Exhibition essay part of East Wing Biennial ‘Artificial Realities’ catalogue, January 2016
Within the notion of Artificial Realities, the problem of authenticity and trust inevitably comes into play. Due to the deceptive nature of illusions, materials and space, we are forced to re-evaluate the reality we evolve within, leading to the creation of a false narrative or fictionalised record.
In Seminar Room 2, Falsehood & Fiction uses the mundane resources of archives, stills and records to weave stories which purposefully disturb and fascinate the viewer. These records are deliberately ambiguous, betraying the official and truthful nature which we usually attribute to archives, numbers and photographs.
All around the room, Tegen Williamsand Raf Fellner’s installation uses film stills and photography to document an elusive narrative. The viewer becomes a witness to the fragments of a whole picture that loses itself between documentary evidence and crime story. If the elements remain vague in their juxtapositions, it is because it is up to the viewer to either elucidate the ‘mystery’ or confirm its falsehood.
Using similar concepts concerning falsehood and the role of the witness, For the Roses by Samuel Levack and Jennifer Lewandowski explores shifting idealism and personal narratives. The leather waistcoat, made of luxury car upholstery, is meant to emulate Lewandoski’s father’s waistcoat. The same idea of fantasy and the desire to imitate a now unattainable past or state can be found in their series of stills End of love – in Babylon from a film exploring for the search for the spiritual through dance, like a psychedelic documentary.
To what extent does something have to be testified for and documented, so that it becomes fact rather than falsehood? Just as archives and documentation can be fabricated and fictionalised, the desire to document a passing moment – or perhaps the very pointlessness of this process – creates new perceptions. Clive Barker’s painting Letter from Prison [7854 FRASER] is a painstaking replica of bureaucracy. The work is a reproduction of a letter that the artist received from Wormwood Scrubs prison, returning the one he had intended for Fraser, the dealer arrested with Mick Jagger in 1967, immortalised elsewhere in Richard Hamilton’s Swingeing London. Instead of the snapshot moment of the arrest, Barker portrays Fraser through the impersonal and reproducible letter, teasing the notion of its authenticity and reducing his would-be correspondent’s identity to a series of archival numbers ‘7854’.
The same concern with numbers and of aimless communication that is bound to remain one-sided pervades Katie Paterson’s work Vatnajökull [the sound of]. Her light installation is of a phone number whose live line is connected to an underwater microphone within a glacier in Vatnajökull. Even though its number is real, it is removed from its original purpose and is twisted into a new function at the end of which there is a record of silence – silence that the viewer is invited to listen to.
In this room, the documents, numbers, images and records that are meant to authenticate and legitimise the truth as opposed to fiction and falsehood and in which we usually place our trust, are used against us. It is not only the idea of the real, but also the way in which the real will be documented and archives in the future which is subverted within this room, dedicated to art historical research, reassessment and archiving of the past.