In the introduction to these writings I asked how exhibitions (hardware) become memory or imprint (software) and each writer has deftly presented us with a way through story, sound and image. Oddly, in creating a reflection of the works in the digital realm somewhere hardware responds, and thus the image of the archive so prevalent in Price’s work is stirred
‘three works present a fictional past, parallel present, and imagined future, interweaving compact narratives that explore social and sexual histories and our changing relationship with the material and the digital’
A dark room, big art, loud music. A glut of information, two-fold, big budget, decent and generous artist talk. A right-on politic, right here in the city, creating relation, and the buzz of working in response. A blockbuster. A term coined in 1943 when advertisements in Variety and Motion Picture Herald described the RKO film Bombardier as, ‘The block-buster of all action-thrill-service shows!’. Action was war, thrill the story and service America’s soldiers.
What is the service of the show? Is my service writing, exposition, commissioning, gathering, emailing, or the work of positioning in this space? I guess when I saw SLOW DANS I thought, this is a bit of a blockbuster, no? and I wanted to know why I thought that, what others thought and how it came to be. The original phrase blockbuster was a bomb, used in World War II by the RAF, one which had enough incendiary power to destroy an entire street or large building.
I had always assumed the phrase’s origins were innocent and spoke of queues of folk busting around the block to see a new picture. Seems naive now. Although this is maybe not the right place to produce a synoptic and historical account of such metaphors, I am constantly reminded of the ill makings of language when they are exposed.
There is however something of the blockbuster to the SLOW DANS cycle, of the cities it has visited (London, Manchester, Glasgow), of its block-like size, its interweaving of the grafts and grievances of the 20th Century and its cinematic nature, darkness and volume. KOHL, one of three central films, is about the earth, machinery and people. The press release for the work describes ‘compacted narratives’: the projectors even ‘sit at two different heights, representing spaces below and above ground […] the interconnections of our geological past and technological present, and explorations of social and economic hierarchies of labour’. The works document the erasure of industrial landmarks from the landscape, the folly of men in suits and ties and disembodied femme gestures. The installation’s insidious container, here in Glasgow, is a former tobacco merchant’s mansion, obfuscated from its original purpose, like a bomber painted as a shark.
Consequently and moving deliberately beyond this I suppose the reality and impact of the large-scale-touring-well-attended-widely-documented-big-budget-show [not quite so catchy] is what I wanted to think about. In a 1999 review of an art writing book of reviews, yup, of the blockbuster Titanic, then critic Vernon Shetley says of the works, ‘essays cast in the mode of ideological unmasking reach unsurprising conclusions.’
I am wondering if this speaks a bit to how I’m feeling now, is the large-scale-touring-well-attended-widely-documented-big-budget-show a self fulfilling prophecy in our current circumstances? With institutionalised funding and acquisition, press releases and conferences and responses and reviews, what of smaller-local-dodgily-attended-ill-documented-no-budget-shows that have nonetheless had a massive impact on those that did see it? Is it just a shame? At least it’s not a shame that this blockbuster was of top quality, because it would be unfair, and an unhelpful and sweeping gesture, to diminish all LSTWAWDBBSs into Self-Fulfilling Blockbusters, and perhaps therein lies the service-show of the writing, to go beyond the scale or prevalence and to document the close and particular feeling of the experience of the cycle for actual folk standing in the room with the work.
Rosie Roberts is an artist, writer and editor in Glasgow generally working collaboratively through ideas of synchronicity, time, locality and affect. She also works as a tour guide and in a shop. She commissioned Ailie Ormston, Rachel McBrinn and Rosie O’Grady to respond to Elizabeth Price’s work SLOW DANS.
Elizabeth Price studied at the Ruskin School of Art at Oxford University, 1985-88 and the Royal College of Art in London, graduating in 1991. In 1999 she received her PhD in Fine Art from Leeds University. Working mainly with digital video, Price creates immersive pieces which envelop the viewer. Combining archival imagery, photography, text and sound, the works have an immersive, surreal quality.
Elizabeth Price: SLOW DANS, 27 Jan to 14 May 2023. Mon-Thu & Sat 10am to 5pm, Fri & Sun 11am to 5pm. Gallery of Modern Art (GoMA), Royal Exchange Square, Glasgow