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'Gallery 31: I Should Be Doing Something Else Right Now' Review - Somerset House

23rd Jan – 31st May 2020

FREE Entry


I Should Be Doing Something Else Right Now is a one room show inside Somerset House's Gallery 31. Works from six artists in the studio community are on display, they have been asked to address “the idea of change and it's transformative or violent power” through video, sculpture, sound, and digital prints. The artists on show work with themes of temporality and technology, exploring what it means to make art in a society fixated on motion and impermanence.

Inside the gallery. Photography and Copyright: Tim Bowditch ©

I’m writing this as I sit in the corner of the gallery, wearing headphones connected to an ipad which plays rkss and Laura Fox’s sound piece. The music has a meshy, digital quality which resonates with the artists' work. Both explore queer experience, futurity, and it’s relationship with technology through various mediums like music, AR (Augmented Reality), and VR. The piece on display, titled 'my pronouns are gender is a complex set of experiences and systems that interrelate and we should work towards understanding one another's entaglements within them', reminds me of electronic birdsong, what a field or forest made of code might sound like. In the centre of the room a clean white table with steel legs hold’s Vivienne Griffith’s work. Shrine of our Times/ I should be doing something else right now which presents itself as an array of white, transparent, and metallic objects with a sort of clinical look strewn across a table top. On closer inspection they reveal themselves to be conventional things like acupuncture needles and empty pill capsules placed around carved blocks of alabaster and plaster in various shapes like hands and simple blocks. All this is enclosed by a neat glass box. It feels clinical, impersonal, and perhaps through this attempts to address a common theme for Griffith, what she calls the “problematics of hyper-individualism.” She describes her work as anti-disciplinarian, and the piece is an entity that defies categorisation.

To the left of this display table a still from a damaged film reel has been pasted, in fact it seems almost printed, onto the wall. It’s bottom text proclaims to the room ‘What I saw washed over me but you can’t see it here.’ This is Rhea Storr’s piece, Resist and Play, and it’s punchy colours loom above a plain grey marble fireplace who’s grate has been covered with a mirror. Storr makes work that asks where images either fail or resist us. This particular piece highlights the impossibility for a still or photo to recount an experience. On the wall across from it, also pasted/printed on, is Maeve Brennan's piece, The Goods. It is a low res poster image of the binder page of a convicted antiquarian dealer. The reason, according to the exhibit info paper, for it’s low pixel quality is that it’s subject, a looted crater, is still in underground circulation. These two photos talk, or stare at each other, discussing their missing subjects. I think out of all the works on show, their dialogue best captures the exhibition's theme of change, and the idea of here/elsewhere. Griffith’s case sits silent between them, a mediator.

Inside the gallery. Photography and Copyright: Tim Bowditch ©

The last work in the gallery plays on a large TV screen hung on the third available wall. Sam Williams and Roly Porter’s film is a layered sequence of organic forms and bodily motion. In it, actors repeat futile movements, stepping backwards and forwards, lightly waving and caressing arms. It is the only piece in the exhibition in motion, and yet despite the fluid movements on screen, the gallery as a whole seems static. In a room with old wooden floorboards and crispy white walls the show feels a bit like a memorial for something. In any case something still. Maybe the best word to use is the one Griffith's chose to include in her title, ‘shrine’. Despite this stillness, something about the show feels impermanent: none of its fixtures present themselves as presences. The wires of the grey TV and headphones are not tucked behind the screen, but hang under, Griffith's display table too fells wispy, like it could relocate comfortably to the floorspace of a high end store. The images themselves, though they take up the whole of their wall, do not protrude from it, there is a sense of extreme flatness in the way they were printed that gives them this still quality. Certainly it is an exhibition for the modern age, slender and digital.

The impermanence of the show could be related back to it's theme, that of change, and maybe the curation seeks to put that into perspective. The works form a collection (I won't use the word narrative because the pieces don't bear strong enough relationships to one another to craft this) which feels a bit haunting. The lack of emotion, the held back enclosed nature of the work, speaks to the impersonality and rapidness that visiting a gallery often entails now. I'm still sat with the headphones on, watching people come and go and come and go entering to snap a quick picture of the fireplace's mirror, or of the well lit centre table, before darting off again. Strangely ironic, given the exhibition's name 'I should be doing something else right now'. When I remove the headphones, I feel a little bit like a spell has been broken, like the music was the anchor linking the various parts of the show together. Without them, the room feels even more still, even more abstracted from any sense of corporeality or movement.

Inside the gallery. Photography and Copyright: Tim Bowditch ©

The show is small, but free, and offers a glimpse of the tussle in society between an endless barrage of things to be done and media to be consumed, and the silent, stony quality that art can acquire in reflection, or response.

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