Liverpool Biennial 2010: Silas Fong's Stolen Times for Sale at Media Landscape: Zone East in the basement of the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre.

Media Landscape: Zone East in the basement of the NOVAS Contemporary Urban Centre.

Art Just when you assume that you’ve seen everything there is to see online, you stumble upon the YouTube lift collectors and realise that it will never end. The YouTube lift collectors (or whatever collective noun they might go under) gathers on their profiles hundreds and hundreds of recordings of themselves travelling in lifts, all of them almost exactly the same, the only obvious difference being the location.

Some admittedly have a historic interest (see above) but most contain a near identical mix of glass and steel (see below). Over and over we hear the name and make of lift and location as they initially rush through the doors (information which is then diligently replicated in the title of the video). We watch as they select a floor, hesitating long enough to show a clear view of the buttons. We see a shot of the closed doors, perhaps accompanied by some commentary. Then the doors open again at the destination.

Their motivation must be similar to bus or train spotters of which there are many too on YouTube, or else they’re in competition, who can upload the most to the web, catch them all? The videos span the globe, lifters (?) in countless countries collecting, though it’s also a tragic reminder of how the whole world is turning into a giant urban landscape, millions of lifts taking humanity, upwards, then downwards.

But what struck me on discovering the phenomena, especially as I also scrutinise the Biennial, is how, if these videos were being projected in an art gallery, perhaps strung together in a collection running for minutes or hours, we visitors wouldn’t bat an eyelid; we’d spend minutes indeed pondering the very issues I’ve just discussed in the previous landscape, of man dehumanising his habitat.

That's what Silas Fong has tapped into in Stolen Times for Sale currently displaying on an upturned plasma screen at the Media Landscape: Zone East show in the basement of Novas. From what we can gather the artist has set up a camera outside a lift which, on remote control, stops and opens its doors so that he can film the reaction of passengers who did not request this floor.

Over and over we watch as doors open, the people peer out, then select their intended floor again and the doors close. It’s compulsive especially when the lift is full and a dozen sets of eyes all boggle with surprise on seeing us (or as is more probable the camera lens now pointed in their direction), eleven sets of eyes then momentarily glancing at the person nearest the buttons.

As the title implies, the artist is stealing moments from these lives as he pulls them out of the natural progression of their day; there may be cause and effect even, these could be the vital seconds that later lead them to missing a bus or train, extending the stolen time. That’s more noticeable when the passenger is focused on reading or texting or daydreaming and it takes even longer for them to react to the lift stopping.

In some respects it’s not too far away from Trigger Happy TV or its ancestor Candid Camera in capturing the reaction of the great mass of us when thrown into an abnormal situation. As ever, it’s all about intent. If someone declares themselves to be an artist – and as in Fong’s case has an international reputation then the work they display is art (with due respect to Joseph Beuys).

Plus, the video doesn’t just exist in a single form. The artist has genuinely sold these seconds at previous exhibitions, supplied to the visitor on disc, with a price based on various factors such as duration. Though the version at Novas is uncut, this YouTube upload includes captions that show which moments have previously been claimed:

I’m reminded of the original commercialisation of film, in which Mitchell and Kenyon and their contemporaries would pitch their camera in front of a factory or at some event and then hand out flyers coaxing their subject to come and see themselves on screen at a special show that evening. Except in this case, it’s strangers buying portions of other strangers lives. Shouldn’t they be receiving a cut of the profits?

Until 20th November.

1 comment:

Beth said...

Silas Fong ! Fantastic name, would make a good Bond villain he he :o)