Anna Barham: Not Quite Tonight Jellylike
Arcade Fine Arts, London
10 October - 9 November 2013
Review by Yvette Greslé
Two high definition video screens side by side: during the course of 32 minutes, the experience is of visual and sonic immersion. Initially, this is so all-consuming that how the space of the work is inhabited has less to do with critical, conscious thought, and more to do with affect and what feels like bodily immersion in sound and image. Images appear randomly selected and detached from any linear narrative structure. This includes close-up video footage of a UV ink jet printer; an owl; the swirling visual effect of black ink as it is dropped into liquid; the internal mechanics of computers; the interiors of virtual bodies; and a bed with crumpled linen. Two speakers, behind the viewer, transmit sound - the voice of the artist, Anna Barham, as she narrates texts in an ambiguous relationship to the images. Barham says, at one point, ‘nothing in particular, one part of the machine’; we see the printer, hear the sound it makes, then the screens black out, only to come alive once again.
Barham’s video ‘Double Screen (not quite tonight jellylike)’ was produced this year following residencies at Site Gallery and Wysing Arts Centre. This is her second solo exhibition at Arcade. She has used rudimentary speech recognition and speech synthesis software to generate many different versions of a text. The original text (from which the variations are generated) was written by the curator and writer Bridget Crone for another purpose but entered into a dialogue with Barham’s work during the Site residency. The ‘jellylike’ of Barham’s title conveys ideas about things without hard edges and borders. Indeed porous-ness and squelchy-ness is referred to throughout (‘I seem porous’, we hear her say).
The lines between different kinds of knowledge systems are repeatedly obscured. Owls, for example, suggest entry points that, thought about across time and place, could relate to visual orders arcane, scientific or arbitrary: ‘time flattened out to enter into the flow of more images’, the voice says. Repeated footage of the printer, and hands preparing a paper surface for printing, opens up a discourse about the historical production of texts, images and their dissemination into the 21st century. Printing is at the centre of world history and its relation to technological developments, labour, political events and the circulation of ideas.
The longer we stay with the work the more patterns, and structures, both in image and sound, emerge. Images repeat, as do phrases and words - they are reconfigured and transformed, similarly to musical improvisation, or to practices that, whether filmic, poetic or philosophical, are invested in the idea that nothing in the world is straightforward. Relations between human beings, and objects, knowledge systems, machines and so forth are often opaque, and not necessarily clearly delineated. Their meaning is contingent on who is speaking, looking and listening at any particular time. In an age of the internet and digital technology, knowledge (the worlds of texts and images) appears especially labyrinthine, malleable, and subject to all kinds of unprecedented distortions and hybridisations.