What do you think of when you think of an island? A gorgeous white beach with swinging palms? A rocky, deserted enclave battered by storms? Or do you find the word has more cerebral connotations – reminding you of isolation, a feeling of being at sea, or that you’ll never own one of your own on a journalist’s salary?
Maia Conran’s current exhibition at Kingsgate Workshops manages to conjure all this and much, much more. At once dark, slippery and intensely contemporary, the work here prods at and pulls apart its central motif in multiple ways – so many, in fact, that more keep occurring to you long after you leave.
Conran’s starting point was an eerily and unpredictably-wrought screenplay about a marooned islander, co-authored with novelist Yannick Hill – we’re given a page from it along with the gallery blurb. It occupies a place of possibility and provisionality that stands in pleasing contrast to the more polished quality of the recorded extract from it played under a sound dome in the main space.
We’re greeted, quite literally, by grainy footage of an odd little man (who turns out to be Russian choreographer Léonide Massine) and a splendid estate of island villas on a wall-mounted iPad. “Welcome to my island …” he announces tinnily, and we dutifully follow the specially-made, curved wooden wall into the rest of the darkened gallery – a solid articulation of an island within the exhibition space that also acts as divide, projection screen and sculptural element.
YouTube sifting, it seems, is Conran’s current activity of choice. As well as Massine and his oddly enchanting introduction, she’s projected another clip dug from the more bizarre reaches of the site. ‘One Trip Around The Rotating Restaurant Atop The Western Bonaventure Hotel’ does as the title suggests, LA’s skyline at night glittering away as we catch glimpses of visitors inside this most iconically postmodern of buildings. Its inclusion here feels like a layered mediation on what it means to film and be filmed, to watch and be surveilled. This is thanks to the hotel’s fame as a Hollywood location that’s endlessly filmed by tourists (who apparently often just record each other), helped along by the projector and sound dome that hint at ideas around technology of control.
The voice reading a monologue from Hill’s text is amplified through the dome - landing over you like a sound shower. You find you can’t help but look at the constant loop of the Bonaventure while listening to the uncanny narrator talking about iced tea, a mysterious captor and an untold joke – an example, I think, of Conran’s unerring ability to carefully channel us through the space, subtly ensuring we absorb each work as iterations of the same idea.
Lastly, a short homemade video of two women’s wonderfully apt in-car conversation – they discuss what they’re filming and the potential opening of a Cineplex – while driving repeatedly round a roundabout, seems unscripted but uncannily apt. It sums up the blur between provisional and finished, scripted and improvised, that this show does so successfully. It’s these varying degrees of loose ends that give this work its weight, and provide so much for the viewer to go home with.