Afternoon Dust

A Vessel For Viewing: Pavilion's Auditorium

Pavilion is a partnership between artists Sophie Yetton and Gabriel Birch, developing sculptural and architectural installations that act as vehicles for the interaction between audiences and the work of other artists. Auditorium is one such installation, designed for screening artists’ films: an integrated screen and seating platform comprised of a number of flat wooden panels, offset against one another at slight angles in a manner suggestive of fragmentation and precariousness. At LIMBO in Margate the structure reminded me of a sort of improvised coracle, and though the hard wooden slats were slightly uncomfortable given the duration of the film programme, it did encourage me to settle down and put my feet up, and at the same time entered into an interesting dialogue with some of the films on show.

I have to confess that there are a couple of things that are starting to bore me in artists’ films: one is the idea of ‘contemporary ruins’ or ‘ruins of the future’, which may still hold some critical purchase but has also spawned so many dull views of decrepit modernist architecture accompanied by doomy soundtracks; the second is ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake, as if there were still some surviving notions of transcendent artistic meaning in need of demolition via the studied avoidance of clarity and intelligibility. Thomas Lock’s Body Dysfunctional falls into the first category, its camera roaming aimlessly around an abandoned hospital without any indication as to why the derelict building should be of interest or its significance for past inhabitants or present debates. Mirza and Butler’s The Space Between is perhaps an example of the second category: its colourful analogue images “constantly fluctuate between object representation and surface abstraction”, proposing an inherently unstable ontology of the filmic medium that teeters from transparency to opaqueness and back again without any apparent motivation (counter-proposal: everything is motivated).

Richard Whitby’s Palatul weaves a semi-fictional narrative connecting inner-city stray dogs with the infamous presidential palace built for dictator Nicolai Ceauşescu, presenting both as abandoned yet unresolved remnants of a repressed past. In contrast to Lock’s film, Whitby’s meditation on squalid monuments to a past hurriedly and imperfectly erased raises pressing questions regarding how societies attempt to deal with shared trauma and balance the need to forget with that of forging genuine resolutions. The dogs themselves are beautifully and tenderly filmed, underscoring the involvement in these questions of actual subjectivities (human, canine, or otherwise). Mary Hurrell’s Tilt Your Head Towards Me (Remixed Performance Works) has the suspicious appearance of rehashed performance documentation; as a film I wasn’t particularly struck by it, though it made me want to see her live performance work.

The most interesting parts of the programme for me were those that seemed to strike up some kind of dialogue with the Auditorium installation itself. Helene Kazan’s Living on the Edge is a stop frame animation generated from a single archive photograph of a flooded London house, with fantastic use of water sounds as the depicted room fills up with water. The floating objects in the film seemed to resonate with the raised boat-like structure seating the audience; news footage of people being rescued from their homes in inflatable dinghies came easily to mind. Linda Persson’s stunning Encounter, in which a man performs a dance on a small floating platform in the middle of a lake, enacts a kind of mirroring of matter and discourse: the choreography’s precarious negotiation of weights and balances both embodies and critically interrogates the equilibrium between humans and the rest of nature represented through the performer’s position within the landscape. Pavilion’s installation allows this thinking embodiment to be repeated in the way viewers are required to balance themselves on the structure to view the work, becoming part of the film’s performance of physical and discursive presence — a highly effective intervention.

Overall, it seems that Pavilion are best able to achieve their aim of proposing “a new archetype for the gallery” when the form of their interventions intersects with that of the works they are being used to display: a comprehensive approach to the arrangement of gallery space that takes this relationship into account could indeed invite new ways of viewing and responding to artworks. Some more thought could be given to Auditorium as an enabling device, particularly regarding the way its uneven, fragmented surfaces could potentially disable or discourage some viewers, but it nonetheless seems a step forward in an interesting direction.

Auditorium is open at LIMBO in Margate next weekend Friday 8th – Sunday 10th March, and is well worth a visit.