Hanging on by a thread
Mark Wallinger at the Jerwood Gallery
Review by Jilliene Sellner
Mark Wallinger, known for his droll installations and winner of the 2007 Turner Prize, brings his thoughtful witticism to the Jerwood Gallery. On entering the Foreshore Gallery, one is confronted with a void, almost literally. The Human Figure in Space is an immense grid drawn by approximately three miles of kite string suspended like a graph on three black walls which face the third wall clad in mirror. The work draws on early photographer Eadweard Muybridge’s late 19th century photographic stop motion studies, such as The Horse in Motion, Boys Playing Leapfrog and The Human Figure in Motion. Yet, in this reconstruction of Muybridge’s graph, which feels like a futurist ballet studio, the viewer is the subject of study.
PICTURE: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth © Mark Wallinger
Birdman, a group of small photographic prints, documents the International Birdman Competition which takes place “in Sussex”, and was made specifically for the Jerwood Gallery exhibition. I was perplexed as to why I had never heard of this event – but then found it takes place in WEST Sussex. The photographs are playful, out-of-context encapsulations of bodies in time and space, or in Muybridge’s “bullet time”. The viewer can see they are jumping or plummeting in fancy dress but we don’t know to where exactly.
Finally, Landscape with the Fall of Icarus is comprised of five televisions playing slow motion video with a glitched VHS aesthetic of people “literally hanging on by a thread”, riding zip wires and walking suspended ropes, on that fine line between balanced and fallen, teetering more towards the latter than maintaining equilibrium.
It is a refreshingly minimalist and focussed installation bound together by history and a philosophical arc, by portraying instances not just of human movement, but of individuals frozen in action, almost as an allegory for humanity strolling haphazardly, even disastrously, through time. All of the works seem to be studies in photography and film, whilst, particularly with The Human Figure in Space, simultaneously making the viewer the subject in a pseudo-scientific study. But of what? Photography is the presence of the past, offering time travel or immortality. Muybridge’s models and subjects are now long dead, yet we can view their intimate yet seemingly dull moments on YouTube: carrying water, getting dressed. How will our (digital) selfies be viewed in 120 years (if they last that long)?
Wallinger’s work demands several viewings and some retrospection (is it a reflection on physics (motion and time) or an appraisal of our obsolescence?) and I highly recommend revisiting Muybridge’s work before attending the exhibition.
• Mark Wallinger: The Human Figure in Space will be at the Jerwood Gallery until 7th October, Tuesday to Sunday, 11am to 5pm.
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