Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964–1999 AD, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 23 minutes.

Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964–1999 AD, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 23 minutes.

Mark Leckey

Cabinet Gallery

Mark Leckey, Dream English Kid, 1964–1999 AD, 2015, digital video, color, sound, 23 minutes.

The initial idea was simple: On YouTube, Mark Leckey discovered the audio recording of a Joy Division matinee gig he’d attended in 1979, at age fifteen, the memory of which deeply affected him–leading him to wonder if he could compile important memories from his life through film, ads, and music found online. The resulting film, Dream English Kid 1964–1999 AD, 2015, could be considered a dystopian romance. It begins the year Leckey was born, 1964, with footage of early Beatles television broadcasts; the work is not only about music as a point of collective memory but also about the rapid evolution of networked technologies in the late twentieth century. Forgotten landscapes of telephone and electricity pylons reoccur; scrawled on a chalkboard we see the word LEKKE—British slang for electricity and a wry self-reference; a series of animated images drawn byJoey the Mechanical Boy, an autistic child who believed he was a machine, also appear. The end date of 1999 marks, among other things, the birth of the Internet and the beginning of Leckey’s art career with Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a dreamlike journey through the dance-music scenes of the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s.

Dream English Kid is twenty-three tightly edited minutes of short phrases of imagery and sound that repeatedly crescendo toward a series of never-quite-reached climaxes, often dramatically cut at the point of no return. These cycles are punctuated with allegorical images—for instance of the moon—as markers of time: Among these are depictions of the unmanned NASA moon landing in 1964, a blood moon in 1983, the total eclipse of August 11, 1999. Similarly, a reappearing CAD rendering of a bridge that Leckey played under as a child serves as a metaphorical bridge between decades; it shows up as Harold Wilson speaks of the “white heat” of technology through a car radio in the ’60s; later it appears, its rendering bloodred, as a site of nuclear-war fantasies after a dramatic passage on the Korean plane shot down in Soviet airspace in 1983.

The film exudes a sense of mournful morbidity: Glimpses of dark urban landscapes and the barren apartment Leckey once squatted (re-created as a model) are interwoven with a narrative of political failure and fear as the Cold War reaches its peak in the ’80s. But the work is not without humor: An excerpt from the British comedy series Carry On presents a bleach-blonde woman in black bustier and fishnet stockings looking in a mirror; a small boy appears in the background. Leckey explained to me that he always believed that a childhood memory of secretly watching his parents’ similarly blonde friend changing made him a fetishist. However, when making this film, he realized this memory was not necessarily his own, but instead a fiction he transformed into his own creation myth.

Dream English Kid is an essayistic autobiography whose dreamy romanticism is tempered by dystopian reality and fantasy; what we experience physically and emotionally in person becomes inextricably entangled with experiences consumed and digested via media of all forms. We form memories and, inversely, memory forms us. Our minds and bodies are vessels through which information is transmuted and evolves; we are merely nodes in the alchemy of the network. Midfilm, Leckey’s face appears reflected in the screen, as if a ghost looking down into the projections of his past, his own constellation of code. Dream English Kid 1964–1999 reads as a good-bye letter to a lost love—the kind you send when the relationship is over—in remembrance of a more private yet already networked pre-Internet world.

Kathy Noble