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Danielle Arnaud Gallery, London
11 November 2006 to 12 December 2006
Reviewed by: Emma Cocker »
The image conjured by slide projected travelogues relayed to others in the comfort of a domestic space or home is now synonymous with the cliché and banality of middle class travel and tourism; where the photographic residue of holiday experiences are regurgitated to a bored audience of friends and family. This cultural tradition is one that also attests to the glitch in photography's promise, for the image only infrequently captures the experience of the moment and more often strips the event of any meaningful content or action. Arguably the photographic record or memento of travel can only ever be a pale echo of the experiential encounter with a place, for its documentary value might serve only as an aide memoir for those who participated in the actual journey itself. Here any transferable meaning is rendered void by the chasm of experience between that which has been authentically felt or seen and how this then translates as an anecdote or narrative that can be offered up to others.
The slide projection of travel images in a domestic context perhaps also draws on an historical tradition in which the gesture is seen as one of exclusivity, where tales of exotic places serve to assert a cultural (an often economic) separation or hierarchy between the presenting host and their invited guests. It operates as a signal that affirms the privileged status of a few individuals' experiences above the more pedestrian realities of others. The act of travel however has become subject to a process of both democratisation and standardisation, for in popular terms travel is now less about discovery and instead seems motivated by the compulsion of aimless repetition; the inane following of tried and tested paths. The photographic residue of travel perhaps then offers a form of dual dissatisfaction for it not only fails to capture the experiential moment, but also invariably reiterates images that have already been collectively processed and approved by innumerable guidebooks and tourist boards.
Heather and Ivan Morison frequently make use of a slide projection to relay or reiterate the fragments and residue of their travels and expeditions. Their journeys however are not determined by the familiar routes of tourism; but often follow or borrow highly personal and idiosyncratic itineraries or instructions from more unexpected sources. In Chinese Arboretum, for example they follow the guidance of tree fanatics as they search for rare species or in more recent work it is the route of migrating storks that presents a path for them to trace. Though their recent exhibition Earthwalker is indeed presented in the domestic space of the Danielle Arnaud gallery, the resulting slide projections might be seen as an attempt to subvert or sabotage the conventions of popular travel and its subsequent reportage, which have robbed the gesture of wandering of any critical or transformative function.
Earthwalker is a collection of fragments and traces in which photographic evidence from previous expeditions and projects appear to collide with an altogether more illusionary register. Echoing the preoccupations of the Victorian explorer or collector, the Morison's records reflect a natural world where the boundaries between the fictitious and factual are blurred, and where strange hybrids and fantasy formations are the products of both imaginary and economic desires. The medium format slides are presented as a disjointed, dislocated sequence that fails to communicate any fixed or stable idea of narrative trajectory or place, but seems instead to create spaces or gaps through which to reflect upon certain recurrent themes and preoccupations. References to collection and storage; taxonomy and organisation; genetic modification and chimera play out over an eerily futuristic soundtrack whose insistent electronic pulse seeps beyond the gallery space and functions to both underscore and disrupt the coherence of the work.
Rather than trying to present a substitute for the performative experience of their travels, the documentary image in Heather and Ivan Morison's work offers both extraordinary (and at times equally prosaic) clues through which an audience must draw their individual conclusions or account of the absent narrative. Their slide-projected photographs present only partial references that are separated or disrupted in projection by pauses, gaps and blank spaces, and in which stirs the promise of both possibility and unease. For Rosalind Krauss the spacing of the photographic image itself is described as a form of syntax, which indicates a "break in the simultaneous experience of the real, a rupture that issues into sequence ... a rupture in the continuous fabric of reality"(1). Other theorists such as Michel de Certeau have suggested that the practice of walking can be seen as analogous to the ‘speech act' and can also be understood to create a kind of ‘spacing' or syntax in relation to how things are encountered. Walking and travel are described as a form of ‘enunciation' that carries the possibility of breathing life or of introducing a temporal beat or narrative into the abstract spatial grid or dead text of the map. Both the photographic image and the pedestrian act can thus be used as means of disruption that ruptures the way in which things are habitually seen and presents a more contingent and revelatory notion of space. Both work towards producing a form of anti-guide through which to encounter the everyday, where the normative methods of viewing or experiencing the world are bypassed in favour of more abstract, unknown or imaginative possibilities. Viewed in this light practices such as that of Heather and Ivan Morison can be argued to reclaim both a critical and poetic function for travel and wandering beyond the formulaic and familiar patterns of popular tourism: they reassert a more mythical and transformative role for the traveller's tale in which fantasy and superstition; science fiction and futuristic visions might operate alongside more familiar accounts of the world.
1. Rosalind Krauss, ‘The Photographic conditions of Surrealism', October, 1981, p.31.
Emma Cocker is a Lecturer in Fine Art at Nottingham Trent University, and co-editor of the publications Transmission: Speaking and Listening Volumes 3 -5
Danielle Arnaud Contemporary Art »
123 Kennington Road, London SE11 6SF
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