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Parasol Unit, London
31 May - 10 August 2012
Reviewed by: Rachel Murray »
Inside Parasol Unit the world is slowed down. At moments time feels suspended. Trapped within it’s own loop. Or sometimes running at real speed, albeit in it’s own uncanny existence. We move throughout the exhibition’s dark and light spaces, experiencing the extremes of multi-media installation, from submersion into the pitch-black installation space, to soft white-carpeted rooms with lush semi-translucent screens, projection beams imitating sunlight across the room. Balanced between photography and film Claerbout’s works playfully explore these digital mediums and the crossover between the two. Perceptions of reality and illusion collide as cinematic space and time is deconstructed and reconstructed throughout.
One of the first works we encounter in the exhibition is ‘Orchestra’, a large-scale photographic light box piece. Located alone in a dark cinematic space, the piece only becomes apparent once the viewer steps well into the daunting pitch-black room. Eyes adjusting to the darkness, the image suddenly emerges. Within, the ‘Orchestra’s’ conductor and entire audience stare back into the room, hundreds of pairs of eyes fixed upon the unsuspecting viewer. Shrouded in an eerie stillness, a theatrical silence, this all-important encounter between work and audience is at the heart of the installation where the roles of viewer and subject are reversed.
In other photographic pieces Claerbout sequences still images creating video projection works which bridge the gap between the still and moving image, giving a new context to the photographic still. In pieces such as ‘The Algiers’ Section of a Happy Moment’ a single moment is captured from many angles depicting a paused soccer game as one player stops to feed a group of descending seagulls. Screened large, Claerbout immerses the viewer in a projection of a single moment of arrested time. At the other end of the scale Claerbout’s ‘Breathing Bird’, displayed within two small screens, depicts the meeting of two birds. Psychically separated by a windowpane, the birds mirror one another, exchanging a gaze; in the only movement - tiny water droplets from the bird’s exhalation gather on the window forming a cloud of breath. A small but beautiful fraction of time is captured in this two channel video work, in Claerbout’s world quiet moments take a cinematic precedence.
In the video work ‘Bordeaux Piece’ a drama unfolds between three characters on the set of a white airy modernist house on the outskirts of Bordeaux, France, surrounded by a lush green picturesque landscape. The 10-minute scene is replayed over and over, yet it soon becomes apparent that the piece is not on a loop, but is instead a continuous 13-hour video work of the same scene staged, acted and shot repeatedly throughout a single day. A strange telephone conversion, a broken teacup, awkward dialogue between a father, his son and his son’s girlfriend, a betrayal, fists banging on a glass window, the mouthing of words I can never quite catch, the camera panning across the beautiful landscape, fade out and begin again. The repetitions, actions, dialogue, are simply a motif, as the gradually changing light becomes the true subject matter of the piece. Narrative collapses as cinematic time deconstructs.
In the final room of the exhibition an 18-minute video projection ‘Sunrise’ plays. Mimicking the dark space of ‘Orchestra’ on the floor below, ‘Sunrise’ engages the viewer in a cinematic world of darkened quietness. The video centres on a modernist villa in the middle of the night as a maid arrives. Quietly let in by the butler, we hypnotically watch the maid go about her routine chores in the pristine villa in the dead of night. The viewer steps into darkness to sit and watch this piece, the sound, perfectly – just about audible – brings the viewer fully into the unfolding nocturnal scene in which the rest of the world, or at least owners of the villa, sleep. Within bluish grey hues, a vestige of dawn, the maid begins to finish her shift. She quietly leaves the villa and cycles home on a country road, the sunrises in the background whilst a beautiful piece of music by Rachmaninov plays out.
As ‘the time that remains’ comes to an end we too journey with the maid into daylight.
Artist, writer and curater. Currently based in Nottingham.
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