It’s summer. Also it’s 1879. A teenage Richard Strauss hikes the Heimgarten in the Bavarian Alps, a thunderstorm looms. This hike and the suicide of failed portrait painter Karl Stauffer-Bern will be formative for the young composer - inspiring the first sketches of Artist’s Tragedy; a work which will develop into his iconic daybreak-to-dusk, cycle-of-life tone-poem An Alpine Symphony Op. 64 (1915) and will come full circle a century later in the similarly symphonic, epic and existential film Like a Pig in Shit (2019), by British artist Richard Sides.
In this collage, seemingly random songs actuate moving and still images. First comes the Bee Gees’ soul-searching Don’t Wanna Live Inside Myself (1971), a track Robin Gibb described as marking "the dawning, or the closing, of the 'gotta find out who I really am' era". Rising or setting, those ambitions would be safely recouped into an economy of competition by the time Billy Ocean’s 1985 hit When the Going Gets Tough the Tough Get Going was released and which, when plays near the end of the film, beams as a chorus as a Thatcherite slogan of neoliberal individualism. Before it, DJ PayPal’s You Got Me gives optimism to a scene of ambitious looting and Hex’s upbeat 90s club track Alright To Love amps up footage of a protest in France. A scooter flies over the frame towards the eponymous policeman as he backtracks; the film title appears on queue.
If all this mixing, sampling and cutting prompts associations of image prosumption and content creation, it also unfolds a series fundamental questions about the impossibility of meaning and signification. In one passage, an anaphoric train of thought seeks to position the role of the artist—bound as they are by endless lengths of bureaucratic red tape—to an industry of image-production-as-entertainment. It describes a tragic trappedness: trying to find meaning within an image-based economy in which art can only add more images and create more types of meaninglessness, to which the only recourse might be, with Karl Stauffer-Bern in mind, “melting your mind for the sake of finding a way out of oppressive cycles”.
Am I living in hell or is hell living in me?
The end of summer is traditional coming of age time. You ﬁnish Interrailing around Europe and go home. You now hate your best friend. You return and your boyfriend starts pretending not to know you. Your dog is dead. Your parents have replaced your playroom with a jacuzzi. Your bedroom with a sauna. They’ve turned one of their spare houses into an art gallery, and the other one is being lived in by a crow that they found wounded by a road. They say it’s the crow’s house now, and when it dies other crows will live there until you die, then the house will be handed over to a bird sanctuary. You move to a new town. You can’t ﬁnd a job. Your parents agree that you can have a small allowance as long as they can monitor you at all times. You’re tagged, a painful microchip inserted into your cheek. They’ve sold your rights to an undisclosed international company. You’re no longer their responsibility. When you ask who is responsible for you, they say they can’t say, but encourage you to buy products that will please them. They refuse to say what products these are. Your allowance stops. You struggle to get by. You develop a hard edge. You ﬁnd it hard to make friends with people who aren’t hustling like you. You receive no birthday presents or cards, except from your mother, who has not spoken to you in years. She’s sent you a large package and a note. She writes that with the money they received from your chip she has taken up robotics as a hobby. You open the box. Your dog is alive, but it moves funny and is incredibly aggressive. It’s also territorial. You have to move out. You tell your parents hoping they can get rid of the dog, but they have no idea what you’re talking about. They say the dog is buried in the backyard. You’re covered in dog bites. They want to know what’s got into you. “The Dog,” you tell them. “Aw, you used to love dogs, especially Molly,” they reply nostalgically. You tell them about the letter and the robot dog they sent you. They say they don’t know anything about any dogs. They sent a birthday card and a cheque with a bit of extra cash to get something nice. You tell them you’re scared the robot dog will follow your chip and do the same thing, again and again, rendering you homeless for ever. They tell you that your mother’s never done robotics, her hobbies include DJing and skateboarding and your dad tells you he’s considering taking up pole dancing to stay fit.