Friday, January 23, 2009


The act of travelling can be experienced in a variety of ways, for some it is a means to an end, the destination being the only goal and the journey an inconvenience. For others the arrival at the destination is almost inconsequential to the journey, travelling is the way of experiencing an ever moving and changing landscape and diversity of human experiences and dialogues. Between these states there are numerous ways of experiencing our travels or journeys, for most of us we treat our travelling as something with which we can experience both. There is however an unpredictability to travel, journeys to new and unvisited places throws up experiences which give us potential new insights into the world around us and can lead us into unexpected and rewarding friendships or into the orbit of danger.

Sara Haq’s overland project is a series of documents of her observations and experiences as she travelled from London to Phuket, Thailand. The main focus of the exhibition is in Alexia Goethe’s downstairs gallery and in many cases the power of these images are detracted from by the documents of Haq’s journey in the upstairs gallery, along the walls of the gallery are small photographs with handwritten annotations, these snapshots of the journey both visual and written are interesting but one cant help feel that they seem just like the anecdotes of someones holiday. More interesting is the small screen video of some of Haq’s fellow travellers on the Trans-Mongolian, it is without the need for narrative that the strength of Haq’s video works, it is simply shot hand held camera work but this capture of a moment in time within Haq’s overall journey.

The real strength of Haq’s documentation is in the initial downstairs gallery space, unusually for many projects of this kind it is these large scale photos freed from anecdote and without being loaded with too much context that the viewer can truly reflect on journeys, landscape and the imprint of human activity on the world around us. This seperation between the social and human documents of the journey and the representations of landscape in the lower gallery allow us to reflect on our disassociation from the natural world. The seemingly monochrome photographs of the Siberian landscape are taken through the windows of the speeding train, elements of the world outside, the weather, trees and forests, raindrops on the window seem empty and devoid of human activity but after a while the small and insignificant aspects of human activity begin to invade the seemingly untouched natural scene. Telegraph poles, train tracks and cables encroach on the natural scene breaking the rhythm of the landscape with the evidence of humanities interaction with the environment. From inside we see the condensation from the inside of the train window which obscures the image of the exterior scene and minor, almost washed out, only lightly glimpsed reflections from the interior of the carriage. Finally the blurred edges of the photos, distortions of speed of travel and the alterations made to the photograph by the interpretive mechanics of the camera disturbed by movements and actions in front of the lens that it can never capture truly.

Even the most far away and seemingly untouched environments that we may find ourselves in are never truly wilderness and as far and as long as we travel our journeys can never take us too far from the hand of human activity and the lives of others, and that perhaps is the beauty and also the problem of travel and its influence on the world.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Lost in the Orchard

The current installation by Ilya and Emilia Kabakov at Sprovieri Progetti exists somewhere between fiction and fact, the Kabakov’s installations always give the impression of having taking the real interiors of spaces and transposed them accurately into the gallery space. This experience of viewing a ‘documentation’ of a real space is, however, wholly inaccurate as the room you see before you is in essence an unreal spectacle. In the Kabakov’s imaginings the room entitled “I Sleep in the Orchard” bears all the realities of the interior of a patients room in an imaginary mental institute, supposedly the patients treatment involves the creation of their room as part of the clinical process. Within the almost cell like confines colours and objects are placed to allow the patient to realise their room as project which enables them to comprehend and accommodate the causes and manifestations of their mental illness.

Alongside the installation on the adjacent wall in Sprovieri Progetti’s gallery space is the fictional account of the patient, Eliazarova, in the text she tells of her past and the story of her removal from the countryside to a cramped and unsettling communal apartment. This disturbing urban environment finally pushes the fictional Eliazorova to attempt suicide and ultimately results in her hospitalisation and the manifestation of her room we see before us. The room contains eight pot plants that sit at the front of the room side by side almost like a barrier and beyond is a bed with its institutionalised furniture of metal frame and white sheets with dull grey woollen blankets. On green and grey walls sits a white canvas with green painted lines and blobs reminiscent of an abstracted landscape. A low wattage bulb hangs in the centre of the room creating an underlit, gloomy, dispiriting and depressing atmosphere. This stark interior and the story that creates it leaves the viewer with a sense of unresolved tension, we reflect on the outcome of this story and the gloomy interior and ultimately the fictional nature of the experience only serves to lower and diminish the mood of the viewer. We see neither hope for Eliazarova and only cursory comprehension of her illness through the realisation of her room.

One could extrapolate this experience and story to the life and work of an artist, taking the disturbed and disturbing elements of the perhaps lonely and isolated practice of an artist and their ideas and the manifestation of their visions in the ‘real’ world. Commissioned, curated, mediated and delivered from the isolation of the artists thoughts into material reality and finally into the full view of the public the inner thoughts and ideas are there to be reflected on, deciphered or just picked over by the prying eyes of the outside world. In the final reckoning perhaps the Kabakov’s suggest that no matter how free we are to place our interpretations in the real world as artists and viewers the realisations and comprehension of these thoughts and ideas can never be fully determined or understood.