Tomorrow Never Knows, Jerwood Space. Review by Phoebe Dickerson
In emulation of Wyndham Lewis’s Blast, and deploying a similarly blocky, emphatic typeface, the literature that accompanies the current exhibition at the Jerwood Space, Tomorrow Never Knows, includes a manifesto by Paul Morley. Although not one of the four artists represented here - all of whom are winners of a £4,000 bursary awarded by the Jerwood/ Film and Video Umbrella Awards - Morley lauds disorderliness, denigrates the gloss of clarity (‘9: Clear prose indicates the absence of thought’) and presents the future as a condition of infinite and inevitable open-endedness. Such notions, expressed with nostalgia for the excitement with which earlier generations sought to shape the future’s character, steer (loosely and un-restrictively) the work of each artist. No one piece is restricted or defined by purpose, but allows message to slip indeterminately through their use of imagery in a manner that obfuscates and leaves meaning indefinite. On show in the gallery are the pre-production proposals or trailers for potentially forthcoming video projects: projects that were invited to address ‘the diverse meanings and signifiers of ‘the future’ and how they resonate in the present’.
The scope and scale of the idea of ‘future’ means a variety of approaches. The first piece on show is Emma Hart’s Everything Sucked Out, from The Inside, (2012). Crowned crudely with flat irons, a screen (from which protrudes piece of industrial rubber tubing like an elephant’s trunk) shows footage, primarily of post-it notes, spliced and overlain with other apparently unrelated imagery. Denying the camera its directive aspect, its seamless narrative progression or visual coherence, this piece attends to acts of re-recording and re-writing as they inflect daily domestic life.
By contrast, the next piece, Corin Sworn’s As the Mark Strays, conducts itself in an eerie realm somewhere between paranoid thriller and science fiction. A girl - whose dull and naïve voice reads over disparate images (some moving, others found) - is given the job of harvesting or filing visual fragments: photo-snapshots breed associations, slip indefinitely between being - to quote the video - ‘informative or atmospheric’, and in the process defy restrictive, institutionalized attempts at coherence.
Ed Atkins takes High Definition imagery as the starting point for Material Witness or A Liquid Cop, where a computer-generated figure sits in a television studio. The figure appears to be talking, and a voice prompts the viewer (or me, at least) to associate the spoken images with the footage that is projected behind the figure’s head. Atkins usually embarks on his artistic projects with a literary idea (indeed, each of these artists have produced written work, which one can peruse in the first room of the gallery) which gradually becomes abstracted as the project proceeds: at this stage, Material Witness seems driven by a voice that very much feels like one read off a page. The footage itself is intermittently flipped in such a way as to imitate the turning of a page, but whether this voice will gradually be eroded remains to be seen.
Naheed Raza, whose most significant work to date deals with ideas of entanglement (in 2009 she exhibited ‘Raveling/ Unraveling’ at the Royal Institution of Great Britain), here turns to the curious notion of cyronics, the practice of preserving humans and animals at low temperatures after their death. Of all the pieces on show here, her Frozen in Time is the most explicit in its approach to the issue of forecasting futures. Interested in cyronics’ quest to do away with finality, she presents imagery of cyronics plants which, shrouded in cold smoke or steam evoke the unknowable nature of these endeavours, on the other side of a screen which shows extracts of interviews with Cyronics members. Juxtaposed with the evanescent pillars of steam and disappearing outlines of shadowy forms, the voices of these men seem to have an abrupt conviction that is at odds with the mystery of the subjects they discuss.
Conveyed as demonstrations of intent rather than finished articles, these pieces present themselves as conceptions of a future: as the early products of forward-looking artistic projects, they embody the appetite for futurity that is the project’s declared subject. As such, they feel like exploratory pieces. The direction in which the artists step is not always clear - indeed, they share with the future an aura of un-navigable unpredictability - but as such, these works offer the viewer a rare opportunity to experience and engage with ideas that are still being shaped.