JocJonJosch are an Anglo-Swiss collective based in London. Their exhibition, ‘Foot-Kroku-Zvuk-Klingen’ (a corrupted translation from German, Czech to English of Footfall) sets out to explore the act of digging. Through their use of earth installations, hand drawings, videos and vintage style photography JocJonJosch create a display that ultimately fails to define itself or to break fresh ground on the subject.
The first thing you are met with is a pile of earth in a flat circle. Dried out and arranged without precision in a dimly lit room, the solidified circle contains the memory of footprints within it. It’s necessary to consult the exhibition information for guidance on what should be a pretty straight forward subject to explore.
A video of the three members of JocJonJosch is downstairs. They dig a hole in an undisclosed location. This, on repeat with a virtually static camera, does little to immerse the viewer in the act but seems to serve simply to show that they are not afraid to get their hands dirty.
Adjacent are a collection of black and white photographs of some of the dirt-based installations. Oddly, a lot of the interventions themselves cannot be seen as they have been marked over in white. This detracts from the visual element of the artwork, as if JocJonJosch had second thoughts themselves about their impact.
What’s most interesting about these photographs is not the foregrounded structures themselves but the context they are located within. With the earth works sat within mountainous valleys or next to concrete tower blocks, these images are the closest JocJonJosch come to effective story-telling, hinting at the relationship that earth has with the everyday in all its humour and absurdity. One that stands out most is of a mud brick tower. It is framed and presented as if something found in a book on vernacular architecture and is interesting in material terms, for despite being seen as perhaps an out-dated material, mud-bricks are remain common to modern-day construction.
The last sculpture in the exhibition is of three adjoining spades. Although it is a well-made enough object, it seem at odds with the concept of the show. Presented cleanly and elegantly, it feels like a product that wouldn’t look out of place in a design showroom. Why not show the actual three spades by the group and present them dirt and all? The piece is disjointed in an already loosely organised show.
The exhibition suffers somewhat from under-development and under-explanation. There are two large drawings featured, both black lines on white canvas in an abstract pattern. Though unremarkable these potentially hint at the patterns walked during performances or the grid references of unknown locations. These influences are not illuminated. Sounds, data, human effort, even sweat, are resources untapped within this exhibition.
The Sisyphean nature of digging and whatever satisfactory metaphors can be gleaned from it, has been more successfully explored by artists such as Cultural Highjack’s 2013 intervention in Bedford Square, digging and refilling the same hole over a week. The earlier project links neatly into the never ending development and construction of cities and the myriad issues of the labour force much more successfully than ‘Foot-Kroku-Zvuk-Klinge’ is able to achieve.
The exhibition offers no particular conclusion from these activities, nor does it unearth any hidden depths, meanings or visually impressive results. Playing at digging may well be a fun activity for a few friends but as it is still the basis of livelihood of thousands of labourers it comes across as self-congratulatory. You need only look outside the gallery at the ongoing construction of Hanbury Street to see a more meaningful real-life relationship between people and digging.