A Review of The Infinite Mix: Contemporary Sound and Image at 180 The Strand, London
The Store at 180 Strand, is not the elegant exhibition space its chi-chi central London address would have you think. Instead, it is a gutted Brutalist concrete-block that shares the same building as a multi-storey car park. Acting as The Hayward Gallery’s North Bank outpost for the next few months, this otherwise uninhabited space has been ingeniously commandeered by the institution for their autumn exhibition The Infinite Mix: Contemporary Sound and Image.
Conceived to challenge the boundaries of traditional video art, the exhibition is a multifarious ensemble of contemporary works using the combined media of sound and video - multidimensional experiences which are as much about the auditory as the visual. Made up of ten individual studio spaces across four storeys, The Infinite Mix moves from the hypnotic, to the funny, to the bleak and sometimes downright scary, linked by the visitor’s own passage through the space itself. The resulting show is rich and infinitely intriguing.
Martin Creed gets the show off to a light-hearted start, the room filled with upbeat pop music written and performed by the artist for his Work No. 1701 (2013). Combined with a film seeming to document the comings-and-goings of a New York crosswalk, Creed explores the act of getting from A to B, using images of pedestrians with mobility difficulties to call attention to the gestures involved in the most everyday of journeys. The variety of ways in which his subjects approach the task of crossing the road acts as a simple and poignant metaphor for the diverse points of view from which we can approach city life.
The humour in Ugo Rondinone’s Studio 3 is of a decidedly more black character. Four wall projectors and floor-level televisions show films of beat poet John Giorno performing his 1970 poem THANX 4 NOTHING which reflects frankly on his life - his lovers, his depression, and the death of friends. TV sets arranged as if they were footlights to the central viewing space, Giorno’s performance is presented to the viewer at all angles, presenting different and changing views of the poet, from close-ups to long shots and side-views. The mixture of emotions and clash of the sentimental staging against his protests of “thanks for the depression problem” makes manifest the ‘primordial wisdom soup’ of which his poem speaks.
Taking the opposite view is Elizabeth Price, whose K (2015) presents a futuristic take on contemporary reality, making a dehumanised look at the mechanics of human experience. Filling Studio 6 with her two-screen video installation, Price presents on one side a chillingly robotic stop frame 3-D animation of the sun, counting time while on the second screen a CGI animation of the production of nylon stockings debunks the idea of human fetish, which pierces through the computerised analysis with flashes of footage of dancing performers. The synthetic text-to-voice dialogue which knits the two videos together analyses the cultural practices of a fictional group of ‘professional mourners’, who attach set procedures to illicit appropriate emotional responses to ‘occasions of significance’.
Upstairs, bouncing brilliantly off of the raw canvas of the building, Dominique Gonzalez-Foerester appears mid-way down a dark corridor, her hologram image glowing scarlet red in imitation of opera star Maria Callas, whose voice sails overhead, the orchestral backing leaking up from the floor of the darkened hall which separates the ghostly apparition from the visitor. Opera (2016) is like a séance, Gonzalez-Foerester a slice of cultural history made incarnate.
Winding down a peripheral stairwell back to the ground floor to reach Studio 10 turns the experience of 180 Strand into its own installation. Replete with the surround-sound metallic clanging of scaffolding poles and muffled whirring of machinery from the building projects going on next door, the descent - marked by blue sharpie arrows and flanked on all sides by exposed brick, cut plasterboard and graffiti - becomes an orchestrated and meaningful gesture, the visitor animated by their physical role in the exhibition, much like when immersed in the works within the studio spaces themselves.
A further stellar example of spatial installation comes from Cyprien Gaillard, with his 2015 Nightlife - a 3-D film and audio piece in which windblown trees in nebulous LA streets protrude into the visitors’ space, echoed masterfully with swells in the accompanying dub soundtrack, conjuring a sculptural element from the collusion of the two time-based media. Gaillard loops a sample including the striking words ‘I was born a loser’, resonating with the images explored in the video - including an oak tree which had been gifted to the African-American gold medallist Jesse Owens by the Nazi organisers of the 1936 Berlin Olympic Games.
Coming at a time when the art world is grappling with the invasion of new technologies, and more and more artists are beginning to experiment with them, The Infinite Mix feels distinctly cutting-edge, and yet fully accomplished. It is successful in presenting highly contemporary media with a reassuring confidence, not drawing specific attention to this fact in and of itself, but rather embracing the innovative ways the cohort of artists have used sound and image in their installations in response to the exhibitions wider brief: addressing historical and contemporary cultural tensions and histories, embracing through subject and medium art and humanity’s ‘infinite mix’.
Infinite Mix is in collaboration with the Vinyl Factory and Hayward Gallery until December 4th 2016
By Lois Haines, a contributor to Arteviste.com