30th November 2007 — 3rd February 2008
a recent research paper published by Tate, Mark Godfrey lavishes praise
upon Anthony McCall's 'Line Describing a Cone' (1973). The Serpentine's
current exhibition of work by McCall substantiates Godfrey's praise.
The exhibition is primarily an indulgent reflection upon the work created by McCall in the early 70s out of which 'Line Describing a Cone' came into being. It is also, albeit only in a cursory fashion, a showing of the artist's more recent projects (McCall being well known for his lengthy sabbatical from the art world).
Described by McCall as 'the first film to exist in real, three dimensional space', 'Line Describing a Cone' is a film with sculptural resonance. It starts as a dot of white light projected onto a black surface that gradually grows into a line, which in turns arcs into a circle - slow and meditative transmogrification. The 'real, three dimensional element' of the piece is located in the space between the screen and the projector. Appearing in this space is a convincingly three-dimensional, but ultimately ethereal, cone, visible only as a result of the presence of impurities in the air. The shaping of this cone demarcates unexpected regions of the gallery space, the projector's trajectory expanding beyond its traditional limits. Viewers, used to these more traditional trajectories, take to the space like an assault course squatting, squeezing and dipping their bodies around phantom dimensions, with the more inquisitive inserting their bodies into these dimensions, disrupting the space while becoming a part of it.
Where the Serpentine Gallery's showing of 'Line Describing a Cone' and McCall's other projection pieces falls short is the lack of dirt. The first screening of 'Line Describing a Cone' took place in dusty loft conversions (when such conversions weren't spotless prize-pads for city boys) and unconventional exhibition spaces (when smoking in public spaces was still permissible). With no dust and no languid bohemian smoke, the Serpentine, by way of a substitute, has strategically placed smelly and sputtering smoke machines. Such smoke machines, reminiscent of a suburban teenage disco, are an inadequate substitute for the dust and smoke this review is starting to idealise as their emissions failed to disperse comprehensively. A haze machine, imported dust or a relaxing of the no-smoking ban would have been far more complementary to the work.
'Line Describing a Cone' and the other projection works of McCall are sandwiched by two of McCall's beautifully haunting and ritualistic 'Landscape for Fire' videos, each of which carries the same slow and meditative quality of the projection pieces. Contextualising these works are a series of documents, mainly diagrammatic in nature housed in the first room of the exhibition. Somewhat inevitably, these contextualising pieces are overshadowed by 'Line Describing a Cone' and the physical evocation of the spatial it engineers, making it clear that the piece's sculptural identity is evidently as impressive today, even to jaded gallery-goers, as it was in the early seventies.
London W2 3XA