Collection / Works / Mercury by Chris Welsby

HD video, Canada, 2016
23 minutes Colour, 16:9, Stereo
Available formats: , HD Digital file, HD Video

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Mercury is the closest planet to the sun. It is also the base metal that is closest to gold on the periodic table. Alchemists still believe that Mercury can be transformed into gold.

In comparatively recent medical history, Mercury was believed to have beneficial healing properties, though it is now classified as a highly volatile poison. As waste material, it is regarded as a serious environmental hazard.

In mythology, Mercury is the Roman god of commerce and trade; he is also the capricious messenger of the gods, and known to be a trickster.

In the early 1950s the Ford Motor Corporation adopted the name Mercury for their new line of V8 automobiles and purchased the rights to the song Mercury Boogie by K. C. Douglas and Robert Geddins. First recorded in 1948 and more recently known as Mercury Blues, the song pays dubious homage to the American automobile. An excerpt from the lyrics appears after the closing titles of the video.

Though the idea for this video owes much to the eponymous blues song, it began with my discovery of a long abandoned 1950s vehicle that was left to rust in the depths of a forest near my home. The video explores the rusting remains of the engine compartment, which is reminiscent of a miniaturized set for a science fiction movie. As such, the vaguely familiar footage might pass for the surviving fragments of a sci-fi movie set in the not-too-distant future.

The highly processed sound track, derived entirely from recordings made at the location, was intended to resemble the generic sound effects of the sci-fi idiom and, if only by default, the space age atmosphere of composer Gyorgy Ligeti's "Lux Eterna," which is now inseparably associated with Kubrick's science fiction classic, "2001 . . ."

Still, it is not science fiction but the science of decay that dominates this remote film set. The colours range from the manufacturer's pastel blues and cheerful yellows to the acid pinks and greens of galvanic decay, and the fatal red stains of that much-dreaded enemy of the automobile-rust. Here, hidden beneath the forest canopy, a silent battle rages: raw metal is being torn apart and eaten by an impressive array of voracious, yet noticeably terrestrial, plant forms. There is violence in the air, but the battle is almost over. Ragged edges of tortured metal, lengths of corroded wire and the twisted remnants of the once invincible steel chasse are all that remain of this much-celebrated vehicle of human desire. The aggressive odours of raw gasoline and hot metal have long ago been replaced by the pervasive odour of mould and decay and the heady fragrance of renewal and growth.

My intention was to make a video in ironic celebration of the increasingly inexplicable human obsession with the automobile, while simultaneously paying tribute to the transformative power of nature. Set in the temperate rain forest of North America's Pacific West Coast the video, may perhaps, remind us that it was hereabouts that the V8 Mercury was once the ambassador of the Ford Motor Corporation, the family vehicle of choice, and an essential player in the ritual of courtship and romantic love.


Chris Welsby

July 2016

Mercury Blues (excerpt)

Well if I had money
Tell you what I'd do
I'd go downtown and buy a Mercury or two
Crazy 'bout a Mercury
Lord I'm crazy bout a Mercury
I'm gonna buy me a Mercury
And cruise it up and down the road

Well the girl I love
I stole her from a friend
He got lucky, stole her back again
She heard he had a Mercury
Lord she's crazy 'bout a Mercury
I'm gonna buy me a Mercury
And cruise it up and down the road...........

K. C. Douglas and Robert Geddins 1948