Galerie Bob van Orsouw

FIRST YOU WERE PLUNGED into sudden darkness and could see nothing. Then you began to make out the gallery's high-ceilinged industrial space. It had been turned into a cavern filled with the penetrating near-roar of electronically amplified breathing, a hum like that of a film projector, interrupted by occasional attempts at speaking. At opposite comers of this sound chamber, two hanging projection screens leaned toward each other: Godforsaken Hole/Free Hand, 1999. One of the black-and-white video projections showed a disembodied hand groping in the void, motioning in front of the camera as if it were trying to grasp something, or as if the camera itself were trying to come close to the hand: a freehand drawing, playing with verticality. The other projection showed a vista in glimmering light, framed by glowing teeth, followed by deep darkness. The slowly alternating motion of the mouth opening and dosing, filmed from within the oral cavity itself, recalled the motion of talking or breathing, but even more, the rising and falling of an eyelid: a blink of the mouth, a breath of a look, a wound relentlessly torn open and dosing, over and over again. The old notion of the picture as a window was reformulated into the organic and transferred to the inside of the body. The mouth turns into an eye, into the aperture of a camera obscura. Neither in the beginning nor in the end is the word.

Smith/Stewart used a similar image in an earlier work, Inside Out, 1997, likewise filmed from within the mouth, through the teeth, and into the light of day. The vantage point inside the body and the focus on the hand are less about presenting the interplay of two bodies, as in other works of theirs, than about recording the fragmentation of a single body communicating with itself. Stephanie Smith, from Manchester, and Edward Stewart, from Belfast, have been working together since 1992. Most of their works feature the unmediated communication of man and woman through the body, often in a discomforting mixture of tenderness and torment. Many pieces center on elementary experiences like breathing, the exchange of breath, and its mythological, physical, and erotic references. Smith/Stewart repeatedly make allusions to small scenes or narratives from works by Samuel Beckett, like Company (1980) and Breath (1970), that feature a strong presence of the body. Their camera work involves no special effects (beyond getting a miniature video camera waterproofed and inside the mouth). This is not exactly the simple document of a performance but neither is it a fictional narrative. Instead, an extreme situation has been created for the eye of the video camera alone, in order for the real-time projection itself to obtain a stagelike presence.

Two videos, both called Ahead, 2000, play on two monitors facing each other. One in black and white, the other in color, they both record a drive at night along a winding stretch of country road as seen through a car's windshield. The headlights switch on and off, giving the scene a dreamlike air. The pulsing light and sound ultimately link all the works into a single extended body that receives, captures, and consumes its viewers. The drive through the night knows no end. Although the motions are recorded in real time, repetition produces a hallucinatory sense of the eternal that persists even after leaving the cavern for the light of day.

Hans Rudolf Reust

Translated from German by Mark Georgiev.