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This show of four young artists from Britain and Ireland makes use of the separate spaces at Frith Street Gallery inviting each artist to make an environment in one room. The four projects are united by a sense of fictional space and of a fragmented narrative.
Jaki Irvine’s project explores the ambiguities of sound and image. She describes Untitled, the large duratran propped dramatically in the front gallery, as a reproduction of an experiment involving a well kept garden, a 2” transparency, some chemicals and a lot of glass. The origins of the transparency are unknown and it is unclear whether chemicals had been spilt on the transparency by accident or whether the ‘accident’ had been intentionally staged. By blowing up the transparency to such a large degree, she confronts the viewer with this visual quandary and invites interpretations. Untitled is also conceived as a ‘still’ counterpart to Sweet Tooth, the black and white Super-8 film showing in the back gallery. The film was shot in a statue restorer’s workshop in Vauxhall and moves haphazardly across the various bits of machinery, moulds, statues, and tools that clutter the space, slipping in and out of focus, occasionally lingering on such details as a plaster foot, a wooden mallet, a sheep’s head, before moving on again. Meanwhile, accompanied by Prokofiev’s Dance of the Stone Flower, the narrator gives an account of a 19 year old girl who has no teeth.
Matthew Higgs’ project (Total) Despair follows on from a series of book page pieces he has produced over the last two years. In general, the book pages were sourced from genres of fiction universally perceived to be among the lowest: Romantic Fiction and Hard Boiled Crime Fiction. Five Bookpages, which was specially published to accompany ‘(Total) Despair’, gives a sense of the pulp fictions that Higgs has drawn from, exploring references to art and artists. (Total) Despair, based on Vladimir Nabokov’s novel Despair (1932), differs from the previous work in that it has as its source a work that is accepted as ‘high’ art. Nabokov’s novel is dominated by the egotistical and scornful figure of a murderer who thinks himself an artist and hence provides a particularly rich context for an exploration of the artistic psyche. The ultimate one-liner, (Total) Despair inquires into the link between the book’s ironic title and a line in the novel which may hold a special poignancy for all artists.
In recent works Fiona Banner has ‘framed’ various narratives, giving a blow by blow account of events that have somehow played a seminal role in contemporary culture. The Hunt for Red October, Top Gun, Lawrence of Arabia and the classic car chases from The French Connection and Bullitt were the original subjects of her descriptions. However, in recent works she has turned to actual events – such as ‘The Rumble in the Jungle’ and the First Man on the Moon, encompassing in her work the sense of the ecstatic times which the events somehow represent. It is the sense of the climactic (and yet somehow anti-climactic) narrative which interests Banner. Her works underline the paucity of written and visual language in recounting particular scenes and moments and explore how ecstatic events of recent times have been constructed in retrospect and mediated through history. The anxiety of a complex moment is documented, organised in history, and neatly slotted into the mass conscience.
Banner’s project for Frith Street Gallery centres upon the Lunar Landing of July 1969. At the height of the Cold War Apollo II’s arrival on the moon represented a climactic high in US defense achievement. As such, Neil Armstrong’s “few great steps for mankind” were transmitted on live television across the world. It was, and still is, one of the greatest TV events in history. Space Exploration, the large written piece, is a constructed filmic narrative derived from live footage of the voyage from the earth to the moon. Based on the fact rather than an invented narrative, it challenges the bounds of fictional space. ‘Lift Off’ is the storyboard of the final 10 minutes of the Apollo II countdown. There is one cut for each of the 600 seconds between minus 10 minutes and T-00:00. However, Banner’s drawing is also the storyboard for the cultural events of that time; with the prominence of Land Art and of American art in general, this was the pioneering age of Space Exploration.
Frieda Munro’s project is an exploration of the ideas associated with the passage of time, both vocational and recreational. They refer to her own situation and she is represented in the project by the mirrored self portraits – they are based on two photographs of her which were taken two seconds apart. The organisational chart on the far wall is a reference to the hierarchies of the work place – as well as being an ironic allusion to conceptual art. The edition underlines this conceptual link – its two parts are based on the standard letter and memo formats used in a computer programme for the office. The industrial clocks on the left wall are all set at times between 9 and 5, the standard working day. The names beneath them refer to people that Munro has worked with – musicians, performers, artists. Like her, all four people were doing one job when they would have preferred to be using their time to do something else.
By contrast, the tapestries represent the notion of pastimes – the idea of doing something to while away the time. Tapestry, in particular, was a genteel pastime, most often associated with women. Munro’s tapestries are based on photographs found in a tourist guide; one image depicts a child in a snow-bound landscape; the other a woodyard. The images are deliberately contrasting to suggest the chasm between an apparently carefree childhood and the adult reality of the workplace.
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