Art Either I’ve been taking on too much caffeine again or this Liverpool Biennial is finally starting to get to me. There’s no other way I can explain my Room 237 moment while visiting the Claude Parent installation in the Wolfson Gallery at Tate Liverpool. Room 237 is an increasingly notorious documentary regarding the conspiracy theories surrounding Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, that more than a pretty good horror film, it’s at the nexus of socio-economic intellectual mush, which includes such things as the director subtly revealing that the footage of the moon landings was all created on sound stages with himself in charge. Like a fever dream, these theorists drag together disparate elements like Danny’s t-shirt, the shape of shadows and the colour of the carpet to reveal a truth which just simply isn’t there.
Clause Parent’s installation is a multi-level architectural construct which like much of his work, attempts to disrupt our expectations of a given environment, in this case filling the white cube space with ramps and balconies and splitting the levels turning the Wolfson into a kind of mini-Guggenheim. The works housed in La colline de l’art are supposed to extemporise and complement the space it seems, full of abstract shapes and circles on canvases against three-dimensional curves. In some respects it reminds of the fears expressed by artists in an open letter to the Guggenheim when it opened that visitors wouldn’t be able to experience their works in the best environment because they’d effectively be standing on a slope. As it turned out the gradient there wasn’t as exaggerated as they were expecting. It is here in places.
Now, join me in Room 237. After spending some time in the space, engaging with some pieces, reviling others, I walked up the ramp at the very centre of the space which leads up to the main balcony. At the top of this ramp is Paul Nash’s Voyages to the Moon, an abstract pieces which as apparently the result of him sitting in a restaurant and noticing a glitterball refracted the moonlight across the space. We see what looks like the moon gradually rising through the space and up into the sky. At the other end of the balcony is a Roy Lichtenstein piece, Moonscape, a gorgeous image which utilises plastic to provide the gradients in colour in the deep blue sky, like cosmic currents. Thinking about the both pieces, it occurred to me that in moving up the ramp onto the balcony, I’d essentially watched Nash’s moon rise in Lichenstein’s sky.
At which point I began to think about the other pieces I’d seen and the recurrences of moon and space symbols in them. Paul Delvaux’s Sleeping Venus has a crescent moon in the sky. Naum Gabo’s two pieces Model for ‘Construction in space, suspended’ and Model for ‘Monument to the Astronauts’ have it in the title. Francis Picabia’s The Fig-Leaf has a moon shaped ball on it with a person on top – moon landing? The video piece Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR has a slow motion section in which the dance looks for all the world like its happening in low gravity. Looped Network Suspended in Pictorial Space by Gillian Wise resembles a rocket scaffold. I was sure that the other pieces would reveal some connection but I just hadn’t seen it yet. I was enthralled. I'd found some hidden message right there.
Yes, well, ok. I did what you need to do in these situations and asked an invigilator and of course it was the first time he’d heard of it. This was not, as I suspected some hidden joke by Claude Parent. He hadn’t selected the art, just designed the space. The art had been selected by Biennial curators Mai Abu ElDahab and Anthony Huberman and although its possible these connections were intended, it seems unlikely. In the main Tate collection display which investigates mundane domestic objects in art, we’re told in no uncertain terms that this is what its doing. If this whole moon connection was more than a coincidence it would certainly be mentioned in the accompanying text. It is not. The accompanying text is all about how the art complements and contradicts the space. Welcome to Room 237.
Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR (Babette Mangoite, 1978)
Felix Gets Broadcast (Mark Leckey, 2007)
Instructions No 1 / Instrukcije br. 1 (Sanje Ivekovic, 1976)
The Coat (Karen Cytter, 2010)
Since this is a Tate collection display, most the pieces are already heavily documented. Babette Mangoite has written at length about the making of Trisha Brown WATER MOTOR on her website and the Tate has its own critical appreciation which is the basis for the text which appears with the work in the gallery space. Both of these rather blow the wind out my sales and I can’t be bettered so you might as well go and read those. To offer a quick description, it depicts legendary postmodernist American choreographer and dancer Tricia Brown performing her WATER MOTOR piece in black and white in single takes firstly at normal speed then slow motion taking full advantage of her obvious abilities to compulsive effect. It’s projected at Tate and is arguably the most eye-catching piece in the space.
In her text, Mangoite says her one regret is that she didn’t record synchronous sound because as she says, even though the dance occurred without music its impossible to convey that without recording the silence, which of course wouldn’t be silence because microphones would have picked up the sound of the camera, Brown’s breaths and shifting footwork and ambient noise. For my part I probably violated the artist’s wishes by listening to my own music during the two or three occasions I watched the piece, various tracks (some Kevin Shields, Eliza Doolittle) all of which eerily synched up. Seeing it instead with the ambient noise of the gallery space was also counterproductive, the mix of children screaming, random chatter and feet banging on the woodeness of Parent’s sculpture working against the magnetism of Brown’s athleticism.
Having just spent the past week and a half with the Commonwealth Games, whose visual language, especially in the gymnastics, includes the slow motion replay, it didn’t occur to me that the recording of the second dance wasn’t simply the first duplicated and slowed down. But it isn’t. This was recorded in 1976 when such technology was still magnificently unreliable. Mangoite filmed the piece three times, twice at normal speed, the third in slow motion then selected the best takes. In the third take, did Brown especially emphasise certain moves for the purposes of extemporising on the underwater feel of the whole dance? Perhaps. Not sure. But it’s a starting, emotional piece of choreography which repays multiple viewings even if we can only imagine what it sounded like.