Hilary Lloyd at Raven Row, review by Rye Holmboe
Retrospectively, what is perhaps most striking about Hilary Lloyd‘s exhibition at Raven Row is its restrained use of space. There are only five works in an exhibition that was conceived three years ago. And each work occupies its own room in a building that comprises at least seven. The effect is almost minimalist.
I say almost because I think minimalist is a misleading adjective when trying to describe these works and the space in which they operate. In the first work, Motorway, four projectors hang from the ceiling. Each casts an image onto a white wall of bulky, rusted steel girders, each from a different perspective. That the projectors are the objects the spectator first sees rather than the projections themselves gains added importance as the exhibition progresses. The images look like film stills or photographs. The camera is unmotivated, inert. There is no symbolism or anecdote present.
Yet this apparent minimalism is traversed with difference. As time passes you become aware of barely perceptible movements within each frame. What appeared to be a still life is in perpetual motion. Then there is the sound of cars that grows and fades into the distance. It could easily be mistaken for the noise of the street outside but is in fact produced by a speaker behind the viewer. The sound denotes the movement of things external to the field of vision. Were it not for this one might read the work as a tautological meditation on the opacity of material reality. But the sound suggests that the emphasis should be placed not only on the subject-matter or on the raw materiality of the steel girders - their ‘objecthood,’ but also on the awareness that the reality outside the four frames remains unknown. Motorway offers a realist aesthetic, a form of Brechtian anti-illusionism. But it is an aesthetic that ultimately undermines the spectator’s ability to know.
A repetitive and industrious sound can be heard as you climb the stairs to the next room. The expectation is to come upon some form of mechanical productivity. Instead you are faced with a screen mounted vertically on two piston-like steel tubes. The screen is split horizontally. The same jolty shot of a crane is repeated at various speeds in both the upper and lower halves, although the image is never present for much longer than a second. The spectator’s gaze is ceaselessly dislocated. A similar effect is achieved on the second floor in Tunnel, where two identical shots of an Italian town are played in rapid succession. The film looks like it has been recorded through the sunroof of a moving car. In both Crane and Tunnel the two images never synchronise. Coupled with the monotonous, mechanised sound that accompanies each successive shot, the works produce a feeling of anxiety. This unease is accentuated by their position in the gallery. To reach Crane you must first walk through an empty room so that when you initially see the work it is framed by two doorframes in a kind of mise-en-abyme. With Tunnel you first encounter the back of the monitor and the image is concealed until you walk around it. The positioning of both works thereby dramatises the ominous presence of the viewing apparatus as well as its almost sculptural quality. As with Motorway the stress is as much on ways of seeing as what is seen.
In Man, six projectors cast different videos made with what appears to be a hand-held camera. Each concentrates on a separate part of a photograph of a man in underwear. It looks like one of those pictures you come across in the window of a Soho bookshop. In Man, however, the various perspectives are anti-voyeuristic. The spectator is twice removed from the subject-matter. This, together with the fact that the image is never revealed in its entirety, does not allow the spectator to fetishise the man’s body. Indeed, there are moments when it is abstracted to the extent that it no longer appears to be a body. The irregular movements of the camera contrast with the stasis of the subject-matter and break the illusion that what the spectator sees is anything but a re-presentation. Unlike the immediacy of the original photograph or advertisement, here the emphasis is on surface, contour and spatial interval.
Similarly, Trousers comprises two identical photographs of a suited man projected one on top of the other. The slightly grainy, uneven surface of the image suggests that it has been taken from a fashion magazine, although I should think it is a photograph of a photograph. As time passes the images undergo several changes. Light envelops the lower half, then the image reappears, then both images disappear, and so on. As with the other works in the exhibition there is a complete absence of narrative but a marked emphasis on the image’s materiality.
Now, I do not want to reduce the five works to a common denominator. But what makes Hilary Lloyd‘s exhibition of such interest is the careful and deliberate distancing of the viewer from the subject-matter of each artwork. The works are anti-illusionistic, to be sure. But only up to a point. And if in structural film the viewer is affirmed in his ability to shape reality through an awareness of the activities that produce it - this no doubt underlies the prominent place of the viewing apparatus in each work ‘, here what at first could be described as literal or ‘real’ ultimately points to the limits of perception.
Raven Row, 56 Artillery Lane, London, E1
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