Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Exhibition of a Film

This interview with Mathieu Copeland appeared on the The Exhibitionist’s blog:


Curated by Mathieu Copeland, The Exhibition of a Film premiered at the Auditorium Fondation Arditi as part of the Biennale of Moving Images at the Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva, on September 19, 2014.

Agnieszka Gratza (AG): To most people, the term “exhibition” implies a gathering of disparate objects in a given environment. You’ve made exhibitions of memories, movements, words, voids, and now film. What connects these paradoxical collections?

Mathieu Copeland (MC): They share the desire to escape the materiality of the work of art. I was also trying to question what an exhibition can be and push its conventional boundaries. What would it be like to have an exhibition made only of movement, or only of words? I’ve always believed in the idea that the materiality of the artwork is of the same nature as that of the exhibition. The location of the artwork and the location of the exhibition merge.

AG: But if, for example, you present something as immaterial as words within four walls, which are quite material, how are they of the same nature?

MC: When my co-curators and I were working on Voids: A Retrospective (2009), the retrospective of empty exhibitions at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, that’s what it was: only the construct of the museum, and the experience of different voids that make up the history of immateriality, from Yves Klein to Robert Barry and Roman Ondák. With Voids, one could wonder if the materiality of the container was the content of the exhibition. Actually, space is often irrelevant. You can do A Spoken Word Exhibition on the street and it’s still A Spoken Word Exhibition.

AG: The premiere of The Exhibition of a Film took place in quite an unusual theater, architecturally speaking. Will the experience of the exhibition vary from one cinema or viewing space to another?

MC: The experience would be different, but the film would still be the film. The Fondation Arditi is a cinema from the 1950s with beautiful architectural fixtures. Screened in a different space, one would experience the work differently. But it is the same for any film. What is cinema? It’s a screen, a projected image, and a polyphony of sound. Polyphony was the way into this project. In The Exhibition of a Film, in addition to polyphonic sound, you have a layering of textures, voices, images, and sensuality.

AG: Your titles are often propositions that contain the whole program of an exhibition. Could you comment on this one?

MC: The Exhibition of a Film is not a sexy title, but it says exactly what it is. It’s about exhibiting a film and filming an exhibition. There’s also a play on words. In French, exposer le film means “to exhibit” as well as “to expose,” which is what you do when you shoot film with an analog camera. The Exhibition of a Film literalizes this double meaning.

AG: You developed the film with Tim Etchells, who took on the role of “dramaturge.” What exactly was Etchells’s role?

MC: It’s a non-narrative film, so he did not write a film scenario or script, but rather helped to orchestrate all the layers between the sound and the projected image. One such moment is when you hear that piece by Lee Ranaldo with the words of Myriam Lefkowitz while looking at images by Laurent Schmid.

AG: You asked Susan Stenger to create the soundtrack without letting her see the images. The day of the premiere she saw them for the first time, an experimental arrangement in which chance plays an important role. On the other hand, the film keeps to the conventions of a feature film, being exactly 100 minutes long.

MC: I took the construct of the ideal feature-length film because it gave me less to choose from. That’s also why I insisted on making a film for cinemas, as opposed to screening it in a gallery. All the same constraints are there but, instead of being the constraints of a film, they are the constraints of an exhibition. It’s a simple displacement.

AG: For all the sophistication of the sound, the image is still bound to the screen. You’re not laying bare the mechanics of projection in the way some experimental filmmakers are.

MC: I’m less interested in what it is to project an image for an audience than in the duality of the work of art: an image onto which we project light—say, a painting, sculpture, or photograph—and the image constructed by light, a film. Maria Eichhorn asked me to film the filming of the first three scenes of the film, in a mise en abyme of sorts. Franck Leibovici decided to use only the beginnings and the ends of the film reels.

AG: You speak of “alternating and confronting abstract elements and/or filmed scenes.” One striking image is the tiny bubbles against the black backdrop, a recurring image that I couldn’t quite identify.

MC: It looks like a monster with myriad eyes, when in fact it’s just bubbles from a coffeemaker. Each is an individual piece realized by Philippe Decrauzat, inspired by a scene in Jean-Luc Godard’s Two or Three Things I Know About Her (1967), where Godard filmed the inlay of a coffee cup. These recurring images impart a rhythm to the film. The film opens and ends with a piece by Charles de Meaux, with the color registration code, and it is punctuated by a series of constructed actions filmed at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, that appear in three different parts of the film. Tim and I hired actors and invited artists, choreographers, poets, and writers to give us instructions directing their movements. A paratext at the end of the film lays out exactly what is happening when—but what we wanted was a unified dramaturgy.

AG: There’s a trend of exhibiting objects as props alongside film or video projections. What do you make of that?

MC: I think these are just leftovers, and that the actual object is the film—not the para-object, nor the para-text. This fetishism is everywhere, on the part of artists as much as spectators. That’s why the film has all these objects that fall and get broken, like that big head made of wax.


Gerry Bibby: Combination Boiler

This review of Gerry Bibby’s Combination Boiler at The Showroom appeared (in Dutch translation) in Metropolis M:

© Gerry Bibby

For the inaugural show at its new gallery space, which had recently moved from Vyner Street in East London to a more central location, Nettie Horn let the Danish collective A Kassen wreck its freshly done up façade and make an artwork using the resulting materials, every scrap of them in fact. With its front door and windowpanes turned into an ‘architectonic sculpture’ inside, for the duration of the show the gallery literally became an open house.

Nothing quite so drastic by way of self-imposed Institutional Critique was in store for The Showroom – which, like Nettie Horn, had relocated to its spacious new home in the Edgware Road area from East London about five years ago – at the hands of its current ‘resident’ artist Gerry Bibby. Whereas A Kassen’s intervention had left the fledgling gallery at the mercy of the elements, Bibby’s own proposal to double-glaze the upstairs windows at The Showroom in the aptly named ‘Combination Boiler’, commissioned by The Showroom together with Chisenhale Gallery and Studio Voltaire as part of its How to Work Together program, stemmed from the opposite impulse. Rather than to destroy and make vulnerable, the artist aimed to fix and improve the lot of The Showroom’s staff.

Bibby’s initial diagnosis, following a visit in the depths of English winter, had to be revised after several meetings with the plumber, who eventually impressed upon the Berlin-based Australian artist that the upstairs radiators were in no need of repair; the glass windows all around the room were what made it freezing cold. Be that as it may, one of the nine radiators ended up stranded downstairs on a bed of oriental rugs (possibly a remnant of a carpet fair held at The Showroom prior to the show), propped up by books and cushions, its murky contents bled and drained into a glass vase displayed on a nearby plinth titled Wishing Well (in a bid to encourage patron donations to raise the not inconsiderable funds needed for the double-glazing). The radiator had been replaced by a copper pipe, signalling its absence, in the sole artwork located upstairs, gleefully named Radiant.

Freed from its official function, not unlike the amputated table leg in Bibby’s 2010 5 Stages Liberation Project, the radiator could take on the role of the artist’s Muse. More prosaically, Bibby found a use for it as a paper rack on the cushy carpet island called Him, thus designated as the artist’s space. When he is around, this is where the artist-in-residence tends to hang out with his laptop, do his writing, and hold the occasional work meeting with his London editor, the curators of If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution, visiting from Amsterdam, or designer Will Holder with whom he is working on the design for his novel: a work-in-progress, of which there is evidence all around the room, in the shape of prints outs on A4 or overhead projection sheets, crossed out and highlighted here and there, cut out and crumpled.

Rather than strewn on the floor, these are glued or attached with tape or red, white and black magnets to overlapping aluminium and blue printing sheets of varying sizes pasted on white window shutters-cum-blackout blinds that the artist pulled out of storage and transformed into makeshift canvases with tell-tale bolts attached to them. Five such collaged canvases, which are referred to as ‘documents’, each duly numbered and subtitled, are mounted onto the walls in the exhibition space. Quoting from the texts posted on each canvas, their parenthetical subtitles – ‘Opening Night’; ‘Sliced like an eyeball’; ‘Under pressure’; ‘Derange’; and ‘Shipwrecked’ – hint at a narrative progression of some sort.

There is method in this madness. All geometrically blue, silver and white with the odd splash of red in the form of a rounded magnet, the five collaged Documents impart a pleasing visual unity to the room. As do the six glass sheets in the Disclosure Dramas series, propped up on silicon rubber whale-shaped ‘feet’ (apparently cast in shoe boxes, though the resemblance with feet stops here) and made to lean against white-painted wood pillars (sourced from the gallery, naturally) in the centre of the room. ‘Sheets of Glass can be hazardous… but perhaps not when they speculate a composition of intersecting lines’, a poetic legend of sorts printed at the back of the exhibition map helpfully suggests. Together they make up Bibby’s ‘modest proposal’ – at close quarters each reveals a set of grisly index fingers cast in rubber gloves, clasping the top edge of the glass to balance the ‘little feet’ – for double-glazed windows.

Unitary Urbanism

This review of Ane Hjort Guttu’s Unitary Urbanism at Le Quartier, Quimper appeared on

Ane Hjort Guttu, Still from "Four Studies of Oslo and New York", 2012

A Living Critique
Unitary Urbanism, staged at Le Quartier, Quimper and curated by its director Keren Detton, is Ane Hjort Guttu’s first solo exhibition in France. The show’s title is borrowed from a manifesto of sorts, the 1961 Basic Program of the Bureau of Unitary Urbanism, signed by Raoul Vaneigem and Attila Kotanyi, both of whom were closely associated with Guy Debord and the Situationist movement. The co-authors of the Basic Program contend, among other things, that modern city planning precludes the possibility of what they call “unitary urbanism”, which they define as a “living critique of this manipulation of cities and their inhabitants, a critique fuelled by the tensions of everyday life”.

A “living critique” of this kind is exactly what the well-judged selection of works on view at Le Quartier, spanning the last seven years of the Oslo-based artist’s career, amounts to. Spread over four rooms, the eight works included in the show range from silkscreen posters and architectural models to video works and sound installations. By and large they relate to the overarching theme of the city, and concern themselves with city planning more specifically, though not exclusively.

The one exception to this – the earliest of the works, from 2007 – is a series of 31 black-and-white photographs of women sculptors shown with their sculptures in a number of prescribed poses or attitudes that apparently, according to the wall label, contrast with how their male counterparts are typically represented (though, in the absence of parallel photographs of male artists, we have to take this on trust). In any case, the link with “unitary urbanism” is not at all obvious in this instance. However, the photographic series does connect to the poignant portrait of an unknown female artist in Untitled (The City At Night), first shown at the Bergen Assembly in 2013, a video projected in the final gallery space.

Guttu’s video work perfectly illustrates the ideas set out in the Basic Program, like where Vaneigem and Kotanyi, under the heading “An Indivisible Freedom” spell things out in the fifth point of their manifesto, “A living critique means setting up bases for an experimental life where people can come together to create their own lives on terrains equipped to their ends”.

The anonymous artist, whom Guttu interviews in Untitled (The City At Night), starts by relating what prompted her radical break with the art world, paralleled by a personal crisis that resulted in her rejection of family life. By severing professional and personal ties, the artist created the conditions for the “experimental life” envisioned by the Situationist program. Her nightly peregrinations around Oslo, in search of specific situations that feed into a single long-term project – a series of abstract geometric drawings confined to a filing cabinet – has led to what the artist views as “genuine encounters” with a community of night strollers.

Like many of Guttu’s video pieces, Untitled (The City At Night) is a composite and layered work. The 22-minute video comes in three formally distinct parts. For the first six minutes, we only hear the voices of the artist and her interviewee; we see nothing other than the subtitles that appear against a black background. This bleeds into the main section in which the ongoing conversation is illustrated by photographs of the filing cabinet and its contents. The film’s three sections build on each other to create an allusive and unsettling account that leaves a lot to the viewer’s imagination.

Ane Hjort Guttu, still from "Untitled (The City At Night)", 2013

Conversation Pieces
Conversations are at the heart of several works in the show. Made with Unitary Urbanism in mind, the sound installation Charlotte and Pierre (2014) is a softly spoken dialogue between two characters whose foreign accents belie their common French names. The quasi-philosophical, dreamy and a tad self-indulgent exchange hinges on Charlotte’s inability or lost ability to perceive the world as it is, that’s to say unmediated, the way it appears to a child. It unfolds against a backdrop of faint traffic noises, of a piece with the simple black wooden structure whose minimal black awning and benches intended for visitors to sit on as they listen to the recording are meant to evoke a bus shelter. The black colour effectively picks up on a recurrent motif of the dialogue as well as visually complimenting the black-and-white photographs of the women sculptors mounted on the walls in the same room.

Ane Hjort Guttu, installation view showing "Charlotte and Pierre", 2014.

Four Studies of Oslo and New York (2012) likewise begins with a briefing between two real estate agents on how sun exposure affects the price of a flat, played over a panoramic shot of an apartment for sale. This is echoed, about halfway through the film, by a longer discussion between two Norwegian architects (Guttu’s father and one of his friends in the guise of Vladimir and Estragon from Samuel Beckett’s play Waiting for Godot). In what could be seen as another instance of “unitary urbanism” advocated by the Situationist program, they bemoan the way Scandinavian housing regulations set up in the 1970s to ensure that access to light is factored into planning decisions have since been diluted, as they bask in the sunshine on a bench facing the Oslo harbour with stacks of books piled besides them from which they occasionally read out.

Commissioned by Le Quartier, the two-channel HD video The Adults (2014) makes a strong visual impact at the outset of the show, owing to the sheer size of the projection and its bright flickering colours. As if to balance out the discursive modes of communication privileged in the above-mentioned pieces, the two boys who are the silent protagonists of The Adults (2014) seem to understand each other without needing to speak. In an interview with curator Keren Detton, Guttu invokes the Danish architect Palle Nielson who saw children at play as “a model for a qualitative society”. The Adults shows the two young boys as if prematurely aged by the invasive, artificial lights of the moving image displays advertising a medley of instantly recognisable products – a blatant case of “the manipulation of cities and their inhabitants” denounced in the Basic Program.

Ane Hjort Guttu, still from "The Adults", 2014

Yet unlike the remaining passengers waiting on the platform or sitting inside subway carriages, dwarfed by the larger-than-life effigies that they either ignore or look at absent-mindedly, the boys give them their full attention and use the pulsing lights as visual cues for a perfectly synchronised choreography à deux, in which they alternatively face and turn their backs on the advertisements. Where adults passively absorb the content of the messages, their concerted play is a way of breaking free and a living embodiment of unitary urbanism.