Unintended consequences: a term coined by American sociologist Robert K. Merton in the twentieth century to designate the unforeseen outcomes of an action. These can be positive (think serendipitous discoveries) but, more often, the term accounts for unexpected drawbacks. At Jerwood Space, it becomes a conductor for two new commissions by the winners of the 2018 Jerwood/FVU Awards, Imran Perretta and Maeve Brennan. Though radically different in approach and style, both films point to the unintended consequences of global power structures: the refugee crisis in Perretta’s 15 Days, and climate change in Brennan’s Listening in the Dark.
Brennan’s film is a poetic documentary taking as its starting point the discovery that wind turbines, conceived as benevolent, ecological devices, can be lethal for bats (a recent study suggests that a drop in pressure at the rear of the blades causes the creature’s lungs to explode). The film, exhibiting a deliberate slowness characteristic of Brennan’s work, encompasses contemplative landscape shots of rock formations being submerged by tumultuous waters, wind turbines rotating on the horizon, interviews with various chiropterists (some in their research lab; others out in the field, as they survey, equipped with flashlights, caves and grottos in search of hibernating bats), and archive footage of scientific experiments carried out on bats. Our fellow mammals then, which it turns out we still know very little about, become a lens to ponder the human footprint on the environment and plea for a more modest and decentralised view of the world in the face of the unpredictable forces of nature.
Perretta’s film, on the other hand, is a short punch to the throat. A computer-generated render depicts a tent in a forest, clothes hanging from dead trees, and rubbish strewn around. Superimposed in the background of this dismal scene is handheld camera footage which documenting refugee camps in Calais and Dunkirk while a man recounts his experience of displacement. His tale is a stark testimony to the violence of identity loss and the struggle to maintain a sense of pride and dignity when you feel on the verge of disappearing. Intended or not, visible or not, these are still consequences: and as both films obliquely suggest, what matters isn’t who started it, but how it we deal with the aftermath.
Unintended consequences: Maeve Brennan and Imran Perretta is on view through 3 June at Jerwood Space, London
Online exclusive published on 6 April 2018