Magazine article Art Monthly

Heather & Ivan Morison: Smile All the While

Magazine article Art Monthly

Heather & Ivan Morison: Smile All the While

Article excerpt

Whitechapel Gallery London 10 December to 9 March

'Three cannibals are eating a clown, one turns to the other and says "does this taste funny to you?"' Taken from Smile All the While, 2013, this joke revolves around the polysemy of the word funny. As we know, the ability of words to mean more than one thing is the source of much comedy. The comedian, much like the artist, is engaged in mining meaning in the overlooked--of finding productive disjuncture in the instability of certain signifiers. Heather & Ivan Morison's Smile All the While is full of these misunderstandings which take shape within the uncertainty of language. Commissioned by the education department at Whitechapel Gallery, the work has been made in response to a year-long residency undertaken by the artists at Thomas Buxton primary school in Tower Hamlets.

The resulting work takes the form of a three-part video installation partially inspired by experimental and object-based theatre. The improvised script is read by two smartly dressed actors, directed through a set of linguistic games and exercises devised in collaboration with the children during the residency. Although dressed the same throughout, the various adjacent narratives suggest different characters played by the two actors. The question of when one story stops and another starts is constantly blurred.

The stage set remains bare, save for a table, some chairs and various other props. Filmed from alternate angles, we see the same scene at varying proximities. The artists have made full use of the gallery, encouraging the spectator to remain mobile. The disarticulation inherent within the script is mirrored by the spatial configuration of the installation. Unlike theatre, where we are rooted to a seat, the three video monitors make it difficult to take up a literal and metaphorical position in relation to the work. Our eyes dart around the space, there is no central axis upon which to fix. The 24-minute video is looped and made up of short, seemingly disconnected scenes, while a number of jokes and phrases appear recursively throughout the film. It took a number of viewings to untie the various strands.

The tone moves between the serious and silly; phrases are retold and reconfigured to increasing incomprehension. At times the actors stand around, at others they are seated at a table playing with an increasingly messy array of objects. The scene recalls the haptic quality of early developmental learning--the material curiosity of young minds at play, an approach that is often removed from the process of enquiry. …

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