The unamplified, unaccompanied voice of a woman singing rises from the ambient city noises, a train rumbling by, the muffled municipal coughs and wheezes. We see her in the flickering projection on the wall, her headphones mirroring those that allow us to listen in on her. It’s an unfamiliar, theatrical rendering of a not unfamiliar urban scene; someone singing along to music masked from our earshot. Oliver Bancroft’s 16mm film installation Music for a while 2012, is a reflective filmic elegy to the overlapping sounds that rise and fall around us. These sounds, seemingly visibly manifest by a breeze distracting the singer’s hair, remain happily abstruse to the woman as she sings along to her private orchestra. In the viewer’s headphones these auditory tremors mingle with her voice, creating a hybrid soundscape of the orchestrated or trained, and the random by-products of civic motion.
As an exploration of the fragmented, sampled and overlaid quality of sound experienced in a city it is both seductive and pensive. The rarified, austere atmosphere within which operatic music is usually delivered, where illusion’s reverie worries about being broken by an errant cough or ringtone, here has to battle with the oblivious will of the setting. This has the effect of enhancing the emotional vulnerability of the singers voice and the harmony, but also unexpectedly asserting its strength. The notes seem to serenade the ambivalent sounds around her, as if coercing them into a duet. Of course an inability to understand the language an opera is being sung in has always helped throw the accent on the sound, emotion and texture of the word rather than its allegorical intent. The transformative power of music isn’t anything new, but the extent and constancy with which people are now soundtracking their everyday experience feels of particular resonance, as does the familiar experience of sitting opposite someone whose ears are masked to any external interaction.
A background constant throughout the piece is the sound of the 16mm projector. The mechanisms heartbeat, the inner workings of the thing itself draws our attention to the relatively organic quality of this older technology and the performative quality of its visible process of delivery, an aspect hidden by the digital economy of contemporary means. Music for a while is an absorbing study of the broken up, collaged quality of sound in urban life, and a pertinent observation of the sculptural punctuation marks with which headphones interject everyday listening.
Bancroft is one of five artists exhibiting in ‘Enclosures’ at Canal. The show explores the relationship between moving image and installation as way of extending, developing, disturbing or unpacking the works’ themes.
“The keyhole, spherical form of the projection elevates the distinction, and hints at the vicarious voyeurism attached to domestic life, where acts of daring are spied on through the television, newspaper, or computer screen, a glass of wine in hand.”
Blondin’s Apparatus, Niagara in the Mist 2014, is a kinetic assemblage of furniture, cables, cameras and screens by Alex Pearl. There’s a sense of the closeted, eccentric inventor in the domestic attributes of his sculptural elements, the drawing in and transformation of ignoble objects, which sees a wine box transformed into a mobile plinth for a projector which, with the rhythm of a docile windscreen-wiper, sends the vertiginous image of a tightrope walker swaying back and forth on the gallery wall. The motion seems to vibrate through the grainy, worn out image of Blondin, antagonizing his stability and our trepidation as with a barely visible motion he edges across a rope over the Niagara Falls. There’s an interesting contrast between the epic grandeur of Blondin’s gesture, and the domestic apparatus with which Pearl contrives to deliver the scene. The keyhole, spherical form of the projection elevates the distinction, and hints at the vicarious voyeurism attached to domestic life, where acts of daring are spied on through the television, newspaper, or computer screen, a glass of wine in hand.
A second screen in Pearl’s piece shows what at a glance seems to be an abstracted, paired down static, until you connect the grainy strand to the thin length of thread taped between the side of the monitor and the adjacent wall. A small camera peers down the length of the thread, which is transformed with surprising credibility into a rope across a vast clouded chasm, a simulated void. Dropping in then out of focus, the thread easily alludes to being Blondin’s heavily concentrated next step. On the lower shelf of the plinth that the monitor sits on is the remainder of the Peri-Lustra darning thread used for the illusory tightrope. Its humble, worn scale humorously sews the seeds of the daring and perilous into the everyday and domestic. The interplay between darning and tightrope walking, between the void and the hole in a sock suffuses the piece with a layered playfulness.
The domestic ephemera of Bancroft and Pearl’s installations give way to an expansive mélange of pseudo cult ceremonial garb and symbols in the work of the collective The Cult of RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ. In The Sub-Nasal Chamber 2014, fragments of the costumes seen in the multi-screened installation are used sculpturally around the space. Framed by graffiti, the videos show dancing, gesticulating characters in amateurish costumes, parodying the elaborations of ceremony. Predominantly a critique of the quasi-religious marketing of sports brands, their sporting deities, and promises of transformation, the extent of the work’s theatrical exaggeration saves it from being strictly commentary. A kernel of belief infuses the messages flashing up on the screens,‘you must take Terminus 5, ‘Walking the Westway’, or, ‘Beware subcultural Paralysis,’ aggrandizing proceedings with just enough possibility of sci-fi realism, and texturing the obtuse, hypnotic, and anthropomorphic quality of the whole with the kind of joy that makes Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s performances both critically aware and scabrously anomalous.
The development of digital imaging has of course transformed the viewing of moving image work. ‘Enclosures’ is at its most interesting where it engages the means of translation and delivery. At times these processes seem a distraction from rather than engagement of the works themes, and instances of the written word occasionally feel an unnecessarily didactic tendency, diminishing images that might be better left unexplained. The physicality of ‘Enclosures’ echoes the phases of production that lie behind and around that flat, flickering illusion of space on the wall or screen, and like the clapboard in Bancroft’s film, counteracts the assumption that the only way forward for moving image work is a virtual, seamlessly delivered reality. ‘Enclosures’ pleasingly coughs and ringtones all over the refined cinematic illusion.
‘Enclosures’ Canal, London. 3/10 – 1/11/14 http://www.canalprojects.info/ https://www.facebook.com/ThePageArtReviews