I started to feel conflicted about my online ‘presence’. After attending a number of online exhibitions, online screenings, online performances and online talks; not really there, not really anywhere. Somewhere in between. Perhaps driven by sentiment, a desire formed to revisit some works that have stuck with me in one way or another, and that at this particular time, I take refuge in. Specifically, a documentary, a video and an audio work that connect in how they begin again, again and again.
In 2014, Kunsthall 3,14 hosted the group exhibition Magic Block: Contemporary Art from Chile, which included a screening of Patricio Guzmán’s documentary Nostalgia for the Light (2010). In dialogue with the exhibition, the documentary deals with the impact of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship from 1973 to 1989 but uses the Atacama desert as a focal point. With zero percent humidity, it is one of the driest places on the planet and has, throughout history, preserved layers of human remains. These conditions have also contributed to Chile’s significant role in the field of astronomy, as the high altitude and lack of pollution gives astronomers a clear view to roam and observe the night sky.
In the form of narration and interviews, Guzmán weaves together documentation of the astronomers’ process with stories of the political prisoners who suffered under Pinochet’s regime, bringing us closer to the extensive effort that was put into place to conceal their disappearance. As many of the prisoners were executed and are thought to be buried in the desert, we are met with a group of dedicated women who are left searching for the remains of their family members, 35 years later. Desperately seeking justice for their deaths and trying to find peace.
As the individual memories of former prisoners, family members and the astronomers are laid out, their searching, analytical, and hopeful approach intertwines, perhaps creating an escape through the celestial sphere. The documentary latches onto hope in the face of uncertainty and illustrates a form of coping mechanism: the women collectively carry on their daily search, retracing the desert, while the telescope continues to scan the sky. Determined to unveil what is hidden, in everything that is there but not really there, or maybe somewhere in between an elsewhere. A lingering.
From seeking clarity to embracing the ambiguity: through the act of moving forward but standing still, I am in front of a monitor at Tate Britain looking at Rachel Lowe’s film A Letter to an Unknown Person No. 2 (1996). Unaware of when I entered or when I will leave. In No.2 from the series of seven short films, I follow a hand drawing on the window of a moving car. As the lines are formed, doodled, sketched, the English landscape becomes a continuously changing background. A series of transient moments occur, reappear and vanish. As it loops, I am transported back to all the train journeys where I am between places, where my entire focus is shifted, possibly meditating or just simply drifting away. Lowe’s drawing feels impulsive and energetic, as it desperately attempts to capture a glimpse of something that is long gone, already miles away. These fleeting moments. A frustration intensifies as I am rushed through the landscape, a hesitation to either frame the process, or to continue the search for the final frame.
Obsessively I stare at the video as it keeps playing, much like the countless times I have stared at The Chemical Brothers music video Star Guitar (2002). Looking at the view from the train, for repetitions, to form a narrative, over and over.
Similarly to Lowe’s film series A Letter to an Unknown Person, the last work I have been revisiting considers the effect of simple gestures and extends with the unending loop.
The first time I encountered Ceal Floyer’s audio work ‘Til I Get It Right (2005) was as part of the exhibition Love Story – works from Erling Kagge’s collection in 2015, at the Astrup Fearnley Museum.
Floyer had taken a sample (and the title) from country singer Tammy Wynette’s song ‘Til I Get It Right, 1972 and looped the words ‘I’ll just keep on/til I get it right’. Installed in a bare space, it made me instantly focus on the words, gradually turning them into a mantra. Suddenly I’d forgotten how sweaty I was and how expensive it is to hang around in Oslo on a hot summer day.
As the loop kept playing, I walked around with the artist’s reassurance, overlooking the shore and counting all the yachts that were slowly making their way into the harbour. The movement of the waves seemingly synchronized with the song, lapping again and again on the shore. Feeling slightly hypnotized, the installation transformed itself into a space for self-improvement: the lyrics seemed to be directed at me, encouraging me to continue, to keep moving. They tell me exactly what I feel like I needed to hear, what I want to hear now.
Maria Blom is an artist living and working in Glasgow
Magic Block: Contemporary Art from Chile, a group exhibition curated by Soledad García and Brandon LaBelle at Kunsthall 3,14 in 2014 https://www.kunsthall314.art/magic-block
Rachel Lowe’s A Letter to an Unknown person no. 2 (1996) as part of the Tate Collection, displayed at Tate Britain between 2014 to 2016 https://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/lowe-a-letter-to-an-unknown-person-no-2-t14108
Ceal Floyer’s audio work ‘Til I Get It Right’ (2005) as part of Love Story – works from Erling Kagge’s collection at the Astrup Fearnley Museum in 2015 https://www.afmuseet.no/utstilling/love-story-love-story-verk-fra-erling-kagges-samling