M
M

The fire and the rose are one

The fire and the rose are one is is second from a cycle of films investigating and constructing an ongoing reinterpretation of history using symbolic locations, frameworks of historiography, historical, political, and sociological ideologies, and various cultural relics.

 

It follows the narrative initiated in the film The shrine to summon the souls several years earlier. The film is constructed, similarly, with two parallel narratives. One is the text of T. S. Elliot’s Four Quartets which suggests on many levels means of reading of the visual part which presents three historically symbolic sites: former site of Pruit-Igoe social housing project in St. Louis, Ordos City in Inner Mongolia and ruins of the Greek village of Levissi located now at the Turkish coast. The three locations present historically symbolic ruins. Each of the sites considered in the historical perspective offers view on the road which has led global societies to the present socio-political circumstances.

The film begins in St Louis, which like many major American cities in the early 50s was facing an increasing number of migrants from the rural areas. To solve the housing problem the city council decided to construct a housing project following Le Corbusier’s Athens Charter. A complex of 11-storey high towers was completed in 1956. The project offered family flats with facilities many of its inhabitants-to-be never had had access to: modern bathrooms and kitchens, laundry rooms and other communal areas. Despite that the project started declining only a few years later. The 60s produced a new landscape, the American Dream was not in accord with the idea of community, it propagated an isolated individual whose life concentrated around consumption (something young hippies later on would be vividly opposing).

Likewise, inhabitants of the cities would move to the suburbs and a housing solution was no longer necessary. By mid 60s the complex declined. It was occupied only in a third and it became dangerous and crime-infested; it was said police would not even dare to arrive for interventions. Between 1972 and 1976 the whole complex (apart from the school and chapel) were demolished. What followed was a neoliberal period of manufacturing outsourcing which further contributed to the region’s and city’s decline. St Louis was not to recover. Up to this day, in the centre of the city, a quarter of abandoned rubble of Pruitt-Igoe is buried underneath a wild park. The spectator is invited to follow the narrator into a ‘garden’, where many narratives of the past and present meet.

From Missouri we move to Inner-Mongolia and the City of Ordos, which several years ago was listed among the so called ‘Ghost Cities’ by the Western Media. These ‘abandoned’ and ‘ruined’ cities presented in pictures, were in most cases simply projects-in-progress, and so essentially construction sites, as the central government invested in building a 2 mln inhabitants conglomerates over only a couple of years, a scale and speed not really familiar to the Western audiences. The common commentary followed a typical neoliberal idea, similarly assigned to Pruit-Igoe – a ‘crazy utopian vision’, which could not possibly have succeeded. By 2017 the city was already inhabited in 30%. Nevertheless, Ordos still remains relatively empty in many areas. On its account several rushed building projects were undertaken and many had to be abandoned. In the middle, the film moves on to an abandoned Greek village on the Turkish coast. But from that point on the film will move back and forth from Ordos to Levissi, then briefly back to Ordos to then conclude back at the seaside.

Ordos city became a middle point of the film, because it is a ‘ruin’ of a different sort than the two others. It is also a place where one could say issues of urban planning (represented by Pruitt-Igoe) and social and racial planning (like in the case of Levissi) meet. It is also the place in-between past and future, as the narration of the text moves through time and memory. The feeling of desolation also brings a different sense of uneasiness. The issue of cultural minorities in China and the policies of the Central Government – ‘The people of the plains bring culture and wealth to those poor inhabitants of the steppes.’ The locals might be willing to accept the tempting offer, the cost of which we might yet to learn. The film concludes at a different kind of ghost town – ruins of Levissi located in the historic region of Lycia, now in Turkey. Prior to 1922, the town was solely inhabited by the Greek Christian population. In 1914 the Ottoman authorities began persecution of the local Greeks as a result of larger plans of ethnic cleansing. For the following 8 years the Greeks were tortured and murdered. What is now recognised as genocide of the Ottoman Greeks ended in 1922 with deportations of the small number of remaining Greek population.

The three sites with their historical, political and social backgrounds elicit contemplation on time, history and meaning of our life in the present. For the film presents one with a sense of uneasiness as specific information about any of the sites is not presented. On one hand one can’t help but feel unsettled about the missing memory. What were these places, what happened to those who inhabited them and why did these places became as they are? On the other hand, the images of nature, which renews itself, once again, on top of the ruins, offers a certain consolation: perhaps as we forget and the rubble becomes covered by vegetation, flowers will once again bloom ‘in the rose garden’. This question of the pain of remembering and forgetting as a hope for the future is a recurring motif throughout both films.

The final scene from The fire and the rose are one leads on to the 3rd film from the cycle. Each of the mentioned locations brought forth contemplation on time and history, thoughts on the past, present and future. The view of the Aegean sea brings forth another story to mind, after all the ancestors of Greeks in the region, the Lycians, were to fight in the defence of Troy and the sea before our eyes as the film concludes is the one on which the Achaean ships once supposedly appeared. And so a new chapter follows. In the camp of Achilles.

Michal Martychowiec, 2020