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Review: Rirkrit Tiravanija / Alexander Ponomarev

November 8, 2010

Anne Blood reviews current work on show at Pilar Corrias and Calvert 22. 

Tucked behind the buzz of Oxford Street, Rirkrit Tiravanija’s current exhibition at Pilar Corrias includes two new video works that correspond to the passage of a single working day. Screened upstairs in the main gallery, Lung Neaw (2010), an eight-hour and nineteen-minute-long video portrait, charts the day in the life of an elderly Thai man known simply as Uncle Neau. Made in direct reference to Andy Warhol’s early experiments with video art, Lung Neaw engages with the long-running debates about video as a medium and the ways in which this supposedly unbiased means of mechanical reproduction can be used as a part of a continual questioning of artistic process. Playing with the acts of documentation and surveillance, the work tests the viewer’s ability to fully comprehend the simplicity of all the actions that occur in a single day.

Downstairs in the lower gallery, Pilar 06/10/10 (2010), an installation of seven 35mm slide projectors, follows Pilar Corrias’s director as she recounts a day of her working life at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park. Made as a response to Marcel Broodthaer’s 1972 performance at the same location, Pilar 06/10/10 plays with the idea of the performance of the everyday by creating layers of re-enactment and narrative. Through a progression of slides, the viewer watches as the gallery director recounts the actions of her day through a series of simple phrases written with chalk on a black board. This slow march of still images is deliberately timed to correspond to the opening hours of the gallery, matching the duration of narrative to the duration of action in a recurring loop.

Across town at Calvert 22, Alexander Ponomarev’s first solo UK exhibition, Sea Stories, addresses ideas of performance, documentation and re-enactment within a much more playful vein. Here through film, wall texts, drawings and photographs, Ponomarev recounts his various collaborations with the Russian navy, such as a work for which the artist gained permission to paint an active nuclear submarine in anti-camouflage. This action is also repeated within the gallery in Base, a nine-metre kinetic work involving a motorised model submarine that undergoes a chameleonic transformation when submerged. Base rather eloquently manages to dance between the comedic and the controlled: Ponomarev’s first action of ‘exposing’ the nuclear submarine is retold within the childlike safety of a see-through tank, and a weapon of ultimate devastation becomes a brightly coloured toy.

Sea Stories also includes a series of self-portraits drawn while the artist was aboard an arctic research vessel. Ponomarev describes these drawings, which have been distorted by being submerged up to 4,000 metres below sea level, as works made in collaboration with the sea. While each distorted self-portrait is elegantly displayed in its own hanging case, they are more important as remnants or artefacts left from Ponomarev’s performance/exchange with the sea than as objects on display in a gallery.  The emphasis on process is further heightened by the inclusion of photographs that document Ponomarev packaging the portraits into pressurized containers that are then exposed to the compressing force of the ocean, a series of actions which had to be repeated for each portrait. Much like Base, these portraits toy with the idea of play and repetition as a means through which to understand a desire for control and child-like fascination with the incomprehensible power of the sea.

Rirkrit Tiravanija runs until 1st December at Pilar Corrias.
Alexander Ponomarev: Sea Stories runs until 21st November at Calvert 22.
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