James Coleman’s solo exhibition at Marian Goodman is made up of a selection of key pieces from 1970 to the present which provide the grounding for two new video works. Coleman deals with the poignance and potential of the filmic and photographic image. His works are monumental in scale and microscopic in their attention to detail, exploring his source material to expose its limits and possibilities.
In the piece ‘Ligne de Foi’ (1991), the artist re-stages the image ‘The Battle of Bull Run’, an American Civil War lithograph. While the original carries a certain political narrative, we are forced to question such meanings in this re-rendering. What we see is not a live action version of the original print, rather it is the staging of a moment, the composing of a picture that is never taken. Impotent of its political charge the image, like the actors in it, wanders aimlessly in eternal preparation. Despite the artist’s strong presence we remain strangely distanced from the work, never quite able to reach out and touch it. This sense of dislocation is also present in ‘Photograph’ (1998-99). The piece itself comprises a slideshow featuring images of what looks like the rehearsals for a children’s play, accompanied by a voice over, also by a young girl, describing an existential journey of emotional transition. Yet it is as much the blank periods in between the slides that instil the potentiality of the narrative. It is a case of us beginning to rebuild sense from the stripped down parts that Coleman offers up.
The first new work we encounter, ‘Still Life’, is a video of a poppy, uprooted yet upright with one falling petal and stem as if mid-explosion. Stare as you might, its almost impossible to notice the slight movements that take place in the image. What appears to be a moment of time paused is actually alive, shifting almost organically, deceiving our limited attention and blunt perception. The second new work, ‘Untitled’, occupies the entire top floor and is accordingly monumental. The piece uses an enormous LED screen on which is played a stuttering loop of families on a fairground ride. The rotating of the ride is like the faltering hands of a clock, marking time, time repeated. As we stand watching, undistracted by narrative or progression, we are rhythmically pushed by the impressive PA system, forced towards the wall by the dislocated throbbing of the soundtrack, the noise a record makes when it reaches its end. The direction of the speakers and their synced audio match the movement in the film creating a powerful and physical disconnection as one slips into a trance-like state.
This is Coleman’s real skill – the creation of trust through his precise understanding and manipulation of filmic codes and their interpretations, which in its very enactment puts us outside of complicity. We are left alone, looking for cultural sense in the mechanics but instead finding a whole lot of reality.