Flat Time House, 210 Bellenden Road, London, SE15 4BW

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Stuart Whipps: Birth Springs, Death Falls
Flat Time House
10 January - 10 February 2013
Review by Karl Musson

Five shale bings in West Lothian, known as The Five Sisters, were designated as Historic Monuments in the 1970s. By contrast, there is a hole in the map of the Snowdia National Park where shale bings rendered the landscape unsuitable to be considered as national park. How we categorise the world would seem to be one of the more central elements to Birth Springs, Death Falls, the suitably complex and multi-layered exhibition by Stuart Whipps.

We are introduced to the exhibition by a number of works in the front room of Flat Time House, one of which is a C Print of the Five Sisters. Its title is ‘Five Sisters. A view of the shale bings in West Calder. In 1976 Latham developed a feasibility study for his Scottish Office placement where he reconceived of the shale bings as being process-sculptures’ (2012). One is first struck by the beauty of the image and Whipps’ impressive photographic competence, but also striking is how evidently man-made these five hills are. Evidence of something but the photograph can’t tell us what.

As one moves further into the gallery, along a narrow corridor as if a tunnel, ‘Set up for the production of a 16mm stop frame animation depicting 92 pages of highlighted and underlined text from John Latham’s collection. The animation will be made during the exhibition’ (2013), begins to excavate the nature of identification, selection and categorisation. This work is showing the production of a film, which will become a loop, but by contrast the text is, as a book, linear. In essence, the film is from what Latham selected. All of the works in this exhibition have highly descriptive titles and this seems to fit well with this investigation into categorisation.

There is a Sufi exercise about reading whereby one reads a book, crosses out everything one understands, then re-reads it. This presents the reader with the opportunity to gain new understanding. In a way, Whipps has achieved this presentation of an opportunity by doing the opposite. We are shown what Latham has selected, and invited to consider why these selections.

At the back of Flat Time House is ‘7.56 medium format slides with synchronised audio that depict shale samples, locations in West Lothian and material from John Latham’s archive. The audio track is a reading from books in John Latham’s collection. The content of the reading is directed by Latham’s highlighting and underlining’ (2012). Shale mining and resultant bings come to convey mining of text and mining of the world for meaning; a seemingly deep human need.

What becomes apparent is that the five hills resting serenely within a beautiful C Print are also by-products of mining, and they do not readily reveal their history without active excavation from the viewer. In order to learn from information we tend to form categories. Whipps does not make historic monuments of archival processes. Indeed, he challenges them. But he also does not leave holes in the map of his research area.

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