Wednesday 23 July 2014

Holly Antrum's A Diffuse Citizen at Grand Union

At Holly Antrum's Grand Union solo exhibition Alicia Rodriguez observes an archive, not a remote memory of something past, but a moving catalogue of a collaboration still unfolding.

A pair of travelling eyeholes allow playful glimpses of floorboards, white walls and a collection of abstract paintings. The gentle and sporadic sound of a jazz saxophone accompanies little ovals of vision. Later, the same paintings can be seen in a studio. Back in the gallery, the artist thumbs through a book resting on her lap. She recites an experimental sound poem from 1964.

The artist is Jennifer Pike, a woman who is not so much the 'subject of' but rather a collaborator and conspirator with Holly Antrum in her short film Catalogue. Pike has been producing work since the 1960s, a diverse practice including poetry, photography and performance. The film provides the central piece in A Diffuse Citizen, Antrum's latest project and first solo show at Grand Union. Intimate and irreverent, she approaches the nature of making art and the idea of growing old through a displaced sense of 'artist' and 'subject'. By inviting Pike to present her work, and learning through collaborative research-as-practice, Antrum executes a sort of anti-documentary.

Catalogue takes the viewer from Jennifer Pike's former North London home to the inside of Camden Arts Centre where her paintings have been hung. The camera touches upon the grey view from a window, plates in the sink, the sound of children and the sound of sirens. Within the camera, works are manipulated visually by holding sheets of coloured acetate and translucent moulded plastic before them, or by viewing them from behind a mask so that they become tinted, refracted and partially obscured. 

At one point, Pike herself peers through the plastic as if searching for an alternate vision. In another scene she is instructed to 'look at Holly'. Her response, recalling that of a precocious teenager, is to grimace theatrically and fearsomely at the camera (presumably where the younger artist is positioned). Throughout the film, perspective is established as something changeable and to be played with.

Both artists are incredibly generous in relation to the archive of material on show. Scenes that depict Pike in the gallery reciting her late husband Bob Cobbing's ABC in Sound are captivating. Her mouth treats this sequence of sounds with seriousness but also with mischief, ensuring that this film is not only a precious document, but the proud culmination of a working relationship with her craft, with the past, and with Antrum. By reading aloud, Pike transforms the poem. Often overlooked due to her famous husband, here she silences the room with her knowing sense of humour and authoritative voice, save for occasional whispers off-screen that urge her to continue.

Occupying a curtained-off space within Grand Union, Catalogue is a large projection cosseted by grey fabric for an immersive viewing experience. Antrum has used a combination of digital film and 16mm, which could be read as a response to the traditional and contemporary stages of an aging artistic career. Later in the film, for example, images filmed straight from the screen of her computer, show Pike's recent collection of jpeg drawings, Computer Da.

Antrum's practice looks at the malleable nature of archive, and how film can present or represent information. In this style somewhat influenced by documentary, questions of reliability and authority are raised in terms of 'artmaking' and 'filmmaking'. She layers images and sounds, suggesting a pattern or narrative that is not fixed but ongoing. This is furthered through the use of different technologies to reveal different stories. Interested in what she calls a 'living archive', Antrum focuses on the fragmented and the chance encounters, both social and spatial.

This approach is also applied to a selection of works on paper exhibited just outside the grey curtain. Their inclusion is surprising but not totally obscure: the prints and drawings give the impression of a 'working space' in the gallery. At Grand Union, Antrum has continued to produce work for the exhibition through the duration of a residency there.

The exchange between Jennifer Pike and Holly Antrum is warm and unpretentious. Importantly, it is funny. Language and play are treated with comforting sincerity as the viewer is guided through the bizarre and the mundane. The human closeness that Antrum deals with is an element missing from many recent contemporary art shows, perhaps for its volatility, or the reminder that things age. Watching the relationship between the two artists unfold is completely absorbing. At once carefully considered and coincidental, the impression left by this collaboration reaches scattered areas of emotion and memory.

Alicia Rodriguez

Holly Antrum: A Diffuse Citizen
June 7 - July 26
Grand Union

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