Kim Coleman and Jenny Hogarth’s video camera appears to be struggling; the splayed fan of intense ultraviolet strip lights are clearly too much for it to handle. The image begins to pulse gently, and though this is due to a technological idiosyncrasy, the effect is highly compelling. The mundanity of the Dan Flavinesque subject is soon revealed however when the strip lights are switched off and a bikini-clad girl is glimpsed exiting from what is by now ostensibly a sunbed. This short film, prosaically titled ‘Sunbed’ (all works 2008), is one of six collaborative video works comprising Coleman and Hogarth’s exhibition Act Natural.
Characterised by experimentation, the artists’ playfully contrived works explore the dynamics of light via a range of choreographed and non-choreographed scenarios. In ‘Museum Light’ a beam of light flits wildly around a large screen as if someone were flashing a torch in the darkened gallery. Ocular confusion quickly gives way to the realisation that the subject of this film is a globular light, shot with some incredibly shaky camera work. As the piece unfolds you get the impression that Coleman and Hogarth have just picked up a video camera for the first time, playing aimlessly with its zoom and focus. Hanging in front of the screen, an actual globe disrupts the piece by casting a shadow, but the relationship between prop and film is barely explored.
More interesting and less taxing on the eye is the enigmatic ‘Table’. Projected on to a large screen and resembling a full moon, a single locked-off shot shows a white circular table seen from above. The table was filmed for two seconds every ten minutes over the course of three days and nights. This understated piece truncates time into a chain of still images revealing the day’s shifting patterns of light as well as capturing glimpses of daily interaction with the table in its museum location.
A similar strategy is used in ‘Sugar Paper’ where a projector hangs directly above another circular table covered with sheets of coloured paper. Projected on to the table is a shot of the same papercovered tabletop, causing a brief moment of confusion regarding what is real and what is projected. Every so often disembodied hands appear to create more confusion by moving the paper around. Formally satisfying but conceptually trite, the work sets up a dichotomy of attraction and repulsion that resists resolution.
Nearby, projected on to the gallery floor, is ‘Sunpaper’, which recalls the experiments of 19th century photographic pioneers such as Fox Talbot and Anna Atkins; the artists create a cyanotype by laying leaves onto light sensitive paper, exposing it to the sun and using a pond to develop the image. This piece acts as a keynote for the entire show, which, although built on experimentation, often fails to transcend the realms of elemental investigation. Presenting the process of discovery as the work itself has considerable potential, but Coleman and Hogarth’s slight, unspectacular and largely underwhelming experiments are in essence unfinished sketches—preludes perhaps to further developed pieces.
David Trigg is a writer based in Bristol