Three exhibitions in London
Gasworks, Raven Row, Frith Street Gallery

Issue no3
June - July 2020
Troebele waters

While London’s art scene is still quiet before the storm called frieze, I went around the city and selected three exhibitions worthwhile seeing. Hydrarchy: Power and Resistance at Sea at Gasworks in the South, Polytechnic at Raven Row in East London and Fiona Tan’s Cloud Island and other new works at Frith Street Gallery of Piccadilly Square. Two of the exhibitions share the topic of the remote, a particular situation through which one reflects on the fluidity of identity and formation of social fabric. Raven Row’s exhibition on the other hand departs from works dating from the 1970s making use of portable video cameras and the domestic video cassette recorders to experiment with the nature of language very often placed within a domestic setting.

Fiona Tan, Cloud Island and other new works

Frith Street Gallery, on show until October 29th

When the monk, after travelling for seven years, finally reaches the illusive island where the sun never sets, one is never hungry, thirsty or tired and time doesn’t exists, he only briefly stays and sails back home (Brendan’s Isle, Fiona Tan, 2010). We, together with this audio piece, leave the hectic centre of London to enter the world seen through Fiona’s eyes and camera. It is a slow world that is depicted; it is a world about waiting, about expectations set on magical islands. The artist is present in the exhibition; filmed in the studio and projected on bed linen, the back projection shows a faint image of her as a ghostly figure, as if she is only partially the author of the works presented.

This feeling is strengthened by her typical use of focus and long shots in Cloud Island. The video depicts Inujiima, a small island in Japan’s Seto Inland Sea. Once the island of fishermen and farmers, it became a place of granite quarries and copper refineries and now the site where ten art pavilions by the Naoshima Fukutake Art Museum will be built. Yet none of these changes and its effects on the aging population is made explicit, but the long shots of various inhabitants reveal the tension. We know that they know they are filmed, they know that someone will watch. But the voyeuristic feel fades through the slowness and generates space for the insertion of our own memories as if we were constructing the work together. In Brendan’s Isle, Fiona tells us about the only document found depicting the island, it’s a dark black and white picture from 1958 that doesn’t correspond with the mental image we created by listening to the story. She tells us that she discards the image and as such leaves once more space for the projection of our imagination.

Hydrarchy, Power and Resistance at Sea

Gasworks, on show until November 7th

Although Hydrarchy, Power and Resistance at Sea also deals with remote areas and focuses on the construction of identity and micro societies, the selection of works show a far less aesthetic attitude but instead a hands on directness. The first work we are confronted with is the infamous Aryan Death Ship by Paul McCarthy, a video that depicts the grotesque humour of a captain, and reflects on the un-civil state of a micro society at sea. The exhibition further touches upon historical events such as the journey of African people to the New World (from the 16th till 19th century) in The Middle Passage by Mathieu K. Abonnenc, or the failed passage of fourteen international cargo ships through the Suez Canal in 1967 with the result of 8 years isolation in The Short and the Long of it (2010) by Uriel Orlow.

The ways of representation varies from Mathieu K. Abonnenc’s approach of only showing passages from Hollywood movies that abstract the route but never reveal explicit images of the colonised to the use of interviews with employees and designers of Cruise ships in Laura Horelli’s Helsinki Ship Yard / Port San Juan revealing the isolation and alienation of the crew members under the mask of a promised international life. Most of the works show a DIY attitude and a direct relation to the topic they explore, revealing to believe in a direct function of art in society. The exhibition sets out an explicit political approach and hovers over the possible implications of remoteness and how these circumstances inform us about resistance and survival as a response to exploitation of offshore conditions but also on how these conditions define global economic and social relations.


Raven Row, on show until November 7th

Polytechnic at Raven Row curated by Richard Grayson is probably as political but in a not so explicit manner. The show departs from the simple selection of interesting works made in the UK during the 1970ties and 80ties and their contemporary relevance, of which most were shown at The Basement Group in Newcastle. It is a surprising collection of works that have not often been brought together featuring established artists such as Susan Hiller in combination with less known works by John Adams or Graham Young.

Some of the highlights are Here and There (1978) by Marc Camille Chaimowicz where panels with images of interiors are set as furniture in the already domestic interior of the upper floor of Raven Row combined with a filmed setting. Our understanding of the space through the various possible readings as a set, as a decor or as fine art changes our way of reading an environment. Or Mysteries of Berlin, from 1979 – 1982 by Cordelia Swann where images construct the world, going from a general image and then zooming in. The opposed act of a detective. We are swept by the romance, the film noir images that create a view of a city the artist never visited.

The basic link between the works is their interest in exploring the possibilities of new technologies. Cameras and recorders were just reaching a wider public and artists started experimenting with the tools that had been the main province of state media and corporation. The nonconformist use of the new media was considered as oppositional enough and formed the direct political response that set the artists free to focus on the formal qualities, the language and the very material of the media at hand.

Posts 1 — 0 / 0
Share this Article:
|Back to Top
Related | Most read
Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 3 — 2020