Eva Weber is a poet of negative space. She is drawn to locations and territories tacitly designated by society as sterile, pedestrian, banal – corridors of lockers in storage centres, courtyards outside tube stations, huge cranes towering over metropolitan streets – and towards them she turns her ear. Then, gently and patiently, she starts to listen. And listen some more. What she hears is a symphony of beauty, yearning, rapture and reflection.
Worlds within worlds. Worlds above worlds. The Intimacy of Strangers (2005) is a short film that eavesdrops on the conversations of Londoners as they sit around near Euston. They’re lying on the grass, sitting outside cafes, standing to attention: all of them are on their own, and together – married to their mobile phones. They use them to share stories about last night, gossip about friends, curse their bad luck. More often than not, they talk about love.
It is, like all of Weber’s films, beautifully composed and edited, as crisp as a sunny morning in late autumn. It plays like a cinematic version of the early recordings of sound artist Scanner, which edited and reprogrammed fragments of intercepted phone conversations. Unlike Scanner, whose pieces used hiss and dissonance to emphasise the new kinds of selfhood that cellular technology was enabling, Weber creates becalmed moodscapes, free of voyeurism, whose collective message – this island is full of sound – is peculiarly reassuring.
Most of all, The Intimacy of Strangers is a film about space. It shows how the boundaries between public and private are melting. And yet the people it depicts, many sculpting themselves into odd shapes as they try to make phone calls at the same time as performing other activities, seem to regard their mobiles not merely as means of communication, but as tools with which to carve out tentative, temporary zones of their own.
In Steel Homes (2008), Weber renders storage centres, commonly regarded as generic dead spaces for modern-day city-dwellers to horde examples of their gluttonous retail habits, as treasure troves of personal memories and passionate sentiments. A medley of voices is heard confessing how difficult they find it to let go of items belonging to parents or loved ones. A sock, a shoe, an old book: each of these is a flame that illuminates the past and keeps them warm in the present. In these transient places, they are able to create archives of deep meaning that offer anchor and solidity in times of pain and turbulence. The unhomely is made almost homely, the grey cages insulated and swaddled with sentiment.
In The Solitary Life of Cranes (2008), Weber turns her attention to men hidden in plain sight, men charged with the construction of new cities. These crane operators, cooped up in tiny boxes hundreds of feet above the ground, convey visions of aerial London very different from the dystopias of JG Ballard’s High Rise (1975) or anti-tower-block social pamphlets. They rejoice in the extended landscapes that verticality gifts them. They see storms coming from fifteen miles away, regard aeroplanes as mere flies, look out onto private roof gardens.
There are many corporate roof gardens these days too. Height is being monetarised: aerials and phone masts and helipads, to say nothing of the blobby, colourful buildings repatterning the skyline. By contrast, the men in whom Weber is interested are captivated by the delicacy with which sunlight grazes a distant tower, far-off hills and dips, the curvy, snaking streets that leave the city beguilingly illegible.
The Solitary Life of Cranes presents aerial London as a sonic terrain that muffles and cancels the dense blare of terrestrial society. In doing so it enables the thoughts and poetry of the operators to reverberate with greater clarity and force. Their estrangement becomes an asset, a revelatory perch from which to gauge the sanity of the scuttling commuters below. Negative space becomes thick, rich, positive.
Keep an eye on the festival circuit for Eva Weber’s films. For more information on The Solitary Life of Cranes or The Intimacy of Strangers check out the websites:
Sukhdev Sandhu is one of our finest and most committed cultural writers. His books include London Calling, I’ll Get My Coat and Night Haunts