Date: 10 March 2005
This is the current show at the Camden Arts Centre, curated by that doyenne of half formed but nevertheless increasingly baroque artistic statements Tacity Donny. Tacita? Did she name herself herself? 'Unspoken, silent'. That's what this name is saying, not so silently. It's like the art world in microcosm, constantly filling out the funding proposals with polite explanations of the explicability of the unexplained. Implicita has some explanatory didactic blah blah things to say about 'asides' particularly, roughly translating into, these supposedly unimportant speech moments are actually really important - the usual Freudianism watered down to almost homeopathic trace levels. 'The purpose of this show was to gather together a group of works that were capable of speaking for themselves, not so much because they were articulate as because their very inarticulacy had a kind of eloquence.' I made that up myself. It's silly, but not much sillier than most of the other artword apologias for its own impropriety. Why so much shame? It's crzypt.
Down in the lobby, a review of John Bock's Kulturkammer at the ICA in Untitled Magazine: seemingly current art divides into art that's in some kind of dialogue with theory and therefore is easy to read by theorists and art (like Bock's) that deliberately frustrates theoretical interpretation. You briefly sense the reviewer's panic. But no, not to worry, the latter breed all falls neatly into the category of art with a sense of humour. The delineation of a beautifully simple binary opposition is complete (profound sigh of relief follows). Yes, there's a kind of art where the usual critical certainties and shibboleths go flying, but that's because of its anarchically playful stance, which is (even bigger sigh of relief) a critical/theoretical stance in itself. Oh fuck off. The trouble is, the reviewer's right. The triteness of art that can be easily explained and the unsanguine piety of reviewers and curators constantly explaining everything does make some of us want to kick out the jams like hyperactive adolescents. The trouble is (and not to denigrate the Bock show, which I loved), it's a halfway solution, one that keeps you locked into a relationships with the pious explainers and one where it's really easy for them to pat you on the head and patronisingly indulge you. I say, bin the jokes. Bin the jokes and bin the shock tactics. They're making things too easy.
Dean's curation is nice because it does get past this little tussle. In some ways, her brief justifying statement at the entrance could almost be a ruse, the flimsiest and most dilatory nod to institutional responsibility she can get away with before presenting this selection of oddments, which largely avoid being funny, shocking or in any other way easily assimilable. This is what most of it's like anyway. I've been twice now and on the first occasion I didn't get to see it all. When I came back I discovered that what I'd missed before was all the stuff that looks exactly like what you'd expect Tacita Dean to put in a show: two film loops (Dean pretty much always chooses film over video as far as I know), a slide show about being in a row boat, a Roni Horn photo of a turbulent sea. Best of these, and most overtly a reference to Dean's own work is Fischli and Weiss' 'The Green Ray', creating a triumvirate of artworks with this name, the others being a feature film by Eric Rohmer and a film loop by Dean. The Fischli and Weiss piece is an old, textured, transparent plastic cup revolving on some kind of turntable with a green light projected through it, and endearingly pathetic thing. Just that one piece without any other references to Dean's work would have seemed pretty strong to me, especially since it works as a piss-take of Dean's more poetic version, a film of the sun going down over the sea, shooting out a 'green ray' at a key moment in its descent.
The rest of the stuff that fits too obviously with her taste I could have done without. But - an aside in itself - while watching Rodney Graham's film of a typewriter being dusted with flour I did enjoy the filminess of the film itself. What is it about conceptual artists and film? Most use video for practicality, but film is repeatedly fetishised, especially by an artist like Dean. It's magic. The rhythmic hum of the projector starts up and then ghosts appear. The miracle is partly that something as manifestly clattery and mechanical could conjure up these apparitions, an effect that's lost with the comparative high tech of video in any form. Film, when it's visibly film, also always admits that it's a record of the past where video looks particularly present, even quite crappy video and that gives the former an elegaic quality that's probably manna to an artist like Dean. I'm not sure about any of this, just trying to figure it out. But there might be a clue in Powell and Pressburger's film 'A Matter of Life and Death' when the doctor explains the excitement of using a camera obscura: 'You see it all as in a poet's eye.' It might be that or it might even be more: you see it all as in a mystic's eye. Film has a quality of showing everything connected. The much vaunted 'grain' of the film even makes it all look as if it's made of the same stuff - honey maybe - creating an effect of a unified field - physics' way of saying, yes everything IS connected and made of the same stuff. Perhaps this works not because of the grain of the film or any other of its material qualities in themselves, but because those material qualities allow it to enact a small, intelligible version of the way we see all the time and what what we see is made of: light. Video doesn't quite do this. It has an awful denseness that film doesn't have. If video shows everything made of the same stuff, that stuff is dead, heavy matter, all squeezed together without much air in it. When the image breaks down it breaks down into fragments like eczma. Even the light is solid, whereas in film, even the solids are light.
I don't feel inclined to say much more about the show, especially the things I liked in it. Favourite piece was a collage drawing, also by Roni Horn. Utterly odd.