Magazine article The Spectator

Reel Time

Magazine article The Spectator

Reel Time

Article excerpt

Exhibitions 2

Real Life

(Tate St Ives, till 26 January)

It might seem rather perverse to put on an exhibition which has to be seen in the dark in a town renowned for its beautiful and constantly changing light. Yet it works. Tate St Ives's Real Life focuses on film and video art by eight artists, and each installation merits the 12 minutes or so it takes to watch because each one shows us new ways of seeing, experiencing and appreciating different aspects of life. The work has been seen before - most pieces date from the Nineties or earlier - but it's the first time Tate St Ives has mounted an exhibition dedicated to this type of art.

From the early 1970s, Bill Viola was involved with the development of video art in America and his `The Reflecting Pool' (1977-1979) is part of a collection of five independent works made to work as a whole - describing an individual's progress from birth to death. A man comes out of a forest, leaps into the air and then freezes, suspended in space, while the water continues to ripple and move below him; his image then slowly disappears. After a while, the man emerges from the water and walks back into the forest. The unhurried, hypnotic pace of the piece makes one question what is before us: what is the truth of what we are seeing or do we see only what we want to? What is time, can it be suspended?

In `Gordon's Makes Us Drunk' (1972), Gilbert and George sit at a table by a window drinking gin, getting drunker and drunker. The only words spoken are `Gordon's makes us drunk', `Gordon's makes us very drunk', Gordon's makes us very, very drunk', repeated over and over again, to music by Elgar (`Land of Hope and Glory') and Grieg ('Morning'). The sense of the ridiculous is heightened by the fact that the small television on which the video is played is sited in the gallery's cafe, and people are eating, drinking, talking, while Gilbert and George drone on and on in the background.

Tracey Emin's `CV C*** Vernacular' (1997) is a diary of her life - from her birth in London in 1962 to 1995, by which time she had become an established artist. A camera pans round her flat, while Emin tells of her childhood in Margate, being raped at 13, her two abortions, her relationship with her Turkish family, her attempted suicide ... a bleak life in a bleak flat. The video ends with a shot of a curled-- up naked Emin on the floor with her mother sitting on a sofa behind. It is extraordinary how such a desolate life can make such compulsive viewing. …

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