Sister Films

A film by Alex Hetherington and Catherine Street, with Luke Fowler, and Wendy Kirkup and Scott Baxter

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A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing a film chart with gradients from black to white. On this card are hand written titles, the top says “Sister Films” beneath it reads the date “30 April 2022”. The card sits on top of a mirror and partially reflected is the artist’s hand and arm, with part of the camera visible too. In the background is a focus chart, made of various measurement tools, numbering and gradients to help focus the image, beside this is folded poster with a photograph made by the artist and filmmaker Margaret Salmon, in this image two hands form a tear-drop shape, the image may also hold sexual connotations or could be read as an eye shape, this is intentionally ambiguous. Places of sight, including clairvoyance, held within different parts of the body; thoughts on shooting blind and placing trust in camera measurements and applications.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing an extreme close up on a white flower, one of the petals, a long filament-like shape is in focus, whereas the rest of the flower head is out of focus. This is in stark contrast to black background of the frame. A transient living material is given a moment to hold the frame. The artist researched flowers, fungi and plant materials that might induce hallucinations. It is not clear whether this flower induces hallucinations. In the original cut of the film Idle Work for the CCA exhibition many of the flower and fungi shown on screen will generate hallucinations.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing again the cusped hands from the Margaret Salmon photograph, now arranged alongside a group of white flower heads. Parts of the foliage of the flower arrangement begins to merge with the image of the cusped hands. The flowers are lit from above making them appear somewhat exaggerated. To the right hand side of the frame is a measurement chart, but it is out of focus. In these images the artist was thinking about split-diopters used in the filmmaking of a director like the American Brian de Palma which gives an exaggerated, extreme senses of focus between background and foreground used as visual cue plot device (a psychic connection or to connect different characters). At other times a mirror is used in the project: one refers to an outtake by the English queer filmmaker Derek Jarman is his film Caravaggio, and the other from a sequence by French filmmaker Agnès Varda in her documentary The Beaches of Agnès. Either way each images holds the reflection of someone (supposed to be) out of the frame, like a camera operator or director.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing in extreme close-up the detailed array of the white flower head set against a black background. The image appears alien and like a terrain, a landscape. A reference used here is poet Rebecca Tamás’s book Strangers which discusses the fine gentle line between human and non-human experience and the places where they might be intersect, exchange or fuse.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing a lens chart in extreme close up. The lens chart allows for focal and depth of field measurements to be calculated on different lenses to be considered or annotated prior to a shoot. In this instance the measurement reads in black lettering on a gray background the word ANAMORPHOT, meaning an anamorphic lens.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing an extreme close up on Dutch lace museum display in the holdings of the Burrell Collection Museum in Glasgow. The images show an interweaving of elaborate stylized floral patterns in off-white, gold-creamy embroidery on a black background. Originally shot as a camera test on a new Bolex, the images make reference to a film by Wim Wenders, The American Friend, remembering a scene in which the protagonist lines the palm of his hand with gold leaf.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing an extreme close up on Dutch lace museum display in the holdings of the Burrell Collection Museum in Glasgow. The images show a very close interweaving of elaborate stylized floral patterns of off-white, gold-creamy embroidery on a black background. The embroidery is more chaotic, less uniform. When the artist was filming these scenes a descriptive interpretive voice over noted that the embroiderer or lace-maker would have to “have steady, clean hands and good eyesight”, he wonders then about the parities of this lacemaking and his own filmmaking. He notes too the extraordinary expense of these lace items which were made to demonstrate the wealth and social status of its owner/wearer.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing an extreme close up on Dutch lace museum display in the holdings of the Burrell Collection Museum in Glasgow. This time a roll of lace fabric, maybe the bordering or hem of a garment is shown, the close up focuses on details of the fabric while other elements remain out of focus. The image show a very close interweaving of elaborate stylized patterns of off-white, gold-creamy embroidery on a black background, this time animal imagery or maritime imagery is apparent perhaps referring to trade and trade routes of Dutch colonialism. The artist notes the uncertainty experiences or doubts of his eyesight amidst the low light of the museum display while capturing these images, so put more trust in measuring tape, camera aperture and focus charts, therefore shooting blind.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing an image at the end of a roll of 16mm film, it features a central black punch hole, a device used by the lab to dry the film after processing. This large black circle with fringes of colour, a physical hole on the film negative, obliterates the underlying image. What is visible in this case shows a close up of a focus chart with a circle of radiating black and white bars. Blue and green camera or lab photochemical anomalies cut across the image in sharp lines while toward the upper right hand corner of the image a large bloom of red appears. The artist notes the beauty and contingencies of these kinds of end frame images, noting that the blooms of light might make reference to the opening of filmmaker Rosalind Nashashibi’s 16mm production ‘Where there is a joyous mood, there a comrade will appear to share a glass of wine’, showing images of young children waking up.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing two white women during a film take. One is standing, she is wearing black clothes and is operating a film clapperboard used to synch sound and action; the clapperboard disguises a second seated white woman wearing a man’s traditional business suit in gray pinstripe, the suit is too large for her, she holds hold papers or a script which she is preparing to read from. The frame is taken in a theatre, with heavy black felt theatre drapes visible to the left of the image, while to the right, a blue light leak or camera light anomaly is visible extending from the top of the frame almost to the bottom. The image makes reference to works by the American artist Catherine Sullivan including Big Hunt, Little Hunt, Triangle of Need and The Chittendens, at other times the work of the New York-based experimental theatre group is mentioned during the filming of this event, including works like The Emperor Jones, Brace Up! and House/Lights.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing the artist and filmmaker Alex Hetherington captured during a camera anomaly. The image shows in one frame the upper body and head of the artist in profile three times. He is a white male in his mid-50s with close-cropped black hair and is wearing a black jumper. His features are sharp, aging. The frame shows the theatre space in which the film was shot, folds of the black felt theatre drape and a black wooden chair that is also blurred. Throughout the research for this film the artist looked to films like Carrie and Sisters by Brian de Palma that made use of a split screen technique, or the Thomas Crown Affair or Antigone by Tacita Dean or I Want by Pauline Boudry and Renate Lorenz.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing the close up of a glass prism held in close contact to the wing and its abstract patterns of a dead butterfly, underneath is a printed image of a butterfly wing and part of the petal of an orchid. It is a confusing image of collaged chimeric insect parts, glass and mirrors but what is revealed is reflections of elements off-screen, and using the glass/mirror properties of the prism a symmetrical but impossible body part—only available as an illusion—is generated which consist of the semi-transparent elements to the insect’s wing and the fine lines of its connective ligaments. Referenced here is Susan Orleans’ book The Orchid Thief and its film Adaptation. And to the flicker film in the CCA exhibition which generated optical illusions on images on in-between frames of flower parts and peacock feathers.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing the desk of the film, theatre or sound technician. In the middle of the frame is a large round magnifying glass that allows for close inspection and repair on various technical elements of audio visual equipment. Around a table below the glass is a table of debris and miscellaneous items relevant to live filming, theatre or sound production, tape, labelling, cleaning fluid and unidentifiable mechanisms. The different apparatus that allows the disconnection of the body and voice only to be reassembled elsewhere are the thinking behind these images.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing loops of black sound cable held in the technician’s office. There are five sets of wound cable each held together with tape and mounted onto a wall. The loops of cable appear like heads or open mouths. The artist thought about channels of information these cables might still hold. Like a black hole at the end of its existence, after it collapses, holding still all its collected data.

A colour 16mm film frame which appears in the final film. It is a frame from the Robert Altman production 3 Women. The image shows a very stylized painted image of naked male, he is chimeric, where he is represented as part reptile/lizard and part man. His arms are outstretched and has a muscular frame, his head is seen in profile and his eye is very stylized while his mouth is open in a shout or scream. Altman says that the film screenplay to 3 Women came to him in a dream; and in the work we see three women of various ages played by Shelley Duvall, Sissy Spacek and Janice Rule, who may in fact be different versions of the same woman, playing with ideas of identity, change, age, memory and illusion. Shelley Duvall in Sister Films (Part Two) is described as God; while Derek Jarman (showing a frame from his film The Angelic Conversation) found by accident on the CCA’s poster event wall is described as Jesus in Sister Films (Part One).

A colour 16mm film frame outtake of a yellow flower, it is a circular array of various opening petals, the upper right hand part of the frame shows the dark centre of the yellow flower. The flower is filmed against a yellow coloured gel background, though in the exposure and composition of the frame this appears to be black or dark gray.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake of a different yellow flower, this has a circular array of various closed and opening petals, from tight green buds in the centre, to more vividly open yellow petals at the edges. The flower is filmed against a yellow coloured gel background, this time the gel appears more acid or artificial, the flower head fills most of the frame, though at the top right hand is the suggestion of a second identical flower head. The artist thought about the film Badlands by Terence Malick in the capturing of these images, thinking about some of the macro photography in that film and the work’s female-voiced reflective narration and ideas of speaking in real time and in reflection. In connecting it to 3 Women, Malick’s film also has Spacek as a lead, while she is also mentioned in Sister Films (Part Two) via the the film Carrie, directed by de Palma.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing a different yellow flower. This time the flower droops in a wide array, down from the top of the frame to its middle section. The body of the flower is filmed over a grainy green-gray background. In this image the artist referred to the cinematography of Daniel Pearl in the film The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and its reference in a film work by the artist Ellen Cantor and also to Owen Roitzman on the film production The French Connection and in the ways it used cinema lighting and lab processing (pulling the stock) to generate certain kinds of vivid, or naturalistic ‘documentary’ lighting.

A colour 16mm film end frame outtake showing plant material being immersed in water. The plant is crushed but apparent are fine spines and light green-yellowish stems. The background is out of focus consisting of a blur of cool white-gray images of water with indeterminate red flashes. Various camera and lab anomalies have appeared on the image including a coil of twisting circles vertically across the image and two red parallel lines horizontally. The artist was told the plant material shown in the image was water-proof, this was not the case. He thought about the film The Swimmer directed by Frank Perry, and Drowning by Numbers by Peter Greenaway.

A colour 16mm film frame outtake showing white female’s face in close up, looking particularly her face in profile focussing on the upper cheek and eye. She wears heavy black eye liner in the image which shows her eye gazing to something out of the frame. She wears a face veil made of an intricate black embroidery. This image sequence made reference to the films of Rainer Werner Fassbinder, particularly the Marriage of Eva Braun and of Stella Tennant in images for the Yohji Yamamoto fashion house shot by David Sims.

A colour 16mm film frame seen in the film. It shows Catherine Street, a white woman with dark shoulder length hair leaning in toward the camera. She is wearing a gray-brown pinstriped businessman’s suit, but it is far too big for her. In her left hand she holds papers that are likely a script. She holds her right hand in a more relaxed position. The lighting to the image is dramatic, holding the image of Catherine in a light orange hue against a deep, black background. She looks directly at the camera. This image make reference to the work of Catherine Sullivan and The Wooster Group.

A colour 16mm film end frame outtake showing abstract photochemical residue on the end frames. There is no discernible image, these are chalky, ghostly organic forms over a mid-gray, blue hazy background and bleed off the film frame onto the edges of the unexposed film roll, making these mostly unseen film elements an aesthetic of the film project. At various parts of the frame it looks scratched with fine gray lines.

A black and white 16mm film frame outtake showing a sequence from the original CCA film. It is an end frame which also shows the film sprockets to the left hand side of the frame. In the image there is a theatre spot light on one side and it blooms very brightly filling that side of the image, at the other is the head of a microphone, which looks like a flower, and a tripod for a camera framed in the background, which is a theatre set and shows a black theatre drape. The image seems very damaged by various camera and laboratory processing anomalies, cutting across the image in scratched lines and dust marks. It feels like this material may have been hand processed as much more debris, traces of contaminating elements and dust has reached and changed the image.

A colour 16mm film close-up frame from the film showing the head of a painted red and white veined tulip with various elements of green foliage on a black background from a postcard bought at the Rijksmuseum in the Amsterdam in the Netherlands. The painting is from a work by artist Rachel Ruysch. The image is used in reference to the phenomenon of tulip mania which saw in the 17th century, which resulted in the first ever financial crisis.


Sister Films, a film by Alex Hetherington and Catherine Street, with Luke Fowler, and Wendy Kirkup and Scott Baxter, produced by Alex Misick, a CCA Annex commission, website development by Rectangle

Part 1, 16mm to digital, colour and black & white,
14 mins 08 seconds, 2022–2023


Catherine Street based on Women’s Studies, performed live, CCA, Glasgow, June 24 2022; filmed on location, CCA, Glasgow 23 September 2022

Arri Camera CCA

Luke Fowler

Bolex Camera CCA

Alex Hetherington


Gourd strings (Hamilton Mausoleum tests) by Luke Fowler and Oliver Coates; Serge UClouds Parmegiani by Luke Fowler, Thai field recordings by Mark Vernon

Sound Design

Luke Fowler with Oliver Coates

Camera and production assistants and production stills

Wendy Kirkup and Scott Baxter

Interlude, 24 16mm outtake film stills, with texts

Part 2, 16mm to digital, colour and black & white,
8 mins 14 seconds, 2022–2023


Catherine Street

Bolex Camera

Alex Hetherington


Achterhaven out-takes Barry Burns, Luke Fowler and Mark Vernon, made at WORM, Rotterdam, NL; EML drone by Luke Fowler/Richard McMaster originally conceived as a new soundtrack for Warren Sonbert’s 1978 film Divided Loyalties

Sound Design

Luke Fowler

Alex Hetherington would like to thank Catherine Street, Luke Fowler, Alex Misick, Lizzie Malcolm & Daniel Powers, Wendy Kirkup, Scott Baxter, Annie Hazelwood, Kenny Christie, Peter Todd, Oliver Coates, Mark Vernon, Francis McKee, all at CCA, Glasgow and Stills Gallery, Edinburgh


How to Disappear, Haytham El-Wardany, Kayfa/Sternberg Press, Cairo/Berlin, 2018
Five Economies (Big Hunt/ Little Hunt) and Gold Standard, Catherine Sullivan, University of Chicago Press, The Renaissance Society, Chicago, 2002
Country Grammar, with Sue Tompkins, Luke Fowler, 2017, Caravaggio, Derek Jarman, 1986, The Beaches of Agnès, Agnès Varda, 2008, Three Women, Robert Altman, 1977, Now Eleanor’s Idea, Robert Ashley, 1994-1995

The Making of a Film

Jessica Higgins' responds to Alex Hetherington’s new work ‘Sister Films’. This text is co-published by CCA Annex and MAP Magazine and can be viewed on both platforms.

JESS Sister Films MAP 01

The technician’s office is a pupa. p-u-p-a. I like to say it. It’s punchy. It’s pupae when it’s plural and in Latin it means ‘doll’. Pupa is the name for the life stage of an insect in transformation, a phase described as ‘intermediate’ and ‘quiescent’. This name can describe not only the stage — as in the time of the event and its passing — but the state — as in the object the insect becomes when encased in the film, crust, or silken web it builds for itself.

If we pass through the felted doorway of the technician’s office we might encounter a thick ornamentation of tools as they hang from walls, lie on tables and are strewn across floors. There are cables and leads, labels and tape, transformers and adapters, lenses and speakers, microphones and projectors. There are lights, their rigs and gels, which will later scaffold a tinted attention on the subject. There are stands, clasps and clamps which nestle behind the scenery as a climate or landscape. These instruments are mechanisms of connection — literally, as in the cables which go from microphone to recording device — and assembly — as in the (dis/re)assembling of the edit and the assembly of the senses and their relations when in the company of the broadcast.

After days of endless eating, shedding skin and eating some more, the caterpillar builds its pupa. Held safely in this opaque crust, the caterpillar now proceeds to eat itself. Using its own digestive enzymes it turns into a soup. It dissolves into pure information, an oozing record of its lifelong consumption. Eventually, as we know, this ooze becomes a butterfly. I like to think about the technician’s office as a pupa because this is where we find the tools (objects, states) and the space (times, stages) which translate the data which we record or amplify when we make films and performances. That is, it’s the place where we transform the vibrating air and shimmering surfaces we capture when we try to represent our engagements with the everyday and its desires; when we fabricate acts and weave fictions, catching them in the amber attention of the stage light; when we set our forensic, surveilling gaze on the document, object or event in motion. The technician’s office dissolves this sensual consumption held in our recording and amplifying devices, remaking it solid and magnificently patterned.

JESS Sister Films MAP 05

Alex writes in his production diary for Sister Films that he thinks of the audio cable hanging on the technician’s wall as a black hole at the end of its existence, after it collapses, holding still all its collected data. I like this, because I like black holes and the mysteries of the event horizon. I also like that at the edges of the caterpillar’s pupa there might be threads, like the hanging coils of audio cables, which hold traces of its accumulated consumption. Which makes sense, because the caterpillar doesn’t entirely dissolve during its transformation but leaves behind parts of itself called ‘imaginal discs’ which will become the antennae, wings, genitals, eyes and legs of its new body.

Working through my notes and pocket references as I approach writing this essay, I noticed a few moments recently in which the artist I’m studying makes reference to a fleshiness of memory. The ways in which memory and its traces of action, relation and inheritance echo in the material of our bodies. How memory makes a habitat in fleshes of a kind. In Jane Arden’s script for her film ANTICLOCK she talks about memories in molecules; when the composer Julius Eastman writes a letter of devotion to Joan of Arc’s great courage, he says they forget that the mind has memory. In this having, I hear the whisper of Yvonne Rainer’s The Mind is a Muscle and learn something more about how the organ of the mind — our very own technician’s office, our nightly pupa — provides refuge to memorial data long after an event — those daily black holes and their mystifying structures — has collapsed.

On the website a silkworm cultivator painstakingly documents the life cycle from egg to worm to moth and back again. [1] While in their youth, the worms won’t stray too far from the safe walls of their feeding tray, but when they begin to weave their cocoons, watch out, we’re told, you might all of a sudden find them nestled up in the corners of your drapes. It seems that silkworms desire a soft and folded structure within which to conduct their transformation. Another entry in Alex’s production diary shares a camera anomaly capturing three impressions of the artist in a sweeping motion. The extra-exposure of the film highlights the heavy drapery of theatre curtains in the background and we see the architecture of a scene in its making. A scene which would otherwise be obscured by the foregrounding energy of spot-lights that cast their tonal drama across actor, director and stagehands in the first of the Sister Films. In this anomaly of exposure, I see the drapery of the theatre and imagine the silkworm pupae hanging out up there, dissolving and making themselves into new images and sensations. I see the drapery of the theatre and all of a sudden the space of the making of a film is a mind, a muscle, a molecule.

I’ve forgotten my school science and realise I need to look up what a molecule actually is. I look it up and re-learn that a molecule is a group of two or more atoms held together by attractive forces and wonder if those forces are where memory’s traces of action, relation and inheritance pulse, binding each atom into some kind of earthly substance. Molecules, I learn, don’t just float in space but gaggle together like gossips to form cells. They get thicker. More sheet-like. Round or wriggling. I think of the cells of film, reels rolling into fully formed acts like the sentence with its grammar; outtakes left on the proverbial cutting room floor which fall to the totalising gravity of the event horizon; and composites which make adjunct connections and new muscular meanings that don’t speak but shimmer.

In Catherine’s voiceover to one of the Sister Films she says the shadow of dark cells are so extraordinary that as I swam into a black hole I saw the back of my own head. At the surface of the black hole objects appear suspended, stuck in its heavy gravity. Time stops for the body as it falls, which appears to the observer like a freeze-frame. It ceases to move or progress through time as good bodies should. It’s captured, hooked. The black hole lends us an analogy for the suspended notion of memory’s folds in this sense, but it can also describe the punch used to hang a strip of film as it dries, an outline which in its draping absence infers an opening.

During each of the five minor transformations the silkworm goes through before retreating into its cocoon — a state from which it cannot return — it spends nearly a whole day in a completely still position resembling prayer. The silkworm is a freeze-frame. But it has not stopped, it’s working on something. Give it time. At the end of this meditation it sheds its skin and changes its face. The silkworm needs to upgrade for a better mouth so that it can eat more and more food in preparation for its final transformation. There is always a point where both faces are held simultaneously, a split image, the old face hanging from its chin. The silkworm leaves its film-like skin behind as it wriggles away from itself. The old skin is a wormhole, a tunnel. To be clear: a wormhole is a space-time portal connecting two points in the universe, whereas the black hole we’ve been talking about is a body of extreme gravity from which nothing escapes. If the silkworm is disturbed during its resting phase, either from being knocked over by a passing worm or nudged by a clumsy human, it will get stuck in this mode and eventually die. There is a precarity, then, to any of these transformations, subject to the stillness of a filmic gaze as we shed our skin on stage, as we change our faces, leaving the old ones behind.

JESS S Ister Films MAP 07

Throughout the first act of Sister Films, Catherine is filmed in a theatrical setting. She wears her father’s suit, it’s pinstriped and oversized. A skin she needs to grow into or let cling, stuck, half-shed. She is still, her lips rarely move although we hear her voice off screen. When they do move it’s unmatched, out of time. Aside: in a letter to John Cage, the performance artist Esther Ferrer wrote in 1991, anarchistic thought is something out of time, even without time, and I would even dare to say that it is something anchored in human nature. [2] Underneath Catherine’s face, across her chest, at her shoulders and sometimes behind her head we’re shown a graceful choreography of mirrors. In their rhythmic rise, fall and suspension, they cast reflections of the staged scene and the landscape of the film’s production. The mirror’s dance shows us the performance and its logic, their reflections compose the technology of relations at play in the making of the film. Director, camera, stagehand, technical equipment, prop.

The mirrors take Catherine’s face, they construct it, they shed it, and shed it again. They are multiple versions of her. They speak many languages. They have skills and attributes the suspended image does not. The mirror’s tendency for movement and change reminds me of the performer’s capacity for swimming in the shallows of self and other, to mimic, to embody. I love the notion of method acting — although I have never done it, I’ve never really acted, I’m a bad actor — because it means that you are always more than you are. The mirrors take Alex’s face, just visible behind his camera and install it onto Catherine’s body. Their silent conversation on screen is a measure of the space between them. Like the wormhole, it’s a portal between two locations in the universe. Like when Mei-mei Berssenbrugge writes space is material, but seems to open up a beyond, which is thought to defy material in its failure to speak its content, [3] this unspeakable space-time between two bodies is the defiant material of empathy. Empathy, I think, is like a mirror on the tongue and the empathy of the audience, according to Catherine Sullivan, is excited by the dramatic scenario. [4] When we’re given lighting rigs, drapes, cables, we make something not quite real but real enough to feel with a truth of a kind. We pick up the out of time-liness of anarchic thought and drop the act and its action in the unreal time of the stage.

In the second act of Sister Films, Catherine narrates a flickering scene of clapper boards and colour charts, recalling: Alex says Allison Gibbs may have taught me that an analysis of film might make me psychic. The filmic or performative space drips with contingency. This is why I like it, it makes a lot of things up. It deals with duration. It tends to action, relation, inheritance. It is pure living and pure fiction at once. Its analysis and interpretation is a mystical trade, its production positively oracular. Although the practices of film and performance have their methods of measurement, their techniques and their sciences, I like to imagine that the developing bucket is a blind prophet; the microphone a medium; the monologue a hallucination out of time. Did you know that if you place two halves of a ping pong ball over your eyes and listen to the sound of a waterfall for several minutes you can induce hallucinations? I wonder what would happen if you got stuck like that, either because of a passing worm or a clumsy human. Maybe that would be it. You. Done? Anew!

JESS Sister Films MAP 04

Alex tells us that many of the flowers which featured in Women’s Studies and the second part of Sister Films could induce hallucinations if you eat them. It turns out that hallucinations may not be the result of the misregistration of information as it passes through the senses to the mind, but that while influenced or otherwise afflicted, we might simply be in the process of loosening our attachment to sensory translation. Rather, in this state we might begin to place more importance on the interpretation of the information we are subject to. [5] It is this newly heightened capacity for interpreting sensation which leads to a misaligned experience of our ordinarily measured reality. Film and performance can insist on the ordinarily measured reality as an imperative. It can make those measurements more real with the metered tone of the document or record, or it can make them more sensually readable with the dramatic tools and their unreal time. But it can also insist on incompatibility, collage, opacity. It can swim in the total gravity of the tool’s unreal time. It can dance with the action, relation and inheritance of languages and their images in contingent sequences. Robert Ashley says that after a performance he finds it hard to concentrate and everyone thinks he’s drunk, but, he says, it doesn’t matter, because I have just broken all the rules of grammar for an hour and a half. [6]

While I’ve been watching Alex and Catherine’s films, I keep scrawling the phrase eating and being eaten. I etch it into the margins of the page and set it off to float under quotes or descriptions. I think, to eat is to be the filmmaker’s eye and the poet’s ear, snacking on references and stories, tones and moods. Metabolising them. To be eaten is to be the actor or body on film, eaten by the camera. Replaying, reliving, dissolving, being made anew. Eating and being eatenis an enigmatic phrase but describes nothing more ordinary than what we call the food chain. The system of relations between organisms predicated on the act of eating. But, in the Sister Films project, I also hear eating and being eatenas a subtitle to the material inheritances echoing through a pair of linking films and an accompanying log of outtakes and reference matter nestling in their edges. Like pupae in the drapes; like audio cables in the technician’s office; like the chunks of the caterpillar left in the soup which will become new limbs, new organs.

By material inheritance I mean the rich and sensuous expressions of art, film and music. That which is essential in its not-not utility and gives us new languages and forms for living. These Sister Films are homilies to a legacy of queer and feminist film; avant-garde theatre and performance; the practices of the artists’ peers and the tonal histories of cinematography. These echoes gaggle like clusters of molecules bound together with forces of attraction. We feast on them as we scroll and swipe, meanwhile Catherine’s monologue weaves anecdotes with a poesy of the question, like each phrase is an ambiguous truth to be prized open. She tells us: I’m interested in autobiography and writing as if writing is a body, it’s a personal sovereignty against the dangers of misappropriating some parts of another’s experience. Perhaps Catherine in this moment is the caterpillar eating herself, her own history. She performs herself in a lyric autobiography which becomes a costume, a crust or shell. A film. I read that some pupae are leant the protection of ants who shield them from danger, since the delicate transformation can take days, weeks, even years.

Over the course of the first film, the hands which hold the mirrors up to Catherine’s figure slowly become bodies of their own, those of the technical assistants. In full view, we see them dressed in the ubiquitous black ensemble of a stagehand. They perform their duties with care and attention. They move the mirrors up and down. They frame the subject. They look beyond the camera lens for their cue. Just once, Wendy gives herself away, a smile slips from her otherwise composed presence — that posture of ‘acting yourself’. The smile overflows the frame, collapses space, cracks the pupa and is able to speak its content.

Jessica Higgins is an artist and writer based in Glasgow. Working primarily in performance, film, sound and text, she is preoccupied with the voice and its entanglement in social infrastructures, as well as the form and question of performance.

Jessica Higgins’ essay The Making of a Film reflects on Sister Films by Alex Hetherington. It was commissioned by CCA and co-published by CCA Annex and MAP Magazine

Alex Hetherington is a visual artist who works with 16mm film. Recent shows include SEEN AND NOT SEEN, CCA, Glasgow, 2022. Recently, he has also acted as DP on 16mm film works with artists, including Hannan Jones, Ayla Dmyterko, Rachel McBrinn, George Finlay Ramsay, Wendy Kirkup and Annie Crabtree. He is currently researching a new film, working across 35mm, 16mm and camera less formats.

Sister Films, a film by Alex Hetherington and Catherine Street, with Luke Fowler, Wendy Kirkup and Scott Baxter, produced by Alex Misick. The film is a CCA Annex commission launched 23 March 2023 and is available on CCA Annex now.

Sister Films (2023) follows on from the exhibition SEEN AND NOT SEEN, 2022 which included the films Women’s Studies, Women’s Studies Vol. 2, Idle Work, and The Experience of the Unseen Listener, all 16mm, 2020-2022.

All images: film stills from Sister Films, 16mm, 2023


  1. Michael Cook, ‘Bombyx Mori - the silkworms’ blog!’, a site about silkworms, silkmoths and silk, (2004),
  2. Esther Ferrer, Esther Ferrer’s Letter to John Cage, (1991),
  3. Mei-mei Berssenbrugge, Forms of Politeness, (2006),
  4. Catherine Sullivan, ‘Interview: The Chittendens’, art21, (2005),
  5. Maria Cohut, ‘What really happens in the brain during a hallucination?, Medical News Today, (March 2019),
  6. Robert Ashley, ‘The Composer Robert Ashley’, Blank Forms 04: Intelligent Life, (Blank Forms: New York, 2019), p.41