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Exhibition: Story of the Eye, Mead Gallery Warwick University. AK Dolven, Knut Åsdam, Dan Graham

Art Monthly March 2004

02/04/2004 :: Upon entering the spacious gallery, which has been dark-ened as a projection space, both view and path are inter-rupted by a long wooden corridor constructed within the room. 'Story of the Eye' displays evidence of a great deal of curatorial attention to the issue of installation and, in partic-ular, the darkened black cube. The presence of this obstacle is an introduction to an exhibition whose connections are elegantly accompanied by the complication of views and routes. Through a doorway halfway along the corridor can be seen a glimpse of the high gallery wall beyond, which is cov-ered in a wall of foliage in the form of a huge projection. The interior of the corridor itself has been painted pristine gloss white, and serves as a projection area for AK Dolven's between the morning and the handbag II, 2002. At one end is a naked and hairless female figure with her back facing us, looking out onto water. At the opposite end of the corridor appears the same view, but the figure is replaced by a hand-bag left at the water's edge.

Exiting this space brings you in front of Dolven's 2:57, 2002, the projected forest seen earlier. Initially, this row of coniferous trees appears static. Almost imperceptibly, an incremental increase in movement takes place as leaves and small branches begin to sway. The distortion and pixelation caused by projection at this scale make it more confusing, harder to detect the movement as it starts to appear. Whilst it slowly becomes apparent that the film has been slowed down, this movement gradually increases, until it seems that the trees are being subjected to a steadily increasing gust of wind, which builds to a near frenzy. Suddenly a tree rises up uncannily from the forest floor, as if raised by unearthly agency, and effortlessly stands itself upright, revealing that the film had been reversed. The increase in movement is the inverted record of the subsiding disturbance caused by the tree's felling. It is a simple but effective trick which manages to contain some moments of captivating disorientation.

Another sleight of hand is at play in Dan Graham's Opposing Mirrors and Video Monitors on Time Delay, 1974. -Displayed in its own room within the gallery, two large mir-rors face each other on opposing walls. Facing each mirror is a monitor, with a surveillance camera on top. The image on each monitor is coming from the opposite camera, so it shows you from the back. The time delay means that you see yourself enter the gallery once you are inside. These endless reflections and temporal discontinuities are beguiling and unexpected, as well as setting into play Graham's preoccupa-tion with constructing active forms of spectatorship rather than pure spectacle. While the presence of this 30-year-old work initially appears anomalous in this context it also, in part, accounts for the thematic proposition that constitutes 'Story of the Eye'. There is an attempt to draw a curatorial metaphor through the reading of Bataille's short novel as flattening of a conventional approach to reading and a nation of vision into an embodied activity. Graham's work frames the show by suggesting a series of negotiations. The movement of bodies through his work enacts their movement between works as a flattening of historical dis-tance. The image of observing yourself observing can be read as a conflation of past and present, in which you can see the delay catching up in the same plane of vision.

Housed in a curtained-off island of its own, Knut Asdam's Psychasthenia 10 Series 2, 2000-01, is a series of projected slides depicting residential tower blocks and their surroundings at night. The most remarkable feature of this is the way the streetlights appear in decorative starbursts in contrast to the saturated hues elsewhere in the images. These cityscapes set the mood for Filter, 2003, Asdam's first work shot on film, here displayed as a DVD projection. This is a narrative work, presented in a darkened space with bench seating, which seems to set out to question just what might constitute and be expected from film as a narrative genre. The action is centered around two women who share an ambiguously defined con-nection. They hang around in a playground and on street corners in-teracting through dialogue that makes no concessions to naturalism. Although the lines are delivered with dramatically en-unciated clarity, the performances are wooden to the point of representing a kind of anti-acting. Their speech ranges from poetic, sub-situationist anti-capitalist diatribe to stylised American vernacular complete with inarticulate quirks reinforcing the indeterminate and unclarified status of protagonists.

These are women occupying and moving through public spaces, talking conspiratorially about what might be personal relationships, or possibly alignments to organisations. Its construction, in keeping with the overall attempt to bring about a thematic propinquity with Bataille's novel, is one of broken continuities, both diegetic and structural: while still resembling narrative film, Filter resists continuity and legi-bility. Parallel to this is the use of voice-over, particularly towards the end of the film, as a disembodied sound accom-panying images of a snow-covered city, which then dis-turbingly seems to be the spoken dialogue of one of the actors, whom we see speaking the words. This is disturbing because the words still sound like a voice-over. There are no ambient background noises, just the studio-perfect sound of the speech, which seems to have been dubbed onto the footage as the actor mimes a perfect recital. Abruptly, back-ground noise returns just before the end credits. The effect is of the actors undergoing processes of destabilisation as subjects that are both embodied and reified within a visual plane. Whereas the literal content, which ultimately seems to refer to attempts to constitute and occupy social space, falls short of articulation within the work, this structural detail seems to suggest a qualitative rereading of the ways in which narrative film is constructed.

DAN SMITH

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