Text by Laura Bushell
The profile of artists working in moving image has been elevated in recent years by those who’ve made the leap into cinema – Steve McQueen, Sam Taylor-Wood, Gillian Wearing – and those taking over leading gallery spaces – Tacita Dean at Tate Modern, Pipilotti Rist at The Hayward. From ancillary practice to fine art media in its own right, it seems moving image is in the ascendant as a powerful, relevant and consumable context for visual art practice.
Things weren’t quite so rosy for the art form when Guy Sherwin first switched from painting to video in the 1960s; it’s taken time for this embrace to take hold. But this profile elevation for the form has prompted a renewal of interest in the work of pioneers of the 1960s and 70s. So Sherwin’s continued commitment to exploring the rendering of imagery on film and the process involved in doing so bestows great value to his work in the field.
This new exhibition at Siobhan Davies Studios, curated by Charles Danby, combines historical works with a new three-screen installation made especially for the space. Staircase (2011) embodies the synthesis between Sherwin’s work and this dance studio setting perfectly by recapitulating the actual staircase in the building into shadowy images projected onto another wall. So one blank architectural surface becomes a ‘screen’ for a digital rendering of another architectural feature, a ghostly duplicate with figures (one assumes dancers) spiraling down it. With this the solid becomes intangible, but the dancers still dance, as shadows this time.
Other works originally made on film have been transferred to DVD in order to be shown on monitors around the building. Cycle (1978) is another work concerned with movement; this time the action of a bicycle being ridden in a circle, the journey round which takes it through a puddle, thus building line upon line of water marks on the pavement as it goes. Sherwin is interested in the perceptual and the material, both of which come through in this film. The duration of the piece is marked by each additional line drawn upon the pavement by the bike. By turn, the making of the mark by the tyre and puddle water is subtly echoed as its traces are captured by the chemical process fixing their image on film.
Sherwin’s Tree Reflection works are also observational pieces that use modified projectors and a manipulated print to add an uncanny element to an otherwise familiar image – a tree-lined river. By printing the film then superimposing the same image again, only flipped the other way up, the reflection and the ‘real’ image merge on the film and both in fact play in opposite directions. This is presented as an ongoing loop which runs through two interlocked projectors, shining on opposite walls. It makes much more sense to see it in action, which took place at the Studios last weekend, when more spaces in the Studios were opened up to screen Sherwin’s work.
Also screening during this weekend was Sound Cuts, an example of Sherwin’s signature optical sound method performed with Lynn Loo. With it, Sherwin manipulates the optical sound track on a strip of celluloid, cutting by hand and rejoining the film to create rhythm within both the resulting imagery and sounds produced by this re-jigged strip of film.
Trying to describe Sherwin’s work is at odds with the seeming simplicity of it when viewed in person. There is technical playfulness at work in his pieces that reveals and questions the act of committing recording the world in moving image that becomes much more complex when put into words. The only solution is to go and see it.
Guy Sherwin: Movements in Light, Curated by Charles Danby, continues until 25 November at Siobhan Davies Studios.
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Courtesy the artist