New Contemporaries 2012 at the ICA

Some first thoughts on five videos included in this year’s show.

Untitled (Ready for a Fight) (Anita Delaney 2011, HD video):
Looped video, in portrait orientation, of an unresolved moment. A figure stands, face covered by a ragged cloth, fists raised. Through a hole in the cloth, a cigarette blows, its animation a further index of the shaking figure’s agitation. The space in which this happens is something between a cubicle and a yard, with features of both exterior and interior. Camera distance and lighting are theatrical; this is a space we look into, an impression accentuated by the screen’s own setting, behind a rectangular window (the piece was reportedly shown in Liverpool as a projection). The setting, the figure’s isolation and the predicament, on the brink of action, put me in mind of Beckett (the stance and dress reminiscent of Catastrophe), and this is one of the two videos I saw in which the looping seemed intrinsic to the piece’s meaning. Speaking with the artist later, I discovered that I had misread the sex of the figure. Knowing this, I’ll revisit the piece when I go to see some of the work I didn’t get a chance to spend time with on Tuesday night.

Coast to Coast (diptych) (Polly Read 2011, video):
A church interior in sunlight at Whitstable in Kent, a house exterior at night at Seaford, in Sussex. These locations are the coastal limits of a diagonal line of longitude. The two monitors are synchronised, and display the same input; along the line of a journey and a duration, we can only be in one place at a time. Bars of mild noise move up the image, two in the frame at any time, bringing to mind analogue tracking or detuned television reception; the movement of videotape over the head and the distance covered by a transmission. The shots, the axes of which shift gently with hand-held lightness, appear to have been slowed, creating the sense of a dialectic between remaining and departing.

73 (Piotr Krzymowski 2012, HD video):
A video based on a mathematical structure or grid. Numbers, white on black, are followed by a shot repeated that many times. The simplicity of this is filled by a kind of imagery never previously, to my knowledge, used in a work constructed on such lines. Bright sunlight; blue water; pétanque balls on sand. The images and sounds point up the fun of the structure; the structure points up the attention behind the captured instants. Our own durational attention is crucial to what this is doing, and like Polly Read’s video, it has a defined beginning and end. That, and its use of sound, makes me hope it will be possible to see it soon in a screening space more conducive to such attention.

Strolling (Tony Law 2012, video):
A compilation of interstitial moments in narrative films; moments in which narrative is composed of star acting, music, gesture and camera movement. A number of Asian actresses, in clips from compressed, low-definition sources, walk away, or to, or between, the stories. The sound has been removed; perhaps this combines with the compression to create a melancholy that the original soundtracks would have complicated. Perhaps, because the melancholy of silenced screens, readily apparent in the public spaces where we usually see them (a train station concourse, a pub), is, for me, less acute in an environment in which silent images are so often complete ones.

Circumspects (George Eksts 2011, HD video):
Horses exercising in a kind of circular enclosure whose name for the moment escapes me. The repetition of their motion becomes itself the repetition of watching a closed loop. It could be taken to say something about how installation video uses (and abuses?) duration; the horses walk endlessly forward in their prison. The piece is 16:9, exhibited on a wall-mounted flat-screen television on a corridor, in the way an equestrian or hunting scene might be placed on a landing or staircase. Its position invites a quick look, too quick to take in what it seems to suggest after having been seen in full several times over. Circumspection is, etymologically, looking around; we look around as we look cyclically, on a treadmill of seamless repetition, pitiless as surveillance.

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