Writer: Adam Kammerling
Shoes appear on a carpet, a hand flattens a tablecloth where a place setting appears and a man rakes a fork through his chest hair. This abstract collection of images are used to explore the impact of separation and distance on family rituals in a short film version of Adam Kammerling’s poem Seder created for the Living Roots Micro Festival, a looping piece about memory, family and goldfish.
Referencing a Passover feast that celebrates liberation, Kammerling’s poem wonders about the effect of lockdown on the family connection and how both religious and social rituals are grounded in the physical coming together of families and communities. The arrival of Kammerling’s son in the year since he has seen his grandparents and his parents, Seder suggests, has distorted a vital link with the past where now the same memories play on repeat.
Distortion is a key theme in Kammerling’s work, looking at the way time both slows and accelerates during confinement and ‘it’s weird how time changes when you can’t leave’ he observes. That various abstract memories are balanced by these astute observations about social restrictions are one of Seder’s most interesting features as the concept of linear time is distilled into the effects of weather and a sense that no one can trust their own memories.
This slightly sinister undertone is reflected in the accompanying music and uniting words and sounds is one of Seder’s most effective collaborations. Working with Bellatrix and drummer Antosh Wojcik, the score which has fully instrumental and sung segments, is often unnerving, using a double bass, guitar and drums to generate an edgy feeling, a sense of unnerving anticipation as though something is slowly and anxiously building through this composition.
Much of that seems to be influenced by pivotal memories from Kammerling’s childhood, of discussions with his grandfather in particular who may have once killed an adder in his garden, of a pond with goldfish – an image that recurs frequently – and particularly of mid-century Germany with an intriguing section about a test building in Berlin built on marshy ground, the intended site of a Triumphal Arch which is sinking.
The visual design is less meaningful and while the disappearing and reappearing place setting references the meal and the repetition of ceremony, the self-consciously conceptual approach doesn’t fully sustain the 22-minutes of performance time. Images of a spoon being slowly turned in the performer’s hand, close-ups of sinewy movement in a person’s arm and neck while deliberately distorting the area under and around the eye represent Kammerling’s themes but add little to the much more meaningful combination of poetry and music.
Seder has a lot of resonant things to say about absence from loved ones, the contemplation and behaviour of memory and how the past lives on through rites and traditions that provide links and focal points for multiple generations. The way our separation has distorted that is something we will continue to grapple with.
The Living Roots Micro Festival runs here until 17 April 2021