continuous loop | HD | 16-9 | stereo
The Return is inspired by Andrei Tarkovsky’s final film, The Sacrifice. The narrative of Tarkovsky’s film centres around a gathering of friends and family at the home of Alexander to celebrate his birthday. As they gather a news program announces the beginning of what appears to be nuclear war. In despair, Alexander vows to god to sacrifice all that he loves, even his son, if this can be undone. When war appears to be averted Alexander sets fire to his house.
Within, The Sacrifice, Alexander's house plays a central role. Most of the action unfolds around it and it’s destruction by fire forms the dramatic climax of the film. Modelled on Tarkovsky’s own, back in Russia, the psychological importance of the house is underlined by the fact that the principle character (Alexander) is given a model of this (his) house as a birthday gift by his only son (referred to only as, Little Man). Beyond the house being a copy of his own, much in The Sacrifice also echoes Tarkovsky’s own life - his recent personal sacrifice in defecting to the west thus exiling himself from his home and his son (also called Andrei), his faith and doubt, his infidelity.
Echoing the biblical story of Abraham, The Sacrifice is often read an an allegory of atonement and sacrifice. However, it is much more complex and ambiguous than this. Philosophically, the central tenet is Nietzsche’s doctrine of the eternal return which is essentially a philosophical reinterpretation of the theme of time and the idea of repetition and recurrence in history.
This sense of the overlap or repetition of objects, lives and histories finds a poignant and poetic echo in the production of The Sacrifice's final shot. The final scene in the shooting schedule of The Sacrifice was the burning of the house. Disaster struck when the camera jammed after the fire started. Subsequently, the visually spectacular and narratively essential scene was not recorded. In order to complete the production, the house had to be rebuilt in order to reshoot its destruction, in a second fire, a few weeks later.
The house in The Return is a copy of that in The Sacrifice and the landscape was filmed at the same location The Sacrifice was filmed exactly 30 years after the rebuilt house was burned. In The Return the camera tracks anti-clockwise around this house as it burns down. The house then reforms from the ashes, as the camera continues its circular path, and this process of destruction and reforming is repeated ad infinitum.
The house is a large, timber constructed, scandinavian-style, family house. It is located close to the edge of a body of water and the ground around the house is dotted with puddles, suggesting recent rainfall. As the work begins, the soundtrack suggests a rural ideal. We hear the faint sound of waves breaking on a nearby beach, the piping call of the coastal dwelling oystercatcher and overhead the screeching cries of migratory swifts. As the fire takes hold the roar of the flames builds and drowns out these sounds. We hear the window glass cracking in the heat, the splitting, and falling timbers, and then, following the reforming of the building, we are returned again to the tranquility of the gently breaking waves, the swifts and the oystercatchers.
The Return is presented as a continuous loop and the symbolism and form of the circle are integral to the work - for instance, in the act of destroying and recreating the house, in the movement of the camera, in the water cycle implied in the landscape, and in the presence of the migratory swifts. In addition, the notion of a building as shelter and ‘dwelling’ with it’s connotations of home and self, the life giving and purifying qualities of water, and the symbolism of fire as an agent of both destruction and renewal, ending and beginning, combine as the primary components in a meditation on home, loss, return and the cyclical nature of time and history.