Bordeaux Piece, 2004 Single-channel wide-screen video installation, 576 x 720 PAL progressive, colour, dual mono over headphones and speakers, 13 hours 43 min
Sunrise, 2009 Single channel video installation, colour, sound Edition of 5
David Claerbout — Orchestra, 2011 Laserchrome transparency mounted on opal matt Diasec in aluminium lightbox 302 x 155 x 18 cm / 118 7/8 x 61 x 7 1/8 in
Exhibition closes: 10th August 2012
In the blackness of the room, an image focuses my vision. The image is a photographic transparency mounted within a lightbox: but its surface suggests the ambiguous sensuality of painting. The image is a play on light: on half-light, darkness and illumination. A conductor stands before an orchestra I cannot see: just a musician at a string instrument and the cropped figure of a woman. I see the back of her head, and the sheet music in front of her. I find myself paying attention to miniscule illuminated objects. Light focuses my eye on innocuous details: the whiteness of the edges of the sheet music and the conductor’s shirt. The conductor, faces me: he looks at me and I look back at him. Densely seated, the audience, their faces barely visible in the darkness, turn towards me. I watch them as they gaze at me. I search for registers of expression and emotion but find little. Every now and then I catch the gleam of jewellery and evening dress. This sensation of looking and being looked at with such staged deliberateness is uncanny. The imagined boundary between the blackened room – within which I stand and observe – and the world of the image blur and dissolve.
Time collapses – the time of the image; the moment and the actions it purports to represent; and the time of viewers as they move in and out of the room perpetually looking and being looked at in return.
This is Belgian artist David Claerbout’s first solo show in a public London gallery. Photographic and film works play with ideas about light, space and time but with different inflections and points of emphases. More recent works such as Orchestra (2011) are shown together with earlier pieces such as Sunrise, exhibited at Hauser & Wirth, London, in 2009 (the year in which it was made). Sunrise was shot at Skywood House in Denham, Middlesex – designed by architect Graeme Phillips. Film-based pieces such as Sunrise and Bordeaux Piece (2004) emphasise the relationship between architecture and landscape; and the characters that move within and around these spaces. Bordeaux Piece stages banal, disconnected dialogue between a woman and two men, father and son. The trope of the love triangle overlays themes of film-making – the dialogue invokes Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 classic Le Mèpris and his self-conscious relationship to film as medium.
Claerbout’s production is extraordinarily complex; an aspect veiled by the apparent seamlessness of his staging. Bordeaux Piece is presented in a continuous loop but with each repetition, effects of atmosphere and light subtly shift. The film is in fact 14 hours long and the same scene, with the same actors, was filmed at 10 minute intervals throughout a day from 5.30 am to 10pm. It would take some staying power to sit through the whole film; and it doesn’t really matter that we as viewers can dip in and out of it as we move through the gallery space. The way in which the work is screened and curated is visually evocative – reflections and fragments appear on the walls behind and alongside us. The process of shooting hours of the same scene or dramatic sequence which is then edited and staged within a gallery setting is one of the most fascinating aspects of Claerbout’s process.
Review by Yvette Greslé
Parasol Unit, 14 Wharf Road, London N1 7RW