Patrick Goddard at Tintype: dubious prank or vital critique?

Patrick Goddard in preparation for his film Black Valuation (2020). Courtesy of Tintype Gallery

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.

Pilvi Takala, “The Stroker”: resolving intimacy and control?

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© Pilvi Takala – still from two channel video, The Stroker (2017), courtesy of the artist

I once had a boss who, like the protagonist in Pilvi Takala’s film, The Stroker, would invariably touch you on the upper arm whenever he encountered you. Initially this signifier of his “touchy-feely” management style was comforting. Here was someone trying to develop  a different kind of boss/worker relationship while conferring a sense of fellow-feeling with his subordinates. Simultaneously I and my colleagues experienced an uneasy dissonance of the blurred lines between intimacy and control.

It is no surprise that such an intelligent and subversive artist as Takala would be drawn to this messy social quagmire, where the mantras of “breaking down the boundaries between life and work” and “fermenting interactions that will boost creativity” are gospel. This has to be one of the most gripping and thought-provoking works I have seen in a while. Thanks to DJB for the tip-off! I urge you to get down to Carlos/Ishikawa at 88 Mile End Road before the show closes on 18 August.

Takala’s 14 minute two-channel video installation derives from her ten-day undercover placement in the futuristic offices of Second Home in Spitalfields, now a hipster East London neighbourhood. This gargantuan workspace venture is in essence a scaled-up, luxury version of the internet cafe. Instead of coffee and cake you get a well-being programme including high spec restaurants and cultural events. But you just can’t just roll up and book a slot. You can hire a desk for £375 a month but expect to be vetted for your entrepreneurialism and creativity. Second Home companies or “members” have been “curated” by its owners to create the optimum vibe by including cool creative start-ups as well as multinationals like the management consultants Ernst and Young looking for some street cred.

Thanks to a fruitful chat with Regina Lazarenko, the gallery’s Assistant Director and an email exchange with the artist, I gained valuable insight into the artwork’s genesis.  Takala planned what, on first sight, is a standard social psychology experiment – a covert observational study into non verbal communication.  With the consent of the Second Home management, she adopted the role of a well-being consultant. She walked through the workplace greeting her co-workers with a touch on the shoulder and a “how is it  going?” greeting.   Inevitably the responses to this approach from a stranger varied widely from hostility and anxiety to avoidance and wary appreciation. A hidden camera and sound recorder helped to capture her interventions.

However in a move reminiscent of Jeremy Deller, another leading artist who places major importance on respect for  participants in his artworks, she transformed her observations into re-enactments of the interactions. The result is a compelling micro-analysis of our ambivalence to touch. She carefully exposes the way our feelings of discomfort visibly leak through our non-verbal gestures. But more fundamentally Takala is opening up a debate on the business ethics of conflating workplace and personal relationship modes.  In a memo to all the Second Home members she partly reveals her subterfuge by announcing that “the stroker”  is the founder of the well-being organisation, Personnel Touch, a company title that is a masterful linguistic melding of the commercial and the intimate. The ultimate irony is that Takala’s work as a performance artist is now showcased on the cultural events page of the Second Home website as an example of their tagline: “More than just a workspace, almost a way of living.” Among the many telling moments in her film is a scene which reveals the “co-worker” with the most positive reaction to the stranger’s touch of recognition – the office cleaner.

Takala combines the chutzpah and bravery of the prankster with the compassion and acute eye of the social critic. Her takedown of Disney’s hegonomy of the manufactured image in Real Snow White (2006) – https://vimeo.com/11757111 – is another brilliant exposé of the absurd world we now live in. Guy Debord (The Society of the Spectacle, 1967) is again proven to be so prescient: the commodity has sucessfully colonised all social life.

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© Pilvi Takala – still from video, Real Snow White (2009), courtesy of the artist