Magazine article Art Monthly

Film & Video

Magazine article Art Monthly

Film & Video

Article excerpt

The Russian Club Gallery London

4 February to 6 March

It has become rather a cliche to talk about the tactility and indexicality of film as a desirable quality. The density of emulsion may well be more seductive than the paucity of pixels, but film is notoriously more difficult to manipulate and can consequently tend towards heft or preciousness. But then again, it is video's lightfootedness that is responsible for the gruelling proliferation of dull footage, arbitrary montage and the random externalisation of ill-developed ideas. The work in 'Film & Video', however, seems to suggest that it is the capacity of both media to describe, rather than construct, that is of more interest these days, rendering the question of analogue or digital almost a matter of irrelevance.

Whereas experimental film from the 1960s to the 1980s constructed image, sensation and varying registers and legibilities of meaning through its surface and physicality, in many of the works here the medium is distinctly in abeyance to the ideas communicated and the scenarios represented. Grant Gee's 400 Anarchists, 2002, for example, adopts an essayistic form that tracks the technological and socio-political legacy of the anthropometric system, developed in the early 1880s by the French police officer Alphonse Bertillon to identify suspects by way of face and body measurements. The images on screen--in particular the series of mug shots of fin-de-sieck anarchists that mysteriously surfaced at a fine art auction decades later, from which the film departs and to which it ultimately returns--operate as illustrative spurs for the voice-over. While this may ruffle the experimental film purist, it has, in the endless cycles of critique-fuelled patricide, become the 'newish' stance. Narrative clarity is no longer taboo, but neither is it all-pervasive. We are at that comfortable time when the tide is in the process of turning and we are neither contemptuous nor bored by the proposition.

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Juneau Projects sit squarely on the crossroads of construction and description. In their one-minute short Stalker, 2001, the camera, in night vision mode, retells the story of its own destruction; its anthropomorphised, subjective viewpoint as it is shot dead with a rifle evokes themes of obsolescence and mercy killing. The deadpan relationship to the camera in all of Juneau Projects' films hints at their perception of their own role as interlocutors. In any situation the unwinking cyclops is not only the point of capture, it is also metonymic of a future audience, a proxy for sensory perception and the construction of meaning beyond the artists' control. The specificity of that audience must be identified and performed to, and here the camera is treated as the democratic everyperson, the universal multitude that demands the right to clarity and resolution.

Richard Grayson's Various Things Explained, 1998, performs a playfully didactic turn that increases the distance between himself and his audience so that he may better perform the act of pedagogy across it. Grayson recruits the mise en scene of a dinner table to illustrate the mechanics of such notions as Marx's theory of surplus value, how a nerve fibre works, Jung's graph of desire and how the artist split up with an old girlfriend: a spear of asparagus becomes an indicator of causality, an olive becomes the equivalent value for an hour's work and a plate becomes a city inhabited by snackable fruits. …

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