Anscombe & Ringland

For the purposes of the piece 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 on-going. Nicholas Bourriaud’s Relational Aesthetics is brought to mind 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, the world of design intrudes, but let us ignore these ‘low level’ considerations for the moment.

On five large glass panes – evocative of Duchamp’s Large Glass – and two smaller ones, surrounding an installation occupied by performers and the invigilation team, sixty rectangular images are displayed in grid formation, in three rows. Each of the sixty images comprises in turn of (usually four) other photographs and text. The actual number of columns 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 a surface level. Looking through the glass, between the images, a less regimented space, in terms of layout, is visible inside.

The idea of fractals is suggested: a link with the patterns found in nature is made. Rectangles sit inside rectangles and so on ad-infinitum. The composition of most of the sixty images is identical: one photograph occupies most of the area and three significantly smaller pictures are arranged in a column to the right (thus connecting with the layout of three parent rectangles mentioned already). The four photos in each image, are presented in combination with text and, in a large font and numbers such as 725,000 or 1,750,000 which presumably amount to innovative titles for the pieces. Then the images are organised into an array facing outwards on each window, forming walls for the installation and emphasizing again the object-oriented qualities of the piece.

To compound the effect, the subject matter of the photographs is other empty ‘installation’ spaces: dry, lifeless environments, unsuitable for human beings, or for creatures of any type by the look of it. A post-apocalyptic situation is described but of the terrifyingly neat variety. Something destructive has wiped out all signs of life but – and here’s the rub – without leaving a trace. Evidence of what happened would be a comfort for the spectator, too obvious to include perhaps. Cormac McCarthy’s The Road or a Mad Max movie scene this is not. Repetition and systematic grouping of elements adds to the uncanny impact. This is the stuff or real-life horror, stirring up emotions experienced when one hears of torture techniques specifically designed not to leave visible marks on a victim.

Why all these pictures of unoccupied pristine interiors? What do the numbers mean? Could they be body counts of some sort, or durations in years since the structures were last inhabited? The buildings themselves appear monstrous, it is as if the architecture had somehow been capable of consuming plant and animal flesh.

Inside the installation, trapped in the 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. The backs of the many images operate like eyes looking, not out of the building, but inwards. If one of these occupants lets their guard down for even a moment, we can speculate that the person would be eradicated, swallowed into the walls as it were, never to be seen again. The performers are observable by passers-by, we spectators, colluding and acting as ancillary police force.

The installation as a whole is curiously compelling, hard to abandon, despite the eerie scenarios conjured up. Later I feel thankful for artists, for the fact of someone creating this exhibition of photographs, a veritable aesthetic and thought-provoking feast in a world which is otherwise preoccupied with material desires, money-making, careerism and hostile one-upmanship.