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Anscombe & Ringland, London
6 September - 31 December 2011
Reviewed by: Nep Hall »
For the purposes of writing here it has been necessary to specify an exhibition End Date but the show at Notting Hill’s prominently positioned Anscombe and Ringland is an on-going one. Nicholas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics come to mind at first but while the basic contents in this untitled exhibition change frequently the structure and overall look remain a constant. Spectators are presented with final outcomes; this is not an example of Process Art but the result of careful curatorial and artistic decision-making and presumably the usual blend of blood, sweat and tears. A more useful analogy is with contemporary website design in which content and style are handled separately. And it has to be admitted that the analogy is valid in more ways than one because ostensibly there is a functional aspect to this exhibition, it intrudes into the world of design, but let’s ignore these low level considerations for the moment.
On five large glass panes and two smaller ones, surrounding an installation area which is occupied by performers and the invigilation team, sixty rectangular images are displayed in a grid formation, in columns of three. Each of the sixty images comprises in turn of (usually four) other photographs and text. The actual number of columns (of three) can vary within reason but at the time of reviewing there were a total of twenty. One effect is to create the impression of extreme order, at least on the surface. Looking through the glass between the imagery reveals a space inside which is slightly less regimented in terms of layout.
Generally the idea of fractals is evoked, a link with nature is made. Rectangles sit inside rectangles and so on ad infinitum. The format for most of the sixty images is identical: one photograph is larger occupying most of the area and three significantly smaller pictures are arranged in a column to the right (which makes a connection with the columns of three parent rectangles mentioned already). The four photos are presented in combination with text and, in a larger font, a number such as 725,000 or 1,750,000: titles for the pieces perhaps. Then the images are organised into an array facing outwards on each window, forming walls for the installation and emhasising again the object-oriented qualities of the piece.
The photographs themselves are of other empty installation spaces: dry, lifeless environments, unsuitable for human occupation presumably or for creatures of any type for that matter, a post-apocalyptic situation is being described but terrifyingly neat. Some destructive force has wiped out everything but - and here’s the rub - without leaving a trace. Signs of mayhem would comfort in this case, be too obvious, so their exclusion is a strength of the exhibition. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or a Mad Max movie this is not. Repetition of the images and the patterned groups of images increases the impact: this is truly the stuff or horror stirring up the kinds of emotions experienced on hearing stories of innovative torture techniques designed not to mark the victim visibly. Why all these pictures of unoccupied pristine interiors? What do the numbers mean: body counts of some sort or durations in years since the structures were last inhabited? Building and architecture is depicted as a monster, consuming plant and animal flesh alike, not invisible but nevertheless impossible to relate to.
Inside the installation, trapped in a prison cell of photographs, actors and invigilators sit at desks, pretend to communicate with each other, make imaginary phone calls, occasionally point at screens and move around, under constant surveillance it would appear by the thing they reside in. The backs of the many images operate like eyes looking, not out of the building, but inwards. If an occupant lets their guard down for even one moment, we can speculate, that person will be eradicated, swallowed into the walls, never to be seen again. And the performers are of course observable by passers-by too, by the spectator: we act as an ancillary police force.
The installation as a whole is curiously compelling, hard to abandon despite the eerie scenarios it generates in one’s mind. And later I feel thankful for artists, for the fact of someone creating this exhibition of photographs, this conceptual feast in a world which seems more preoccupied by material desire, lucre, one-upmanship.
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Anscombe & Ringland
15 Notting Hill Gate London W11 3JQ
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