Goldsmiths have a reputation for producing quality video art and I was not disappointed by their MFA show this week. Political awareness in an artwork is a big plus for me, as long I do not feel preached at. All of these managed that and more.
Ruth Waters is a coolly subversive satirist. She covers so many bases and spices her work with wry humour, social commentary and visual appeal. In her installation J.A Generalised Anxiety Relaxation she has created a simulation of a relaxation class complete with yoga mats. She starts with an original image: immaculately groomed, pencil sharp, straight hair blowing seductively in the wind filling the screen like a curtain. A laid back narrator soothes us with a standard relaxation tape visualisation mantra: the lapping of waves, the warmth of a sandy beach. Gradually less calming images intrude. We are asked to imagine we are Jennifer Aniston and to meditate on “weddings”. We begin to feel uneasy. The mention of the personification of coiffured perfection and a nerve-wracking life event make us giggle uncomfortably. We have been subtly drawn into the pervasiveness of social comparison anxiety for which mindfulness can only act as a sticking-plaster. Aniston’s recent complaints about media intrusion reinforce the ambivalence caught so aptly in this work.
David John Beesley’s film King of the Kats has him as an ur-cowboy, an alter-ego wandering the empty streets of the City of London on a kid’s toy horse. The bankers have left, their eerie ghosts remembered for their childish games. Beesley create a timeless environment by exploiting the weird contrast of the medieval and the modern in the City streetscape and manages to blend a critique of our current crisis through multiple personal, political and religious lenses.
Daniel Dressel’s four screen installation, Polygon, is a skillfully edited video montage where sounds and images flip around the viewer like a boxer prancing around the ring. He uses documentary archive material and his own footage to explore the history of the East End and draws parallels between the estate agents and boxers fighting for the glittering prizes. I loved the sense of time collapsing as the different eras slide across each other. Another single channel video, Sensation, neatly shows how Damien Hirst’s public sculpture guarded by CCTV provides the opportunity for our surveillance society to enforce its grip over the kids who just want to clamber over it.
Michael Dignam’s short video Precarity, viewable on his website, -http://michaeldignam.eu/Precarity – creates maximum impact with minimal material. His black and white film is constructed from three takes all focusing on a rapidly moving shadow sweeping over bends in a rutted countryside track. My first thought is that these are formed from the rotor vanes of a wind generator. Through digital manipulation the shadows become more frenzied and stuttering and threaten to blackout the sun before eventually settling down into their original steady beat. This almost musical piece is in fact more powerful as there is no sound track. Sometimes less is more.
Katie Hare’s short single channel video Wrong then, wrong today is again so simple, yet it packs a huge punch. Over a loop of a 1950’s MGM Tex Avery cartoon clip her narrator points out the parallel between the botched attempts to both politically and visually “clean-up” the original. The politically incorrect assumptions of the cartoon are whitewashed by the distributor of the newly released version with a disclaimer referring to its historical context, hence this works title. We observe that the digital filtering of the analogue noise of the original results in the erasure of some outlines, indicating perhaps that updating such “corrupt” material is doomed to failure. This apposite melding of the conceptual and the visual was for me one of the most exciting experiences of the Goldsmith’s show. Hare’s interest in the analogue /digital transition will surely prove fertile material for the future.
I was able to meet the artist Francis Almendarez who exploits nostalgia for his South American heritage to moving effect in a 7 channel video installation, Voices of our Mothers: Transcending Time and Distance. His grandmothers’s tales of adventure and the rich oranges and greens of El Salvador’s rural landscape contrasts with the downbeat contemplation of a murky grey riverscape as global sea-traffic ploughs by. The time slippage of the same footage on the seven screens is deployed to great effect. We need more of this style of visual analysis of globalisation.
I could not get round to all the MI artworks at this show but the trend for artists to disseminate through their websites means I can catch up at my leisure. Andy Nizinskyj’s work Everything is Bright, http://andynizinskyj.co.uk/Everything-is-Bright is a three channel video ideal to view on a computer screen as it uses videogame tropes to raise the hot topic of what is missing from the pin sharp CGI and HD world we increasingly inhabit. His poetic commentary over a dreamlike and entrancing, digitally rendered desert landscape uses the metaphor of thirst to describe that missing element. Even the arrival of a water torrent tacked on to the landscape does nothing to relieve this. It is only when we get a smeared image of a tree canopy as if “shot” through a plastic sheet passing in front in of the “camera” that we get a glimpse of what is really missing. His two subsidiary screens provide a mute chorus from the lo-fi analogue world. This type of implied critique of digital imagery has great appeal. It is a shame that the expense of celluloid film is restricting access to analogue creativity at the moment although Tacita Dean is doing a sterling job in preserving the processing infrastructure.
I found many of the Goldsmiths MI artists invigorating. The efficiency of their razor sharp skewering of current issues had a freshness about them that in some ways puts them streets ahead of the more established video artists I’ve seen in the commercial galleries this year.