• Flash Competition


Céline Condorelli

Ben Rivers

The film opens with a well-known British nursery rhyme: Boys and girls come out to play. It ends with a call, whispered in the ear at bedtime, to go and play and see what is going on in the street. This is precisely what Ben Rivers and Celine Condorelli suggest in After Work, the latter having been commissioned to design a playground in a working-class area of South London. From one off-camera to the other, from the playing to the making, the aim here is to take a closer look at what playgrounds tell us: about childhood, the street and living together. To carry out this investigation, which is as political as it is sensory, and is fuelled by the visual beauty and sensuality of Rivers’ 16mm images; they are accompanied by Jay Bernard, poet, artist, and a key figure on London’s literary and LGBT scene. On screen, we discover how it’s made – digging the earth, preparing the ground, welding, polishing. This is suggested through touches, captured by a camera playing with colours and overlaying, focused on the smallest snatches of gestures at work – a whole process splintered by an erratic chronology. In parallel, Jay Bernard’s voice propels his beautiful, rough, elliptical poem, taking us at its own pace into a world of words nourished by highly sensitive experiences. From this corner of the city, a concentrated urban world unfolds, populated by labourers at work and a bestiary composed of cats, but also a fleeting fox. An unexpected guest in the city, he seems surprised by the construction site and the introduction of children playing in his world. The film, by its very make-up, is a focus of encounters, sometimes discordant: between worlds, between the poem and images, between work and play, the city and the animals, the adult world and the child’s world – which Rivers, judiciously, does not film.
(Nicolas Feodoroff)

Interview with Ben Rivers & Celine Condorelli

The film is related to a project commissioned to you, Céline Condorelli, by South London Gallery to create a playground. How was the project born? The necessity of the film? How did you work together? Did you have a script?

CC: We have been friends for quite a few years. I often think that our practices are so different they are almost at opposite ends of the spectrum. This is one of the reasons why we thought it would be interesting to find a way of working together, with our different approaches to work. The main difference being, for me at least, that I am not an image-maker, even less of a moving-image maker, and yet Ben is a prolific producer of images, as for instance he has made an impressive amount of films, but also prints and drawings etc. I thought it could be interesting to make a sculpture to function as a set for Ben, resulting in a film in an artwork; then came the commission to design the public artwork in the shape of a playground in South London. I asked Ben to follow the production and the making of it, and in effect use this artwork for a film to take place in. We worked very much together, however we did completely different things. Rarely did I ever stand behind the camera to see through it, and rarely did Ben have something to do with the materials being fabricated on screen or the places where filming was taking place. We did not have a script and we very much trusted each other’s practices along what ended up being quite a long and convoluted path…. Trust being pretty essential to such a loose, long-winded process.

The idea of “elsewhere” runs through it, as the opening nursery rhyme shows. Was this the case from the start?

CC & BR: The film is very much about a place undergoing change. Every single shot relates to something that in the end changed the square or that was added to it. It’s interesting that as you say it does have this constant notion of elsewhere, maybe in the way that every place relates to many others. By looking incredibly closely at all the places that make up the making of one place, geographies get mixed up, diluted, lost and found. We travelled to the square in all seasons and weather, always a destination from our own elsewhere, living in other parts of London, and looking at it in such a specific way.

The children are present through the text and never on screen. Why?

CC & BR: We were all absolutely convinced that the film is not about children. The place of play in society, in the city, is not about children in and of themselves, but about how society considers childhood (and not just children play of course), how it relates to it (or doesn’t) and what place is given to it both intellectually and socially. In that sense it is the relationship to work that is much clearer – as play is supposed to be everything that work isn’t.

But we see many animals, cats and foxes discovering your piece and the place.

CC & BR: Foxes and cats investigate the city, their surroundings, and of course are also inhabitants of the city not usually considered as such. There was a lot of fear and concerns that the sand filled playground would become a toilet zone for the local wildlife. This became a recurrent theme, we wished for those armies of foxes and cats marching through the housing estate at night while people sleep…

The text we hear is spoken by Jay Bernard, a writer and recognized figure in the LGBTQi literary scene. How did your collaboration come about: during the writing of the film? In the editing? And one can perceive some kind of distance from text to the playground and to the images, and focus on a singular experience toward the city. How did this aspect come up?

CC: We were very much aware that we came from quite a different part of the city. We felt that in the exchange with residents and inhabitants I needed another voice, I was looking for someone who could speak to the work from a more specific point of view, from a place related to it. I researched the area through its capacity to speak, music, spoken word, the local amateur orchestra, singing. I found Jay’s book, surge – and some audio readings of it- and was struck by its strength, the extraordinary energy and anger able to speak at all scales of human experience. I fell in love with their voice, I felt it spoke to something we needed and wanted to include, to listen to. I met with Jay in the square, under the rain, and we spoke a lot about housing and historical neglect. The contribution grew, and I am so incredibly grateful today that Jay embraced the project and their text could become almost the entire soundtrack.

We follow in slight part the elaboration (and not chronologically) of the playground you imagined, up to the workers who install the piece. Can we consider that this is also a film about work, as a sort of reverse of the idea of play?

CC & BR: That is completely what it is. A film about work, about labour, both as a condition necessary for the places in which free time may take place, and work as the opposite of something, the reverse, the other side of the mirror, of a place unobtainable that would not be dominated by work or exploitation.

16mm is your favourite material. Here, you play with multi exposures, with colors which could recall the playground. Why this visual material?

CC & BR: Interestingly enough the colour separation work was where our methodologies actually met. Ben has done quite a lot of work using colour separation as a way of containing time, but in print. Using the three-colour separation allowed us to show the space of the playground seen over three separate periods of time; the first layer when the original playground was still in place, the second when the new playground was being installed, and the third layer when the new playground was finished. These layers were then colour graded to mimic the painted colours used in the playground itself.

Interview by Nicolas Feodoroff

  • Flash Competition

Technical sheet

United Kingdom / 2022 / Colour / 16 mm / 13’

Original version : english
Subtitles : french
Script : Jay Bernard
Photography : Ben Rivers.
Editing : Ben Rivers
Sound : Philippe Ciompi

Production : Ben Rivers.

Filmography :
Krabi, 2562, 2019
Ghost Strata, 2019
Now, at Last!, 2019
The Sky Trembles and the Earth is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers, 2015
What Means Something, 2015
Two Years At Sea, 2011
Slow Action, 2010.