Aurélien Froment, 9 Intervals, 2011/2012, two synched HD video projections, color, sound, 19 minutes 43 seconds. Installation view.

Aurélien Froment, 9 Intervals, 2011/2012, two synched HD video projections, color, sound, 19 minutes 43 seconds. Installation view.

Aurélien Froment

Aurélien Froment, 9 Intervals, 2011/2012, two synched HD video projections, color, sound, 19 minutes 43 seconds. Installation view.

You can learn a lot watching Aurélien Froment’s videos. The works of this Dublin-based Frenchman have a determinedly instructional disposition, showing and telling about a wide range of unrelated subjects. Consider two of his widely shown previous works: Rabbits, 2009, for instance, is a close-up demonstration of how to tie eight nautical knots—the stages of each nifty technique captured in an accompanying kid-friendly mnemonic device (“Build a well, a rabbit comes out of the hole, circles around the tree, and jumps back into the hole”). In Fourdrinier Machine Interlude, 2010, Froment’s gliding camera studies the mechanisms of an old miniature paper-making machine, found by the artist in a museum in Basel. Simultaneously, a young girl reads a text on the history of paper production, chronicling its development from cottage industry to mass-industrial concern. The ingenue narrator delivers these documented certainties as only a schoolgirl can: in a voice both afflicted and energized by uncertainty, shifting between hesitancy and hurry.

Froment’s variants on the “educational film” could easily be taken straight—as visual essays summarizing minor topics, condensed guides that might credibly serve as resources in a teaching context. Their studiously controlled compositions point to communicative clarity as a prized virtue. Indeed, reflection on the tools of teaching has become one ongoing priority of Froment’s research. A number of his recent projects concern classroom materials designed by nineteenth-century pedagogical pioneer Friedrich Froebel. The German educator’s influential belief was that pedagogy is best partnered with play—and this principle has become central to Froment’s investigative and inventive ethos. The artist is skilled above all in staging expert knowledge—recognizable, trustworthy, and historically grounded—while at the same time introducing acute instabilities into established situations of presentation and reception. In his videos, each occasion of authoritative delivery contains an essential degree of doubt.

This balance—or tendency toward imbalance—was critical to the impressive two-screen video installation 9 Intervals, 2011/2012, at Mother’s Tankstation. Originally commissioned as a series of unlikely educational shorts to be slotted into cinema programs before the main feature at the Hyde Park Picture House in Leeds, UK, the discrete episodes have since been knitted together as an intricately tricky portmanteau piece. Among the fragments stitched together in this work are mini-lectures by designer, artist, writer, and editor Will Holder, posing as a somewhat nervous academic; athletic demonstrations by an admirably flexible yoga instructor; and deadpan shots of grinding factory machines. The expanded dual-screen format of the piece helps to set up uneasy correspondences between disparate imagery, as well as witty contrast points between divergent expert positions. We play “spot the difference,” for example, between Holder’s stuttering introduction and a polished presentation by an “ergonomist,” or, later, between narrated instructions for operating an adjustable chair and near-slapstick attempts to work the actual mechanism.

Position is a crucial term for this installation in another sense, too. Froment addresses a matter of concern for both relaxed cinema audiences and invariably less comfortable gallery viewers: the fundamental problem of how to most suitably seat the human body. Assorted sites and seats of either leisure or labor have thus been selected for attention. We observe slumped, fidgeting moviegoers waiting for a screening to start. We see students sitting straight-backed at school desks. We watch ambitious yoga exercises being performed: hard-won efforts to escape the ordinary burden of embodiment that are nonetheless paralleled with mundane—but oddly compatible—shots of bending, straining chair mechanisms. Playing against such inconclusive “practice” is “theory”: orthopedic advice on posture, for instance, or a detailed history of the chair. More than ever, though, Froment has managed to trouble the straightforward conveyance of knowledge. Within the set of strained relations established by this remarkably taut video anthology, any sense of communicative certainty sits uncomfortably.

Declan Long