There is a Paper Moon over Bletchley Park. It is the middle of the day and as the camera turns soldiers walk along the tarmac drive, women sit and talk and a couple dances in the road. As the camera traces 360 degrees around the small green a needle copies its path, producing the crackling sound of a man playing the piano and singing a jaunty refrain.
If it has been heard of at all, Bletchley Park is a place constituted more through fiction than fact. The fiction was Robert Harris’s novel Enigma, and Michael Apted’s film adaptation of the book, which wove a story of espionage and love against the historical background of Second World War British code-breakers pitting their intelligence against the messages encoded by the German Enigma Machine.
Yet despite the 1940’s dress of the people whose activity the camera maps around the small green, this Bletchley has none of the rich patina of cinema. Instead it appears more like a documentary moment. The ordinary light, the unspectacular activity, the absence of narrative direction persuades us this is just a camera recording some minor moment on some unspectacular day in the past. As the camera repeats its circle and the music skips along, repetition reinforces the detail of the scene. The soldier on the old-fashioned bicycle, the cut of the dress on the dancing woman, the cars in the car park, the man in the bad jumper sitting watching the dancers whilst eating his sandwiches. The cars in the periphery of the pan are recent however, and the sitting man’s jumper is more 1980’s than 1940’s. At first the eye ignores these incongruities, persuaded by the majority of the detail rather than the minority, and abetted by the voice of the vintage recording.
“It’s a Barnham and Bailey world” sings Nat King Cole, “just as phoney as it can be, but it needn’t be make believe if you believed in me”. Cole’s lyrics appear to prompt us to identify fiction and fakery, but proceed to tell us that personal investment can elevate these propositions into reality. As the camera continues to circle the green the contemporary incongruities in the scene solidify with each turn, revealing the actions and attire of the majority to be a communally constructed conceit. It becomes obvious that the people we see have engineered this semblance of wartime Britain, yet they have done so with an ease that speaks more of inhabitation than of acting a role. This is the past re-enacted and re-inhabited, and as with Hamon’s other work documenting the activities of re-enactment societies in Bletchley Park the artist’s camera solidifies the masquerade as much as it scrutinises it. Framed as observation rather than evaluation, Hamon’s work questions whether art is in any position to judge the contract into fantasy we are so ready to impose on the game-play of re-enactment.
© Simon Morrissey 2004
Extract from Trackers, PM Gallery & House, ISBN: 0-9538583-5-9