Reflections on Time-Based Media Exhibition at UCL Art Museum
By Helen R Cobby, on 27 February 2014
1 – 5pm Monday to Friday, until Friday 28th March
This exhibition gathers together some of the most prolific time-based work from UCL Art Museum’s growing collection, which centre around the dependence upon and manipulation of technology with respect to time. The artists exhibiting are graduates from the Slade School and have each been awarded the annual William Coldstream Memorial Prize that selects outstanding achievements over the whole academic year. This accounts for the diverse collections of artwork on display, illustrating the eclectic variety of contemporary time-based media works.
It is a refreshing and new type of exhibition for the UCL Art Museum, completely immersed in technology, conceptual installations and time-based media techniques. You will be greeted by many television screens that allow for a sense of unity to the works and for you to make comparisons between the way some of the themes are expressed. The screens are also placed with enough distance for each piece to be absorbed in contemplative isolation. Intriguing sounds also drift around the gallery, enticing you to follow your senses and discover and explore their source.
Main themes of the exhibition include the manipulation of time and space, the questioning of identity and binary oppositions (such as the natural and the manmade), notions of construction and defamiliarisation, and the action of collaboration – whether it is between people, objects, sounds or mediums.
Chris Cornish’s film piece entitled ‘so it goes’, 2004, lucidly presents a dialogue between the natural and the manmade. He takes information and objects from historical and virtual sources and transfers them to ‘real’, ‘natural’ spaces in the form of various artistic media. This juxtaposes the tangible with the intangible, ideas with concrete forms, and abstract elements with the figurative to produce new concepts of space and time. The filming is spread across two screens, which adds to the theme and effects of duality, and juxtaposing the organic or the natural with the manmade. However, this particular duality is complicated, and straightforward or traditional binaries are discouraged, partly because the manmade forms depicted elicit a sense of permanence while nature appears ephemeral and even fragile. The ‘natural’ scenes even seem bereft and yearning for manmade interventions; this melancholic element is emphasised by the muted, monochromatic colours used throughout.
Tessa Power’s silent video ‘Channel’, 2010, extrapolates Cornish’s exploration of potential dialogues between the natural and the manmade by literally blurring the animal with the human. Figures are portrayed with animal masks in an unnatural, surreal and even absurd environment in a humorous yet discomforting way. The mixing of human and animal identity is continued in Marianna Simnett’s artwork, ‘Dog’ from 2013. In this, the artist explores adaptation between different species, particularly that between a dog and its (human) master. The humour here has a critical, subversive edge that attempts to undo hierarchies between man and dog. The wonderful, and startling, close-up shots emphasise the relationships and similarities between dogs and their owners. These shots also add an intriguing sense of physicality and tactility to the work.
In contrast, the installation, ‘A Printers’ Symphony’, 2013, by Dana Ariel, Julia McKinlay, Eleanor Morgan and Georgina Tate, relies heavily on sound in the interaction of the printing process and its output. These artists worked collaboratively to record the aural elements produced in a printing room, which are often otherwise lost. By emphasising this as the main component of their work, the artists question where a work of art begins and ends, and what can be put on show within an exhibition. Does art need to have a material essence and presence? What constitutes as the traces of artistic production? There are printed images presented as accompaniments or ‘traces’ of this aural and invisible side to printing. The artists will be giving a lunch-hour performance on Tuesday 4th March at 1pm in UCL Art Museum, providing the opportunity to find out more about their practice and this particular artwork from the makers themselves.
Overall, this is an unusual, thoughtful and stimulating exhibition that offers insight into the world of time-based media. It reflects on the creative output produced in, or inspired by, the Slade School of Art in a detailed and complex way. Humour and playfulness run through each of the works, adding to the enjoyment of the viewing process.
Helen Cobby is a volunteer at UCL Art Museum and an MA History of Art student at UCL.