Raqs Media Collective
Williams, Eliza, Art Monthly
Raqs Media Collective
Frith Street Gallery London 8 July to 30 September
A row of oversized clocks lines the walls at Frith Street Gallery, turning the space into a kind of uber-office. The timepieces form part of Escapement, an installation by the Delhi-based art group Raqs Media Collective. At the centre of the work, a solemn face revolves slowly but purposefully across four plasma screens hung on a concrete column. The atmosphere is one of rhythm, of the unstoppable turning of the seconds, minutes and hours that govern our existence.
The clocks in Escapement are unusual, for instead of marking time in traditional fashion, their faces are divided by emotions. In Tokyo, the second hand has just passed remorse, while in Baghdad it is approaching ecstasy. At other times of day, the timepieces will register panic, fear, fatigue and guilt. These states of mind are central to the human condition, universal feelings shared by people across all the cities referenced in the installation, from Bangkok to Sydney, Liverpool to Sao Paulo. The relentless movement through the different emotions is a little discomforting, though--does duty always eventually turn to guilt, and then to indifference? Written down in such a uniform fashion, the fervour of the feelings is dissipated, leaving them as sterile and inevitable as the passing of time itself.
Intriguingly, a few unexpected countries make an appearance alongside the familiar. The fictional enclaves of Babel, Shangri La and the less well-known Maconda (which appears in Gabriel Garcia Marquez's novel One Hundred Years of Solitude) are all represented with their own clocks, although here, appropriately enough, the time runs backwards. Their subtle insertion in the installation is witty, while also reiterating the human desire to push at the boundaries of our world, both geographically and temporally. Also accompanying the installation is a soundscape, which mixes the organic with the digital. A heartbeat, resonating deep inside a body, is intercut with the familiar sounds of our technological world. One of these is the oddly comforting noise of a modem dialling up--an already old-fashioned sound that has been replaced by the silent power of the always-on wireless network. The dial attempt apparently dies out before connecting, but it tries once more as the track loops around. …