On a rare day off work [as a freelancer you take the work when it’s there] I went to see three art shows in Central London. The choice of galleries was determined in a large part by proximity as I had a limited amount of time and galleries two and three were close by the one show I definitely wanted to see. As a criteria it seems as valid as any other.
The first show was Diana Thater: Chernobyl at Hauser and Wirth on Piccadilly. I only went in as I was passing but I like the way that the overlapping video projections montage themselves in the space that’s been constructed for them. By placing the projectors in the space, cross-projecting so to speak it’s almost impossible for the spectator to not be in the space of the work. I didn’t really understand the work itself, the loaded title is hugely suggestive of some kind of meaning, but I loved the mix of static video shots and hand held travelling ones. This is taken from the press release I didn’t read:
A new video installation by Diana Thater fills the interior of Hauser & Wirth’s Piccadilly gallery with images of the post-nuclear landscape of Chernobyl. For this work, Thater spent time in the ‘Zone of Alienation’ which surrounds the site of the nuclear disaster, filming the eroded architecture and wildlife of the one-hundred mile wide radioactive territory. The animals she films have managed to survive amid the devastation of the only existing post-human landscape, demonstrating a wilderness of man’s making. The installation focuses on the rare and endangered Przewalski’s Horse. Once facing certain extinction in its native habitat in central Asia, this sub-species of the wild horse now roams freely in the ‘Zone of Alienation’.
The desolate remains of an abandoned movie theatre in Prypiat, a city founded to house the Chernobyl nuclear plant workers, form the backdrop of Thater’s installation. The city’s decomposing architecture is juxtaposed against the footage of the wild animals living in the ‘Zone of Alienation’. Through this installation, visitors experience a world where a man-made catastrophe has abruptly halted all progress and animals inhabit an irradiated landscape. Overlaying physical and filmic spaces, Thater confronts the successes of civilisation with its profound failure.
I think the show is actually better than the press release lets on. The second show was Bianca Brunner as 401 Contemporary in Mason’s Yard which is the show I’d planned to see. There are lots of shows you can talk about and make them sound good, there are few shows that you go and see and they completely blow you away and at the end of it nothing really needs to [or perhaps can] be said. I admit that unless you saw the show or know Bianca Brunner’s work then that isn’t much help. The show mixes a few colour shots with black and white ones. Pithy, not usually a word seen in art show reviews, is probably the best description of seemingly simple images doing a lot. It’s a difficulty the press release struggles with. So what would I say? Brunner’s pictures make you aware of the act of looking at photographs, how it differs to the kind of seeing we do in our day to day lives abstracted from the ordinary and the tangible. There’s an essay available from Brunner’s website [Brian Dillon ‘All That is Properly Perceived’, Bianca Brunner, Gap in the Real, Published by Verlag Scheidegger & Spiess AG 2010] that may help or you’ll just have to take it on trust. The work really is that good. This is my favourite [Bianca Brunner Sky, 2008, Silver Gelatin Print, 50 x 35 cm, Edition of 5 + 2 AP] from the show [my not very good camera phone pic will have to do until you get a chance to see it]:
The last show, just a brief mention, is the Mona Hatoum at White Cube Mason’s Yard. I’d seen Hatoum’s equally stunning piece at the Whitechapel the week before and the cumulative effect and the idea of the these pieces co-existing in different parts of London is something that really appeals to me. The works play with location in a way that’s unique to installation and sculpture.
BTW, there’s a piece on the ArtsDesk website that’s talking about the Hatoum show but is how I felt about the Brunner show. In summary it’s arguing that the twaddle that gets issued as the accompanying press release to shows like this does the art no favours draining the poetic space away from the viewer’s relationship to the work. It’s the reason I generally don’t read them.