23rd January 2007 — 3rd March 2007
premise of this show is very interesting. The five artists Simon Evans,
Aurelien Froment, Mario Garcia Torres, Rosalind Nashashibi and Gabriel
Vormstein have been asked to respond to the intellectual spirit of the
Mass Observation movement. Set up by a poet, a filmmaker and an
anthropologist in 1937, Mass Observation had the intention of creating
an 'anthropology of ourselves'. The first book of social research they
produced was called May The Twelfth, after the date of George VI's
coronation in 1937 on which they focused. Mass Observation aimed to
record everyday life in Britain using diaries, questionnaires, surveys
and reports from anonymous observers, designed to collect a mass of
data with no particular selective principle. These reporters were
considered 'meteorological stations from whose reports a weather map of
popular feeling can be compiled' and presumably the artists here are
intended to fulfil the same purpose. The Mass Observation reporters
provided an eavesdropping on the events taking place on the day of the
coronation. This interest in the lives of ordinary people rather than
the Royal Family, who loom so large in history books, was quietly
revolutionary. The project could be seen as a continuation in real life
from Harold Bloom's day, 16 June 1904, in James Joyce's Ulysses. This
is fertile ground for a exhibition and the work here is mostly good but
the artists do not seem to connect fully with the peculiarly British
concept under consideration. Their works feel introspective rather than
The strongest work in the show is Mario Garcia Torres's two perpendicular slide projections 11 Years Later / 11 Minutes Later. They are projected low on the walls. The one on the left shows various views of the outside of a Western Union Money Transfer branch in New York, on the right are various views from the same spot at Niagara Falls. It is not immediately obvious what the differences between the images are. The scenes on both sides shift slightly and an elliptical text dialogue appears over both. The puzzling narrative concerns one man who takes a photograph from exactly the same spot every morning at 8am sharp, looking at the Western Union shop on the corner of 16th and 9th Avenue in Brooklyn. This character does not go on holiday because he is afraid to miss one day of his self-appointed and religiously-observed task, and works only to support this hobby. Asked why he started this project he replies 'It just came to me'. To him it is a record on his little spot, his little part of the world and people need to slow down to appreciate the minute variations between the photographs. Paradoxically these images are all the same, but different. The Earth spins on its axis, the light changes, seasons pass. The photographer is killing time. The same and different people pass by and different ones become the same and the same disappear. Torres took these images after Auggie Wren, the character in Wayne Wang's 1995 film Smoke, for which Paul Auster wrote the screenplay.
It is a hallmark Auster scenario. The two stories unfold simultaneously and then start to interweave. Another man collects images of Niagara Falls taken at the exact same spot by different people at different times throughout the years. He is fascinated with the pilgrimage thousands of people make North to take this one picture. It is important that these are not postcards but real photographs. It seems the Niagara guy bequeaths his project to the Western Union guy, who decides to finish the series with a photograph taken by himself, although he will miss his 'spot' for a day or two. The character of Auggie recalls the Czech photographer Josef Sudek, who featured in the fascinating In The Face of History show at Barbican last year. He repeatedly photographed the view from the window of his studio, marking the passing time in nature and never overtly referring to the Nazi invasion. I am reminded of both Sophie Calle's espionage and use of found personal materials and the capture of the banality of daily life in Dieter Roth's oeuvre and Andy Warhol's Time Capsules.
Gabriel Vormstein's work felt rather meaningless, it consisted of two large newspaper collages painted over in watercolour with some unreadable text, and some abstract figures. Next to it was a Blair Witch Project triangular construction of twigs with string and a circle of twigs nailed together and painted blue which looked like a giant crown of thorns. Aurelien Froment 'Projectionism' (a manual) is a series of black and white photographs documenting his work as a film projectionist, intended as an instruction guide but also a little like a crime scene reconstruction.
Rosalind Nashashibi's Proximity Machines is a charmingly old-fashioned and noisy double film projection. On the left is a close up of an empty train seat which suddenly focuses on a detail of the red and blue abstract pattern, it feels like footage from a spy-camera. On the right hand side is a playground with a climbing frame shaped so it appears to have either the legs, arms and torso of a woman or the head and horns of a bull. People are eerily absent, pushed to the edges of the frame.
From a distance Simon Evans' work looks to be a white monochrome but closer examination reveals hundreds of tiny phrases handwritten in capitals in different coloured ink and cut out and pasted on. It is impossible to read them sequentially, the eye darts about feasting on phrases that feel like paranoid ravings but are horribly familiar from the Media and public opinion. Every visitor will navigate their own path through these little headlines, which vary from the depressing to the poetic and funny, to experience their snapshot of Britain today. Walking a dog to death; Another toothless satire; The asylum seekers roaming through Dover; Hard-living punks now look like trolls; Ill-informed left-wing opinion; Those dizzying acts of kindness; Daddy I prefix my frustrations on you; Having sex with children is a British concern; Bouncer gets stabbed up bum 14 times; Cobbled streets worn smoother; David Shrigley I wish I was unhappy like you. I am.
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