Thursday, 12 April 2012

Aide-mémoire- remembering Jerwood Encounters 'This Must be The Place', 20th November 2010

The following text is taken from a review posted during November 2010 on a previous site. It was part of a collection of reviews that assisted me in contextualising my art practice within the parameters of (visual) anthropology. Presented in its originally form, I have edited the text to reflect the correct tense; the content remains ostensibly unaltered.

While attempting to find a Southwark street, I ventured into the Jerwood Visual Arts centre (Jerwood Space) and visited the superseding exhibition to the Jerwood Drawing Prize viewed a fortnight earlier. This Must be The Place was staged as part of the Jerwood Encounters exhibition and was curated by David Campany (writer, artist, curator and lecturer) and featured the work of seven artists including Campany himself. The main thrust of the exhibition focused on uses of photography as a research tool and displayed images ranging from Dresden to Shanghai. Of anthropological interest was a sequence of thirty three black and white images of a site Barcelona photographed by Xavier Ribas. Entitled Nomads, the installation was a response to the plight of around sixty gypsy families who were removed from an empty industrial plot where they had settled. By 2004 the families had been initially intimidated and finally expelled from the land by the arrival of diggers that destroyed the area, thus making it uninhabitable. There is a degree of detachment and no authoritative assessment of the situation, which allows the audience space for subjective interpretation of the narrative.

Two of the exhibits that particularly resonated with me were a collection of limited edition hand-made books and video installation. Dresden I-IX is a maquette for a suite of books made by Lillian Wilkie. Having never visited Dresden, but being aware of the destruction of the city during the bombings of 1945, I have a vague understanding of the geography and (historical) location through archived images and the anti-war literature of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five. The images employed in the book compilation were geometrically constructed compositions that allowed audience interpolation through the device of neutral design and terse lines of text that underscored the imagery. The viewer could, to a degree, create their own meaning from the neutrality of the sparse cityscapes.

The digital video installation by David Campany, One Way Street in China, caught my attention by means of the subject matter and the juxtaposition of projected still and moving images. Described as being “(…a) collection of aphorisms and observations on city life published in 1928”, the title of Campany’s installation is derived from a text by Walter Benjamin entitled One Way Street. I am personally interested both in South East Asian culture and the phenomenon of experiencing things that are mundane as possessing an almost mystical aspect when witnessed in a new environment. An example of this could be seen in the work of the artist Camille Fallet (also one of the featured artists in the exhibition). When visiting London for the first time, Fallet took a substantial number of photographs “as if he knew (that) his judgment would be most acute before he became too familiar with it”. Campany consciously made a small piece of work each day during his seventy day visit to Xiamen and Shanghai. This method of work alluded, to a certain point, to Walter Benjamin’s (supposed) manner of writing the above text. A further reason for my interest in One Way Street in China lies in the mode of production and photojournalistic attributes possessed by the installation. A still image is ‘animated’ by placing and removing a variety of objects (a wok, an ornament, a book & c) on a table in front of a reclining woman. Persistence of vision confounded spectator perception of the still and moving imagery. ‘Low tech’ split screen footage is interwoven between monochromes that become polychrome saturated images.

D van Eden

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