Magazine article Art Monthly

Richard Grayson: The Magpie Index

Magazine article Art Monthly

Richard Grayson: The Magpie Index

Article excerpt

Matt's Gallery London 18 January to 12 February

Discussing his role as a psychotherapist in the HBO television series 'In Treatment', Gabriel Byrne described the show as a 'three-character play: the doctor, the patient and the audience'. The Magpie Index, Richard Grayson's 78-minute film portrait of British singer-songwriter Roy Harper, appears not to be scripted, and dispenses with one element in this triumvirate - the person asking the questions - but otherwise the free-associative nature of the proceedings often suggests a one-sided record of a therapy. It is also difficult to justify the film's presentation on a cinematic scale in a contemporary art gallery rather than on Channel Four or Arte, on which it could be viewed from the relative convenience of your living room.

Grayson shows Harper discoursing at length, and entirely in monologue, on pop culture, religion, the environment and what he calls the 'post-political' world. The camera rarely deviates from his face or upper body. Given that the film is nearly feature length, the gallery was considerate enough to provide a couple of sofas in the industrial interior of the exhibition space. The incongruence of this arrangement is symptomatic of a now-familiar tension between documentary video filmmaking and the art context into which it is pitched. Large-scale gallery projection exposes a film to a sustained scrutiny that it would not receive if it were shown on a monitor. It makes us question the extent to which the film constructively engages with its site and structurally engages with the materiality of its medium. In this case, the spatial extravagance of the presentation and the lack of the informational trappings typical of the celebrity documentary interview have a tendency to encourage an interpretation of the film less as a portrait of Harper as cultural witness or human particular than as a performance of the disinterestedness of film, its refusal to comment on what it views. The interviewer is hidden, rendering Harper - with his groomed white beard and swept-back hair - as an oracle figure, a guru, the archetypical wise man. Nothing tells us why we should be lavishing so much attention on this man. The camera, both dominant and self-withdrawn, makes of him a filmic ally found object. But Grayson's lack of intervention is a provisional ground rule, there to be symbolically contradicted. Harper repeatedly brings the act of filming back onto the stage. Sitting in a sunlit back garden, he remarks 'What a shame we don't have a camera on that now! …

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