Patrick Keiller’s The Robinson Institute in Tate’s Duveen Galleries takes the visitor on a walk through the British countryside – but one that rapidly fragments and complicates the term ‘British’, and questions what on earth we mean by the word ‘countryside’. Keiller structures his installation around the metafictional conceit that researchers have located film canisters and notebooks belonging to Keiller’s fictional everyman, Robinson – the protagonist of his Robinson trilogy – in an abandoned caravan. The researchers have used these to re-construct Robinson’s last journey, interweaving stills and footage from Keiller’s final Robinson film (Robinson in Ruins, 2010) with a heterogeneous selection of items from Tate’s permanent collection, together with maps, borrowed artefacts such as a piece of the Wold Cottage meteorite, clips of film and pieces of archive footage. The result is a psychogeographic meander that refutes any notions of edenic (or nationalist) pastoral, and instead unfolds a vision of the landscape as a palimpsest of human usage, overwritten by economic and political concerns.
Comparison is the name of the game in this small but tightly focussed exhibition of three Harun Farocki films – yet it quickly becomes apparent that there are no stable coordinates from which to correlate and contrast here. Each of the three works on display – Comparison via a Third (2007), which gives the exhibition its name, I Thought I Was Seeing Convicts (2000) and Immersion (2009) – initially seems to offer the viewer a simple exercise in drawing out similarities and differences. This sense is underlined by Faroki’s use of split-screen projection in all three pieces, but the initial premise of binary pairings is complicated by an increasingly uneasy awareness of multiple interrelations.
This review was originally published on Kultureflash in January 2009
In their latest film on show at the South London Gallery, Danish collective Superflex – who have also turned their hands to large-scale installations and process-based projects – flood a full scale replica of a Macdonald’s; subtle it ain’t, but it sure makes for compelling viewing. The opening shots pan across eerily deserted counters and tabletops, a Marie Celeste of consumer capitalism, and when the water starts to flow in under the door it does so swiftly and with an air of gleeful menace. It surges about the feet of a giant plastic Ronald MacDonald statue, gradually toppling him until he bobs in the water like a fast food Ozymandius. As the water level rises, it acquires a scummy wrack of drink cups, straws, burger boxes and bloated chips. Beautiful camera work, combined with an atmospheric soundtrack of humming food units and slapping water, helps Flooded Macdonalds build into a deeply depressing evocation of consumption at a dead end, the threat of climate change, and the vulnerability of human creation. Like Superflex’s first foray into film, Buring Car (2008), made in response to the civil unrest in Paris and Copenhagen during 2007, Flooded Macdonald’s straddles the disparate genres of disaster movie, documentary, film art and political statement, just managing to avoid bludgeoning its audience with conclusions. As Macdonald’s vanishes from sight and the golden arches fizzle out over the water line, we are left with a bleak vision that resonates strongly with the current air of doubt and insecurity.
The review was originally published on Kultureflash in December 2008
Julian Rosefeldt’s lavishly staged, multi-channel film installations create complex visual narratives, which strike a neat balance between the clearly decipherable and the determinedly ambiguous. The Ship of Fools, currently showing at the Max Wigram Gallery, is a theatrical, skilfully choreographed work that plays out across four screens and deals overtly with the charged subject of German nationalism, but refrains from drawing didactic conclusions. One of the four screens shows a pack of incessantly barking German shepherds in a dark, gothic forest (the film was shot at Castle Sacrow in Potsdam, occupied by the Nazis during their regime); their cacophony merges with music from Wagner’s song-cycle Wesendonck Lieder, to form a soundtrack which underscores the action unfolding across the other three screens. Three men stand gazing upon three different landscapes, whose rolling mists and gleaming expanses of water reference German Romantic painters such as Casper David Friedrich. A skin-head with a German eagle tattoo emblazoned across his shoulders wades out into a swamp; a back-packer on the edge of a lake watches as a ship full of people frantically waving German flags passes him by; a figure dressed all in black releases a bird of prey from under his coat. Each mise-en-scene suggests the ultimate emptiness of nationalist dogma, but the anxious barking of the dogs and the lugubrious music entail that an intimation of threat remains.