Monday 9 April 2012

Elizabeth Price @ Baltic, Newcastle

I never use songs because of their words – but I do try to use songs with an effective, generic
pop sentiment, or a certain ersatz emotion, and to connect that strange, strong attachment
or feeling to another narrative. (Elizabeth Price)

The videos are great. They are probably as close as a video can get to an artist's book. A book with a sound.*

The one right at the back was about the things: User Group Disco. All it shows is a mesmorizing sequence of everyday objects spinning to the music. The objects are lit with that British Museum kind of light that makes them resemble important sculptural artefacts. You would be forgiven for thinking you are watching a documentary! The imagery is punctuated with her trademark snippets of text that drop in here and there. Like flicking trough a book. A Christie's catalogue.
Very simple. Very detached. Very engaging.

USER GROUP DISCO, 2009 (15 mins) This video is part of a series in which each episode constructs a section of a ruined museum. This work opens in the ‘Hall of Sculptures’ and is a fantasy narrative played out through objects, neglected items of kitsch and consumer goods and artefacts that swirl in the darkness like floating debris. These various utensils and ornaments drift through categories of definition and, in so doing, gradually generate other spaces and narratives. A distinctive rhythmic soundtrack completes the work.
The following text is an edited (twice!) interview between Elizabeth Price and Alessandro Vincentelli, BALTIC Curator of Exhibitions and Research.
AV: Each of the three works in the exhibition is constructed around a different spatial concept or place: the auditorium, the Hall of Sculptures (from an institution or museum), and, in the newest work, the bottom of the sea. How did you intend the viewer to experience these?
EP: I want the viewing space to exist as a parallel or mirroring space to the place constructed within the video, the fictional location proposed or established through the narrative. The title of the show, Here , refers to this. Each of the video’s narrators repeatedly calls the fictional place they are describing ‘here’. They insist upon the real presence of the fantasy location – but in doing so, I think they actually disrupt that fantasy, because they remind the viewer of the empirical ‘here and now’ of the viewing space, and of their own embodied reality. I called the show Here to co-name the two contingent but distinct ‘heres’ of the work.
AV: In your videos you don’t use people, you use objects. Are you more at home working with archives or museums, and with the meanings that objects have?
EP: I usually appropriate objects that do not belong to me personally, which I think are powerful or important. I take possession of them through art, and adapt them to tell other stories, although I usually draw upon their own existing, archived histories to do this. My work is about people and histories, but not individuals – it’s about people as collective forces or voices and how we emerge as such through material culture. This is why I use objects (in which category I would include melodies and writings).
AV: With several of your films you are creating a very particular kind of space in the work, one
that seems to be informed by film genres. Are science fiction films or horror films an influence
for you?
EP: I’m interested in the kinds of complex imaginary spaces constructed in science fiction. Each of my videos is constructed around a spatial principle, which is the ‘here’ the narrators refer to. In fact the narrative often comprises little more than establishing imaginary places and moving through them.
AV: The third section of the film Choir continues the research from the first two. With this you
have drawn on a powerful real event, a fire in a Woolworths department store in Manchester in May 1979. What was it that drew you to this?
EP: The image that links the three films is one of an expressive hand gesture. The image from the Woolworths fire of women waving from windows for help was the first image I came across of the three. I remember it from the time; I saw it in a newspaper when I was a child. When I was looking at the image of the Shangri Las doing their sombre, enigmatic dance, and wondering why I was so fascinated by it, I remembered this newspaper image. At the same time I was reading about ecclesiastical architecture – for no good reason, other than being interested in the arcane terminology – and I came across a similar image in that context. To some extent, it was a coincidence.
AV: Your use of text draws from a whole range of sources, from artistic manifestos to advertising scripts.
EP: I really enjoy finding and reading arcane texts. I like technical vocabularies and take pleasure in the formal qualities of strange or new words, how they sound or look on the page. The script for West Hinder drew from car manuals and press releases, and that for Choir (Part 1) drew on essays on ecclesiastical architecture. In each of these sources, a different kind of language has been used very precisely to name things, to build complex ideological worlds.
AV: What were the sources for the range of objects and artefacts in User Group Disco?
EP: I collected all the objects over several years, because they seemed redundant in some way: damaged, outmoded, useless or excessive. I didn’t initially collect them in order to make the video – and many objects in the ‘collection’ do not appear in the video.
AV: The motif of the spiral or the turntable recurs in User Group Disco. Why is that?
EP: The ‘pivotal’ object in the video is the turntable and this is used to animate the other objects, which rotate and swirl in the darkness. Hence the reference to ‘disco’ in the title. In The Form of the Phonograph Record’ (1934) Theodor Adorno describes the phonographic record as a strange and terrible science fiction object, in words which seem to evoke a whirlpool. This text, with its prophetic tone and paternal attitude, was the key for all the others. credits and funders.
(from the exhibition brochure)

P. S. October 22, 2012 - a follow up from Tate Britain.

* which suggests that an average codex book is a video without a sound. A customizable kind of video -  where the viewer can toggle the scenes as he pleases.

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