Magazine article Artforum International

Jane & Louis Wilson

Magazine article Artforum International

Jane & Louis Wilson

Article excerpt

Though identical twins Jane and Louise Wilson grew up wanting to be artists, when it came to choosing schools they opted to go their own ways: Jane remained in Newcastle, while Louise was off to Dundee. Years later, with graduation approaching, the sisters each mounted the customary degree show. The results: identical to the detail. Less the pure product of the telepathic simultaneity sometimes attributed to twins than willful artistic gesture, their mirror shows animated the dilemma at the core of their work. Both of and not of a single mind, the Wilsons share much, including their practice as artists. Garage, the work made for this early show, included a black-and-white photograph of the two sisters engaging in a sort of psychic short-circuit - a jointly enacted auto-asphyxiation. The scenario, in which Jane, robed in a white dressing gown with a hangman's noose around her neck, pours a pitcher of water into an aquarium in which her sister's head is partially submerged, initiates a spellbound circularity. As with later work in which themes of coupling and dislocation provide the emotional subtext to an atmosphere of barely contained hysteria, Garage spatializes psychological trauma within a loop of observation and identification.

Since completing their graduate training at London's Goldsmith's College together in 1992, Jane and Louise Wilson have become most widely known for their split-screen film installations. A cinematic convention first used to grant pictorial decorum to celluloid haughtiness - Rock Hudson and Doris Day famously share a bed across the divided screen of Pillow Talk - in the hands of the twins the device structures instead a dangerous liaison of selves. In Normapaths, 1995, the loop opens to the exertion of a pair of cat-suited women on a trampoline. But the nature of their exercise is hardly clear. Slowed down and desynchronized, the choreography of weightlessness becomes a ponderous act of ultraviolence when the repetitive cycles of suspension and resounding impact are disrupted as a burning figure strides across the screens to the nonchalant swing of her flaming handbag. As the film progresses, the Rorschach-like symmetries of the opening sequences are further upset when the Avengers-styled stunt-women break through the separating walls of the set to conjoin in sisterly embrace - an affectionate deformation that has the one caressing the face of the other with a hand become prosthetic foot. The overall effect is uncertain, pitting as it does the operatic schlock of glamorized violence against the immanence of formal collapse. Just as the installation itself is physically cornered, so its partial narratives are drawn up the seam of an unfolding divide.

In work that holds normality as a condition that is anything but normal, the pathology of the everyday is delivered in the guise of a gothic sensibility undercut with absurdist humor. "I am the person who smashed your door," reads a missive pinned to a refrigerator in Construction and Note, 1992, a grisly installation of photographs and readymades that includes, among other things, a can of lighter fuel, a gas meter, and a dangling pair of black-stockinged legs sporting white nurse shoes. "I was not well I have a psychiatric [sic] illness if you want to contact me see overleaf. …

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