All Divided Selves

Luke Fowler 2011

Screened at the ICA, London on 28th March 2012

The experience of watching All Divided Selves felt rare and exciting in both its sincerity and its clarity. That’s not to say that this film presents you with a straight-forward narrative. This is an experimental documentary that combines archival footage of psychiatrist R. D. Laing and his contemporaries with more recent footage shot by Fowler of what we assume are his own contemporaries, his colleagues and collaborators, his friends and family, along with more abstract images that are unashamedly beautiful and captivating. The soundtrack supports this intricate collage and vice versa, with both image and sound providing moments of suspension in which the other can be absorbed and understood.

The editing of this work is the most remarkable thing about it and yet, as the cliché goes, you hardly notice it at all. At first Fowler’s own footage leaps out in its brilliance against the dull greys and browns of the archival broadcast images but a rhythm is established and the two strands combine to suggest an intriguing emotional power of the subject over it’s artist. Apparently the last in a trilogy of works about R. D. Laing by Fowler, the production of which has spanned over ten years, All Divided Selves feels like a declaration of love; the full admission of someone or something into your life that finally lets you accept and express something of your own self.

The reverence shown for Laing by Fowler is clear but never over the top. The respectful, gradual reveal of Laing’s own vulnerability over the course of the film positions his fallibility as the means to understanding his radical but humanist approach to psychiatry. At one point in the film we see Laing on a television chat show accused, by his interviewer, of being drunk and ‘slow’. Looking sad, tired and maybe a little drunk, Laing dolefully denies the accusation but a it is a few members of the audience that suddenly speak out in his defence, pointing out to the interviewer that it is he alone that has set ‘an unwritten rule’, a standard of behaviour for appearing on television and that no-one else is obliged to adhere to it. This is a memorable moment that is simultaneously literal and richly symbolic in its challenge to oppressive prescriptions of behaviour. I also couldn’t help but interpret the inclusion of this clip as both a protective and revealing gesture by Fowler; the scene that vindicates the hero and dismisses any claim to objectivity.

More information about Luke Fowler at The Modern Institute. He is currently artist in residence at the ICA.