Words

Matt Turner

What does it mean to live and work in the digital present?

Eduardo Williams’ intoxicating debut feature The Human Surge ponders just that.

Documentary can sometimes be seen as static, formless, a little too inert. This is not something that could be said of Eduardo Williams’ inventive, disruptive and propulsive debut feature The Human Surge, a lurching vortex of continual motion that, while switching between more laconic pacing and moments of greater intensity, never really stops moving.

In his first full-length effort, Williams elaborates upon the style and themes established in his experimental, explorative shorts – a virile, agile series of hybrid docs built around motion and the perpetual transference of energy and ideas, all of which are preoccupied with issues (work, technology and the meeting of the two) of contemporary concern that he continues to ruminate on in the feature.

In a kind of cinematic relay race, actors in the films hand over to each other in continual connective chains, Williams’ camera bounding behind in rear medium shot. Rolling and roving around his characters, snippets of their exchanges are heard before the focus moves on. Moment passes to moment, scenarios roll one into another. As each invisible baton pass is made, junctures form between people and their environments, connections made across global, networked plains, and sensations, feelings and impulses explored as they occur, on the move.

Fully mobile, highly intoxicating explorations of the dynamics of bodies and space, in these films fluid and rhythmic connections are made out of idle chatter, purposeless hangouts, and the walks to and from places, and ideas surrounding community are explored within frameworks that globalise these networks.

A triptych of diffuse, meandering micro-stories, The Human Surge passes between three separate locations: Argentina, Mozambique and the Philippines. It also switches between three different camera formats, tying each through a novel, unexpected connective device. Starting in Argentina, the muted, grainy visions of Buenos Aires are left behind as the Super 16mm camera glides into a computer monitor, coming out of another screen in Maputo, captured on BlackMagic digital, then filmed back onto Super 16 off a monitor to roughen, texturise and quasi-digitalise the image.

Out of Mozambique and into the Philippines, down the deepest cavities of an anthill, tunnelling out into the Bohol jungle to show a hand operating a smartphone in pristine RED digital, where eventually the camera rests on a tripod for the first time for the film’s conclusion, locked upon the fluctuating, uniquely modern tinted hues of of a tablet factory.

In these temporally and geographically disparate moments, we witness first the cross-continental usage of technology, then finally the creation of it. And in the image, a parallel slide from celluloid to an analog-digital hybrid, to the fully contemporary digital format – process and then technology, work and then automation. In much of cinema, technology is seen as oppressive, but for Williams it appears to be liberating.

The Human Surge is a film of associations, familiar to anyone who has grown up online. Williams moves between ideas and between locations as we navigate tabs in the browser, scrolling, absorbing, connecting. It reveals how we communicate through digital mediums, in fragments and pieces, in thoughts and digressions. It is a patchwork: of dialogues clipped from the internet, overheard, written and imagined. Of characters found, created, discovered, and sourced online and in the streets; and of places, chanced upon, found on google maps, and heard about and travelled to.

The film also bears witness to the mundanity of menial labour, in supermarkets. offices and factories, and to the languid promise of idle time, in carparks, bedrooms and the jungle, as well as looking into strange conflations of the two. A standout sequence sees a group of Brazilian boys lazily and casually perform homosexual acts on each other for the viewing pleasure of webcam subscribers around the world, which leads into a similar sequence in Mozambique, where the participants quickly grow tired of the same exploit.

Williams and his collaborators ask, in their activities as much as their words: what would life be like if people more actively confronted their disinterest in the working world, or if systems existed to facilitate a different structure, one outside of the work ethic and the centrality of organised drudgery?

The Human Surge screens at London’s ICA on 23 April as part of the second Frames of Representation festival. For more info head to ica.art

Tags: Eduardo Williams

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