On view at Pump House Gallery is a group exhibition titled ‘Each fighting its own little battle in happy ignorance’. The exhibition is loosely based on Graham Greene’s 1934 novel ‘It’s a Battlefield’, both written and based in Wandsworth where Pump House Gallery is located. The book focusses upon the power and bureaucracy of a governing administration, a state of affairs kept in play at the expense of reason and to the detriment of the individual. The resonances of both book and exhibition extend naturally to the current global political climate.
On the ground floor of the exhibition are two works that bleed into each other – a video work by Tom McCaughan titled ‘Fan no longer holding shelf (with jelly)’ (2012) and Lawrence Abu Hamdan’s ‘Language Gulf In the Shouting Valley’ (2013). While watching McCaughan’s work, in which the artist tries and fails to allow a wooden shelf to levitate with the help of fan, Abu Hamdan’s work is heard loud and clear. In Abu Hamdan’s work we hear an essay on the politics of language, specifically the conditions faced by the displaced Druze community living between Israel/Palestine and Syria. Both works present situations that seem absurd or impossible – the placement of the works so that they bleed into one another augments this effect. On the floor above is Harun Farocki’s ‘How to Live in the FRG’, a video from 1990. The work is a compilation of instructions on how to eat, give birth, shoot a gun and make a sales pitch. Each scene prepares the individual for life, reminding us how reliant we are upon instruction and how much we strive for control over our lives both as individuals and as societies.
Over the next two floors are a second work by McCaughan and Lenka Clayton’s ‘Qaeda, quality, question, quickly, quickly, quiet’ (2002). Again these two works bleed into each other – it is impossible not hear Clayton’s work even when one is wearing the headphones provided with McCaughan’s. The effect adds to the sense of futility we feel – as, perhaps, are the artists’ intentions – when we experience both works. McCaughan’s video deals with the myth of self-sufficiency. The installation is set up in an attempt to physically power a MacBook’s LED screen and de-commodify the artist’s time and labour. All the components of the work were previously used for something else. All the while, via Clayton’s work, we hear George W. Bush’s voice repeating words multiple times. She has re-edited his State of the Union Address from 2002 so that the words are spoken alphabetically – the words ‘terrorist’ and ‘freedom’ occur repeatedly. This is a speech that made my stomach turn in 2002 and has the same impact in 2016 in its new form. Clayton’s work is a fitting way to end an exhibition about governmental powers that think, speak and act at the expense of the individual.