‘Slow Criticism’ anybody?

The Accurate Perception Available When Our Eye Becomes Single.
Richard Ducker and Ian Thompson, with Sarah Sparkes.
3 Dec till 18 Dec 2022. Thames-Side Studios Gallery
London SE18 5NR.

I recall it was a cold, cold night, and our journey, beyond our usual urban parameters, seemed to make it all the colder. We were heading out, beyond New Cross, beyond Deptford, beyond even Greenwich to those wilder, less cosmopolitan and less historicised lands more than half-way to Woolwich. We watched the bus’s digital display while looking for the stop at which we needed to alight, meanwhile checking with the bus driver just to be safe. When he finally set us down after an unusually long ride, we found ourselves in the edgelands of London, monopolised by wide roads, roundabouts and industrial buildings.

Following instructions translated from Google into my pocketbook we found ourselves walking down a dimly lit side road, heading – my instincts told me – towards the river. Eventually we came to an industrial complex where a security guard pointed out our final destination. Then, through a perspex panel in a steel door, we glimpsed the face of a friend who opened-up and welcomed us in.

After the usual post-pandemic near-hugs and quasi-kisses we settled into some catch-up chat, oiled by wine and encouraged by nibbles before entering the gallery space proper. There, the artist Richard Ducker had set out a scenario at least as bleak as the journey through Southeast London that we had just completed. The space retained its original industrial character and purpose, with high, thin walls and perhaps a peaked or slanting roof? I don’t recall such details clearly, but perhaps it is acceptable to write about art that we cannot fully recall? After all, is any art writing ever fully current, comprehensive or complete?

Perhaps a slightly patchy memory, and the slightly mystifying effects of passed time, just provide another, slightly more historical way for us to look at and evaluate art? Art doesn’t run to the same timetable as the rest of the world, and so, it seems OK to me to write some ‘slow criticism’, even about a show almost entirely from memory and in retrospect, and for no reason other than to experiment, again, with the tradition of art writing and the lingering possibilities or impossibilities of a 21st century art criticism.

To continue, the artist had built what he called ‘bunkers’, i.e. objects that looked a little like five-aside football goals but which provided a floor bound screen on which digital video images were projected. Their scale, form, and the angles at which they were set, brought to mind a video installation made by Hiraki Sawa at Chisenhale Gallery some years ago.

Richard Ducker and Ian Thompson, with Sarah Sparkes, ‘The Accurate Perception Available When Our Eye Becomes Single’, multi-screen installation (film still), 2022

Other videos were projected in more familiar ways, directly on walls or monitors – again, I can’t recall accurately. The artist’s images were mainly black and white, and so, where and when a splash of vibrant colour occasionally intervened, it had a significant impact, as if allowing a kind of exotic otherness into an otherwise austere, homogenously grim scenario.

These works were the product of several artists in collaboration. First there was the image maker (Richard Ducker), who had collected and edited the video elements. Then there was the sound artist, or music composer (Ian Thompson), who had created a sensuously sonic dimension, which, while operating in its own way and its own right, inevitably enhanced the images and confirmed the installation’s evocation of places and times where humans might fear to tread – all depicted in inescapable loops.

Then there was a performance artist (Sarah Sparkes) who, I believe (and again, I might be recall inaccurately) appeared briefly in one of the looped videos wearing a vividly coloured costume and also performed in the space in special weekend events.

The ironic mirroring of the journey to this out of the way gallery with the remote desolation found in the carefully composed sound and pictures, soon became a repeated observation in our chats with other visitors. It felt like a hardcore night-out for committed art-appreciators, and not for the feint-hearted. A baleful poetics haunted the given space, in which an epitaph seemed to have been scribed for a humanity that had exhausted its capacity for hope sometime back in the first nuclear age, and before the era of colour TV.

The images seemed to be (and I hope the artists don’t mind if I guess here rather than research or consult) derived from certain remote and uncivilised places in the South East of England (Suffolk, Essex, or Kent perhaps?) associated with the production of nuclear power. These non-sites retain a ghostly sense of an abandoned future, of surpassed technologies and faded belief. And all of this is woven by these artists into a weird manscape, seemingly inhospitable to the hardiest life-forms and resistant to nature’s tendency to overwhelm all obstructions to its purpose.

Having toured the various screens and contemplated the ‘bunkers’, monitors, and other elements of the installation, we found ourselves negotiating with other visitors the best way to get home from this obscure venue. Our return journey involved another barren bus ride, but this time fortunately diverted via the Millennium Dome (site of another lost future, that of New Labour) where the state-of-the-art Jubilee Line underground train service finally provided us with the kind of safe, fast, brightly illuminated and thoroughly modern way home that we felt that we deserved, following a memorable trip to the edgelands of London, but also to the limits of humanity, and on to the extremities of these three artists and their collective imagining.


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