Review of The British Art Show 7: In The Days of the Comet
The Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, London (2011)
Coming round slightly more often than a comet, The British Art Show is a large group exhibition that takes place every five years. It travels around the country so this year opens in Nottingham before moving to the Hayward Gallery in London, then on to Glasgow and Plymouth. The curators of this year’s show Lisa Le Feuvre and Tom Morton have selected 39 artists who have impressed them with work made over the last five years. They use the comet of the show’s title as an image for the ways that humans have always tried impose order on indifferent astronomical matter, and measure time. This allows them to introduce a theme of artwork that makes use of real or imagined histories in order to understand or re-imagine the present. As with most exhibitions of this size, the curatorial concept is vague enough to allow the inclusion of a vast range of diverse artistic practices expressed in different media. There is a lot of film and video work, presented in a series of ‘black box’ rooms around the Hayward space. The most popular room by far is the one showing Christian Marclay’s The Clock (2010), perhaps partly for the comfy sofas turning it into an enjoyable cinematic experience. The film itself is one of Marclay’s characteristic re-editing exercises of existing film material. For The Clock, he edits together scenes from films showing clocks, and then correlates this with real time. Entering the space at 2pm for example, I saw a montage of films where the action was all taking place at 2pm. Through its intersection of ‘real’ and ‘reel’ time, the film creates an interesting viewing experience, allowing for the production of unexpected motifs – there is a lot of drinking at 2pm in films! – as well as a constant awareness of the relation of time to narrative structure. Another popular piece is Roger Hiorns’s sculpture/performance Untitled (2005-2010), where a crowd gather at irregular and unannounced intervals to watch a naked youth watching a fire on a replica park bench. In contrast with the strict structure of Marclay’s film, Hiorns’ work suggests a more ritualistic and primal relation to time and the elements. Overall, it was interesting to compare how time and history emerged as concerns in different ways, yet also most rewarding to avoid thematising the work too much and explore the diversity of individual practices squashed into the Hayward until time passes, the show re-assembles and moves on.