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Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Associations- the space between words

Associations is the current exhibition at the Kettles Yard gallery. I have to walk or cycle past Kettles yard almost every day and the gallery appears to be sealed off. So instead of stealing a sneaky preview of the exhibition, I was curious enough to get round to seeing it. Associations looks at the video and projection work of six artists; Marcel Broodthaers, Pavel Buchler, Matthew Buckingham, Sharon Hayes, John Smith and Michael Snow, from the 70's and 80's and current decade.

Sharon Hayes' recreation of Patty Hearst's abduction tapes, every word is clearly fed to the speaker.

'The exhibition draws attention to the space between words, and many of the artists are concerned with gaps- in communication, in history, in the construction and reception of the projected image.'
It was this introductory sentence that really caught my attention and ignited my interest in the dialogue of the exhibition. My dissertation is beginning to get involved with linguistics and the idea of words and letters as signifiers. The question of how we deal with the 'space between words' and bridge the gap between our comprehension and our misunderstanding is a pertinent one when we attempt to bring the literary and the visual together. Using words, letters, images and recordings, all of these artists are engaged in solving this dilemma.

I really enjoy it when galleries have to build spaces specifically for an exhibition. Kettles Yard's blacked out windows are not just there to keep the light out, they are also a necessary part of the construction of Dr Johnson's top floor "dictionary workshop" with sloping floor and the projection of his window on the wall. Matthew Buckingham's installation is a reflection on one man's nine year labour. It is accompanied by a recording which discusses Johnson's work, deciding that 'Dictionaries mock authorship', so where does this leave Johnson in his creation?

The highlight was John Smiths 1975 film 'Associations' from which the exhibition took its name. A passage is read from 'Word Associations and Linguistic Theory' and images are projected on the wall. At first the words we hear seem unrelated to the quick flashing of images on the screen. Gradually we begin to read associations between the pictures and the words. Pictures rhyme with the words being spoken, or echo individual sounds and appear to spell out words. The film tests our ability to make and find connections. It becomes a game which commands our involvement. There are some associations which I just don't pick up on, but then I am sure that other people would find a stronger set of interconnections.

A clip from Michael Snow's video.

I did not stay for the full 45 minutes of Michael Snow's video, partly because I do not have the patience but also because the white words flashing on the black background were beginning to make me queasy. But 'So is this' is an exciting piece of work which communicates directly with the viewer, offering an explanation of the work, one word at a time. The video is frustrating as it promises to be two hours long and offers no variation of content other than this slow transmission of message and intention. So Snow is playing with us, our expectations and our commitment to the work.

This was a challenging and rich exhibition, if you are in Cambridge you shouldn't miss it!

1 comment:

  1. I'm tempted to come up for this...! Wish it had been on when I was there... visualculture gold mine. Your dissertation sounds fascinating by the way. Mimes xxx