Being a Superhero by Mary Paterson

Saving the World

By Gob Squad

Greenwich Dance Agency

Simon has always wanted to save the world, he says. And now’s his chance. Wearing a shiny cape and an eager expression, Simon is one of the Gob Squad members who spent a day filming life on the Southbank in London. The film they collected has been cut but not edited – it still plays out as a series of shots in chronological time, complete with mistakes and awkward moments – so that it lasts for an hour and a half. It was shown at the Greenwich Dance Agency on a semi-circular construction of screens, to almost fill the audience’s field of vision. This, then, is the size of the world. And everything that Gob Squad managed to record, has been ‘saved’ for the future – saved on film, so that you, the audience, can watch it in your present.

Of course, in saving the world Gob Squad also creates it. First, a magician conjures the world into view, screen by screen, and brings to life the sounds of the dawn chorus to welcome it. The magician is present in most of the film, lingering enigmatically at its edges until she is called to action to ‘save’ something. And what does she save? Money, the news, age, toothpaste, love … concepts grasped from the air by Gob Squad’s team of caped crusaders, and then explained, breathlessly, with the help of passersby. Love is explicated by a kissing couple; walking is described by people who have nowhere to go; sex can only happen off camera, and nobody is quite sure if that means it can be preserved or not.

As they try to explain the big things and the little things that make up life in this world, Gob Squad stumble over their own ambition. Does toothpaste deserve to be saved? Did Simon get it right when he talked about war? Moreover, this emblem of the world struggles to represent everything in it. North of the river must stand in for the west (‘the land of plenty’), and the Millennium Wheel somehow represents the wheel of industry; an office building is the repository of ‘News’, and the Southbank centre stands for Hollywood.

As the light fades over the Southbank, the Gob Squad team’s desperation begins to show. They are not only anxious about what to preserve, but also whom to preserve it for. Addressing the future as they save the past, it’s not clear if the members of Gob Squad are saving the world so that it can be remembered, or so that it can be mourned. At one point, the three agents of preservation loom large on the screens and call out for their future selves. Watching the film only a few days after it was shot, this plaintive marking of time sent a shiver down my spine. The film enacts the finality of time, which feels continuous but must only flow in one direction. By trying to break the flow, Gob Squad’s attempt at saviour is unmasked as nothing more than a technological and verbal pun: the world of a few day ago is already lost forever.

But then a miracle happens. Gob Squad’s future selves stand up from the audience and talk back to the screens. Unfortunately, the future has not been as bright as they’d hoped – love affairs have not flourished, fortunes have not been won, appearances are disappointing. And, as the conversations continue, it becomes clear that the future has little power over the past. Sharon asks for the moon to be lowered and the paving stones to light up, but the Southbank remains resolutely grey. Instead, Sharonsettles for a bit of smoke and the actors jump energetically back into the film.

It is this leap of faith that is the real act of preservation in ‘Saving the World.’ Shots of people staring into camera; breathless explanations of work, life and death; elaborate costumes and earnest expressions – none of this represents the world or anything in it. Instead, it represents a desire to contact the future, or to heal a rift with the past. It matters less that Gob Squad’s efforts are accurate or precise, than that they make the effort at all. As a result, Gob Squad manages to preserve something without letting it stagnate. What they preserve is not the world, but the desire to live in it.

Mary Paterson is a writer and producer, and Co-Director of Open Dialogues.

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