Chris Fite-Wassilak on Cal Mac's 'Agony to Ecstasy'

Part of ONE WORK

Cal Mac, Agony to Ecstasy, 2020. Courtesy of the artist. Commissioned by Film and Video Umbrella as part of BEYOND.

ONE WORK is a series of online discussion events to think more deeply about how an artwork came into being. Focusing closely on a single work, these generous discussions provide space for an artist to present a recent work and talk through the work’s creation. The events are accompanied by a month-long online screening and specially commissioned written response published on the LUX Scotland website.

Cal Mac took part in a ONE WORK event with us in May 2022, presenting and discussing his work Agony to Ecstasy (2020).

We commissioned Chris Fite-Wassilak to respond to Agony to Ecstasy and we are delighted to publish his response below.

Chris Fite-Wassilak is a writer and critic based in London, whose books include The Artist in Time (Herbert Press, 2020) and Ha-Ha Crystal (Copy Press, 2016) You’ll find more details on his website.

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It is silent

He dances alone, out in the dark with scant lights lining a far shore behind him. Kicking, bopping, you might call it skanking, sticking his tongue out and laughing with a kind of self-possession and abandon I could never. Somewhere in the blinking night he throws off his bomber jacket, his t‑shirt plastered with a viking ship, pseudo-gothic script spelling out LARS FREDERIKSEN AND THE something or others.

Well, dancing alone, we say, because we can see no one else; whoever might be holding the camera, balancing the flashing lighting stands in the uneven grass where he bounds in slow motion. There’s a willingness to be effusive here, an outward presenting of reckless joy – this is, need we remember, a lockdown film – but there are moments that feel more precise, to me, more to a muted point: when he spins around, an open-mouthed smile rising up across his face, then looking past the camera he reaches down to pull his jacket in, the smile stiffening, lasting just that deliberated bit too long before the lights switch to black; we see him moments later, slightly more subdued, bobbing in place, hands at his side, as we turn to catch his face for a quick second, staring solemn into the unlit distance.

It was just happiness I guess

I’ve never heard Lars Frederiksen. Or at least not in this incarnation; but I can hear the rattling gurgle of distorted guitars punctuated with random rhythmic shouts, picture the leather vests and swaying hair suckered into random spikes, I know it. I never dreamed of any of the dance floors that the voices we hear here opine on, never found myself capable of losing myself entirely in any moment of clubbing. I have, at certain times, wished it was otherwise. But the wish remained a silent, inert vapour. But the band shirt casts me more thinking about other obsessions, other attempts at losing yourself: of another band Frederiksen was part of, part of a buzz of packaged punk bands, and what I, from a distance, wanted that scene to be. Sifting through magazines, copying over songs, projecting onto a place from the other side of the world a vivacity and tangle that probably didn’t even exist. Nodding along to headphones, imagining a mosh pit, while sat in a quiet train. Perhaps such longing isn’t all that different: alone, not alone.

it is nice to feel….away

This document is a form we might call diaristic, in the vein of the likes of Jonas Mekas or Martine Syms – of juddering handheld cameras, snatches of footage collected and points over months and years, layered with accumulated notes and recordings that might, or might not, align with the images blinking in front of us. This sprawling diary, if it chronicles anything, maps a certain distance: watching, from a slight remove as others dance, kiss, skate, swim. As if yearning for the immersion of the water, the dance floor, the dissolution of that uneasy seat of awkward contemplation. And yet the four narrators come and go, as if talking themselves out of those moments just before leaving the house, justifying their own sense of isolation to themselves.

I want to be a fish, the boy says.

The father replies, to comfort him, with what I hear as a parently lie: You will be, son, one day, you will be.

We look for connection; we want to be something else. Where this document seems to locate the potential for such swelling is in silence, in flickering moments of darkness, in the gaps between shots, between people. Here, it seems to say, is the empty space in which to put the promise of a release; a place to exhale, as one narrator puts it, parts of ourselves. A space in which to ask if we are actually alone, actually on our way. An uneasy place in which to broadcast the unsaid projections of where we want to be, what we want to be, that sometimes surface with the tide.

I want to be a fish. But I am not. I am, instead, the ghost of a fish in thought. A ghostfish that, nonetheless, took flight mid-sentence out over the next horizon.

Audio Version

Chris Fite-Wassilak on Cal Mac's 'Agony to Ecstasy'

Part of ONE WORK

ONE WORK is a series of online events that focus closely on a single work. These generous discussions provide an opportunity for an artist to present a recent work and talk through how the work came into being. Each work is available as a month-long online screening, followed by a specially commissioned written response that serves as documentation of both the work and the discussion.

Learn more