On the left wall of Jack West’s current solo show ‘Time and Attendance’ at Castor is ‘Karoshi’ (2017). The work consists of thin aluminium segments of disc-like shapes set into the top half of a vertically mounted piece of ebonised oak. Beneath the aluminium, a mesh of black rubber strips is entangled and fall to the bottom of the oak. The rubber smells, not pungently, but enough to evoke its human fabrication. ‘Karoshi’ translates from Japanese as ‘overwork death’ – to be worked to death. But there are no people present in West’s show, only machines.
The sculpture stems from its virtual self in the video diptych ‘Double Six’ (2017). A key discourse in West’s practice is the toing and froing between objects designed and placed into CGI environments, as well as being translated into three-dimensional objects that exist in reality. West’s role as director / designer is exciting and refreshing.
The focus here is on his video work. Two other videos flank ‘Double Six’ and are each mounted on two floor to ceiling metal supports. In them, various machines undertake tasks with no meaning while emitting the sounds of the actions performed – chains dragging along surfaces, squeaking wheels, metal hitting surfaces. In these videos the camera pans around, over and under the subjects, at times causing mild sensations of vertigo. The videos exist in a digital purgatory with nothing around them apart from pixels and hyperbolic colour palettes emulating materials we know.
‘Double Six’ is displayed in the centre of the back wall and is the most painterly of the video works on show. Comprised of two flat-screen televisions that are vertically mounted with a thin gap between them, the composition covers both screens and remains still, accentuating the individual movements of the machines that exist in rows on each screen. There is an obvious nod towards the works of Hieronymus Bosch, with minute details and singular narratives appearing throughout the composition. The sky slips from light pink to light blue and feels vulgar and deeply artificial, further adding to the otherworldliness that holds the viewer to the spot they stand on. On the left screen, slowly rotating coloured discs with golden coin-like objects fall from the sky into a funnel. A boulder is slowly being pushed up an angled gangway that extends to the other side of the screen. Here, it falls down another gangway on the right-hand screen, a vibrating object of various bits seems as if it is about to malfunction. To its right, another hanging object, dark red, is being struck like a pendulum by two wrenches. Below this, in the far-left corner of the screen, are a series of wheels and chains. On the right-hand screen, a larger disc hangs, with internal mechanisms slowly opening and closing. Below it are two rows of pointed dark red objects which spin on an axel, stabbing white buttons into trays. At first, the movement is in unison but soon they fall out of time with one another. As the loop ends the screen becomes the pink to blue sky before starting again. The sounds of these various functions are isolated, echoing ever so slightly in the tall ceilings of the space.
The diptych, like his other video works, is utterly hypnotising and retains a strong air of playfulness. Yet, the redundancy of the functions of the machines combined with smell of rubber and the fabricated sounds of the machines reminds the viewer of Britain’s lost industry (perhaps with a twinge of nostalgia). The connotations of ‘Karoshi’ re-surface – machines of many forms create a situation of overwork. The exhibition reflects too on the current iterations of industrial labour around the world and the ever-increasing development of automated machinery. Mankind cannot keep up. ‘They say it will take our jobs – you can’t trust it’ reads the press release and one thing West’s work shines a light on, subtly, is the power of money and what humans will do for it.