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Still from The Human Surge 3 • Eduardo Williams • 2023

A topography of portals

by Ilinca Vânău


The Human Surge The Human Surge 3

A topography of portals

Eduardo ‘Teddy’ Williams’ The Human Surge 3 (2024) follows his feature debut The Human Surge (2016). Like this hint to non-linear, alternative numbering, the works begin in the middle, a middle with no centre and no periphery. They probe an aesthetics of meandering and narrative diffusion; a commitment to the possibilities of vibrant uncertainty, liberated from apprehension. Across the two features, groups of people move through wetlands and jungles, walking, swimming. Moments of rest merge with a sense of spontaneity in a dreamlike logic. Friends gather in otherworldly landscapes and everyday apartments, sharing closeness that is not psychologised but rather gestures to the raw intimacy of co-existence. People search for each other, express joy when meeting and then part or disappear without explanation. Encounters and goodbyes are not twists in a narrative but act like pulsations in the living nodes of a shared topography. Because it is unclear why camera and characters move almost incessantly, attention is transferred to movement itself.

Although jumping between numerous languages and locations, the films seek continuity, a similar mood or perception, textured by the specificity of people and places. Or formally, through the use of different cameras and sonic grains. Both are split into three parts. In The Human Surge, the first section is filmed in Argentina on Super 16mm, the section in Mozambique on Blackmagic Pocket camera (then reshot on 16mm), and in the Philippines on a RED camera. The Human Surge 3 is filmed on a 360-degree camera in Sri Lanka, Peru, and Taiwan. Segues between or within segments connect places, either through sudden jolts or subtle affinities, staged as seamless disruptions, akin to portals able to connect disparate dimensions.

These wormholes and portals are movable and found in unlikely places: the echo of a mundane utterance, a confluence of contingencies or a sudden fall. In THS, transitions between parts are more evident as the camera delves inside the earth, burrowing its way through an anthill to emerge across the globe, or zooming in and through a computer screen. In THS3, elusive correspondences connect the segments. As people wander and improvise idle conversation, strange lines of dialogue repeat across the spaces they travel. This meeting of staged moments and improvisation adds density rather than tension, epitomising a framework of collaboration equally crucial to the production and form of the films. In different ways, the film not only connects geographies but also recalibrates the very relations between proximity and distance. Someone mentions in passing the eruption of Krakatoa, not as catastrophe, but to draw attention to its sound which went around the Earth four times and was heard from 5000km away. At times, the camera lags behind the characters it follows. People are seen from afar, but their clearly audible whispers collapse the distance. This unusual elasticity of sound and image offers audiences a position of plurality and simultaneity.

Threads from the two features can be traced throughout Williams’ body of work. In his short films, collective characters in constant motion recur in key settings – urban streets, supermarkets, rooftops, workplaces, caves, or tree hollows. The fluid rhythm is recognisable in Parsi (2018), which was shot with a 360-degree camera by young people in Bissau and edited remotely by Williams using a VR set. Through this approach, freed from the primacy of the frame, space is configured intuitively by moving through and looking around in 3D renderings, allowing for fresh angles and distortions. Its effect is sharpened in THS3, where images are stretched between familiar spatial experiences and disorienting cinematic frames.

The malleable relation between mundanity and strangeness, and between material and immaterial realms, resonates in other works. In Could see a Puma (2011), someone shares the same dream of a sky covered in ads that appears in The Human Surge. Another says: ‘I dreamt there was a family, like human life, in an electron of a cell inside my intestine.’ This idea finds a new iteration in the 2022 gallery work, A Very Long Gif, in which footage of the digestive system taken with a swallowed-pill camera is flanked by detailed urban images in a three-channel installation. An interest in collaborating with an autonomous camera can also be seen in THS3, most explicitly when the camera is allowed to tumble freely as images spiral. The use of a GoPro in I forgot! (2014) interjects a similar vector; the film beginning underwater and ending suspended high above Hanoi in a sudden gesture of detachment. In That I’m falling? (2013), a seed, a drug hidden in the anus, and an underground tunnel play with perception of scale between outside and inside spaces and the porous borders between materials.

The ability to evade conventional cinematic modes of conveying emotion and offer instead unfamiliar perspectives that feel variously automated and intensely tender is a rare gift. Williams’ cinema is exceptionally agile, connected at once to media arts experimentation, open world video games, the epic tracking shots of Béla Tarr and the queer ecologies and posthuman sensitivities of Dane Komljen’s films. At the same time, it brings something distinct to the form and a renewed spirit of pleasure and freedom, making for some of the most expansive and astounding works today.

Readings of The Human Surge(s) continue to shift between intimations of a digital afterlife, in which pragmatic thoughts are merely glitches, and a newly material world where routines and reluctant work are residues of a reality long replaced by flow and reverie. Still, the films remain attentive to the deep wounds of inequality, to contemporary questions of labour and wealth, and how these bind or release time. Meandering takes on a radical form, as temporal presence devoid of capitalist rhythms of immediacy. Its uncertain goal is not proposed as lack, but as a disposition to relinquish inflexible convictions and enter curious spacetime portals. The topography of Williams’ films is alive with movement and possibility – and people are insistently framed and enmeshed within it, endowed with the same instinctual force of transformation.

Ilinca Vânău, Film Programmer and PhD researcher at the University of St Andrews