Swandown, a world exclusive premiere showing at Cornerhouse, is probably one of the most self-indulgent, macho, boring bollocks you will get to see this week. If you really think you need to feel artistically superior to others by watching boring bollocks and pretending it’s really good and that only philistines think it’s boring bollocks because they are too dense to understand art, then Swandown goes on general release on the 20th July.
Swandown is a film of two old blokes who pedal a pedalo swan supposedly from Hastings to Hackney. But in reality they are filmed doing a bit of pedalling here and there with endless footage of Köttling and his mate. Cornerhouse blurb claims ‘not so much Two Men in a Boat but more The African Queen’. Swandown doesn’t even get to boat status, it’s two plonkers in a pedalo.
This Manchester Friday evening could only get better, while refusing to stay and listen to the two self indulgents self indulge, I drank tea and found the cast of Manchester Lines huddled in a corner at Cornerhouse.
Drum beats led me away from the Library Theatre’s luvvies and into a dark dribblesome twilight. The drum drummer and cortege carrying a white feather shepherded us to Rochdale Canal where the most brilliant piece of installation art took place. If Köttling really wanted to make a statement with a pedalo, this was it. Lost was the pretentious ‘look at me I’m a wacky artist’, replaced with a surreal experience, a plastic giant white swan being pedalled along a Manchester canal, with a female opera singer, supporting black cascading curly hair, while singing. Her pristine white opera gown tightened to the upper body only to explode and plummet into a crumbled mountain of pearly apparel melting into the body of the plastic swan. The towpath was lined with candles, the swan started its short but momentous journey under the Oxford Road canal bridge, with canal water tumbling from atop the canal lock gates.
Voice echoing around the brick arch of the canal bridge burst forth as she was pedalled along the jet-watered canal. Audience agog at such an unseemly sight, looked on in wonder. A scene that could only happened in a city alive with creativity. YouTube may try to pay tribute to this awesome occasion as I try myself. But nothing can fully describe the absolute surrealness of this event. Rapturous applause welcomed the final note, opera singer, swan and pedaller continued to float majestically along the Rochdale Canal as the tiny but appreciative band of onlookers drifted off to beer and bed.
Reflecting on the two very different plastic swan experiences, what was it that made one experience so awe-inspiring and the other so dull? The Manchester canal swan experience was live, flowing, graceful and beautiful, set amongst grimy slimy industrial decay. The juxtaposition was blatant but effective. Whereas Swandown was two boring men, doing boring stuff in boring southern England. When they did eventually reach a more interesting part of their odyssey, Hackney, they drifted through in the same sterile manner.
Art that says nothing, says nothing. To make obvious the absurd is to be admired. Swandown is more akin to a beer ad where laddie lads get up to zany stuff and how we all laugh. The promised encounter with those that live on the fringe of society along the edge of the river banks just never happened. Köttling was too busy filming himself, his mate and a naked young woman. There is a strong case that this film was not only incredibly boring, it is also sexist.