Experimental Reviews

i 2 aye (2023) – 3.5 stars

Director: Richard Philpott

Running time: 57mins

Experimental films which want to address an audience for an extended period of time often face a major challenge. In constructing non-linear worlds or rejecting traditional narrative structures general audiences are accustomed to, there is a danger that artists in the genre can alienate viewers even in a micro-format. But over the course of an hour or more, an extended experimental short can outstay its welcome like no other genre.

It is testament to Richard Philpott’s abilities that i 2 aye doesn’t get old. Presented as a pseudo-documentary traversing the career of the artist known as Flipot, the film sees a team of academics attempt to discern meaning from an eclectic life as an artist on the road – an impulse which much of Flipot/Philpott’s work seems determined to exasperate.

Philpott – or at least, the version of him which is present in his story film – is determined to shrug off the very notion of individual personality; to be nobody. In a global economic system, which encourages every individual to define themselves clearly and concisely, and to place themselves within a conveniently shaped box to be easily consumed as a product. Philpott’s quest to escape this relentless commodification of humanity under capitalism initially takes him to the USSR, and its satellites – but finds similar expectations of compartmentalised life at play there, and so continues on a globe-trotting quest to escape his own identity.

Philpott, whoever he is or isn’t, has unquestionably been prolific in his production of art over five decades. The ensuing flurry of towering cityscapes and shadowy alleyways provides the perfect exhibition-space for his often-bizarre artistic creations, which are described in fantastically visceral language by the film’s investigating academics – including a ‘visual organ “in the carcass of an evacuated television”.  More conventional works, including a painted canvas with what appears to be a two-faced figure, are meanwhile fitted into a larger installation, made up of old circuit boards, disassembled jigsaws and mousetraps baited with dollar-bills.

To me, it seems there are running themes here, of things being forcibly incorporated into some other shape. But Flipot’s creations are so diverse and amorphous that someone could probably find any number of ‘meanings’ in there that they wanted to see – and I may be seeing this because it fits more neatly with the narrative I am already reading into the film, about the desperation to escape the oppression of being classified so that some great socio-economic machine can then exploit your energies.

For my reading of i 2 aye, Flipot’s efforts to evade ‘having a personality’ in this way are intriguing. They speak to the choices that we all have when we attempt to take agency of our own personas. At certain moments, the film’s narrators suggest that his efforts have failed, as in order to avoid having a single defined personality, he has created several particularly vicious ones – lashing out at anyone he perceives as pigeonholing him. But in the film’s conclusion, it is suggested that he may also have found a way to overcome that impulse, in collectivism.

The film’s concluding sequence is interesting enough to inspire a standalone short (preferably with a more standardised format, if that could ever be tolerated by Philpott); with Philpott / Flipot’s paths crossing with Marxist thinker F. A. Ridley – suggesting activism could help him find a way of railing against a system that seeks to put him in a box for the sake of monetary gain, without simply lashing out at everyone. At the same time, another alternative source suggests that he has adapted his ambition to go without personality to become a Buddhist.

All of this makes for a fascinating watch, provided you are able to move beyond the fact it is apparently a sequel. Whatever transpired in the first film, it broadly seems to hold up as a standalone film, possibly because it is an extremely abstract premise anyway. But in the earliest phases of the film, this might make it a little bit of a drag for uninitiated viewers who aren’t regular connoisseurs of experimental cinema. If you can get past that, though, there is so much intrigue to get your teeth into that i 2 aye will never outstay its welcome!

The irony of slapping an arbitrary grade on a film like this is not lost on me. i 2 aye is a complicated and uncompromising watch, and it won’t be for everyone – but whichever version of Philpott is responsible for creating the film, I doubt he will care about that. This is a piece of work which sets out to confound categorisation, like the rest of his work, and attributing it any number of stars will never really succeed in letting you know what it’s actually like. You just need to see it for yourself.

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