Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Review: du.ra.tion. @ House Gallery

In the television series Life After People, a coterie of the world's greatest scientists, across many fields of research, combine to speculate upon Earth's future in the aftermath of complete human disappearance, from 'day zero' in which pets run wild to demonstrate our theory of 'survival of the fittest', to ten thousand years hence, when our once-thought-indestructible Towers of Babel crumble like shortbread in the jaws of plant life.  

As the planet's most advanced species, alone capable of conceptualising and documenting art, literature, music and the sciences (fair enough, a chimp probably could paint a masterpiece, but only under intense human prompting), we may expect our contribution to world history to be indelible, but indeed, even our most steadfast detritus would fade in a relatively short time, such that our presence would quickly become largely untraceable (according to this documentary).

Du.ra.tion., the outgoing exhibition at Camberwell's House Gallery, shared by four female artists of varying levels of experience (Beverley Bennett is in the final year of her Fine Art MA; Susannah King is, amongst other placements, ex-Saatchi & Saatchi and currently teaches at City of Westminster College and University of Middlesex), is suggestive of such an event, in its study of the 'physical gesture' and 'the anatomy of space and time'.  

Sally Jones, showing photographic pieces such as 'Sitting Room', 'Bedroom' and 'Kitchen', seems to have set her camera to document the very first moments. Right from the extinction, or wholesale Star Trek-style conveyance into another dimension, canteen seats are left empty and lights left on, in spaces both dreamlike and wholly recognisable. The nineteenth-century photographer William H. Warner was convinced of the then-commonly held belief that a dead person's retinas 'photographed' their final image, such that the perpetrator of a murder could be identified, within a certain time window. One could speculate whether the final frame in the eye of a petrified foetus might record something resembling Susannah King's 'Shot 01 Overview Watered'.  

In the works of both Beverley Bennett and Laura Davidson, it is suggested that to truly possess a space is to tarnish it. Thoroughly domesticated cats and dogs dig and spray to mark their territory and warn off all-comers. One can imagine the feral claws of an abandoned dog scratching frantically at the manifestation of recent human presence, at curtains and cupboards, delaying the need to hunt and compete. In Bennett's works, such as 'Tomorrow Is Uncertain', given pride of place in the front window of the gallery, there is an attempt to articulate this primal language, in which these feral claws, bereft of words, issue their deadly warning.  

Laura Davidson refers to her room-filling work '30' as having been completed with similarly 'somatic' actions. Again a new language is evoked, one simple enough to dispense with human words. The semiotics of the space express in the viewer memories of camping or attendance of a muddy music festival, and furthermore, the markings left behind by the departed crowds. The deadly human touch is equally felt by her 'Galveston' sea shells, on which the coastal devastation effected by an upturned oil container is captured, or so it seems. 'Warm as the sun, dipped in black', Lauryn Hill sings in my mind as I see them.

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