Afternoon Dust

Recent exhibitions at Grand Union

There seems to be something of a curtain theme going on at Birmingham art space Grand Union at the moment. First there was Maia Conran’s video projection Trace, a loop of swelling and falling lines that was inspired by curtains lifted by a breeze, but in its wall-length proportions came to resemble an abstract breathing architecture. Calming and hypnotic, the work’s expansion out from the wall was aided by the tendency of human perception to infer a three-dimensional space from the most tenuous of cues, a visual habit Conran also explored in her film performance Deep within the mirror we perceive a faint line. Whereas the latter work focused on the uncanniness of the spatial illusion, however, Trace retained the intimacy and the quietness of the situation that inspired it.

Following on from Conran’s digital curtain, Holly Antrum’s recently opened exhibition A Diffuse Citizen makes great use of a ceiling-to-floor fabric curtain to create a room within a room, inside which hung a screen showing her film Catalogue. The space outside the inner chamber forms a passageway lined by full-length windows on two opposing sides, and space for hanging drawings and collages on the remaining sides. At Friday’s opening, with the early evening sun pouring through the windows, it looked fantastic.

Catalogue was made in collaboration with Jennifer Pike, an artist now in her early nineties. The gestures, editing techniques, and music chosen serve to locate Pike, as the central protagonist, within a Modernist avant-garde milieu: the sudden jump-cuts, extreme close-ups, and use of devices such as masks and glass to distort the image all point to an aesthetic approach that derives its liberating potency from sensory shock. They point, but from a distance. For all the hallmarks it borrows, Catalogue is not a Modernist film, nor does it project a sense of nostalgia or loss. This distance between a historical moment and a present vantage point is tangible throughout the film, though I couldn’t quite figure out how it arises.

The film’s discursive backdrop is perforated with little holes, gaps between the weave that allow the light and sounds of another world to leak through: the noise of children playing in a school playground; a plastic tube of digestive biscuits on the kitchen counter; and so on. One cut serves to illustrate this disjunction: a view of a cluttered kitchen, presumably in Pike’s home, is transformed in a split-second into the same view, though with bluer colouration and sharper resolution. The implication is that the first view had been shot on an older medium or had been tinted by a filter, which in turn suggests two different times or two different eras superimposed. It is often said of Modernism that it lacked a sense of its own historical limits; in Antrum and Pike’s film, two sets of limits quietly and gently brush against one another. Pressing against the glass. This contact makes for an absorbing and subtly moving work.

Holly Antrum’s A Diffuse Citizen continues at Grand Union until 26th July.