As part of Lux Scotland's May ONE WORK event, Cal Mac will discuss his recent work ‘Agony to Ecstasy’ (2020) in this online talk.
Cal Mac’s Agony to Ecstasy, as its title implies, is a study in contrasting emotions. Stranded in the solitude of lockdown, cut off from his lover and his closest friends, the artist looks back fondly at his former life, as a habitué of the Edinburgh club scene, recalling the carefree intimacy and sense of togetherness that comes with being part of a crowd. One of Cal’s regular cohort kick-starts the film, dancing in the dark, like a man possessed – his outdoor gyrations opening a door onto iPhone shots of clubland interiors, packed with bodies cavorting, caressing and carousing. These bleary yet haptic images, simultaneously invoking a rush of heightened sensation and a desire for a loss of self, are counterpointed by a pared, poetic commentary that runs a checklist of chemical and neurological stimuli whose insistent, habit-forming properties flood the brain both as sources of pleasure and as agents of potential addiction. Although these are universal physiological and psychological phenomena, Mac wonders whether a compulsion to repeat goes deeper and harder in Scotland, contributing to a culture of excess, and an unhealthy tendency towards dependency. Interspersed throughout the film are glimpses of stretches of water, amid vistas of the majestic Scottish landscape, suggesting a different vision of escape, albeit far from the old life Mac still palpably craves. Water, too, offers a strange reflection of the world he has left behind – restless, immersive, oceanic; its ups and downs an echo of the elemental rhythms of the body. Halfway through the film, a memory recounted by the artist’s father, of his young son wishing to be a fish, reminds us that water is the place humanity has sprung from, and the mystery it continues to hold. It is an eternal symbol of longing and belonging, and also of our fear of getting in too deep.