Teresa Grimes, the director of Tintype, has a winning formula for commissioning short films so I always look forward to her annual selection screened in the gallery window in Essex Road which is now in its sixth year. By setting the theme as Essex Road itself, it is always part of the fun to see the range of interpretations of the brief and the five minute maximum length mitigates the risk of bagginess.
Patrick Goddard’s Black Valuation is prank art in the tradition of covert recordings of practical jokes which launched the TV careers of Jeremy Beadle and Dom Joly on the backs of unsuspecting members of the public. They all owe a debt to the original Candid Camera, an American series that first aired in 1948, which came to ITV in the 1960s. I recall its slightly dubious low rent and embarrassing vibe which seemed to exemplify the channel’s appeal. It ran out of steam when reality TV such as Big Brother gave viewers a more intense voyeuristic hit without the uncomfortable issues of informed consent. An estate agent is the unwitting participant in Goddard’s hilarious take on the evils of property speculation but the reveal of “You’re on Candid Camera” is missing. Perhaps we are all thinking that as accessories to the housing crisis, estate agents are fair game.
In ghoulish facepaint ready for a Halloween party, Goddard roleplays the rapacious owner of the Tintype gallery building discussing his plans with the estate agent. He intends to evict the gallery director (“these artists are just social parasites”) so he can make a killing from a development project. Filmed using the gallery’s CCTV cameras, the estate agent is perceived as complicit in this scandalous behaviour.
Goddard’s brilliantly executed modus operandi is a fruitful tool for critiquing the absurdities of the times we live in. It reminded me of the Finnish artist Pilvi Takala who has used hidden cameras to capture the responses to her transgressive behaviour in a range of environments that have included Disneyland and a Shoreditch office space. As with any covert social experiment, a debrief is desirable but with surveillance cameras so ubiquitous we seem to have lost sight of this necessity. Perhaps a film of the estate agent’s debrief would reveal his feelings about the power imbalance implicit in the deception.
The moving image artist working in this mode is caught between a desire to manipulate social encounters as a conduit for their art and the ethical reservations about deceiving their participants. Ruth Waters has, in my view, cracked this dilemma most successfully in her gripping work, REDSKY66 (2017), as described in a previous post. She is having a skype conversation with a man who feels tortured by a twitter tirade against him and its indelible online record stretching into infinity. The man’s performance is so convincing I felt I was watching a real twitterstorm victim. In fact he is an actor, thus allowing the artist to craft dialogue with the illusion of spontaneity.
Goddard’s signature off-kilter and detached sardonic humour is also integral to his audio installation, Trip to Eclipse currently at Matt’s Gallery where he tells us a shaggy dog story. It is not strictly moving image art as the only thing that moves is the viewer. You lounge prostrate in a cramped bouncy castle but soon find that a hyperactive air pump ensures that you get well jostled. His gentle mockery of the egotism seen in both dogs and in public art projects is spot on.
At Tintype, Lucy Harris’s Reading Room, a tribute to the visual allure of illustrated books and the tranquil setting of Islington South Library and Melanie Smith’s 5 MINS, a hypnotic mediation on orange dot matrix bus-stop indicators, were the two other films that stood out for me but the quality of the complete set of eight films is well worth 36 minutes of your time.