Revolver, Part II, Matt’s Gallery
Review by Eliza Apperly
In the second installation of Matt’s Gallery’s ‘Revolver’, the focused artistic encounter again co-exists with evolving, perhaps revolving, visual and conceptual associations. In a display which separates, without severing, its three artists and artworks, the viewer experiences both discreet and developing dialogues and, like bullets, the singular and powerful impact of each unique work. For Tai Shani, one of the three exhibiting artists, the singular space given to each artist and artwork is indicative of Matt’s display ethos - a concentrated version of a curatorial stance which ‘always puts the work first’. For Anna Barham, each work is similarly absorbing and isolated, yet also inter-related: ‘I’ve got an image of Russian roulette in my mind - you could spin the show(s) across all 3 parts and see and connect the individual works in any order and create connections between them’.
As Barham points out, the gallery layout complements this play between independent and associated work, with its empty buffer zones between each room. ‘Revolver’s import arguably occurs as much in these interconnecting vestibules as it does in front of the work of Shani, Barham and Graham Gussin. Here, between viewings, significance settles, and then shifts with each new encounter.
Shani’s ‘Headless/Senseless’ (2011) presents 13 lenticular prints accompanied by a dense, dreamy audio script recounting the lives and fictions of two actresses, Annie Paradise and Jean Heller. Like all of Shani’s multi-layered performances, the piece condenses reality layers into one labyrinthine vocal trail. Piling fiction upon fiction, Shani’s script presents the actress Annie Paradise (‘it’s only a stage name’) recalling her performance as another actress, Jean Heller, who was decapitated. Over-identification, intersection, recollection, dream and desire collide. As, too, do temporal domains, and the ultimate temporal boundary between living and death: ‘On page 78, I’m alive, but on page 79, I’m not’‘
The co-existence of tenses in one material script finds visual reiteration in the box-framed lenticular prints which pick up on strands of the scripted soundtrack. This 1920s technology allows a succession of still images to be layered into a vision of motion or two separate pictures to morph into one another. For Shani it was the ‘perfect media’ to condense her preoccupation with the encapsulation of time. As we walk around the thickly-framed, flat surfaces, photography and film intersect. As we move, people and objects move. From different viewing angles, a head turns, an outfit changes, a wig is put on and then removed. Cabs crawl up a New York avenue and pages of a script fall one by one to the floor. Only occasionally does the gallery lighting, reflecting off the thick box frames, detract from these intricate encasements of motion through time.
In Graham Gussin’s ‘Lens’ (2012) temporal and narrative layers similarly superpose in a series of 22 photographs of a deserted hotel on the Atlantic coast in Portugal. The hotel is situated close to the furthest western point of Europe and was used as the main location in Wim Wenders’ 1982 film-within-a-film ‘The State of Things’, which tells the story of a film crew who become stranded in Portugal while shooting a science-fiction movie. Gussin’s photographs replicate both the sepia tone of the first ten minutes of Wenders’ film, and the post-apocalyptic setting of its meta-film, ‘The Survivors.’ The hotel is seemingly abandoned: empty sun loungers, vacant pool, a deserted lobby and bar. So unpopulated, the building’s smooth architectural curves, white-washed walls and columns sweep out above the wash of the ocean and the light upon water like some cultural artefact, at once mythologized, melancholy and ominous against the glare of the sun and rhythm of the waves.
The architectural ruin is integral to Anna Barham’s ‘Arena’, a richly evocative piece in Barham’s long and ongoing project of writing and generating work with anagrams. The work presents a modular amphitheatre structure in MDF and wood, in and across which plays a recording of the artist reading her book ‘Return to Leptis Magna’ (2010), composed entirely of anagrams of its title. ‘Pen Torrential Gamuts / Pun Torrential Games / Strum Potential Range / Outstrip Mental Range’. On and on the verbal matter winds like a 3D acoustics, moulding, building and re-building construct and connotations from the same letter units. The amphitheatre structure becomes at once a sculpture, a plinth, seating and a stage, projecting the viewer / listener as a performer who constructs her or his own meaning or meanings from the dense, figurative lexical play. At the same time, the classical architectural form counters the democratisation of language and the artwork with its allusions to the infinite efforts throughout history to orchestrate power through edifice or language or both. Barham’s work insists upon language’s capacity for organic and every day evolution, but simultaneously reminds us of the countless authorities contained within words and walls.
With three deeply eloquent works Matt’s Gallery has unquestionably maintained ‘Revolver’s exciting momentum. Rich with thought, reverberating with common concerns, Part II is a brilliant, brooding and buzzing show, a must-see in itself and an enticing precursor to ‘Revolver’s third and final installation.