London

View of “Steve Bishop,” 2013. Foreground: Focus, 2013. Background: If Everything has a Place then Place too has a Place VIII, 2013.

View of “Steve Bishop,” 2013. Foreground: Focus, 2013. Background: If Everything has a Place then Place too has a Place VIII, 2013.

Steve Bishop

CARLOS/ISHIKAWA

View of “Steve Bishop,” 2013. Foreground: Focus, 2013. Background: If Everything has a Place then Place too has a Place VIII, 2013.

The title of Steve Bishop’s exhibition “An Escalator Can Never Break, It Can Only Become Stairs” hints that machines may lead “lives” of their own, which carry on even after the plug has been pulled. And indeed, the works in the show bore out this hypothesis. At the entry, on a temporary L-shaped wall dividing the gallery in two—creating a main exhibition space and a narrow corridor to one side—hung the monochromatic “painting” How Can One Thing in General Be Many Things in Particular?, 2012. This powdered-steel rectangle reproduces with precision the finely textured, nondescript gray surface of an early home computer. The sensation is that this obsolete piece of technology was once a living thing, which here has been skinned, its hide stretched across a picture frame. The exhibition’s titular central sculpture, 2013, is a makeshift table. At one of its corners, a transparent acrylic cup spun rapidly, a riff on Charles Ray’s sculpture Tabletop, 1989, in which assorted objects revolve imperceptibly on the surface of a table. With its regular rotation and circling inner grooves, the cup also recalls another bygone technology: the LP. This impression was accentuated by the constant musical sound track filling the space: A radio plays in loop the stock “sad music” available on filmmaking software, part of the installation When the Lights Go Out You Keep Moving, 2013. This ordinary, low-tech radio was tuned to a pirate station that transmitted from within the gallery itself and whose FM bandwidth had a limited range, extending to about half a block around the gallery like an acre-wide electromagnetic cloud or bubble surrounding the space. Lamp Looks in Different Light, 2013, consisted of six passport photo–size “portraits” of a white lampshade that seems to change hue almost magically from purplish-blue to greenish-yellow, depending on the time of day. These images are not doctored; they picture the solitary ceiling light that hung in the artist’s living room in London, the backdrop to lonely Skype conversations with his girlfriend while he was away in Germany. The subtle chromatic shifts result from the changing angles of light, as registered through the low-fi connection, and recall the minimal yet cherished variations of light observed in a lover’s face, as in Roni Horn’s “You Are the Weather,” 1994–96.

Attentive viewers might have noticed a narrow sliver of space inside the L-shaped wall, just wide enough to squeeze into. At one end, a small, jewellike video was projected at ankle height. It showed manufacturer’s footage of gleaming revolving doors, sparkling and animated in their meaningless activity, endlessly opening and closing in this claustrophobic in-between space, which, in contrast, was emphatically missing a door. This narrow back corridor was an artwork titled Focus, 2013; here an immense black-and-white photograph of a car engine hung wallpaper-like on either side. At this scale, these colossal, wiry innards seemed to offer visitors a look into the insides of Bishop’s exhibition-as-machine. The whole show was humming with mechanical life: I imagined the gallery box (or cell) as an immense gadget, like a huge, multifunctional cell phone, displaying tiny moving images, producing music, snapping personal photos. The gadget might have belonged to a giant who occupied the half-block radius of radio-wave space around the gallery, where he tinkered ceaselessly with his toy.

Exiting the show, I discovered a gray pencil on the gallery visitors’ book—also an artwork, with its title printed right on it: A Shared Vision Is No Vision at All, 2013. So this was a solo show for a solo viewer. We had to experience it all one-on-one, as evidenced by the narrow back corridor; the video’s shoulder-width viewing conditions; the melancholic melody; the necessity to observe the cup’s rotation or the tiny photos singly, from up close. Everything insisted that we take in these works in solitude—like the artist Skyping from his borrowed room, in the lonely state perhaps most conducive to a meaningful encounter with art.

Gilda Williams