NAVIGATING SPACE AND TIME: SIMON STARLING’S NEVER THE SAME RIVER (POSSIBLE FUTURES, PROBABLE PASTS) by Anja Isabel Schneider (16 December 2010 – 20 February 2011, Camden Art Centre)

The latest in the series of artist-curated exhibitions at Camden Art Centre, Simon Starling’s recent Never The Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts) pulled and propelled the viewer into both the past and future by collapsing of time and space. In re-staging formerly exhibited works in their exact historical and spatial repositioning, that is their original installation from the Centre’s exhibition history, they are presented alongside new works as possible inclusions for the CAC’s future program. Starling’s poignant selection and staging of the work literally destabilized one’s viewing experience and navigation through the exhibition, exposing the viewer to bold juxtapositions and a number of unexpected deviations from the norm.

In his navigational notes, Starling speaks of “orchestrating a series of collisions between the works”, as one of the exhibition’s aims. Collisions involve forces and result in a modified velocity of bodies. Through the works’ at times “awkward” display, the viewer awkwardly experiences a sense of displacement. Such is the case of Francis Upritchard’s Sloth Creature (2005) originally exposed in the 2005 group exhibition The Way We Work Now. On entering the exhibition space, the work’s repositioning created an unexpected barrier, forcing one to circumvent it or stray from his or her route altogether. The weird, striking creature, composed of fake fur and recycled leather, was placed in a glass vitrine amidst sculptures and found vases. Displayed in uncomfortably close proximity to Keith Coventry’s bronze sculpture Burgess Park SE5, Planted 1983, Destroyed 1988 (1994) (previously included in Strange Events Permit Themselves the Luxury of Occurring from 2008), the work momentarily defined one’s own position throughout the exhibition as one of an “unstable present”. As is the case with Francis Bacon’s Figure Study II (1945-46), seen only partially from a distance. This time around, the painting is hidden behind the large panels of The Man who looked back (2010). Jeremy Millar’s installation, on the other hand, included art historical photographic reproductions of primarily antique sculptures and mythical scenes. While Hilma af Klint’s almost unnoticeable two symbolic watercolors mapping World War II were installed in a darkened space next to Michael Stevenson’s projection On How Things Behave (2010).

Although Starling acknowledges several texts and exhibitions to be influential in the conception of Never The Same River– Daniel Birnbaum’s essay Chronology (Sternberg Press, 2007), The Quick and the Dead curated by Peter Eleey at the Walker Art Center in 2008, as well as Michael Asher’s exhibition at Santa Monica Museum of Art in 2008– another key precedent of the exhibition space as palimpsest rendered visible would be Urs Fischer & Gavin Brown’s controversial Who’s Afraid of Jasper Johns? However, this exhibition, held at the Tony Shafrazi Gallery in 2008, consisted of works hung on top of wall paper reproductions, as in the case of a Francis Bacon reproduction on top of a Kenny Scharf.

While maneuvering Starling’s exhibition, it became clear that the recurring appearance of chairs was another significant leitmotif– one that assumes a certain, almost diabolical pathos in the context of a palimpsest, by virtue of all the human presence and absence such an object simultaneously contains (worth remarking is Urs Fischer’s kindred preoccupation with chairs). Examples included Marcel Breuer’s Long Chair (1936), Liberty & Co’s High-backed chair in the Egyptian style (c.1884) , Chrome plated steel tube chair with pressed ply back and seat (1931) designed by Ernö Goldfinger, as well as one of David Lamelas’ black and white photographs which form part of his installation A Study of Relationships Between Inner and Outer Space (1969). Not to mention benches and chairs which may actually be used to view a work or an installation, e.g., for Matthew Buckingham’s False Future (2008) which revisits the story of Louis Le Prince, for many the true inventor of the moving image, thus preceding the Lumière Brothers. Projected onto a white cloth in a continuous 16mm loop, one sees people crossing a bridge in Leeds, reminiscent of Le Prince’s original shot described by the artist’s voice over, leading up to the inventor’s mysterious vanishing. Moving on to a different time and speed, Douglas Huebler’s Duration Piece no. 31 Boston (1974) depicts a “young woman photographed at the exact instant in time determined to be exactly 1/8 of a second before midnight” the exposure time being one fourth of a second, the photographic image reconciles the passing of 1973 and the beginning of 1974. Despite, its initial unease, Never The Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts) unravels treasures and tropes in a heightened awareness of the viewer perceiving him or herself as a viewer, in a possible future of successful exhibition making.

Artists included in the exhibition : Francis Alÿs, Francis Bacon, Christian Boltanski, Matthew Buckingham, Harry Burton, Tony Carter, Keith Coventry, Andrea Fisher, Stefan Gec, Ernő Goldfinger, Graham Gussin, Susan Hiller, Douglas Huebler, Des Hughes, ISOKON/Marcel Breuer, Patrick Keiller, Hilma af Klint, David Lamelas, Liberty & Co, Sean Lynch, Mary Martin, Jeremy Millar, Jacques Monory, Henry Moore, Mike Nelson, John Riddy, Michael Stevenson, Katja Strunz, Paul Thek, Francis Upritchard.


All pictures are installation view of Never The Same River (Possible Futures, Probable Pasts) – Selected by Simon Starling
Courtesy the artist and Camden Arts Centre
© Camden Arts Centre, Photo credit Andy Keate

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