Film Review: The Whalebone Box

2 minutes





Andrew Kötting is a filmmaker and Professor of Time Based Media. A visual artist who uses film and photography to explore the gaps between dreams and reality, autobiography and self-mythology. It’s hard to put the multi-disciplinary Kötting’s work into a box, and yet he has made an entire film about one.

A smooth, sealed-off whalebone sculpture, entrusted to his friend and collaborator Iain Sinclair which Kötting documents in yet another shared travelogue as the pair return the box to the Hebridean isle where it was built. In recent years, Sinclair and Kötting have become something of a double-act. The closest psychogeography will likely come to a Gilbert and George, or Laurel and Hardy. Kötting pops up in Sinclair’s non-fiction walk books, tramping across London beside Sinclair in a sort of rehearsal for the next time Kötting will pick up his camera and bring the author along for a ride.

The Whalebone Box marks the pair’s fourth outing together in a series which includes Edith Walks and By Our Selves. It is, at once, arguably the most disjointed, the most thematically adventurous and the finest of Kötting’s recent work. A rich tapestry of ideas and associations, dream paths and neural trenches. The sort of film that hits its target audience with the surety of a whaler’s harpoon and leaves many others grumbling. If you already exist under their spell, however, it’s a rich and rewarding watch.

Kötting mixes archive whaling footage with his video diary and the peephole photography of Anonymous Bosch, to create a series of different spaces which the titular box seems to float through. As well as Sinclair’s regular speeches and observations, Kötting ties in footage of his daughter Eden, who contributes from an ‘amniotic fluid state of dream’ providing sleeping remembrances which are as inscrutable as the closed-off box itself. This section about a box also manages to comment on the use of boxes in other films. The always-effective MacGuffin device which leaves us, as in the climactic scene of David Fincher’s Se7en – alluded to throughout – desperately asking what’s inside.

Sinclair’s whalebone box is compared to dark web mystery boxes, the Franks Casket, an airplane’s black box, and the imagined chamber with which Schrödinger theorised about quantum mechanics. (To Sinclair, it is an “Earth battery” full of various psychic energies, setting off chains of connection between the murky oceans in which the bones once swam and its new life on dry land). Whether you find Kötting’s style enchanting or merely tedious, it would be hard to walk away from The Whalebone Box not amazed at how much thinking there is to be done about something so small: a simple artefact raised up to the status of a relic by the force of story-telling and willed mythology.

Tom Duggins | @duggins_tom

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