Skip blockbuster Prometheus. If you want to see a truly great sci-fi film head straight to SCHOOL OF CHANGE, British artist Jennet Thomas’ latest offering. Currently showing at Matt’s Gallery in suburban Limehouse, SCHOOL OF CHANGE is sharp social satire that interrogates our education system. The 40-minute musical is being screened within a huge sculptural installation that transports its audience to its dystopian world on screen.
Upon entering the cavernous gallery space, the path (way-marked with hazard tape) cuts through a strange laboratory and a constellation of flood-lit black and yellow spheres that seem to stretch into infinity. The shift is palpable; we are not in Limehouse anymore. Hazard tape is a recurring motif, the colour palate a stark indicator of warning and control. At the end of the path is the screening chamber, where the story of a girl’s first day at a new school is played out.
The film is set in an alternative reality where current social anxieties have been amplified and distorted. Once you grasp the poetic allegory on bureaucratic procedure and hive behaviour, the film takes on the witty sting of satire. Our protagonist, fallen through a wormhole, is indoctrinated into an institution where pupils are evaluated in an abstracted system of objectivity, under the hegemony of ‘The Sponsor’. The students wear bar-coded pinafores and take lessons in which they are taught to produce ‘Units of Knowing’. Classes such as ‘The Meaning of Movement’ consist of a string of buzzwords and choreographed robotic movements set to music. Both disturbing and infectiously catchy, these musical episodes are referred to as ‘Productions’.
As with Prometheus, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and so many films of this genre, music is used as an alternative mode of communication. In SCHOOL OF CHANGE song is a part of every lesson learnt, while synthetic blips and harmonies tell us what is funny and what is ominous. The soundtrack, composed by Leo Chadburn (a.k.a Simon Bookish, who has done remixes for the likes of Grizzly Bear and Franz Ferdinand) gives the film a tension that is at once nostalgic and futuristic.
Edited into a seamless loop the film also employs production qualities reminiscent of children’s TV from the 70s and 80s. Awkward performances and camera angles coupled with lo-fi special effects, fold back into past imaginings of what the future might look like; giving us our own peculiar journey through time and space.
Thomas herself works in education. A lecturer at Wimbledon College of Art, her blog discusses her profound frustrations at being embedded in what she calls a “system organized around the awarding of units, of ‘credits’. You find yourself saying to students, ‘This will increase your employability’; ‘ This represents good professional practice’; ‘Why have you missed your tutorial? You are paying for it’, and so on.” It’s clear that the fantastically complex world of SCHOOL OF CHANGE is the result of a very real sense of alienation.
Jennet Thomas’ SCHOOL OF CHANGE at Matt’s Gallery runs 20 June – 29 July 2012.