Magazine article Art Monthly

Luke Fowler: Serpentine Gallery London 7 May to 14 June

Magazine article Art Monthly

Luke Fowler: Serpentine Gallery London 7 May to 14 June

Article excerpt

More than image, it is sound that greets visitors as they walk into Luke Fowler's first UK survey show at the Serpentine Gallery; the darkened space is saturated by the regular purring of four 16mm projectors, sculpturally arranged in a symmetrical composition around the room. The encounter with the actual films comes later, when the ear starts to notice music coming from small speakers next to the projection areas. Appropriately for an artist who is also musician and producer, the sonic leads the visual. As the eye focuses on the flickering pictures, the noisy and nostalgic apparatus, so present at first, disappears into the background, revealing Anna, David, Helen and Lester ('Tenement Films', 2009). These films portray Fowler's former flatmates in a tenement they shared for a while, but rather than picturing individuals, the filmmaker concentrates on their rooms. The camera lingers on bookshelves, tabletops and windows, capturing marks of occupations; the living spaces come to signify their inhabitants. The 'Tenement Films' are engrossed with a sense of the intimate that somehow estranges the viewer but, more than representations of characters, these pieces can be understood as collectively picturing a period in the artist's life. The series escapes from the announced exercise of portraiture to become autobiography.

What You See is Where You're At, 2001--a filmic piece on pioneer psychiatrist RD Laing's experimental community for the mentally ill, Kingsley Hall--was also triggered by the artist's history. 'First and foremost,' Fowler says in the exhibition catalogue, 'I was drawn to the Kingsley Hall experiment because of personal circumstance, ie, my own experiences of contemporary psychiatry ... and disillusion with the way in which my father was treated by the system.' RD Laing devised an alternative method to the electro-shocks and straitjackets widely used in mental health institutions in the 1960s. For Laing, mentally ill patients were to be treated as any other human beings and allowed to live through their madness (his word). In Kingsley Hall, patients and psychiatrists lived together. Laing directly questioned the idea of normality, highlighting the benefits of communal living for people judged unfit for society. The intense, difficult nature of the subject is matched by the film's very structure, combining archival footage, photographs and abstract shots, which function like so many breathing spaces in this tight-knit composition. Numerous scenes show the interaction between Kingsley Hall's patients; it is unclear if these are 'real' or re-enacted. Like generations of filmmakers before him, starting with, if not before, Cinema Verite, Fowler highlights film's inherently subjective and constructed nature, and offers an open-ended visual meditation on the life and achievement of a persona that constantly eludes limiting categorisation. …

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