David Claerbout at Talbot Rice Gallery

Internationally acclaimed video artist David Claerbout’s new exhibition offers a contemplative alternative to Rachel Maclean’s garish Venice Biennale entry, Spite Your Face, which it is exhibited alongside. On entering the exhibition space, the viewer is confronted with a vast expanse of beach populated by a group of giant human figures. Comprising over 200 images, ‘The Quiet Shore’ forms a silent, monochromatic slideshow which uses multiple perspectives. Using the backdrop of the Brittany beach where Alfred Hitchcock took inspiration for Psycho, Claerbout continues this cinematic tradition and transforms the touristy beach into a suspenseful, desolate space. This uncanny quality is furthered with the knowledge that all the images are constructions: the figures were shot against a green screen in the artist’s studio, which was flooded to imitate the reflective movement of the water.

It is Claerbout’s intention to make viewers question the authenticity of images. Indeed, the visual trickery and the figures’ gigantism work together to undermine the viewer both perspectively and physically. This deception is continued in ‘Long Goodbye’, which features a woman walking in slow motion towards the gradually retreating camera. She reciprocates the viewers’ gaze and waves to enact the work’s title, which the zoom-out further prolongs. However, the flitting shadows of the background move in disjunction with the figure’s glacial pace, and the film’s contrasting timeframes create temporal discord.

Claerbout reworks a Disney classic in ‘The Pure Necessity’. By closely observing the behaviour of zoo animals, he removes all traces of anthropomorphism from the film’s faunal cast and replaces it with natural movements – you will not find any renditions of ‘The Bare Necessities’ here. The only human sound allowed to puncture the resulting cartoon is the concluding song of the girl collecting water.

This closes the exhibition, with the other videos ending accordingly. The film reaches deeper, comparing the post-war Golden Age of cinema, a social yet ostracising activity, to today’s ‘social’ media. The measured piece forces the viewer to question the quick flashes of the multiple images that they experience everyday.

In contrast, ‘Cat and Bird in Peace’, the earliest work in the collection, lies largely forgotten on a (now) old-fashioned TV screen on the floor. As the oxymoronic title suggests, the two subjects supress their instincts, undermining the viewers’ expectations and leaving them eternally waiting for the purported inevitable. This establishes an interest in time that is developed throughout the collection, and ‘Cat and Bird in Peace’ gives way to the successive works that literally loom over it. Indeed, the other works of the exhibition lack the collective impact of those within the main room. The exhibition itself enacts the slow temporality of its pieces. Each work builds on the ideas of the first over 10 years to collectively question viewers’ perceptions.

 

Talbot Rice Gallery 

Until 5 May 2018 

Image credit: Laura Allison

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