Exmouth Market, LondonFrieze, Issue 30, Sep-Oct 1996
Suppression, Repression, Depression, Compression (1995) by Christina Mackie comprises six polystyrene cups and is accompanied by a walloping noise thudding up from the floorboards. This has been provided by Bruce Gilbert, and sounds like an industrial version of Rolf Harris' wobble-board: it's a noise which reminds you that sound is merely vibrations in air-pressure. Displayed in a case of clear perspex, the polystyrene cups have been serially shrunk - the smallest is about three centimetres high. The full-size cup is labelled '1 bar', the next largest '50 bars', the numbers then double until they reach '800 bars'. As they shrink, the cups become increasingly grainy - the smallest looks as if it is made from sugar rather than expanded polystyrene. And this is a clue: the beads of polystyrene have been pressurised; forced to contract from their expanded state. 'Bar', of course, is the unit of measurement for pressure. Crushed evenly in all directions, they have withered under the invisible force. No doubt, thanks to Gilbert, we all left the room shorter.
We have to cross the street to the next space, for this exhibition, curated by Kirsty Bell, takes place in seven disused shop units. In the darkened, roller-shuttered No. 28, we find a back-lit photograph: a toddler, wearing a vaguely startled expression, sits astride an adult's bicycle. Traffic sounds play from a speaker in the ceiling. This is the work of Reinhard Mucha, and characteristically deals with memory and nostalgia. But unlike most of his oeuvre, this untitled piece slips towards sentimentality. However, it is saved by a happy accident: the letterbox in the roller-shutter acts as a camera obscura, projecting an image of the street onto the wall. The back-lit still sits uncomfortably alongside this living projection. The street literally comes in to meet the child, but the youngster is pathetically immobile. It strikes me that the paralysis of photography is no way to treat a child. Static nostalgia is the beginning of sentimentality; it is a projection of the viewer, a willing self-deceit with false evidence.
Ohio is Hans-Peter Feldmann's magazine for photophiles, consisting of groupings of loosely related images culled from various sources. One shop has been given over to the publication, which presented a display of back issues and a selection of images, including the Bilder, Ansichten project by Fischli & Weiss. In another space, Nigel Green's Still (1996) resembles a Richter grey mirror piece, but as we walk in front of it, the image is blocked out instead of moving with parallax - it's only a slide projection onto grey board. The image is of an open window onto which is reflected a block of flats whose gridded windows are also reflecting light. Mentally opening these windows and stepping through the focal points, the minimal grey board becomes as enigmatic as any dark glass.
Jeremy Dickinson used to paint old buses, but here he shows crashed trucks. His style is photorealist superimposed onto white - that familiar PoMo tactic. Is this a joke about teenage boys' obsessively detailed drawings of spanking new sports cars, or an excuse to do the same? In the back room of this space is Darren Almond's day-long video projection A Real Time Piece (1996) which shows the artist's studio in real time. Little happens. But a clock is visible, and whenever the minutes change there is an almighty shock of sound. This noise, a kind of electronic static, is sufficiently ominous to remind us that a minute is a serious thing, not to be taken lightly. Carpe diem - we ought to spend our short time more productively than by watching a projection of nothing happening. Which is not a good admonition in relation to Matthew Crawley's self-explanatory A Film of Me Hiding in the Bushes (1996). Only a few seconds are needed to realise that Crawley excels at his chosen activity. Throughout the five minutes of film, only bushes are visible. But then that's also all that was visible in Monty Pythons' How not to be seen sketch, except those bushes - excitingly - exploded. The musty smell of damp wood-panelling in this abandoned shop correlates the space with the peculiarly English greenery, reminding us that, for the English, camouflage is a daily activity.
In a locked shop unit Liza May Post's looped video The Perfume Department (1992), was shown on a monitor to be viewed through the window. The tape showed Post lying face-down on the floor of a department store. Knocked out by the smell? Perhaps just creating a stumbling block to disrupt the coercion of people into consumers. Anything to fracture this clinical cocoon, a smelling salt to cut the fog. Post shows that lying down doesn't always mean taking it: down isn't necessarily out. And this show proves that something is better than nothing. Doing it is better than not, especially if it's done where it's not expected.
text copyright david barrett
images copyright the artists