Following hot on the heels of last year’s French fancy This Our Still Life (2011), visual artist Andrew Kötting returns to selected cinema screens with Swandown (2012), a very British travelogue following the filmmaker and an assorted band of associates as they make their way from Hastings to Hackney, via the Olympic site, in a swan-shaped pedalo. Taking its cues from Kötting’s 1997 piece Gallivant, this unique filmmaker manages to squeeze vital meaning out of the most bizarre of means.
Joining Kötting on his 160-mile Homeric voyage through South East England’s waterways are a selected rabble of freethinkers and artists, including writer (and prophet) Alan Moore, arch comedian Stewart Lee, actor Dudley Sutton and, most frequently, Iain Sinclair. The psychogeographer effortlessly delivers a flowing stream of ‘word showers’ at his friend Kötting, who – in his own words – is transformed into a ‘flesh radio’. Regardless of the terminology used, Sinclair’s thoughts are eloquent and clear throughout, eulogising over a country that is swiftly losing its own sense of identity in the face of corporate Olympian spirit.
Other contributors are perhaps less successful in expressing their motives for inclusion, though Moore and Lee provide some of the most entertaining back-and-forths in the film as they pedal along. Kötting’s intention is far more obvious however – to bring together some of the nation’s sharpest minds, not on a televised panel or institutional lecture hall, but in a crude plastic representation of an elegant and graceful water fowl. Indeed, the symbolic nature of the swan is referred to at numerous points, with the black swan in particular singled out as a metaphor for science’s ongoing quest to unearth the unknown. As with most of Kötting’s back catalogue, the opportunity is always there to dismiss his work as mere installation pieces, lacking in cinematic credentials. Indeed, there is little of the warmth here that had filtered through past efforts. Yet, despite its conceivably limited appeal and small release, Swandown is as valuable an artefact in regards to national pride as anything the London 2012 Olympic Games may strive to create. Fans of Kötting will surely lap this up, whilst newcomers to his oeuvre may just come away pleasantly surprised.