In Never the Same River, Simon Starling anticipates possible futures for Camden Arts Centre by juxtaposing a range of works from its past exhibition programme with pieces by younger artists. Indeed, the show’s aim, to destabilise the present by attending to its past and its future, is shared in various ways by each of the individual works, which were selected for their ability to ‘worry at the borders of our understanding of time’.
David Lamelas’ A Study of Relationships Between Inner and Outer Space was first filmed and screened at Camden Arts Centre during the run up to the Apollo moon landing in 1969. This documentary style film begins inside the gallery, with long shots of the exhibition space. The scope is then expanded and we see Finchley Road itself. As the camera continues to zoom out, by way of a rocket ascending, we get an overview of London including aerial maps and statistics concerning the population, transport networks and communication systems of the time. The film concludes with a passer-by speculating on a future in space. Viewing this film in the same location as it was originally shot makes us acutely aware of the time that has elapsed since the film was first screened. This positioning of the viewer in the same location in space seems to dramatise the distance felt between different historical moments and this effect serves as a good introduction to the rest of Starling’s show. Indeed, all of the works that had been exhibited previously are placed in exactly the same position that they once occupied.
Matthew Buckingham’s False Future (2007), a 16mm film installation depicting an anonymous looking bridge in Leeds, was originally exhibited as part of his solo show of the same year. Filmed during the daytime, the footage shows passers-by mundanely going about their business. A French narrator then begins to tell the story of Louis Le Prince, the little-known inventor who developed a working motion picture system at least five years before the Lumière Brothers. Had Le Prince not mysteriously disappeared aboard a train between Dijon and Paris in 1890, he would most likely be known today as the originator of cinema and the medium of film would also have existed five years earlier. The narrator informs us that twenty-six frames of film survived Le Prince, and he goes on to describe the footage which appears to correspond to the footage on screen. This work enters into dialogue with that of Lamelas as the same location in space is viewed again at a different time. Placed next to Buckingham’s work is Douglas Huebler’s Duration Piece #31 Boston (1974), first exhibited at CAC in 2002. Huebler’s black-and-white photograph depicts a naked woman smiling for the camera. This photograph was taken on December 31st 1973 at 1/8 of a second before midnight. The exposure time was 1/4 of a second and because of this the woman’s body occupies an undecidable temporal position, located halfway between 1973 and 1974. The juxtaposition of these works by Buckingham and Huebler was predetermined, due to their previous appearance at CAC, however both works also seem comfortable together as explorations of the nature and history of time-based media.
Two works concerned with time travel both making their debut here are Sean Lynch’s DeLorean Progress Report (2010), and Jeremy Millar’s The Man who Looked Back (2010). Lynch’s project traces the DeLorean car to the bottom of the Irish Sea, combining photographs of the rusty material on the sea bed with hand pressed stainless steel models of the DeLorean roof and wing panels. These models are instantly recognisable as an icon of time travel from the 1980s, made famous by Spielberg’s Back to the Future trilogy. Millar’s archival work The Man Who Looked Back continues the artist’s preoccupation with German art historian Aby Warburg. Photographic reproductions of images taken from art history (all relating to the myth of Orpheus, for whom ‘looking back’ had tragic consequences) are posted onto hessian covered free-standing boards, giving the project the aged look of an historical museum display. Among these older images are a number of stills taken from Chris Marker’s La Jetée (1962), one of the most convincing expressions of time-travel in film.
As Starling anticipates CAC’s future programme with works by Lynch and Millar, Graham Gussin’s Fall (7200-1) (1998) exploits an agitated sense of expectation concerning a future event. Fall dominates the main gallery space and consists of a large projection of a lake coupled with a hard drive and computer that houses generating software randomly triggering an event in which we see something fall out of the sky, dramatically disturbing the surface of the lake. This event occurs so infrequently that the work becomes not so much about the disturbance but about the possibility of witnessing it, the state of anticipation holding the viewer in front of the tranquil scene for long periods of time, often with no reward.
Starling’s show works coherently on many levels, engaging the viewer’s collective and social memory whilst also engaging with the memories and objects that haunt CAC’s history. Starling himself is one such ghostly figure, now returning to the centre after a residency in 1999 and a solo show in 2000. For his solo show Starling had installed a roughly-built stove entitled Burn-Time in Gallery 3. When CAC was refurbished soon after, the architects, without realising the stove to be a temporary edition, included it in their plans. Starling’s own work is now an integral part of CAC’s structure, a strange coincidence because his great-great-uncle was the architect of the original building. Starling’s project is inspired by this meeting across time, between the architect who designed the Centre’s outer space and his future nephew, who time and again has transformed its inner space.
Simon Starling: Never the Same River was on view 16 December 2010 – 20 February 2011.