Gone to Croatan
2 - 31 May 2015
Patrick Goddard was born 1984.
He studied at Bath and Goldsmiths.
Patrick currently lives and works in London.
The following transcription was made from a recording taken during Patrick Goddard’s visit to the OUTPOST Studio Building. Seated on some sofas, facing the Norwich skyline and surrounded by some plants, Patrick and Marta Bermejo Sarimento went into conversation on the 24th of April 2015.
Marta Bermejo Sarmiento: Gone to Croatan is the title of the film you are presenting at OUTPOST, can you talk a bit about it?
Patrick Goddard: Do you want me to just start talking?
PG: In the 1950’s the term “Croatan” or “Gone to Croatan” became a byword for American dropout culture and people who tried to live off the grid. The name comes from an old story about one of the first European settlements in the New World that, without warning, disappeared leaving only a sign reading Gone to Croatan – presumably they joined one of the native American tribes and migrated inland: essentially opting out of European society forever. My film is about a guy who also decides to drop out of society… He does it very badly. He doesn’t get very far - he only gets to a small clump of woodland somewhere in Cambridgeshire. He’s constantly struggling to fully adjust to living off the grid and isn’t equipped either in terms of skills base or ideologically ready to start coping fully without money and access to modern conveniences. But he’s trying. He tries and fails and tries again and fails better.
MBS: Can you talk about the behind the scenes of the film. Gone to Croatan is a fiction but it’s not fully. To what extent is the protagonist, Adam, a fictional character?
PG: So the actor is my friend, also called Adam in real life, and his politics are quite close to the politics of the character he then plays. Adam in real life is obviously less naive than the character he is portraying and he is probably politically closer to a socialist than to the anarcho-primitivist he plays. The story is a kind of ripping on Walden. Henry David Thoreau was basically an anarcho-primitivist who wrote Walden 150 years or so ago. It’s a diaristic book about his year of living in the wilderness and dropping out of American society. So the film is kind of contemporary English satire on the book. Every scene is scripted although there are moments in the film where Adam might forget his lines or something and the dialogue spirals off into some absurdist banter. So there are moments of spontaneity, he’s a naturally funny guy.... The nuances of his charming awkwardness and shyness on camera, those are real. He’s not a trained actor and Adam’s personality very much comes through even though it’s a scripted film.
MBS: In the film you presented at the ICA last week you also made Benjamin Eastham (The White Review’s editor) play himself. How do people react when you ask them to play their own persona?
PG: In that one Ben is very much himself. We are all playing a role to some degree. A lot of my work is about our playing of roles. The word person comes from the Latin for persona which means mask. So to be a person, the very core of your being, is to wear a series of masks. To wear a mask is not disingenuous: our personalities are defined in how we interact with other people. I’m interested in that. We are always a portrayal of ourselves. In the film however Ben and I are very much unscripted and he is totally unprepared. But again he’s a funny guy and we have a good rapport and that’s why I wanted to do the film with him.
MBS: What about the characters you play in your films? You have related them to Fernando Pessoa’s use of heteronyms.
PG: Yea, I’m also playing a scripted character ‘the filmmaker’ (also called Patrick), so I‘m deliberately playing with the ambiguity of fact and fiction and real life and what is scripted... performing an exaggerated version of myself. I am quite self knowingly being obnoxious in the film. My character in the film is the cynic, who perhaps has his own politics but is too perpetually skeptical to put them into action. Adam’s character is the opposite of that. He decides to negate any criticism, or at least put it on temporary hold. He puts all his chips on the table and really jumps into this idealistic mode of existence… which at first sight we, the audience, suppose to be naive but end up admiring. He wants to live his politics. In once scene and half way up a tree Adam pronounces: “Academic politics…living room politics, they’re all just boring as fuck mate” - There’s no point in having political opinions if you’re not going to try and implement them. As I said, when I feature in my own work I play exaggerated versions of myself. In this film Adam is also playing an exaggerated version of myself but in the other direction. The two characters of the film are a way for me to analyse my own politics, which are constantly fluctuating. We’re all a nexus of different character traits going in different directions. The film was my chance to disentangle two of them to take a closer look.
MBS: In Gone to Croatan you’re a sort of intruder with the patronising manners of a coloniser.
PG: The film stylistically takes the form of a documentary but the interviewer -the ‘producer’ of the documentary- is constantly breaking the rules of documentary making. He has a very active role… He’s always defying the trust of the subject…doing secret filming when he thinks Adam’s not looking. He’s always kind of mocking and undermining the main character, and yeah – in that sense he is perhaps like a patronising colonial anthropologist. If I had portrayed Adam in the orthodox manner of a documentary, the audience would draw their own criticism of his character. “He is naive, he is idealistic, etc”. But by putting those objections, those criticism into the mouth of the narrating character, the filmmaker, then hopefully the audience can move beyond this and start having these objections to ‘Patrick the filmmaker’: turning criticism back on itself! Saying, ‘oh, it’s very luxurious to criticise’ or ‘it’s very easy and lazy.’… Because the filmmaker is so uncharitable towards Adam’s political position, the viewer becomes more seduced by Adam’s romantic notions of what it means to live a politicised life.
MBS: In the film there are traces of a myriad of political and economic theorists. However you manage to display their thinking about labour, community and currency via an accessible language. It’s really impressive.
PG: Of course I’m interested in theory and sociology and all the rest but I think if you truly want to engage with these subjects you don’t need to drop in the big names. There are quotes from Hakim Bey in the film unaccredited. There are quotes from Walden, Max Stirner …Raoul Vaneigem …I think there’s even some Hannah Arendt in there. Crucially I think if you are going to engage with what these authors are talking about you should be able to put it into context. Adam’s monologue on the gift economy is paraphrasing the anthropologist Marcel Mauss… But, yeah, I definitely want to get away from smug academic art making or banal video essays that are bogged down in their own self indulged research. It’s important to reintroduce an element of humanity, anecdote and personality. The importance is in living these philosophies. You’re missing the point if you read them and don’t live them.
MBS: You also try to live your own politics. Your days of squatting and living communally illustrated in this publication are examples of it.
PG: Yeah I try and I fail. We regularly fail when trying to live politics. We are all shit, lazy activists. I excel at being a hypocrisy riddled shit anarchist. The issues I talk about are issues I struggle with. It’s all about a system of acknowledged failures and about trying again anyway. Apathy and nihilism are dangerously seductive for the people who are perpetually reveling in their own self-criticism, a kind of liberal self-flagellation that refuses to actually stand for anything.
MBS: Is there a parable? You cannot drop out consumerist society just try to live alternatively?
PG: Adam says he tries to live an ethical and environmentally friendly life. Later the camera spies on him gobbling a tube of Pringles…once you pop, you can’t stop!. The idea of consumerism as an ideology and one that is essentially addictive… once we are born into it, it’s very hard to extract ourselves. But there isn’t a moral to the film however. I want to avoid didactic simplifications… I want to explore problems and contradictions that don’t necessarily have crystallised solutions. In this sense there is no one moral, rather two contradictions. One is that you cannot drop out of society, no man is an island and that we are inescapably born into an ideology not of our choosing. The other is that we have the free will to redetermine the conditions of our own existence. Perhaps it’s a dialectic between community and individualism…but one that has no lasting Hegelian synthesis, no possibility of a stable answer, rather the best we can hope for is a synthesis that must constantly be won and fought for. Gone to Croatan is trying, in its small way, to do this… Although the film is deeply political it has no one politic or moral. It’s not a parable.
MBS: We know there’s not free will as such. We just have to work out how much agency we have and utilise it.
PG: Yeah we know that logically there’s not free will and yet we have to act as if there is free will. So in that sense, It’s a useful fiction to act as we have free agency and to act as if we are not products of our upbringing of our ideology of our genetics. We can surpass the ideology that we have been indoctrinated into. And we must try and at times fail. We can try to redefine our own terms of existence in the world.
MBS: Can you talk a bit about the politics of gift giving in the film.
PG: The filmmaker says “if I have to give you a gift it’s not a gift anymore”. Then Adam says, “yeah you are right, there’s a politics of gift giving as well”. There’s a presumption that gifts will be reciprocated, usually at the same amount. Gift giving is rooted in social relations whereas money is the antithesis of social relations. …you don’t need trust…you don’t need reciprocation. The filmmaker says, ‘Do you think you could have the gift economy without community where people know each other, they are neighbours…?’ Adam thinks this is a good question. He doesn’t answer it but he asks a better question: ‘Could you have community where you have money?’ because money is the ultimate abstraction or denial of social relations. We are all social animals. A lone wolf in the wild doesn’t last very long.
MBS: The OUTPOST structure comes to mind. The gallery and studio building is run by the steering committee who are volunteers. We trust and support each other just because we share a set of values and objectives. I wonder what would happen if we got paid.
PG: Yes, the committee operates as anarchy itself. There’s no hierarchy. It’s done on mutual trust and dependance and faith in the other people and you get things out of it. It’s not a getting based in private property but you are rewarded in friendship, academically, etc. Money pollutes the gift economy. As soon as you introduce a monetary relation that otherwise would be done for other non-monetary reasons. It dissolves everything into a purely economic relation that is depersonalised. It lacks community. It quantifies in this sort of barbaric construction that money is.