James Richards The Banality Of The Vernacular
Richards solo show at Chisenhale Gallery reveals the oh-so-grey void behind our vernacular visual landscapes
For his solo exhibition at Chisenhale Gallery, ‘Not Blacking Out, Just Turning the Lights Off’, James Richards has created a new series of video works from montaged and digitally manipulated ‘vernacular visual content’ – from found-footage such as viral web videos and clips from BBC documentaries, to his own filmed portraits of friends and domestic scenes. This is all set to an often jarring musical score, with one silent (and relieving) exception – a meditative sequence comprising a computer graphic of a light bulb rocking to and fro.
The work is shown in a specially designed ‘ambient display structure’ (otherwise known as ‘a room’): two screens, the formats of which are apparently ‘inspired by the weightless flat screens now commonly used for advertising in metropolitan high-streets’, are hung in the middle of the space. Between the screens are a few aluminium benches, looking a bit like church pews. The sound equipment, monitors, and wires are all left visible, and are placed rather unceremoniously on utilitarian aluminium tripods. The floor is covered in a soft grey wall-to-wall carpet, creating a slightly unpleasant conference room-esque atmosphere.
Most importantly, according to the artist, the room is not in darkness. Instead a few lights are left on, which, reflecting off the ceiling, fill the space with a dull grey light. This condition is meant to prevent the films from becoming ‘a window into somewhere else’ and to emphasise their status as just things in the space with you, along with the equipment and other people.
Thus, Richards does not allow you to lose yourself in the images, but rather keeps you almost annoyingly aware of your own presence and the room. To augment this effect, the projection switches half-way through from one screen to the other: ‘Having to alternate your view between two screens makes you aware of the seats and the people’, and thus, we are told, ‘The room becomes a kind of sculpture’.
Richards is (perhaps) surprisingly preoccupied with distracting you from the very films he creates – an exercise in which he is most successful. And, consequently, the whole experience is really quite disquieting, and painfully banal. But this, of course, is the point: Richards has turned off the show-biz lights on our vernacular visual landscapes and revealed the oh-so-grey void beneath.
Words Laurence Lumley © 2011 ArtLyst