Magazine article Art Monthly

Janice Kerbel

Magazine article Art Monthly

Janice Kerbel

Article excerpt

Janice Kerbel

Chisenhale London 1 April to 15 May

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

'Kill the Workers!' shouts the title of Janice Kerbel's new installation at Chisenhale, a cry that signals revolution. But there is little revolt to be found within the gallery, where Kerbel has rigged up four walls of stage lighting that project a silent show into the empty space at their centre. Among them is a spotlight, whose bright beam at times merges with the others in an extended illuminated dance, and occasionally shines alone, singular and dramatic within the darkened space.

The spotlight is, according to the info accompanying the show, at the centre of the mute performance Kerbel has written for the lights. The 'workers' of the title are not the proletarians one might imagine, but instead a reference to the theatrical lighting jargon used to describe the house lights that are manipulated to signal the beginning and end of a performance. In Kerbel's narrative, the spotlight is the central protagonist in the play, but longs to shed this uniqueness to be at one with the worker lights, to be lost within their 'open white'. Various scenes are enacted purely in light, depicting the spotlight's battle for anonymity.

It is easy to read a metaphor for society into Kerbel's tale, of the individual longing for conformity within the pack. Yet Kill the Workers! is equally an examination of the structures that lie within theatrical performance, and our understanding of these codes. As viewers, we recognise that the play has started when the house lights are dimmed: we know that this is the time to have a final cough before settling down to be absorbed in the action. In Kerbel's work, though, the house lights become part of the performance, and there is a confusing moment when they first come up, with the viewers left wondering if this is the end of the piece or just another section within it.

It is hard to shake off the anticipation that some kind of performance, with actors, might be about to take place under the lights too. The arrival of other viewers in the space, and the passing through of Chisenhale staff, all have a heightened emphasis, as though they might suddenly break into song or take to the boards. Even our own place within the installation is self-conscious: most visitors stick to the edges of the scene outside the lights, as if entering the space where the lights are moving is disrespectful to their performance. …

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