Cologne

Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Ridges on the Horizontal Plane (detail), 2010–11, 16-mm film and slide projection.

Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Ridges on the Horizontal Plane (detail), 2010–11, 16-mm film and slide projection.

Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda

Luke Fowler and Toshiya Tsunoda, Ridges on the Horizontal Plane (detail), 2010–11, 16-mm film and slide projection.

The documentary films of Luke Fowler have rapidly achieved renown for their experimental style—a mélange of archival footage, new interviews, and scenes of everyday surroundings joined together to form only the loosest semblance of narrative. Fowler’s form parallels the inscrutability of his subjects, drawn from the margins of society and thought: Cornelius Cardew’s Scratch Orchestra (the subject of Pilgrimage from Scattered Points, 2006) welcomed both virtuosos and amateurs, while psychiatrist Ronald D. Laing’s alternative mental illness treatment center (the subject of What You See Is Where You’re At, 2001) encouraged patients to heal themselves without recourse to medication. Fowler’s most recent project, a collaboration with Toshiya Tsunoda titled Ridges on the Horizontal Plane, 2010–11, leaves behind the fringe subjects that have brought Fowler acclaim, and focuses instead on a new model of expanded cinema. What might seem an abandonment of the radical political sympathies and representation critique of his earlier work is, however, a turn to the development of an equally radical aesthetic form.

Ridges, the centerpiece of the exhibition in Cologne, advances the exploratory format of Fowler and Tsunoda’s 2008 installation Composition for Flutter Screen, in which film portraits of environmentally responsive phenomena—water, fire, a vibrating wire—were projected onto a loosely hung fabric screen. The breeze from an electric fan distorted the screen and its image, indexing the dependence of cinematic perception on air pressure and light. Ridges richly develops this proposition through an operation of doubling. Projectors cast still and moving images onto both sides of a diaphanous screen, which undulates in response to two oscillating fans. Two miked piano wires, drawn horizontally across either side of the screen, bisect the images; their haunting frisson of tones mutates in response to shifting airflows and occasional brushes by the screen. The images, shot in Cologne on 16-mm film or photographed as color slides, depict subtle signs of movement and change in the everyday: rustling branches and curtains, semitransparent windows, surfaces made reflective by the presence of water.

A selection of solo works pressed the notion of doubling further still. Fowler’s photomontages, all 2010, are diaristic compositions of randomly paired half-frame images, and Tsunoda’s Temple Recording, 2010, documents in audio and photographs his capturing the bodily sounds of himself and a partner along with the noises of their environment as they sat outdoors observing the Japanese landscape—a collaborative reenactment of John Cage’s celebrated encounter with the non-quietude of his own body. In fact, while Ridges is clearly indebted to structuralist film and the legacies of expanded cinema, its indeterminate combination of unsynchronized audio and visual elements builds on Cagean strategies. The points of contact produced by the chance meeting of pairs constitute, for the artists, a “horizontal plane,” figured, for instance, as the “crack” in half-frame images or the horizon line of Tsunoda’s landscapes. Fowler and Tsunoda’s horizontal plane also references the artists’ experimental process of collaboration. It proposes a structure of stacks and overlays (as opposed to vertical, columnar divisions) wherein one element lies on top of the other, emphasizing touch over separation. With these formal advances in place, and with Cage (a loner who promoted collaboration) as lodestar, Fowler’s work has moved beyond a critique of the unrepresentability of the individual subject to an aesthetic proposition about the uncontainable and limitless possibilities of individual actors working in concert.

Natilee Harren