"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but *actually* from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint - it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly... time-y wimey... stuff."Art As you will have noticed from the customary culinary communication, last Monday I visited the British Library. The reasons for this and the inevitable emotional trauma can wait for another day, but imagine my surprise on visiting the Bloomberg New Contemporaries show at The Bluecoat this morning only to find myself watching a webcam video of two people sat in what looks like the same area where I drank the soup, albeit at least year a before me. I did indeed say out loud to no one in particular, "Is that the British Library?" and "Oh jeez, it is" (I've been saying "Oh jeez" a lot lately having picked it up from Rory Gilmore during my recent binge watch of the Gilmore Girls). At some point not everything that happens in my life will be connected through some kind of bizarre, synchronous recreation of the opening sequence from Paul Thomas Anderson's film Magnolia, but not yet. This was not just one of those things.
-- The Doctor, "Blink"
As ever, Bloomberg is Bloomberg in that you'll not like everything and the chances are you probably actively dislike most of what's on display and that's certainly the case again. This is the thirtieth anniversary of its first appearance at the Bluecoat and its travelled the world and other parts of Liverpool in the meantime, turning up in the Copperas Hill post office building in 2012 and the Horseshoe Gallery at the World Museum in 2014. Both those settings were vast which left the work feeling dislocated and unconnected, more like the exhibition part of a conference which has otherwise been cancelled. The Bluecoat has intimacy in its favour and a greater ability for the objects to interact with one another, the curators noticing the obvious visual similarity between Janine Lang's startling video piece Shooting Clouds, which rotates a camera around a cumulonimbus at parallel height as it disintegrates with Cumulative Loss, Kate Fahey's digital collage of billowing smoke.
There's also, as is usually the case, a single piece which makes the whole visit worthwhile, or with the works from Karolina Magnusson Murray and Leon Platt, three pieces, although they're all interconnected. The Application, The Name and The Work run for around half an hour each on a flat screen in the largest room. One of the inherent problems with Bloomberg is this tendency to display works with long durations and not provide chairs, but after an initial glimpse of this, I simply went into the corridor outside and borrowed one which didn't seem to be in use (having asked permission first). Which isn't to say I was aware of the duration first. I'd assumed about half an hour. But so absorbed was I in these three moving image pieces that an hour and half passed without me noticing. I even asked one of the invigilators if the stated duration was incorrect, that I couldn't be sat for that long. "Well, it's half eleven now" he noted. Yes, yes it was.
The three "films" seem to deconstruct the process of creating and submitting a work to the Bloomberg New Contemporaries exhibition. All three are recordings made using a webcam and based on how the camera is often repositioned this must a separate unit attached to the top of a laptop screen rather than a lense fitted onboard. In each, the artists sit facing us, looking into the screen or in the space addressed by the camera and it's a single shot which lasts for the entire duration of that video. The view will be familiar to anyone who uses Skype or Chatroulette or seen the film Unfriended, turning us into a kind of ghost in their machine, looking out voyeuristically eavesdropping on their behaviour. On that level it's already fascinating but it's the content and the magnetic charisma of the participants which led me to spend the same duration as Unfriended watching them.
The order of the three pieces is not unlike Pulp Fiction. The Application has Murray and Platt sitting in the British Library atrium debating how they should make the application to be part of Bloomberg, considering the kind of work they do and how to describe their collaboration. The Name has them in a domestic setting, we assume their flat having a steaming argument about the content of the work they're going to submit and the ramifications of deciding whose name appears first in the collaboration. The Work presents us with the video of which we've already heard snippets during The Name, in which the artists rigorously discuss what the work they're making should be about, in other words what's notionally the discussion about what the work includes is the work itself. Through the three recordings, we're watching the beginning, end and middle of the process, although I turned up in the middle of The Name, so I saw half the end, the beginning, then the middle and then the other half of the end.
In all three pieces, we see the two artists having some kind of argument. The Application offers the more polite, passive aggressive jockeying which inevitably happens in public spaces when the theatre of cruelty is rehearsed through micro gestures, unfinished sentences, questions which are really suggestions and the slow widening of the space between the participants on the bench and so screen. The Name shows all out war, as domestic privacy means that volcanic passions can bubble across the surface scorching everything in their path, old arguments brought into play during the new, running away from the situation either physically or mentally through ignoring the other person or simply pretending an argument isn't happening at all. The Work merges the two as someone with very clear ideas of what they want to achieve finds themselves dealing with a partner who doesn't know really and is procrastinating. Would you like a coffee?
Whatever the intentions of the artists in creating the work (see the following paragraph), the film studies student who's still looking for the perfect job in me can't help wondering if they've somehow made a romantic comedy in the style of mid-noughties Abbas Kiarostami, with his lengthy shot durations focused on faces, improvised with the passion of a Cassavetes piece. People who argue with this intensity tend to be in love, at least in my experience and once you have that idea fixed in your head, everything which happens on screen is either a hilarious riot or deeply disturbing from moment to moment. Every now and then Platt's eyes boggle momentarily at something Murray's said, he's very much the straight man in this, or his face blanks as he realises he's clearly said the wrong thing and Murray's about to shut him down. I frequently found myself laughing in the gallery space. Some scripted comedies are less funny than this is in places for the right and wrong reasons.
Which isn't to say you're not constantly aware that there's presumably a fair amount of artifice involved, that we're not necessarily watching reality. Are we really seeing three incidents which happened to be filmed, or the visual backfilling of a structure? Was this the actual moment when they submitted the application or a recreation and did they plan the sticking points ahead? In choosing to film the discussion of what the work is about and make that the work, was that a decision made beforehand or did it emerge naturally? Is the argument they have over billing real? Certainly we're provided with enough doubt as the audio from the The Work somewhat acts as a commentary to the discussion which is also happening in front of us during The Name, even interacting in a way not unlike the dvd scene in Doctor Who's Blink. Is this even their flat? Do they even live together as is mentioned during the ebb and flow?
Samples of each of the works appear on the couple's Vimeo page (actually mentioned in the video) along with a lengthy chunk of The Name and skipping through, it's startling just how raw some of the emotions seem to the extent that if it is some kind of improvised character piece, Murray in particular could seamlessly change professions. I suppose what niggles at me is the extent to which Platt's aware of what's being shot in the space while the argument is in full flow, shifting his camera to include Murray as she steps out of his breathing space taking her mug and blanket upstairs. Were these the only three videos recorded or are we seeing the videos they chose to fill the gaps? Looking at their biographies might provide some answers. Asking the artists directly too (since as is usual with Bloomberg there isn't some accompanying text). However fascinating that is, I probably don't want to know. Who needs mundane answers? The mystery is far more entertaining.