Sophie Michael-a nostalgia trip

99-clerkenwell-road
Sophie Michael : still from 99 Clerkenwell Road courtesy of the artist

Trip (The Light Fantastic): Art Now at Tate Britain until October 30:

Three films that rightly celebrate the sensual attraction of 16mm are steeped in nostalgia.

99 Clerkenwell Road (2010) 16mm colour film,silent, 8 min

This was the stand out work for me as its simplicity spoke volumes and it had a visual sucker punch at the mid point. It initially appears to be an abstract work of coloured spheres moving in a  dark void, reminiscent of early experimental art films. So far, so derivative. Then we gradually  pick out the root image: a  globe lamp hanging from a darkened room’s ceiling  observed and obscured from a variety of angles and the viewer is pulled back and forth between figuration and abstraction: it is a clever technique to unsettle our complacent view of the trustworthiness of our perception.

Chapters One to Five (2012) 16mm film, colour/sound, 15 min

This is an overlong meditation on the role of play in creativity as we see a young girl interact with a series of artistic toys. The halting grade 2 piano practice soundtrack and the vivid retro colourscape gave it some charm.

The Watershow Extravaganza (2016) 16mm film, colour/sound, 10 min

This attraction was built for the 1951 Festival of Britain before being installed in a theme park in North Devon in the 1980s. Illuminated fountains dancing to a mechanical organ provide an entrancing contrast with the rather spooky  Watershow logos which also catch Michael’s lens. Pleasant to watch but trading on nostalgia can be a bit of a trap for artists working in 16mm.

Tate curators need to give more exposure to the emerging  artists who are commenting on current internet visual culture by exploiting the metaphor-rich boundary that separates digital from analogue rather than succumb to the obvious retro aesthetic appeal of 16mm. (see my Goldsmiths MFA  blogpost)

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