ROWING, Unit F, 449 Holloway Road, London N7 6LJ

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Francesco Pedraglio: ‘Frank!’
Rowing, London
1 December 2012 - 9 February 2013
Review by Tom Snow

The current exhibition at recently-opened Rowing project space on Holloway Road in North London is the latest presentation of thoughts, ideas and objects by artist and writer Francesco Pedraglio.

Frank! Who or what is Frank!’ A collection of miscellaneous objects fill the small white cube gallery space. Two monitors on the floor, a plaster cast of a teapot, a selection of walking sticks, a carpet, a length of red material’ By the entrance door a pair of bright yellow training shoes sits on a doormat. Am I supposed to take my shoes off’ Is someone else here’ Or is it a spare pair, someone’s second pair perhaps’ Is this FRANK’ As in, ‘talk to FRANK’. The guy who is supposed to offer ‘friendly confidential drug advice’ to students’ They look like the sort of shoes he’d wear.

If I find myself participating in this mysterious narrative, it is because my inquisitiveness is aroused by a kind of reflexive ambiguity. Like reading the fragments of a story, or a page torn roughly out of a newspaper, Frank! seems to drag you in. Not physically, Frank! is nowhere to be seen. The attempt to match up the disarrayed objects seems premeditated. One of the monitors plays a short film on loop and repeats variations on ‘if you give them enough rope’.’ as if only a fraction of something is on offer. Flicking between the image of a knife stabbed into a wooden chair, and footage of people having a party, the eerie voice eventually finishes off the idiom, ‘they’d end-up hanging themselves’; adding ‘and that’s about it’.

Perception is constantly foiled by deception. On the one hand, the installation feels like a displaced domestic setting, or a crime scene mock-up. But on the other, it could be the left over props on a Berthold Brecht theatre set. ‘If it makes it easier for you, let’s think of the entire situation as a constructed fiction, a planned-out story. Note that this is not really the case: our character is real’’ So tells the press-release-cum-exhibition-guide-cum-script’. ‘or at least as real as you or me or the objects you see scattered around the room’.

Frank! was premised with a performance by Pedraglio on November 30th, and in its current manifestation is just the first half of a two-part exhibition. The second half will feature eight other artists collaborating with Pedraglio in various unexpected ways, beginning 11th January. A second performance with collaborators will take place at 8pm on January 16th. So we aren’t going to get to find out who or what Frank! really is just yet. Although maybe that’s the point. Pedraglio is interested in the construction and deconstruction of storytelling. This exhibition seems to make the audience think through a series of inconsistencies and breaks, starts and stops. The other monitor plays fragments of found footage showing various members of the public recite the lines ‘So much depends upon, a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rain water, beside the white chickens,’ from William Carlos Williams’ 1923 poem, ‘The Red Wheelbarrow’.

Williams’ verse relies heavily on imagery. The line ‘So much depends upon’ premises descriptions of a red wheelbarrow, collating a set of descriptive clues concerning the circumstance of the object in question. Pedraglio’s installation works along a similar logic. However, in this instance there is no clear articulation of the object in question, just the clue ‘Frank!’. The photographs, plaster casts and other objects in the room act more as forensic fragments intended to stimulate curiosity. From this perspective, Pedraglio is calling signage systems of language, symbols, sounds and associations into question. Because we naturally associate the word Frank with a person, we believe we can discover his identity and expect it will be revealed.

Although the exhibition is about Frank!, it seems of equal importance to note the focus given to ‘you’ the viewer. At the heart of the semiotic interplay between objects and narrative is the question of how the viewer relates to the hints and suggestions available throughout. Irreconcilability between things on show instigates a kind of participation; and this brand of participation is one that will engage a viewer’s inquisitiveness long after the ‘pretext’ of this exhibition.

Read Tom Snow’s review of Frank! Part II

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