Warm Bath at Limoncello Gallery until 18th April.
“Dirt is matter out of place”. This famous structuralist quote is saying that cultures tend to define something in relation to its opposite and this idea kept me stimulated throughout Lucy Clout’s new video. Water in the natural environment, even in a dirty drainage ditch, can provide a calming visual vista. Water encroaching on the home is threatening. This is just one of the dizzying binary oppositions that pile up and reference each other in this cunningly constructed work: black/white, dirt/purity, sunrise/sunset, east/west, illusion/reality, male/female, conflict/harmony.
Superficially we are presented with two rather nerdy intercut videos. One documents the scuzzy, damp corners of a shared house while the female narrator bemoans the trials of sharing a living space with a group of women. They have all “succumbed to the idea” that water, whether this is rain, spilt coffee or piss drains in opposite directions depending on where in the house it falls, reaching seafall either on the east or west coast of England. This apparently barmy dichotomy gives them a mutually supportive focus for their shared lives.
The other video is an entrancingly scuzzy, low-res, colour saturated daily record of what appears to be two drainage channels flowing in opposite directions from a narrow culvert. These short clips are verbally time and date-stamped by the male video diarist whose has little else to say but is clearly fascinated by the water level. What a neat parallel.
In fact the clips reveal a different scenario. We slowly realise that he is captivated by the effects of shooting with the low angled sun behind him at dawn or dusk. He is switching his p.o.v. to opposite sides of the same channel. The reversed view gives the illusion of two channels. The sense of being tripped up leads onto more profound thoughts. How strong is this inbuilt bias to structure our cognitive and visual worlds in binary opposites? Like the diurnal rhythm of the drainage channel archivist it may give us a sense of order and security but sometimes this is a trap . Beneath this divided structure an alternative reality may exist.
So we hear a sense of weariness in the female narrator’s voice as she opens with “I lived in a house with six other women for …a long time. It’s an economic arrangement”. This negativity is contradicted by a still image superimposed on the action, like a garish ad fly-posted onto a grimy inner-city wall. We see a glossy internet-sourced stock photo of a group of women in a highly sociable mood. These idealised stills recur at intervals undercutting the house’s cheerless interior. But at one point a coarsely pixelated one is dropped in to muddle the message. The barely discernible smiles and party streamers convey anxiety rather than harmony.
The warm bath of the title fails to make an appearance in Clout’s video. Perhaps it alludes to the contrasting nature/ culture transformations of water. In a state of nature water is cold and bracing and sometimes potentially invasive. Fire, Homo sapiens’ first cultural artefact, tempered its chill so it could become a security blanket. For me, the comfort of a warm bath was evoked by the cosy, plump, nubbly-wool covered cushions that Clout has kindly provided for her viewers to lounge in. The gallery tyranny of insisting on backbreaking austere boxes to perch on is worth analysing.
Lucy Clout has played a blinder with this video. As in her previous video, From our own Correspondents, where she neatly exposed the off-camera nervousness of media professionals when projecting their own personas, she has a startling off-beam approach to exploring the tension between what we present and what we obscure. In her closing shot we see someone (the artist?) waving farewell on the house doorstep but apart from her hand the figure is hidden behind a stock photo of an idealised mother and baby.