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About A Minute – The Gopher Hole, London

Review by Carla MacKinnon

The Gopher Hole is a brand new venue and project space nestling beneath El Paso Restaurant at 350-354 Old Street in London. It’s a cosy basement venue but the gallery’s founders – aberrant architecture and Beatrice Galilee – have big plans for it. With an interest in “popular culture across borders”, The Gopher Hole looks to curate ideas and to facilitate critical debate on contemporary culture, the arts and society. The venue promises a diverse programme, from exhibitions and film screenings to interdisciplinary events and discussion.

Last Thursday, The Gopher Hole opened its doors to a small army of smart looking East London art lovers for a private view of its inaugural exhibition – About A Minute. The show takes as its starting point the increasing speed and availability of information, images and data and the correlating shortening of the common attention span. In a culture communicating through 140-character tweets and absorbing knowledge by skimming the ocean of information available at the touch of a button, sustained focus is increasingly rare. In the gallery context this can prove a frustrating challenge for curators. Should an artist respond to the needs of an increasingly skittish and time-poor audience, even at the expense of subtlety or detail? Must artists learn the tricks of advertisers and marketeers to compete with the noisy razzle dazzle of the city for public attention?

In About A Minute a selection of artists, designers, architects and writers respond to “a minute”, presenting a varied and lively take on the theme. The gallery is littered with compelling objects, all vying for the fickle attentions of the visitor. An old cassette player is screwed to a wall invitingly. When the play button is pressed the listener is treated to a minute long spoken word piece by poet Luke Wright, describing all the things that happen simultaneously “in the time it took you to tell me what I already knew”. The choice of the analogue, old school medium is a nice touch. After listening the visitor is instructed to wind the tape back, a reminder of magnetic tape’s reassuringly physical method of capturing a period in time. Ralf Pflugfelder’s striking conceptual piece The New Minute Society proposes a new kind of minute – one consisting of just 48 seconds. Wonderfully simple, the work consists of a digital clock running this new form of measuring time, alongside an oddly convincing (while entirely absurd) text encouraging viewers to sign up to the New Minute Society and enjoy the benefits, which include more leisure time and a longer lifespan. Elaine W Ho’s Getting Cold This Time of Year invites the visitor to take away a watch face with no minute hand. Hundreds of these tiny, ticking objects wait in a box for the hungry hand of the gallery-goer, ever keen on an exhibition souvenir. In an adjacent box, however, is a collection of typed cards laying out a set of slightly oblique conditions to adhere to if you choose to take one of the devices. These include the avoidance of references to time in conversation, or to any discussion of ‘meeting up again, talking soon or staying in touch’. The watches live on it the pockets of the visitor, a ticking reminder of these suggestions. Whether anyone will adhere to the requests on the card is questionable though the pleasing, if largely useless objects are satisfying in their own right.

There are over a dozen more artworks in this diverting and diverse show, which is well worth a look in. It is playful and not too precious, an engaging sketchbook of ideas. The most exciting element is in the curation of the contributors, cutting-edge practitioners from a cross-section of disciplines. This variety of voices seems central to The Gopher Hole’s cultural mission, and the result bodes well for this colourful new project space.

About A Minute runs until 13 February 2011. www.holygopher.com

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