New York

David Tremlett

David Tremlett showed a number of pieces in his Projects exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. Tremlett is British; his work relates in various ways to the landscape, and his travels through England and the rest of the world.

The first piece, Green, consists of slides of the English countryside projected on a wall, in continual rotation. The shots are random and unslick (and, therefore, represent more nearly the way the countryside is really seen), generally alternating shots of trees, wooded paths, fences, with longer ones of farmlands and horizons. Green is peaceful, lulling, perhaps a bit boring, but as it becomes apparent that the slides are from the same, rather small area, it creates, through its vagueness and sameness, a definite sense of the country, and of Tremlett’s movement through it.

Two other pieces, probably the best in this show, systematically record the 81 counties of England, Scotland, and Wales. In the first, The Spring Recordings, he made a cassette of the sounds (water, wind, birds, whatever) at a randomly chosen spot in each county, after introducing the time, date, location, and weather conditions at the beginning of each tape. In this particular exhibition, 81 cassettes are displayed (rather than played) on a single, long glass shelf. The wall on which the shelf is installed is adjacent to a ramp which visitors must walk down to get from one gallery to the next. Consequently, the piece begins at eye level and ends somewhere above it, being looked up at from underneath, through the glass. In the second piece, The Cards, Tremlett recorded the same 81 counties visually by making a 3” x 5” labeled drawing of the countryside somewhere in each county. The drawings are casual and nondescriptive, but their accumulation, a long, single line of them at eye level on the wall, is distinct. Like the display of the cassettes, the line and the visitor’s movement along it is an important part of the work.

For Sculpture No. I and No. II from the West, Tremlett photographed rather obscure, unpopulated spots in Cornwall villages. Each piece consists of three groups of six photographs arranged according to geographical proximity. The villages in No. I bear the names of little-known saints: St. lye, Tudy, Veep, Just, Austell. The names of the villages in No. II all begin with the prefix “Tre” and are equally peculiar: Treveyn, Tregisky, Tregantle, Tregorrick, Trewiddle. The photographs are, as usual, indefinite, as obscure and undecipherable as the names and the villages they label. There is a humorous consistency in the quality of the photographs, the names, and the geographic prominence of the villages.

I find these pieces simultaneously casual and deliberate, with the casualness being one of the most deliberate aspects. For example, the continuing casualness of Tremlett’s photography and drawing make the work nondescriptive in the specific sense. Thus, each piece is somewhat removed from its geographical source and allowed to function autonomously in a gallery situation without depicting or representing another. Yet, if the work is not specifically descriptive, it is cumulatively so; in total it conveys a sense of Tremlett’s travels, and of both the variety and the anonymity of the country he has passed through without ever describing any particular point. In some ways the viewer’s experience and memory of these pieces must very nearly equal Tremlett’s memory of his trips; the pieces are not symbolic.

Tremlett’s work emanates from a peculiarly British, romantic sensibility. It is low-key and unpretentious, and is more rigorous than it seems. The work is very deliberate and ordered, yet without the imposition of order. The order has to do with the way things exist in space and are accessible to experience, that is, linearly and through movement.

Roberta Pancoast Smith