Review by Sally Mumby-Croft
Upon entering James Richards at Chisenhale, the viewer is greeted with five rows of diagonally aligned school canteen benches set upon a specifically installed green carpet. The film drifts across the two diagonally opposing screens and the audience swivel on their benches to catch the fragmented sequences. Richards has combined sound, audio and sculpture to immerse the viewer within the presentation of the film.
At the Chisenhale, the sculptural element takes its form within the room’s layout; the green walls mimic and absorb the green carpet and upon arrival the visitor views the space and those present as if within a stage. These tendencies towards the theatrical are exaggerated through the grey rectangular canvases mounted behind and adjacent the screens. Do these canvases mimic soundproofing’ Or do they represent the props of a play, which are transformed though the audiences trust, into the objects they are said to represent’
Unlike the usual darkened room of an artist’s film screening or cinema, Richards’ projection more closely resembles the lightness we are accustomed to when watching TV or viewing billboard advertisements. Instead of using the darkness to immerse the viewer, Richards’ holds the attention by jarring the relationship between sound and image.
Richards’ mediates on the methods and rhythm of editing and the relationship between sound and image. At times the levels of sound threaten to overwhelm, forcing the viewer to question the ‘naturalness’ of relationship between viewer, image, sound and interpretation. The original function of an image can be removed and manipulated within the editing process. It becomes difficult to tell which is Richards’ own footage and which is found, though in this setting does it matter which is which’ Is Richards’ not asking the viewer to question what they are seeing and how they think they understand it’
In a forest inhabited by crickets a cigarette falls repeatedly. The accompanying splat breaks the reverie and highlights this endless (non) movement. Lo-fi 3D Gifs appear on the screen, an everyday object, a light bulb rolls rocks from side to side, endlessly, silently. In another scene, an empty yard, filmed in night vision documents a trickle of Reindeer turning into a stampede, from where does this footage originate’ It transpires it is originally from a BBC Programme named Tribe.
Within the film’s push/pull rhythm, the pace pauses twice. A poem: Slowly: a plainsong from an older woman to a younger woman by Judy Grahn is accompanied by super 8 like images of a tree. These treetops, appear to be almost still, their calm movements hold the projection screen before giving way into the slow abstracted movement of a person showering. Is Richards’ asking us to question the endless stream of narration - what are we viewing, seeing, hearing and why’ Are we viewing or being viewed’
James Richards at Chisenhale is an exercise in listening, viewing and questioning. The film’s movement captures the attention whereas the sound creates a break, a disjunction. Silence brings us back into contact with the image, and it’s relation to the room you are occupying and the benches you are siting upon.