‘I will sit right down, waiting for the gift of sound and vision’ sang David Bowie ever the pioneer in 1977. He exactly expressed the impulse behind The Infinite Mix: Contemporary Sound and Image by the Hayward Gallery. The show consists of 10 immersive installations in which the interplay of moving image and music is crucial. The works remix, compose or commission soundtracks that relate in unexpected ways to the visual elements of the show. The balance of sound to vision is 50/50 and together claim to open up new veins in art’s ‘infinite mix’.
The Hayward Gallery has a strong reputation for video art; the best work on film I ever saw was their installation of Carsten Hollers “Fara Fara”. The film follows a Congolese musical contest in which two sides (in this case the Werrason and Koffi Olomide) compete over who can play the longest. Opening with the prediction ‘it will make this town dance upside down’ It is very watchable. The music is paramount, the colours vibrant, the filming polished and the work mesmerising. The crux is that the Hayward Gallery is trying to launch video art as accessible and enjoyable to reveal a new direction in contemporary art.
Infinite Mix is a spectacular exhibition; Dominique Gonazale-Forsters’ holographic opera singer floating in a red dress will haunt you for weeks. The songs are catchy and the images often beautiful. The building is a big factor too. While the Hayward Gallery is being revamped it’s staged a pop-up in 180 the Strand. The curator’s idea seems to have been that it takes an abandoned brutalist office block with stripped out raw interiors and drugged up graffiti to really engage the audience today. It’s an exhilarating, edgy, sympathetic space, oozing anti-authority with a warehouse party feel. Open from 12-8pm, free and located right by Kings College Infinite Mix assumes and sides with a somewhat subversive audience.
The show opens with Turner Winner Martin Creeds “Work 1701” perhaps the strongest of the exhibition, certainly the most toe-tapping. First a man with a prosthetic leg appears from behind a building and makes his way over a zebra crossing to Creeds’ own song ‘You Return’. A woman with a bobbing gait makes her way back in the opposite direction. And the sequence continues until a smartly dressed man shuffles across determinedly on his bottom, crunching knuckles as he moves along on his arms. This is a work about persistence and fortitude. Much of Creeds’ work has focused on gesture, and in this piece the debilities of the passers-by become dance moves. When asked why, Creed replied ‘I like the way people move…life can look like a dance.’ Decontextualized the significance of the film and the song would be entirely different, together in “Work 1701” they form a jubilant celebration of getting from A to B.
In Cameron Jamie’s “Massage the History” young men finger chintzy cushions provocatively and gyrate over upholstery in a suburban house, shot on mobiles and camcorders to Sonic Youths ‘massage the history’. The music enlightens the otherwise bizarre recording. Interspersed is found footage of violent events in anonymous American suburbs. It’s hard to distinguish the fact from fiction. However where Holler and Creed’s works are up-beat, seamless, enjoyable pieces to view, Jamie’s is difficult, violent, and uncomfortable. While this anti-aesthetic might be interesting, it fails to engage its audience long enough for them to find out. If the Infinite Mix aims to popularise video art it fails with Jamie’s piece.
As the exhibition progresses the technology feels increasingly incontinent, Ugo Rondione’s “Thanx 4 nothing” shows his boyfriend John Giorno reading a poem he wrote for his 70th birthday. Giorno stands in bare feet and a tuxedo and wishes ‘to give my thanks to everyone for everything…may every drug I ever took come back and get you high,’ he ends ‘Americans, thanks for the neglect, I did it without you’. It’s a fun poem. Rondione presents it on two vast screens and 16 monitors showing Giorno from multiple angles. This kind of visual realisation is uncalled for, the poem was complete in itself already and the presentation on film conveys nothing more than self-absorption. Rondione has pulled the together threads into a ball of string rather than a new fabric.
A stand-alone video art exhibition is a smart curatorial idea: film sits uncomfortably among other media in a gallery where the visitor is used to stationary objects and impatient at a work demanding 15 minutes viewing time. With a whole exhibition devoted to film we appreciate the pieces as more than an opportunity to sit down; the concept is certainly one that could be taken further. However the content is a mix at best – some works are exhilarating but too much else is thin with quasi-profound and risqué overtones. Peter Greenaway said, ‘too many proofs spoil the truth’ in film. I feel that in trying to create a comprehensive new genre of video art the curators have maybe scraped the barrel too low to find a body of work to support their premise.