Jack Mottram, 'Moving Images Open New Eyes' (The Herald, 10/11/2006)
Video artists are winning gallery space from more established art forms. Jack Mottram explores what’s on.
These days, you cant walk into a gallery without tripping over a monitor or bumping into a projector screen. Currently, there’s international big-hitter Douglas Gordon’s Edinburgh retrospective, Superhumanatural, and the UK debut of highly regarded Estonian video artist Mark Raidpere at Glasgow’s Tramway. Also at Tramway, young curators Karen Cunningham and Leonora Hennessy hosted Bazaar, the latest edition of the Open Eye Club last night, with the newly commissioned work from both video practitioners, such as Torsten Lauschmann, and artists better known for work in other media, such as painter Ronnie Heeps. Instead of mounting shows, the pair, operating on a shoe-string budget, mount hit and run social events, giving the gallery going public a chance to take in new work on video and artists working in the medium a chance to gather and discuss their practice. The club even proselytises for the moving image: its inaugural event, This is Not a Painting, invited painters to swap their brushes for a camera. In Edinburgh, Collective has cemented its long standing commitment to video by, like the Open Eye Club, attempting to draw in the hasty gallery-goer, who tends to flit past the standard floor-mounted monitor. Converting its project room into a screening place called the Black Cube, the gallery has mounted a series of individually curated solo shows, with an emphasis on bringing international artists to Scotland. Tonight, the latest instalment opens with Israel born artist Yael Bartana, selected by independent curator Lesley Young. Back in Glasgow at Sorcha Dallas, Polish artist Cezary Bodzianowski uses video to various ends, both documenting performances and building installations around projected images. The show opens with a layered installation, Chapeau Beaux. A monitor high on the wall shows scenes from a platform in a Glasgow subway station. Trains pull in and out, passengers disembark, or wait. At first the footage appears to be taken from the subway’s cameras. Then Bodzianowski appears,stepping out of a carriage, clad in a long balck coat wearing a hat. As he approaches the stairs that lead up from the platform, he grins, fixes the camera with his eye and politely doffs his hat. It’s a small performance, a simple incongruous gesture, and a comic one at that, but it has a curious effect. Once Bodzianowski has made his intervention on the everyday scene, the actions of other passengers swim into focus. A woman deliberately paces up and down the platform, as if privately measuring it out, a man in a hurry executes a practiced duck and weave, too tall to step staright out of the low carriage doors, the tide of people exiting each carriage ebbs and flows, some choosing to negitaite a speedy exit, others happy to amble, bouncing off each other like particles in Brownian motion. Bodzianowski’s gesture also focuses attention on the screen itself, and, thanks to the occasional wobble revealing glimpses of a time code, it becomes apparent that we are not being shown scenes taken from security cameras, but a video of the video monitors mounted in the stations. This doubling gives us pause: is Bodzianowksi performing for an audience here in the gallery, or for a wider, unknowing audience of his passenger peers and station security staff? In monitoring the monitor, Bodzianowski also raises questions bout surveillance. The UK is, after all, the most watched society in the world, with one closed-circuit camera for every 15 citizens. This concern, or observation, is repeated by the installation of a mirror beside the monitor which granted the viewer a glimpse into the gallery office, or the gallery staff a glimpse of the viewer – and so the mirror modifies the viewer’s behaviour, just as, in greeting the camera, Bodzianowski modified his. Next door in the second space, three installations play similar tricks. Tristram consists of a comfy chair, potted plant and rug, all facing a television. On that television is, effectively, a reflection of the installation, with the artist seated in a chair, just like his audience. Still as can be, he sits, holding a grey rubber ball up to his face, obscuring it, but not hiding so much as his deliberately failing to look back at his companion in the gallery. Living Room is another disturbed domestic setting. Another chair and television are projected onto a curtain, and, in the projected room, another curtain twitches occasionally, perhaps harbouring an intruder. All the while the projected television flicks through channels, and the space is filled with the sound of local news reports and trails for local programmes, explicitly siting the lack of action in Glasgow. As in Chapeau Beaux, a small interruption – the twitching curtain – alters a quotidian scene, and, again, Bodzianowski deals in doubling and re-doubling, with two matched installations both emphasising the distinction between objects in the space around us and their doppelgangers on screen. Last comes Scottish Stairs, a simple looping film of a staircase fitted with a tartan runner. The camera goes up, and then it goes down. More oblique than the other works, this relies on its setting, tucked just inside the gallery storage room, packed with boxes marked with the names of represented artists and bubble wrapped canvases. Here, instead of matching recreated domestic space with its filmed original, Bodzianowski uses video to disrupt the space in which it is shown, exposing a dull and homely view in a room filled with hidden treasures. Taken together, these works operate in that fascinating space between a work of art and its audience, and at the same time, question the role of the moving image, whether shown to entertain and inform or captured to observe. It’s subtle stuff, quietly asking the viewer to reconsider the twinned states of viewing and being viewed.