Land’s End

01.17.13

Derek Jarman, Journey to Avebury, 1971, 16 mm, color, sound, 10 minutes.


THE FIRST PART of “Back and Forth,” a film series currently on view at South London Gallery, opened with a stream of grainy snapshots, images of the British countryside tinged in burnt sienna, ocher and acid yellow, green and violet hues, all part of Derek Jarman’s ten-and-a-half-minute film Journey to Avebury (1971). The work invokes a sort of postmodern John Constable landscape, a pastoral version of Andy Warhol’s Empire. It’s amazing how landscapes can recall so much, here the trajectory of art in Britain—from nineteenth-century Romanticism to the lives of the YBAs: Sarah Lucas and Damien Hirst left the city to make work in the countryside and Tracey Emin took up the nation’s unforgiving coastline in a series of drawings reflecting on seaside town Margate.

Journey to Avebury played in the first of three screenings of 16-mm film and video works that will run over the next two Wednesdays at the gallery. The first segment revolves around landscape—be it emotional or physical—a motif ripe with social, historical, and symbolic implications. Jessica Warboy’s Stone Throat (2011), for example, raises question about our position within the natural world. In a series of sumptuous, abstract shots, there is an image of a hand resting on the rocky surface of this volcanic island. This is the coastline of Roberto Rossellini’s Stromboli (1950), but within this five-minute film, the human being is presented as just one element of a much bigger picture (all Warboy shows is the arm), creating a sort of “man lost at sea” feeling.

In tracing the Romantic landscape from such diverse points of perspective, this screening became a figurative landscape of its own, taking the viewer on a journey through the way in which the landscape has manifested itself in more contemporary practices. Charlotte Moth’s Study for a 16mm film (2011) is a dreamy exploration of a household landscape, particularly of its objects—drapes, tables, vitrines, and cake stands. Images linger and change, often relentlessly, studying the same compositional frame from various angles with different tints before moving slowly and intently to the next subject. Moth’s work was followed by Isabelle Cornaro’s Celebration (2012), in which black-and-white stills from Disney films flicker silently on screen. The film concluded with a finale of vibrant, multicolored Rorschach prints. Here we watch colors and strokes of ink disperse and emerge from the white screen—a seascape come alive.

In Louis Benassi’s Midnight-De-construction (2003–10), the artist films himself literally taking a hammer to the work in his studio. Here is a portrait of the emotional landscape and the way it incites and dominates the artistic process—we watch as he destroys his own artworks and collected objects. The twenty-one-minute-long film is at once irreverent, tortured, exasperating, and liberating. The theme of liberation continues in Auto-Destructive Art—the Activities of G. (1963), which was filmed by Harold Liversidge and features artist Gustav Metzger. In the video, Metzger stands on London’s South Bank and stretches a nylon screen between two poles, which he proceeds to paint over with acid, dissolving the fabric as London slowly comes into view. And with that, the screening came to an end.

Stephanie Bailey

“Back and Forth” will continue at South London Gallery on Wednesday, January 23 and Wednesday, January 30, 2013.