A History of Irritated Material

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* A History of Irritated Material

Paven Pow London 25 February to 2 May

'A History of Irritated Material' examines the lines where art and politics intersect, as well as the layered meanings of the modern archive. It brings together materials stretching back until the end of the Second World War, with each decade loosely represented by either artworks or documents related to political agitation or alienation. 'Irritated' seems something of an understatement for much of the emotion on display here, however, in a guide accompanying the exhibition, curator Lars Bang Larsen quotes founder of cybernetics Norbert Wiener in an explanation of the title, stating that 'irritability is a fundamental life principle: a lower limit of stimulation that is not necessarily understood negatively, but also as frictional heat and excitement, or other ways in which tolerance is pushed'. Larsen goes on to emphasise that much of the work shown in the exhibition was created by people operating on the borders of the mainstream art world, or at times resolutely outside it.

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The first works on show explore ideas around the archive and its role within art/history. A 'memory-building project' by Suely Rolnik created in relation to the Brazilian artist Lygia Clark is shown on two screens in the entrance hall of the gallery. Nearby in a larger space is a huge structure comprising banks of television screens, all flickering with life. Rolnik's piece consists of hour-long interviews conducted with musicians, art critics, artists, psychoanalysts, curators and actresses, all friends and colleagues of Clark's. The interviews echo Clark's project Structuring The Self from 1976 and her investigations into conversation and interaction within art, and art therapy. Rolnik has completed 65 of these interviews and Raven Row has commissioned the translation of 25 of them (which will be donated to Tate), with the gallery in this way becoming part of the archival project.

The video archive displayed next door to Rolnik's films is titled Disobedience, and is an ongoing project curated by Marco Scotini. Eighteen small televisions are displayed within a freestanding structure designed by Xabier Salabem'a (inspired in part by El Lissitzky's Soviet Union Pavilion of 1928, and the first Kassel Documenta in 1955), with viewers able to tune in to the sound on each via individual sets of headphones. Or audiences can instead view the archive as a single art piece and flick silently from one screen to the next, with the television sets becoming a mass of passionate gestures and dramatic expression. The films document scenes of unrest all over the world, from Italy to Argentina, Germany to Israel, and while the events shown vary dramatically, there is also uniformity within the protests. Perhaps this comes via the ubiquitous use of the video camera as a means to record events as they occur. We have become attuned to expecting shaky, low-fi filming to capture dramatic world events as they unfold--this is as true now with the advent of mobile phone video as it was in the 1970s.

There is a lot of information here--far too much for even the most dutiful gallery visitor to digest. …