman Brewery, London until 18 May. Joe McConnell reviews an experiential multimedia installation which follows the stories of four individuals who meet at a military hospital - three subjects under assessment and their doctor.
You sit on or beside a bed in a cold bare hospital room. There are matching beds projected on the walls on either side of you. Three men in pyjamas speak to and interact with each other from both sides of the room. Behind you each patient is being interrogated by a doctor who appears on the fourth wall.
Caglar Kimyoncu's COnscription is an immersion into the experience of the psychological testing endured by military conscripts in Turkey.
It becomes clear from the exchanges between the men that they are dreading the ordeal of testing because - for different reasons - they don't fit into the expectations of mainstream society. The screening of the installation lasts about 35 minutes and is impressively based on a single long take of live improvisation. There are regular overlaid sections on each main screen which zoom into details but the underlying projections are unedited.
Before watching the online version of COnscription (prior to experiencing the installation at the exhibition), I was expecting to find strident arguments around the ethics of military service and its effect on marginalised people. It was my own strident expectations that were swiftly turned on their head as the interaction between the men was clearly not part of an agitprop with a neat conclusion attempting to convince you one way or the other. The story emerges through exchanges that are often cryptic along with silences and gestures often hinging upon what one character thinks he knows about another, within the oppressive institutional environment. This is a kind of storytelling which brings you incredibly close to the protagonists but denies you any easy answers or comforting explanations.
The dual screening is intersected (with smaller screens on both remaining walls) with a doctor interrogating each of the patients. The sound for this is accessed through headphones and offers another layer elucidating the story.
Only after my first viewing of the online version, I learnt that the whole production is based on improvisation. Kimyoncu selected the actors on the basis of their having direct experience of the issues. He worked with the actors sharing stories of his own experience and that of others and the improvisational work eventually led to a series of repeated long takes. And one of these long takes is at the heart of the COnscription installation.
The work is a brilliant piece of storytelling bringing you right into the intersecting narratives, leaving you with more questions than answers. COnscription is all the more welcome at this time when so much of our world is at war. One of the questions at its heart is around what it means to be a conscientious objector. Here, we should remember the men and women in this country who, after signing up, find they cannot continue to be part of the international war machine. And those all over the world oppressed and alienated by militarism.
I am enormously grateful to COnscription for bringing to life a cluster of issues that are not greatly explored in the art world. COnscription is a great credit to Caglar Kimyoncu, the actors, and the production team. It is on show at the Old Truman Brewery, 4 Wilkes Street, London E1 8QF until 18th May.