Fabienne Hess: Hits and Misses (from the archive)

Talbot Rice is host to a single body of work by the artist Fabienne Hess, who worked directly with the University of Edinburgh as part of Talbot Rice’s new TRG3 program, which allows emerging and experimental artists to collaborate with the University’s resources. Hess explored the University’s digital archive in research for her project, using their collections quite overtly. Printed onto hanging silk curtains are twenty thousand images from the archive, each the height of your thumb.

The artist thus draws the viewer in, as we ponder what the importance is behind this photograph of a sheep, or that violin bow. She clearly highlights trends in the archive, whilst also presenting it as somewhat overwhelming: no one person could study it all. This engulfing feeling would be more effective if it weren’t for the numerous mandatory health and safety fire exits: but the artist has made do.

This exhibition is found in gallery three, Talbot Rice’s beautiful round room. This space makes a profound impact on anyone upon their entering: light streaming in from the glass ceiling above transforms all art here. At first you see beautifully intricate curtains, reminiscent of tapestries; but the harsh presentation of the obviously digitally collaged screen print becomes apparent quickly, hardly using the full potential of the fine fabric. It is as if you are staring at a screen still, on which the page of a book or an old photograph will never have the same subtle qualities.

Digital media and the intangible notion of constant online storage is a common theme throughout much of Fabienne Hess’ work. Her graduating piece for Visual Communication at the Royal College of Art involved over 13,000 discarded image files, having been recovered and presented to a new audience. With this she questioned the new nature of debris and trash in a digitally centric world.

At the Talbot Rice she similarly explores this endless take up of online space with files that hardly interest some, particularly prevalent in the second room of the exhibition. The balance between what interests viewers and what doesn’t is explored on two screens: one shows the most frequently viewed images in the collection, the other those that have never been viewed.

This latter screen alone is the most engaging. Whatever the item is, whether a photograph of a farmer’s pig or a beautifully illuminated manuscript, there is something sad about the lack of interest we are taking in it, as they flick slowly past our eyes. This one could watch for some time, there is no need for anything else – one hit amongst the misses.

Image courtesy of the TRG3 Project website [www.trg3.co.uk].

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