Reynir Hutber, ‘Stay Behind the Line’, review by Harry Blackett
In the past decade the everyday production of images has exploded, fuelled by cameraphones, social networking and a desire to fulfil ‘content’-heavy lifestyles. Simultaneously public surveillance has continued its sprawl; streets, buses and trains are pockmarked by mini-cams, often with monitors publicly feeding back the live image, and CCTV’s silent authoritarian presence has become normalised. These processes have established a type of anaesthesia in which the public is both implicated and dislocated. Through a series of relays and situations Reynir Hutber’s presentation at Grand Union attempts to deconstruct the status of surveillance and our perceived passivity towards it.
‘Stay Behind the Line’ is a re-configuration of a 2010 installation, which consists of a two by three metre cell-like structure and network of monitors and camera. Inside, the room is divided by a rope, next to a metal routed sign that reads ‘PLEASE STAY BEHIND THE LINE’. To the left a wall-mounted monitor, and to the right, behind the line, an angled camera films the empty room. The monitor plays a live feed from the camera: entering the room your feet appear at the top of the frame; the rest of screen is filled by the superimposed image of a naked, androgynous, twitching body. Hunched over submissively on all fours, perhaps praying or pleading, the figure (Hutber himself) immediately refers to scenes of prison torture and abuse from Afghanistan and Iraq. The viewer can decide to cross the line to ‘touch’ the body (this is the proposition set by the sign stating otherwise), but it’s a ghost image - the cell is now empty - and Hutber can’t be broken from his loop of nervous twitching.
The work implicates the viewer, though at significant remove. The audience is witness only to an after-image: despite appearing in the frame, they are positioned outside of the event. This distancing echoes the gap that we experience daily between event and mediated-image, whether a human atrocity or a seemingly innocuous CCTV stream. The clinical whiteness of the cell suggests something unspeakable - a wipe-clean surface for all the abuses you want to imagine. An ambient soundtrack of noise and interference leaks from the video setup, further amplifying the uneasy atmosphere.
Hutber places himself in lineage with 70s performance artists, most notably Marina Abramovic and Chris Burden, and ideas about endurance and the body are at the forefront of his work. The break with this tradition comes in his decision to channel his actions through video rather than live, sending the work in a (arguably appropriately) narcissistic direction. It is performance art for the myspace generation: a direct engagement with the action is denied due to its illusionary, digital nature, and the invitation for audience transgression is fleeting. It says ‘cross the line’ at the same time it disappears.
Alongside ‘Stay Behind the Line’ are three newer works (all 2012): ‘Reception’ is an intervention that employs the gallery invigilator to confiscate any cameras that enter the premises (though it is more of a gesture than vigilant policy). ‘Blind Sight’ is comprised of a kicking mechanism that irregularly bangs at the door of a locked cupboard in the project space. The action is documented and fed back into the gallery through a night-vision camera and fuzzy monitor. Hutber’s video installations build atmospheric networks in place of physical encounters. However, in ‘Blind Sight’ the ominous knocking and degraded, flickering image begin to tip over into psycho-horror pastiche (in particular recalling the dungeon aesthetic of the Saw film franchise), and it lacks the relative restraint of the other works.
‘Painter’ is a life-size video projection of the artist in painter’s overalls, roller in hand, painting the far wall of the gallery. As in ‘Stay Behind the Line’ his face is never revealed, and he appears a translucent, night-vision white - another ghost version of himself. He meditatively rolls over the same patch of wall, inferring the concealment of a previous wrong. Hutber’s work determines a distance between the spectator and the image, in terms of time, ethics and influence. He rarely goes further than to suggest a narrative, requiring the viewer to complete the circuit with their own projected reading. Yet whether the work can express more than a generalised culture of public apathy and disconnection, remains unclear. It may be that Hutber needs to re-engage liveness and action, or a form more certain than suggesting and ghosting.