As of Wednesday, analogue telly is a thing of the past. Well okay, it’s clinging on for a few more months in a couple of parts of the country, but for most of us in the UK old tellies either need to be attached to a digibox or it’s all over. At Ambika P3, David Hall’s End Piece … exhibition (part of which I wrote about here a week or two ago) is a fitting way to mark its passing. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the extraordinary, descriptively titled installation 1001 TV Sets (End Piece). With the analogue switchoff on Wednesday the work went from being a bewildering jumble of images with a cacophonous soundtrack to 1001 different types of snow. The sound is still loud but it’s a constant static now rather than the chaos of five competing television channels.
Since I seem to be stuck in mazes and cages this week, it’s perhaps no surprise that Christian Boltanski’s installation for the French pavilion at the 54th Venice Biennale last year has worked its way back to the front of my mind. For me, this was one of the highlights of the Biennale though admittedly I think I’ve yet to see a work by Boltanski that I haven’t liked. This work does feel quite different to most of Boltanski’s installations though, not least because it’s playful – literally, in that it includes a game – and open to a hopeful reading, though more sombre interpretations are also possible.
Installation art can be risky. It’s just that usually the risks are more about whether the pieece will work and whether viewers will respond as one hopes rather than whether they’ll stumble on a floor of broken glass. But having risked his own freedom by making overtly political work while living in a military dictatorship, Cildo Meireles was never likely to be put off by something like a slight – and largely theoretical – risk of an audience member sustaining a minor injury. Unlike the harmless threat of the long shadows and caged-in feeling of being in a Mona Hatoum installation, Meireles’s Through does involve a level danger, albeit a low one.
The whimsy of Noble and Webster’s use of shadows is witty enough but ultimately – for me at least – the work is unsatisfyingly slight. I enjoy it well enough at the time but the work never really gets under my skin. But shadow is a powerful force and it’s one that Mona Hatoum uses to really good effect.
In installations like Current Disturbance – which I saw at the Whitchapel Gallery in 2010 – Hatoum uses shadow as a meaning force. The bare lightbulbs fade in and out and the crackle of an electric current gives a sinister edge to the changing light levels. The gridded structure – reminiscent of the cages occupied by battery hens perhaps – feels prison-like. The installation has an architectural feel, but if this is a city space it is a densely-populated and uncomfortable one.
Tim Noble and Sue Webster make rubbish self-portraits. That’s not to say they made self-portraits that are rubbish (though of course that’s a matter of opinion). No. It’s that they make self-portraits from rubbish. If we are what we eat – as the old cliché susggests – then surely we’re also defined in some way what we throw away.
The materials for Dirty White Trash (With Gulls) six months’ worth of artists’ trash. Noble and Webster have assembled the trash into a pile that casts a shadow of the couple sitting back to back, smoking and drinking as seagulls seem to pick at the pile of rubbish that forms the image.
If I’m honest, I’m a bit of a hoarder. I know I really need to start throwing things out, but somehow I don’t get round to it. And being an artist gives me an extra excuse, or so I tell myself. I have all kinds of junk squirreled away as stuff I might sometime use to make work. Yeah, right. But however much I know I need a clear out and however much I like art that is driven by obsession – a lot, on both counts – I know I could never have made Break Down. The extremity of Michael Landy’s project fascinates and terrifies me in equal measure.
It started with a shed. It was full of all the sort of stuff that somehow gets collected in a shed over time. Sheds are useful. They are places to keep things that we want but don’t quite have space for and this one was pretty full. Cornelia Parker started by putting the shed in a gallery – Chisenhale in east London – before moving it to a field and getting the British Army to blow it up.
Parker then carefully gathered up the pieces and suspended them in the gallery around a central light bulbas though time had frozen mid-explosion.
For Kim Rugg, the chaos of a newspaper front page is something to be organised. I’m sure we’ve all seen publications we think could be better presented but few would go to Rugg’s lengths to create a different order out of the information on offer. Rugg painstakingly cuts up the page and reorganises the content according to her own system, so that here the letters in each section are in alphabetical order.
It’s easy to recognise the paper as the Guardian but harder to determine the news of the day and certainly impossible to make sense of it in any conventional way.
That rubbish can be beautiful isn’t such a surprise, I suppose. We’ve all left things to go bad and noticed how lovely that white furry mold can be. (Or is that just me? It’s entirely possible I’ve just outed myself as something of a slattern.) But though decay can be rather lovely, most of us would draw the line at heading to a rubbish tip in search of the sublime. But Keith Arnatt did just that, with extraordinary results. The series Pictures from a Rubbish Tip, made by photographing on a local dump, seems to me to have a great deal in common with the sublime in painting.
Looking at Jeanne Dunning’s mouldy still lives yesterday made me think about Sam Taylor Wood’s Still Life, a time-lapse video work in which a basket of fruit reminiscent of countless still life paintings gradually decays and is taken over by rather beautiful white mold. At first sight, shown on a plasma screen, the work mimics a painting and it takes time to realise that the fruit is gradually changing as it starts to rot. This is beautiful decay but it’s still hard not to feel a little repulsed by the outcome.