Thursday, 28 August 2008

For the last twenty minutes a helicopter has been circling overhead. I slept this afternoon, exhausted from nothing, and was woken at times by vehicles passing through the sky above our house. Now, a helicopter hovers, sometimes perfectly still, sometimes moving in gentle spirals. Everyone is out of their houses on the ground looking up, or out on their balconies looking at the black shape whose noise drowns out even conversation. Nothing can be seen of the people inside the machine, nor what they are looking for, or at. The trees bend in the downdraught as the flying machine dips and lowers beneath the horizon of roofs and birds angrily squabble in the trees, bolting across the courtyard spaces for shelter from the incessant clamour. The tone and pitch of the helicopter’s blades and engines varies as it turns and moves out of lines of auditory connection. There is no hope of sleep now, so I wait for everyone to come home and write some small sentences.

Earlier we visited KW, a converted margarine factory now occupying the very definition of a contemporary art space. Post-industrial, concrete floors, white walls, hi definition flyers on photographic paper, a café in its fern-riddled courtyard, a café made from two wedges of glass and serving bruschetta and fair-trade coffee. Beyond this, in through the neon painted doors, were three exhibitions; top, middle and bottom.

Ricarda Roggan’s Still Life and Albrecht Schäfe’s Winds and Windings can be written about elsewhere, by other people. The show is nearly finished, all that needs to be said, has probably been said.

What sort of a name is Thinking on Your Feet? The import of words on visual art exhibitions – what does this mean? Can a sculptor make film? Richard Serra can. Knowing nothing of his ‘real’ work, I offer no comment on chronologies or art histories, only the fact that I have not seen filmwork like this before. Black and white, five films projected around a dim gallery:

The first one to be encountered; one male hand desperately trying to pre-empt the drop of an object and grasp it in his fist, repeated many times, the forearm quivering, the hand emitting tiny communications, come on… nearly… success. The secret messages of hands, the tension of task, the beauty of still frame moving photography.

Then, in the next film, two pairs of hands, encountered nearly towards the end of the film, seeming collecting nothing, collecting invisible particles from dark wooden floorboards, filmed from above in dark aspect. As the film finishes, betrays its date, and then begins again, a container of sawdust is thrown on the floor and the men’s hands begin to clasp, shovel and sweep with their palms and digits. The film, its intense grain, picks-up not on the object of the task but again the quick movements of the hands, the constantly reforming mechanisms of collection, pinches between thumb and forefinger, seen slippages between malleability and impassable tools; committed to tape; the basis of evolution and the modern world reduced to repetition and purposed uselessness. Another film about hands, later, shows us a man trying to free himself from the string that binds his wrists.

The finest piece the exhibition offered however was Railroad Turnbridge, a series of static and moving shots of a turning bridge that moves to let a ship pass. The parallels of steel, the bridge’s natural act of reframing, avian interruptions of unscheduled birds or glimpses of sky, rolling, straight shadows, all contained in a heavy, uneven black and white silent film. There is time and there is structure and there are no narratives there, apart from the narratives that fall by accident.

Serra’s films could be an act of understanding his other art form, much as tape music helps me to understand the composition of novels. And in denying this focus, a new direction is encountered in the work. These are not films, they are filmic aids to sculpture. I understand them in the same way that I understand Cara can only ride her bike with no hands when she is clapping.