Saturday, 29 May 2010

Technology worship rituals: Katie Paterson and Adam Dix at Haunch of Venison, London review

Detail of painting by Adam Dix, photograph copyright Margaret Sharrow 2010

If you are visiting the Royal Academy, perhaps to see the Glasgow Boys, Treasures of Budapest, or to pop into No New Thing Under the Sun (the latter being a very interesting mixed exhibition in a room, free until 9 January 2011), take yourself out the front exit, turn right, right again, and come to the classically columned front directly behind the Royal Academy. This is Haunch of Venison, part of a series of high-end private galleries (there are also Haunches in Berlin, Zurich and New York), that sometimes acts as an overflow exhibition space for the RA (as with the excellent Earth exhibition in 2009. The quality of work in Haunch of Venison is always extremely high, and frequently much more cutting-edge than the work at the other galleries strung along Cork Street, which is what you face when you leave the gallery. The work never feels crowded in the generously sized rooms, yet it is not the ultramassive space that one finds in the Saatchi Gallery, or the Baltic in Newcastle.

Recently, there's been work by, among others, the pop artist Tom Wesselmann. But for me the real standout was an extensive series of paintings by Adam Dix and conceptual works by Katie Paterson, part of the Transmission exhibition that ran from 7 October - 6 November 2010. Perhaps they are people who, like me, was captivated by the PBS television series Cosmos hosted by Carl Sagan, with his stories of humanity's relationship with the wider universe. In effect this is Adam Dix's theme: the paintings depict humans engaged in ritual, borrowed from a range of iconographies: medieval, processional, photographs of gymnastic exercise, weddings and early television watching. But in each case the ritual is juxtaposed with an anachronistic item of technology. The bards at a Welsh eisteddfod are grouped around a microwave transmission tower. Traditionally costumed festival goers of indeterminate European origin bear satellite dishes at the end of poles instead of flowers or candles. An idealised 1950s family watch television, their ears plugged into iPod earphones, with curious white discs, or nimbuses, hovering over their heads. It is at once dislocating, slightly uncomfortable, and yet it makes sense. Are the people ritualising the technology, worshipping it as people did other things in the past, really us? Are we just as superstitious now, in a way that we imagine to be perfectly rational?

Paterson's work takes us further and further from earth. E.M.E. stands for 'Earth-Moon-Earth', an installation comprising a baby grand piano that plays itself, according to a score that can be followed from a nearby book. The music is Beethoven's Moonlight Sonata, which was translated into Morse code (which das and dits you can hear through headphones), distorted by bouncing off the surface of the moon, and beamed back, minus a large number of randomly spaced notes. This is the version that the automatic player-piano-with-electronics-not-paper-scrolls presses out, mechanically, endlessly, with odd lacunae, pauses and hesitations, and short intervals of silence just before the final cadence. Translation, mistranslation, mechanical misunderstanding. Beethoven sang an ode to the moon, and at last the moon sings it back to us. The moon appears again in a different installation, in which a single bulb hangs in an otherwise dark room, emitting light balanced not to mimic daylight, but moonlight. Nearby is a box with a lifetime's supply of such bulbs. Moonlight for life.

In a different room, a box full of slides of a potentially infinite series of photographs of space. No stars are visible (though many are pinpointed on a nearby work): a series of sample prints are all uniformly blank. They are stamped by Paterson with their edition numbers: an infinitely tiny number in a set comprising infinity. Photographing every sector of space is a project that will never finish. The physical expression of these works, i.e. what is in front of you on the wall, is less compelling than the other pieces. But the impact of the idea, which sets you free in Sagan's 'spaceship of the imagination', is far more powerful.

more images from the exhibition

Katie Paterson at Haunch of Venison website

Katie Paterson's website

Adam Dix's website


Rich Pepper said...

Quite agree - I wrote a similar post in fact

Margaret Sharrow said...

Thanks for reading, Rich!