Magazine article Artforum International

On Location: Erika Balsom on Ben Rivers's the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers

Magazine article Artforum International

On Location: Erika Balsom on Ben Rivers's the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers

Article excerpt

EVEN BRITAIN'S NATIONAL broadcasting service is not exempt from the pressures of London's bullish property market. In 2012, the BBC announced the sale of its Television Centre, the huge facility in White City it had occupied since 1960, to developer Stanhope PLC for 200 million [pounds sterling] (roughly $300 million). Much of the now-vacant complex is, unsurprisingly, slated for demolition, to make way for housing, offices, a hotel, and a private club. Among the storied structures soon to be razed is the Drama Block, a cavernous space where scenery and props were once built. It was this doomed warehouse that Ben Rivers chose as the site of his recent Artangel commission, The Two Eyes Are Not Brothers.

On view this past summer, Rivers's five-screen installation is closely related to his feature film The Sky Trembles and the Earth Is Afraid and the Two Eyes Are Not Brothers (2015), but differs markedly from it. Both works take their titles from the 1960 Paul Bowles short story "He of the Assembly," in which a man named Ben finds an envelope on the ground with his name on it, containing a paper bearing the cryptic phrase. In the kif-infused tale, its meaning is never explained, but in relation to Rivers's work its resonances are multiple. The film and the installation function like the unfraternal eyes invoked in the letter: They are proximate but not equivalent, producing an unconventional vision when taken together. This embrace of two distinct but linked gazes marks the installation more broadly. One eye looks back to Bowles's life and work, particularly his 1947 story "A Distant Episode," an adaptation of which forms the basis for the feature film; the other turns to the sets of three movies being shot in Morocco, one of which is Rivers's own. The installation thus orchestrates a highly intertextual encounter between the cross-medial tensions of literary adaptation and the reflexive impulses of the small cinephilic genre of films about filmmaking. It offers Rivers a means to probe two issues of long-standing concern in his practice: the notion of cinema as process rather than product, and the ambivalent status of supposedly primitive elsewheres in the Euro-American artistic imaginary.

The mention of a multiscreen installation inside a massive disused building might make one expect a large-scale spectacle like Isaac Julien's Ten Thousand Waves, 2010. Such works are often accompanied by spurious claims of heightened complexity and democratized spectatorship as compared to the supposed tyranny of the traditional cinematic dispositif, regarded as a disciplinary enclosure enslaved to linearity. But Rivers is an artist who has long valued the perceptual conditions made possible by the cinema space, finding in it an ideal location for the durational commitment his works demand. In this regard, he is perhaps a strange candidate for a major commission from Artangel, an organization known for staging ambitious site-specific projects in locations that sometimes risk overshadowing the artistic interventions within them. However, Rivers responded to the particular exigencies of the Television Centre by constructing several makeshift cinemas out of previously used plywood flats, inspired by abandoned film sets he saw in Morocco. From the outside, these structures foreground their hasty and haphazard assembly; from within, they channel attention. With no two projections visible at once, each possesses a measure of autonomy while simultaneously existing as a unit of articulation within a single work that mobilizes the surrounding architecture as a readymade. While the feature film possesses a more singular trajectory befitting its form, the installation manifests as an expansive network of affinities, but does so without homogenizing its component parts.

Rivers treats the Television Centre above all as a space of production, aligned not with the finished products of the culture industries but with the labor that feeds into them. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.