3rd December 2006 — 21st January 2007
Seeds for a Random Garden project was originally conceived by
Boyle Family member Joan Hills in the late 1960s, and comprised
selections of seeds that she'd collected in a variety of determinedly
haphazard (if such a thing is possible) ways, along with suggestions
for random planting, with no consideration for the seeds' potential
usefulness or beauty. Forty years on, and following the death
of Boyle Family patriarch Mark Boyle, the Seeds for a Random
Garden project has been revived, and in something of a departure
of medium for the artists, takes the form of an eight-hour time-lapse
digital film, which is currently being exhibited for the first
time at Construction in Shoreditch.
For this work, a site in south London was selected at random, from where dust and detritus was swept up and planted in a box of clean earth. This was then placed in an outside yard and a photo taken from a fixed position every ten minutes, day and night, for exactly two hundred days between May and November 2006. The resulting 28,800 frames, progressing at a rate of one frame per second, add up to this lengthy eight-hour piece. During the course of the film, a random selection of greenery proceeds to sprout and grow, and then as autumn falls, to die. Day turns to night and back to day. Two hundred times.
This description might sound dull but actually there's a great deal to enjoy in this piece. But before suggesting why, I'd like to pose a question or two. Are we supposed to watch the whole film? When artists decide on the length of such pieces - and installations with such mammoth durations seem to be on the increase - is their intention, if not their expectation, that spectators should experience it in its entirety in order to engage fully with the work? Is it fair to critique such work without having satisfied the somewhat unrealistic premise that one should sit through the whole thing? Or is that not really the point of this kind of durational art? These are certainly questions worth pondering, but regardless, I came in at about the six-hour mark, and watched for about an hour. And it was an hour well spent. In fact, the tranquil confines of the gallery, along with the meditative nature and silence of the film itself, provided a welcome haven from the raucous bustle of the East End.
The first thing that is particularly impressive about the film is its striking use of rhythm - the circadian cycle compressed into a couple of minutes but remaining entirely commensurate with reality. When night falls and the screen goes black for a while (save for the occasional tantalising glimmer of moonlight), we find ourselves reflecting on the daytime scenes we've just witnessed. Only in this darkness do we escape from the relentless pulse of the daytime image changing every second - a ticking clock made visual. Time marches on. As in life, there is no pause button here.
It's surprising to see just how much changes in the ten minutes between shots, in what might initially appear a rather banal scene of a slightly unruly plant amid nondescript surroundings. Leaves and stalks restlessly perk and droop. Rain creates chaotic, ephemeral patterns as it splatters and then soaks the wall before drying up as quickly as it appeared. Fleeting mosaics of the shadows of leaves dance prettily across the scene. Angular rays of brilliant sunlight make their bold, methodical progress in and out of the frame. The shifts in the quality and tone of the light, sometimes subtle, sometimes dramatic, begin to reveal the whole spectrum of colour. The brief dusk each evening, just a frame or two, becomes quite poignant.
By making a subject of these humdrum 'weeds', the artists seem to want us to question what plants we find 'beautiful' and why. Why don't I know the names of these so-called weeds? Why don't I care? Ultimately though, the work succeeds as a quietly powerful meditation on the cyclic nature of ourselves and of the world around us, and as a study in both chance and inevitability. An eccentric experiment, that in typical Boyle Family style, seems to have been blessed with a beguiling dose of serendipity.
24a Calvin Street
London E1 6NW