Goldsmiths Curatorial Critique

Sam Taylor Wood: Yes I No

Posted in Reviews by mollybretton on November 7, 2008

Escape Artist 2008

No.1 The Piazza Covent Garden

Harshly spot-lit from the peripheral darkness; the artist’s limp body hangs above a stage, impossibly suspended by colourful party balloons.  Exhibited in the dim lighting of the ground floor the images of Escape Artist present a startling lack of gravity and an uncomfortable tension between the heavy appearance of the artists body and the weightlessness implied by it’s suspension.  It’s like watching a rabbit being pulled from a hat; we’re left asking, if not by magic, how did they do it?  However, for those who have previously experienced Taylor-Wood’s Self Portrait Suspended series the familiarity of this digital trickery will prove a little disappointing.

The building is spacious and un-finished looking and it’s temporary nature as an exhibition space is evident but it is well suited to compliment the second series of photographs displayed on the first floor.  The After Dark images show clowns within abandoned post-industrial settings where the cliché scary clown from ‘It’ has been replaced by clowns that stand around procrastinating, pathetic and dejected. They appear as perfect parodies of the defunct structures in which they stand.

Like in many of the photographs the character of After Dark (With Fire Engine) appears miniaturized by the scale of the industrial architecture surrounding him.  Two objects create a focus in the foreground, a brick and a scrap of paper and the clown stands beside a toy truck looking towards them expectantly.  We sense his desperation for an audience to validate his performance.  In After Dark (With Tunnel) we are placed as that audience as the clown looks out forcing us to accept a certain responsibility for his plight as he precariously balances on the edge of a platform in the beam of an oncoming train.  Has the constant charade of merriment finally become unbearable for him? Or is Taylor-Wood exemplifying these clowns to raise issues surrounding a larger industry of entertainers, ones whose existence is reliant on our presence and continuing support?  The setting of these photographs in a location where the reaction from those watching Covent Garden street performers is audible certainly seems poignant.


White Cube Mason’s Yard

The photographs exhibited at Mason’s Yard are subtle, less dynamic compositions than that of the series at The Piazza.   Often slightly out of focus, and looking more like holiday snaps, the overcast skies and rural scenery of these shots are decidedly bland without the music drifting up from downstairs.  The music sounds like the score to a Sunday night costume drama and instills in these images a much needed depth and romance, especially when one considers these are intended to represent the characters and themes of Wuthering Heights.   

Following the music downstairs we encounter Sigh an eight screen film installation made in collaboration with the BBC Concert Orchestra.  Entering to the side of the conductor we are presented with a further seven screens hung in a circle, each displaying a section of the orchestra.  The musicians readjust their finger positions, pucker their lips to exhale and sweep and pluck at the air but all without the presence of their instruments. 

Despite being set in a disused industrial building, reminiscent of the After Dark series the intimate angles and the divided nature of the sections of the orchestra maintain our focus on the people.  Seduced by the concentration of the players and the details of their denuded physical movements you find yourself regressing to childish wonder at the impossibility of how a combination of objects, hit, stroked and blown in certain ways can combine to create something so immensely moving.

This is a pleasingly composed show and it’s worth the walk to both venues as the quizzical nature of the works stay with you long after you’ve walked away.


Sam Taylor-Wood

Yes I No

White Cube Mason’s Yard, SW1Y 6BU (24th October – 29th November)

and No.1 The Piazza, Covent Garden WC2E 8HA (24th October – 5th November)


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