The artist’s largest solo exhibition to date, this vast installation takes up the entire 7,800 square feet of BALTIC’s Level 3 gallery. The work takes as its starting point Pickering’s research into the histories of community video, participatory film and television production and their live transmission, producing a series of immersive time-based installations that focus on problematising the image of community and our own contemporary relationship to the moving image.
One enters the exhibition through the membranous architectural intervention ‘She was a Visitor’ (2014), a cyclorama lit with an intense red light. A screen interface commonly used to produce immersive backdrops for television and film, its empty monochrome light permeates the darkened exhibition space beyond.
From here, we pass into ‘Corridors’ (2014), an unlit passageway running the length of the space. In a black and white film, a plant rests on a table, the image appearing cyan as a negative afterimage and flickering as though it might be a closed circuit feed. Two characters appear at the table and a muted ‘interview’ begins. A largely inert scene punctuated by moments of inaudible speech, the shot itself is awkward in composition as if retrieved from the cutting room floor. Further along the corridor two large rocks float like space debris from the central film installation ‘Near Real Time’ (2014) and on a nearby monitor, a quasi-psychedelic montage of footage reflects the viewer’s own movement through the space.
Stepping into the back area, two monitors present close-ups of mummified remains in ‘Karaoke’ (2013-14). One screen shows a still image of a shroud-like object flickering on and off, as if the apparatus is suffering intermittent loss of power or signal, while a series of comments (‘the bag smells, nah its the flesh… lift it… oh my god… we’ll go through here then down…’) are voiced against workplace noises, forming a narrative that is part-excavation, part-autopsy. The synchronicity between the presence of the image and this voiceover of ‘train-of-thought’ reactions evidences a schema of production behind its informal tone. Here, as in the films of ‘Corridors’, information loss inherent to this particular material is alternately referenced and recreated.
In a large central space, the 3-channel video installation ‘Near Real Time’ (2014) is installed across three freestanding rear projection screens in zigzag formation. In the work, a group of young women adopt various poses and move props around on a theatre stage, looking at each other as if waiting for a cue. In other scenes, a TV studio becomes a black void, the characters move choreographically and speak directly to the camera (in conversation with each other) as they are orbited by the camera and a light. The soundtrack links segments of speech and image in a
rhythmic composition. Lights of a distant town ebb and fade as a voice narration considers the fate of community in a decentralised media landscape. A lit cigarette slowly eats away at its own surface onto which the words ‘Near Real Time’ are sketched.
The voices are out of sync with the video in parts; individuals speak in a collective voice, describing both their physical environment and the production of the image, as well as the nature of their anticipated immortalisation in film. In lines such as “Not today. Why? Because I haven’t done anything special today,” there is an ambiguity as to whether the action is historical material enacted or simply the actors ‘playing themselves,’ a theatrical mirror speech in which history is brought into (productive) disorder. In others, a voice says ‘I can hear your heart beating’, echoing what the artist read in the original footage as a form of action theatre, an improvisational and reflexive performance technique. Is what one sees here personal politics extracted from the collective action of a militant cinema?
During her research process Pickering digitised a series of the original videotape reels, the only remaining recordings of the live transmissions made by Vidéogazette (1973-1976), a collective of activists and technicians in Villeneuve. In a desire to ‘liberate television’ and to build a community in control of their own image, they taught fellow citizens how to use lightweight audio-visual equipment and broadcast the result on live television. This material legacy not only undergoes material entropy but its resonance alters as the time, place, and subject of its address changes. In ‘The Militant Image: A Cine-Geography’, Ros Gray charges global neoliberalism with producing a “condescension of the present towards the archive” that makes reconstructing and analysing alternative experimental filmmaking an important task. However, when issues of media regulation addressed by this history have shifted with the advent of online platforms and distribution, how is this material relevant to theorising the politics of the image in the present?
By employing modern day moving-image equipment and standards (including 4K resolution) in combination with vintage 1970s video cameras, Pickering establishes a site of contestation. Sublimely distant from the precarity of both the media movement and material it references, the work nonetheless addresses some of the problems with mobilising media histories towards a present day collective imaginary. Inspired by a community built on shared technology and training, ‘Mirror Speech’ generates new community life from old in the simple act of production.
To mark the closing of the exhibition a live performance of ‘She was a Visitor’ will take place on Sunday 11th January 2015, 3pm Level 3 Gallery, BALTIC Gateshead