Henry VIII's Wives. (Reviews)

By Larsen, Lars Bang | Artforum International, September 2002 | Go to article overview

Henry VIII's Wives. (Reviews)


Larsen, Lars Bang, Artforum International


TRAMWAY

Sometimes an artwork elicits a fine empathy for "all the living and the dead" by realizing its idiosyncrasies full scale. In a unique move of appropriation, Henry VIII's Wives (a group consisting of artists Bob Grieve, Rachel Dagnall, Sirko Knupfer, Simon Polli, Per Sander, and Lucy Skaer) have reconstructed the Neolithic Orkney village of Skara Brae, complete with burial house, residential areas, and a communal workshop. This artistic one-to-one reimagination doesn't pander to fetishized production values but engages instead in a bricolage of both abstract and palpable historical material. The reconstruction itself is made of recycled MDF; untreated surfaces and pencil traces bear witness to the fact that the material was once another artwork at Tramway. The work's inorganic forms make it vaguely futuristic, like a digital landscape, a stylized crystalline world, but they also evoke the rudimentary props and stage sets used by the film industry in lieu of special effects to be added in postproduction. The un iformly brown topography is a projection surface: The World Heritage Site replica becomes a virtual terrain where history has been stripped of its authoritative gloss.

In two video installations, each consisting of three flat-screen monitors, amateur actors present scripts the artists have put together from bits of conversations overheard during the installation period in Glasgow, in places as varied as an old people's home, a tomato farm, and a criminal court. This is how the city itself is present in the otherwise de-urbanized work--as loose snippets of talk jaggedly recombined. In a generic interior, three blind middle-aged actors have a strange conversation that never quite takes off as a dialogue and has little obvious bearing on the objects they hold: historical jewelry, weapons, and ethnographic artifacts (borrowed from a public gallery, an antique shop, and the Ministry of Defense). …

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