Category Archives: video installation

George Barber, Fences Make Senses (2015)


It happened so fast. I heard a rip, saw a blur of yellow tarpaulin, and then saw the panicking youth. He dropped down onto City Road and began to sprint in the direction of Islington.

The lorry driver, who was already on the pavement and could have come from anywhere in Europe, had a few words of advice for our new arrival. “Run, motherfucker, run!” he cried above the traffic.

This little episode, which I witnessed today, on my way to waterside contemporary, has nothing and everything to do with the new video installation by George Barber, Fences Make Senses.

In one scene from the timely film, a yellow lorry sits on a dusty road in the near East. Without giving names or dates, or even location, the VO informs us the truck was used to smuggle people.

Fifteen would-be migrants got on board. Only two survived the journey. This truck is contrasted with a UK-based fleet of similar vehicles taking Kenyan green beans to British supermarkets.

Barber made his name by sampling video footage in the 1980s. And needless to say the film here is a deft montage of reportage, advertising footage and abstracted views of the sea.

What is perhaps less in character are the dramatic scenes, which offer Brechtian pause for thought; well-spoken British actors confront some of the problems facing those in the Mediterranean.

In the most toe-curling episode they attempt to buy a boat from a huckster. It is little more than a child’s dinghy and they think it has a puncture. But what else can they (we) do?

In fact, peril encroaches on all sides in the Hoxton space. Barber has installed the film in a no man’s land between land and sea. We sit on bales, amidst the flotsam and jetsam of steerage.

The film speculates that, if we are still around in 100 years’ time, borders will seem weird. For the 50 million displaced people on our planet, such a time clearly can’t come soon enough.

Fences Make Senses can be seen at waterside contemporary until December 12. See gallery website for directions and opening times.

Ragnar Kjartansson, The Visitors (2012)

Hard not to like an artist who is unafraid to quote his dad in an interview (as you can see Kjartansson does in the footage above): “It’s sad and beautiful to be a human being”.

There’s also an honesty about his subject matter in The Visitors. It’s not about poverty, war or global pandemic. He’s Icelandic, after all. They are not supposed to have such things.

And lastly, he took the title for this nine-channel, 64-minute video installation from an album by Swedish popsters Abba. True, everyone likes Abba. But not everyone will admit it.

To put The Visitors in a nutshell, it’s an hour long promo video in which many musicians, in many rooms of a bohemian mansion, play a single piece of overwhelming music.

The song is minimal and repetitive and the most repeated line, “Once again I fall into my feminine ways”, is from a poem by the artist’s ex-wife Ásdís Sif Gunnarsdóttir.

In Iceland they do at least have divorce and Kjartansson made this piece to reflect, as he says, a period of his life coming to an end. It is indeed a ‘sad and beautiful’ artwork.

A choir is gathered on the veranda and as the piece crescendoes one resident sets off an ornamental cannon. It’s the 1812 Overture rewritten for some protracted marital strife.

The cast of The Visitors are friends of the artist, whose background is in  the Reykjavík music scene. So it’s a heartwarming collaboration at odds with the desolate subject matter.

Music can hotwire the emotions, so you have to be wary with a piece like this. But tingling hairs on the back of the neck aside, this emotionally awkward installation gives you something portable.

In the exemplary way these musicians pull together The Visitors offers a slice of fragile utopia. It explores similar territory to a film by Johanna Billing, another Scandinavian music fan.

Her piece, You don’t love me yet (2003), borrows the look and feel of a charity record to present the performance of an overlooked Roky Erickson song by a Stockholm-based supergroup.

It’s worth a look. Both works demonstrate that optimism and pessimism are often hard to tease apart, and that this state of ambivalence might be something eternal in the human condition.

The Visitors can be seen at Ffotogallery in Penarth, Cardiff, until 22 February 2015, as part of artes mundi 6. It is also in Museo Guggenheim, Bilbao until 2 November 2014.

Those interested in this piece might also enjoy this review from Art in America, written in April last year.

Photodiary: Whitstable Biennale 2014

whitstabke biennale

Last Saturday I spent eight or so intense hours hot footing it around a coastal town in South East England in search of the many artworks which make up Whitstable Biennale.

mark aerial waller

The coach dropped us at the Horsebridge Arts Centre, in which could be seen a wry excavation of 35-year-old television drama ,Sapphire and Steel, in a diverting film by Mark Aerial Waller.

rachel ruepke

Not so far away, in a sea cadet hall, Rachel Reupke had dramatised the power dynamics in a set of complaint letters. It was a mysterious if not completely opaque bit of performance art.

john walter

In a psychedelic beach hut on a westerly beach, John Walter was entertaining guest after guest with G&T plus gypsy tarts. I had no idea if the sun was past the yard arm, but oh well.

laura wilson

On the South Quay I found this sculpture by local stevedores working on behalf of Laura Wilson. Her accompanying film was a poetic slice of everyday life in an industrial zone.


This may look like a scene from Abu Ghraib but in fact it’s a church hall and these hooded figures are art lovers taking in bit of cosmic sound art from The Arka Group. It was hot under there.

jeremy millar

In the nearby postal delivery office, Jeremy Millar had built a screening room from fire blankets. The film itself followed a day in the life of a troubled man alone in a stunning marsh landscape.

rosa ainley

A community centre called Umbrella Hall was the location for a piece of sound art by Rosa Ainley. It treated the rise and fall of a local Pfizer building and was described, not by me, as a Greek chorus.

das hund

Seven pm and the sun was still up. Das Hund played a gig in a boat shed. I guess any old singer can carry a tune, so Samuel Levack’s atonal delivery was all the more impressive.

fish and chips

Forgive the gastroporn but, not having eaten since breakfast, fish and chips on Whitstable beach was just the ticket. It’s a fantastic event and if you can go next weekend, do.

Whitstable Biennale 2014 runs until June 15.

Matt Collishaw, The End of Innocence (2012)

One of the more surprising things you might hear about the work of Francis Bacon is that one of his paintings hangs in a museum at the Vatican.

The work is a study for a better known painting of Pope Innocent X. In the subsequent work his holiness appears in a gold cage screaming blue murder.

So the inclusion of an early tilt at this piece of critical comment on the papacy gives new meaning to the phrase broad church.

Both these studies, in which the pope appears in alternating scarlet and mauve can be deciphered in a blizzard of pixels, thanks to a new digital piece by Matt Collishaw.

The scale of the work, its silence, and its stillness put one in a suitably reverential mood. Never mind the fact that Dilston Grove is also a former mission chapel.

But Bacon was no altar boy, and this interpretation of his best known work is not even that faithful. The popes disintegrate and coalesce before your eyes.

At times the 10ft screen is just a blanket of streaming information. Is the pope even there in the background? That’s perhaps a question about faith in the digital age.

The Vatican has bought up plenty of modern art, but they cannot control their image. That has been eroded by an algorithm (here) or by an abuse scandal (everywhere else).

Yet Collishaw’s work is more meditative than blasphemous and to be sure it deals with art history first and religion second. One assumes you can separate those terms.

The End of Innocence brings to mind La Nona Ora by Maurizio Cattelan. The Italian sculptor has put a more final end to things by crushing Pope John Paul II by a meteor.

It also recalls another controversial papal statue by Oliviero Rainaldi. This was never intended to be satire, and so met with criticism all the more fierce. Maybe the piece in question here could replace it.

The End of Innocence can be seen at Dilston Grove, London, until 27 May. See gallery website for more details.

Nikolaj Bendix Skyum Larsen, Promised Land (2011)

Paddling naked, save for a life jacket, through the dark waters of a harbour is so difficult it seems comic. Since the swimmer is in a video piece, one really hopes this is a performance.

But this is a real life moment in the life of a would-be migrant to Britain. Art is the last thing on his mind. And one can assume it is being filmed by a friend of his and not by Nikolaj B S Larsen.

This inside footage is one of several rarely seen activities which the Danish artist has captured. And he has done so by handing over cameras to refugees with minimal interest in video art.

So with little or no attempt to play with genre, other scenes come round out in which plans are sketched in the dirt (infiltration of a truckstop) and maps are drawn on scraps of paper (port security).

Lovers of classic cinema will recognise this convention. It belongs to the heist movie, or better still that embodiment of British pluck, The Great Escape (1963). There are several ironies in this film.

But the work is anchored by moving interviews with migrants sleeping rough in Calais. Professional footage shows sunset on the channel, convoys in the rain, finally the lights of Picadilly.

The three-channel installation is panoramic, and the 55-minute piece immerses the viewer in lives otherwise hard to imagine. Larsen has brought out a sublime quality in the port by night.

One imagines that seen penniless and paperless from a quayside, channel ferries always look like this. The vision in this film appears authentic, precisely because it is borrowed.

Promised Land can be seen at Folkestone Triennial until 25 September 2011. See festival website for more details. You can also watch a pilot for the film on Larsen’s own site.

Mark Leckey, GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction (2010)

Mark Leckey, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London (19 May – 26 June 2011) © 2011 Mark Blower

The fridge looks nothing like my fridge. In truth it is more like a “dark mirror”, a “walled garden” or a “monstrous insect”, all comparisons made by an anguished, robotic first person voiceover.

Manufacturers Samsung surely realise they are in the business of fabricating metaphors. How else could they justify a $1,799 price tag for a basic function which could cost you less than 100 notes.

To make their point, they’ve painted it black. The 30 cubic foot machine comes in the same colour as a limo. Its resemblance to the monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey goes without saying.

Flanking Plasma screens build on this cosmic potential by juxtaposing the fridge with, at one point, a soup of fossilised sludge and, at another, the Northern Lights.

Animated coolant passes through the condenser, narrated with reference to the moon and the sun. Like a cruel god, the machine is said to “torment” and “humiliate” the liquid.

Our own hunger for the hi-tech is suggested by a cropped shot of the artist’s knees, rubbed in anticipation as lavish food shots fill the background behind the immobile, yet sentient unit.

The fridge onscreen soon attains more presence than the fridge in the room. After 20 minutes, the real thing starts looking very finite against the gallery’s green screen infinity cove.

Less affluent folk would normally come across this appliance on an advert or as a piece of aspirational product placement in a movie. Our present view from behind the camera punctures that.

In fact the more reverence which smooth marketeers and satisfied customers give to their smart goods, the funnier this piece becomes. Because green screen action cuts both ways.

Mark Leckey: SEE, WE ASSEMBLE is at Serpentine Gallery until 26 June 2011. See gallery website for more details. If you’re thinking of buying the fridge, it’s a Samsung RFG293HABP.

Plastique Fantastique, Impossible Diagrams

What to make of a flicker between a bandaged head and a face carved in a brieze block. Or an unshaven mouth which hi-jacks a news report. Or self-immolation illustrated as if for a kids’ book.

Quite a bit happens in the Plastique Fantastique show at Grey Area. Not all is easy to describe and even less is easy to interpret. The entertainment above is on a reel called PFTV.

On this channel a masked and spangly demon pops up, curses us, and with a voice garbled-by-vocoder intones: “There is not and never has been anything to understand.”

It transpires Plastique Fantastique are into the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari. The love of nonsense and invention of mad schemas with which to overlay reality may come from there.

So a nearby video installation breaks down PFTV content into idiot-proof diagrams. Captions such as “You taste the object/ The object tastes you,” are still stupefying.

Still, you should never dismiss the incomprensible. Two Plastique Fantastique performances, documented here, the ritual punishment of a victim by a band of futuristic savages.

Hanging the man from his feet may be aim at inverting the status quo. But if not, these scenes still feel urgent and deep in meaning. It’s a feeling; there may be no point understanding it.

Impossible Diagrams is at Grey Area, Brighton, until May 29. See gallery website for more details.

The Refrain, Judy Price, 2008

It is quite something to come across an eye hospital in a gallery. Each one could be a metaphor for the other. In both you can expect some kind of operation on your field of vision.

But to come across St John’s Eye Hospital in East Jerusalem is stranger still. In this two-channel video installation, Lucy Price takes us inside a cutting edge medical facility which caters to Jews and Arabs alike, regardless of ability to pay.

So there is a blindness in the admissions policy and a deep faith in the patients of either religion as they put their eyeballs at the mercy of staff who, likewise, appear to come from both sides of the Israel/Palestine divide.

And the threat appears very real. Eyelids are forced open. Hypodermics are wielded. Scalpels are lined up. If you wanted to take an eye for an eye, this would be the place to do it.

The backing track by sound artist Maia Urstad is a comfort. Ambient noises from the hospital subsume birdsong, traffic and calls to prayer from the neighbouring streets. So what you see is not all you get.

The Refrain culminates with an operation performed in semi-darkness and two gloved hands sewing up, one presumes, an incision. Even the world’s most intractable geopolitical problems may respond to skilled treatment of this sort.

This installation can be seen as part of Over Where at University of Brighton Gallery, until 20 January. The show features more than 10 video pieces by Judy Price as well as paintings by Madeleine Strindberg. Call 01273 543010 for more details.

Antony Gormley/Tomoko Takahashi/Alice Neel/Ed Pien/Jorge Santos/Simon Yuill

Recent reviews and previews written for Culture24. Check ’em out: