2 October – 9 December 2018
Store X is currently showing the free video/film exhibition “Strange Days: Memories of the Future.” The sense of distant time and half-remembered things is pertinent to the installation, which is concerned, as the title suggests, with memory. As the venue puts it: “history collides with the present, and future speculations are vexed by a distant past.” The venue brings together twenty-one video and film installations in an abandoned warehouse-type space, right next to King's College London's Strand campus.
Camille Henrot's Grosse Fatigue
The exhibition is extraordinary and, in some cases, difficult to grasp. The remarkable thing about the exhibition isn’t in the understanding - it’s the delight in the sublime visual and auditory quality of the work at hand. We enter to the pounding, lulling beat of the spoken word in Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue, a piece that uses countless image searches, Wikipedia pages and video clips to create an overwhelming sense of the universe; and indeed, the ‘narrator’ (if we may call him that) is himself dictating a kind of pastiche of the creation story. It’s oddly soothing and satisfying, and the overall effect is remarkable.
In a piece confusingly titled Happy Birthday, an animated construction of a man repeats future and past dates. At one point, he opens his mouth and out spills a veritable river of blood. Is this a comment on masculinity, and male anxiety? What does it all mean? No matter the interpretation, the exhibition keeps you on your toes.
Perhaps one of the most pleasurable aspects of the exhibition is the way in which the studio has used space so effectively. Every installation feels carefully placed, considered; there is a certain delight in the ways in which we, the audience, are invited to make use of the space ourselves, by lying down, crouching, standing or simply perching on a block of wood. One of the most memorable installations, 4th Floor to Mildness by Pipilotti Rist, plays with this idea by filling the room with beds, upon which visitors lie as they gaze upwards onto a ceiling-screen, which shows scenes filmed underwater. Somehow, this enormous space feels quiet, contained and communal, as we all lie side- by- side. (The beds were very comfortable, too. It was hard to move on from this particular piece).
Pipilotti Rist’s 4th Floor to Mildness
Throughout the cavernous warehouse, with its lingering smell of fresh paint and the not-too-distant buzz of construction, things get pretty weird. We watch a nude silver woman dancing on screen; we take our shoes off; we feel the bass under our skin as we watch Kahlil Joseph’s Fly Paper. Men kiss fish, animated figures bloom like flowers; grotesque animated characters contemplate flatulence-based revenge. In various measures, it’s sad, confusing, bizarre, beautiful – and sometimes just boring.
Perhaps the wonder of the video format is that one visit to the exhibition could never be enough to describe it all. Each piece necessitates several viewings, and certainly, I can see myself going again, if only to watch my favourite installation – John Akomfrah’s Vertigo Sea – again in full. In this piece, three enormous screens sit side by side, showing analogous yet different pieces of footage as breathtaking as they are devastating. Akomfrah deals with the trauma wrought by the ocean, and the trauma man has in turn wrought upon it. Blue Planet fans might find some of the stark imagery of hapless seals familiar, but what is less familiar, and more horrifying, is the depiction of the slave trade, and the gut-churning clips of black bodies washing up on shores. Measured voices offer us details of some of man’s more disturbing attempts to conquer the sea, from the slave trade to the ‘death flights’ of Argentina. It’s an incredible visual merger of the violent past and a strange sense of timelessness afforded by present footage of the Atlantic. It feels contemporary, and all the more heartbreaking for it.
Memory, as the various pieces seem to suggest, is a strange thing: it focuses on the banal and the imagined. A flicker of light caught in a cymbal. Or a whole city; loved, remembered. Or even a song, in Ragnar Kjartansson’s Sorrow, played ninety-six times by rock band The National - the final piece in the exhibition.
I’m already struggling to remember it all. Some of it has become a film montage in my own mind, a grotesque monster of thought and time. I think I will go back sometime, to see how these mind-held memories hold up against the real installations. I’d recommend you go, too.