Charlotte Prodger’s quavering voice is distinctive, with a strange, almost painfully self-conscious inflection. Hers is a voice that feels alien but wants to be heard.
She speaks over much of ‘Stoneymollan Trail’, the exhibition’s filmic centrepiece, which takes its name from a historic walking path in central Scotland. The 51-minute film is less of a stomping journey than a ramshackle mixtape drawn from a forgotten hard drive in the footwell of a car. We shift from shaky footage of Cromarty oil rigs to a glowing flight dashboard, to an urban fox twitching on a mattress, to mountains shot through a car window, overlaid by techno music. Prodger’s narration is consistently near-monotone, whether describing the syntax of subversive sexual encounters or the blank expressions of three teenage boys at a BSL signing class (neither of which appear in visual form).
The editing process is signalled through deadpan descriptions of each shot (“Goat bells 1”, “Goat bells 2”) and the textural meshing of video formats produces sequences that suffer digital decay or pixel death. Hito Steyerl writes, “The ‘poor image’ is no longer about the real thing - the originary original. Instead, it is about its own real conditions of existence: about swarm circulation, digital dispersion, fractured and flexible temporalities.” Prodger’s ‘Stoneymollan Trail’ certainly plays on a fracturing of time, place and motive: long shots are pursued by jarring cuts, locations and subject matter seem arbitrary, and screens are omnipresent. At one point, Prodger circles a tripod incessantly - her movements reflected in a blank television.
The accompanying presentation of sculptural objects feels differently unresolved: coolly minimal and distant, a scrapbook of objects searching for a vocabulary that sticks. On a tiny television, a hand dips through a screen of pond water, and a little fish wriggles in and out of reach. A regiment of thin snow-camouflage ponchos are splayed flat and pressed between perspex, an ordered chaos in which petals of ink blotches routinely interrupt the pale cloth.
Some of the objects have more presence. Lorry curtains are normally thick and colourful tarpaulin, designed to disguise their cargo, but Prodger’s are concrete grey and constructed with an open-weave gauze. Hung heavily on either side of the gallery, they can be peered through, albeit admitting vision that is gridded like a video screen. There’s also a series of false electrical outlet covers in distinct industrial shades, perching beside their assigned sunken plugs, waiting to be kicked into place.
What to make of an exhibition in which everything is unfinished or disguised or deflects attention? There is some elucidation - there’s a film transcript available to read - but there’s no sum of these parts. “We always, always have a story” are Prodger’s final words in ‘Stoneymollan Trail’. But if anything, ‘8004 - 8019’ is a queering of the exhibition narrative, a clear refusal to tell a coherent ‘story’. The frames, the grids and the perfect structures are in place, but my gaze slips through the glass and gaps and glitches of the screen. In one of the quietest but most striking film sequences, Prodger directs a camera towards her face in bright daylight. She gazes steadily but sunbeams flare off the lens, obscuring her expression. She gives nothing away.