Off to Middlesbrough yesterday where the AV Festival extends its reach to MIMA (Middlesbrough Institute of Modern Art) to see a show of work by John Gerrard and Cyprien Gaillard.
Both artists use film but of the two it was Gerrard’s crumbling Cuban schools that I found the more engaging. Although I think Gerrard’s films did benefit from the ambient music accompanying Gaillard’s films which drifted through the galleries.
The subject of both Gerrard’s films are decaying schools, built in 60’s Cuba in the International style that seems to have influenced all municipal architecture of the time. The camera slowly and continually revolves around the schools through a 24 hour/365 day cycle. Both schools sit in a surprisingly flat and featureless landscape. Apparently a caretaker appears in both films at the beginning and end of the day but nobody in the gallery yesterday had seen the caretaker. It added a certain excitement to watching the films when we noticed the sun low on the horizon and thought we might catch a glimpse of the caretaker but sadly she didn’t appear.
What I didn’t realise at first however is that Gerrard’s films are both computer generated animations of real buildings. Only after watching the first film for a couple of minutes did it occur to me that the grass had the same look and visual texture found in computer games. Text accompanying Gerrard’s films burble on about them ‘powerfully marking the melancholic demise of a political vision’. That’s fair enough but what Gerrard also seems to be doing is what all (or virtually all) artists have always done, which is to create an alternative in paint or other medium to the natural world and using that alternative reality to make comment or respond, (however obliquely) to the society around them. And by using computer generated images Gerrard gains complete control over the virtual world he’s created. Is the land around the schools quite as flat in ‘real life’? I found the films had an immersive, restful quality to them, particularly Cuban School (Sancti Spiritu) 2011, which is projected across the gallery wall.
Upstairs at MIMA, away from the slow pace of the AV Festival is an exhibition of works on paper by Sean Scully. Made in 1974 – 75 the drawings have recently been rediscovered. I don’t know that much about Scully’s work expect that he often, or always, uses vertical and horizontal bands of colour to build up his paintings. These works on paper look to me as if they have been painted by someone just beginning to find a new way of expressing his ideas. They are modestly sized but meticulously done. Nowadays Scully’s paintings appear to have a painterly quality about them that whilst not entirely absent from these works is constrained by the careful, regular application of masking tape and pencil line. That may not be the case at all of course and for all I know Scully had already started making his large painterly works on canvas but that is how it looked to me.
After leaving MIMA we went on a long, circuitous route to find Anish Kapoor’s Temenos, Britain’s largest public sculpture. It sits on the docks amidst a hotchpotch of regeneration projects, including Middlesbrough College’s remarkably Soviet looking new building (from the back anyway) – a return to ‘60’s International Style perhaps. But nothing looks properly finished and whether the area ever will be finished off given the massive cuts made by the coalition government to regeneration funding who knows?
Temenos didn’t look especially large, though obviously it is big. It struggles however to compete with its surroundings. From where we stood Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium effectively spoilt the view. Walking around Temenos, which we didn’t do, the college, a single block of flats, the Transporter Bridge or the rusting heap of the Tuxedo Princess (a boat come nightclub which was once moored on Gateshead’s Quayside) might each interrupt any contemplation of Kapoor’s sculpture. What Temenos needs is the flat, computer generated landscape of Gerrard’s crumbling Cuban schools.