To gain first hand research material I travelled down to London to visit a selection of exhibitions I found on the Time Out website.
The main one I wanted to see was “Party Booby Trap” by Thomson & Craighead at the Carroll/Fletcher gallery in Mayfair. The Time Out article described it as “tap[ping] so perfectly into contemporary anxiety… This is aggressive, angsty art that really sticks in your throat.”
Spread across three rooms, the overall theme dealt with the anxieties of modern life and technology.
Upon entrance the viewer was greeted by posters forecasting the end of the world and the return of Jesus Christ. On the floor lay balloons, coupled with a retro television showing a video of the balloons in another spaced, being methodically popped by professionally dressed women with long needles.
A wall-mounted flatscreen TV played a video of a suburban house burning, interspersed with confessional statements such as “I am medicated”, “I am getting better”.
The next room was dark, with bean bags and wireless headphones. I sat down to watch the projection that filled the opposite wall. This work was a video made by a man in Fife who had made time lapse videos of the view from his bedroom window every Monday from sunrise to sunset for a year, for 6 years. Each year was displayed as a grid of Monday views. I found that as the grid filled and the time lapse flashed by my eyes kept searching across the screen for the last scrap of light. As I counted the sections of the grid I realised it contained 52 – one for every Monday of the year. I began to realise how insignificant they looked displayed that way, that a year seems like a yawning eternity yet when it’s boiled down to 52 Mondays they seem negligible, yet precious, wasted all too easily and gone without notice. The view was of a fell in the distance, with the roofs of houses and streetlights visible in the foreground. This juxtaposition of the power of nature and suburban banality resulted in a swelling sense of suffocation and despair.
Each year was paired with a different soundtrack. The different styles of music, or lack of, effected the reading. One year had sweeping, classical music playing over the headphones. This gave a sense of majesty and spectacle, encouraging thoughts on the unstoppable power of the weather, nature and the passing of time. Without music, you’re left alone to muse on the tediousness of everyday life, the unmarked passing of time and the irrelevance of our existence. Some may comment that the process was pointless, yet I would argue that pointlessness was the point; whether we record it or not, time continues to pass, and even when we document and try to categorise it no purpose reveals itself. So we may as pass the time however we wish.
A relatively simple idea and an almost completely unremarkable work visually sparked some incredibly philosophical thoughts. It was also a good demonstration of how the human mind’ search for patterns and meaning can be accelerated when presented with the same subject repetitively.
Where the “Six Years of Mondays” introduced a creeping sense of despair, the next room sparked a much more immediate and frantic sense of anxiety. Projections of meaningless code, arranged in the shape of a city skyline, fell on two opposing walls. On the back wall hung back-lit boxes displaying pixellated, lurid coloured images that looked like TV static or digital image loading errors. As you walked past the images shifted and shimmered, like holographic toys from childhood. A chair sat before a desk which was laid out with a lamp and a simple text document. As I began to read it became apparent the text was a record of various sites of nuclear disasters and the process of disposal for nuclear waste. The incomprehensible figures detailed how many years it would take for the radioactive material to be safe. I found it difficult to read more than a few pages as a swelling sense of dread and despair came over as I wondered about the future of nuclear power and it’s consequences on our planet.
The soundtrack to all of these elements blared from a bulky television set, flashing snatches of clips from news, advertising and TV shows. Each clip was only a second or two long, isolating keywords such as “disaster”, “greed”, “death”, “success”, “terror”. The video stuttered in unrelenting loops, innocently unaware of the disturbance it was producing in my mind.
As I left the room I came across a bank of headphone jacks I’d missed on the way in. On the wall above hung a television showing giant, shifting, flashing blocks of colour, like magnified pixels. I put on the headphones and began plugging the jack into various, labelled holes on the desk. Each sticker had words like “how to stop smoking”, “ultimate success” or “overcome depression”. As I listened it became apparent these were audio track from self-help tapes. The voices were set to slow relaxing music and the voices were repetitive and soporific, possibly taken from hypnopedic style tapes. This was the most surreal experience, literally plugging in and out of various channels trying to inspired me to become a better version of me. This aspect was the part that made me smile the most as it felt very much like they were included as a dark joke, to demonstrate the relative futility of using a ‘soothing’ tape against this barrage of bad news.
Overall I felt the exhibition had a great sense of humour. It tackled some serious and often devastating subjects while not taking itself too seriously, almost like a secretive wry smile shared between creator and audience. It felt that it came from a place of understanding, that the artists were sympathising and trying to say “This world is a bit mad, isn’t it? You’re not alone…”, sharing in the all too common sense of being overwhelmed by modern life.
Ironically I walked away from the exhibition feeling uplifted, reassured that I was not alone in my anxieties or my point of view on society. Though I felt somewhat conflicted; the sensations and thoughts triggered, and the presence of various stages of technology, the style and effects of the videos, were all things I have been trying to achieve in my own work. It was good to know that it was possible, but a little disheartening to see how much more comprehensively it could be done.
By this point my deadline for new work has passed and I have only exhibition set up left to influence the end result. I feel that the different elements present in this exhibition were important to it’s overall impact so I intend to pursue including more than just my video so as to spark an experience.