Monday, 16 February 2015

Machines to Crystallize Time

In amongst CJ Mahony and Georgie Grace's futuristic sounding installation at Smiths Row, Alicia Rodriguez finds the work is more about capturing the past than the sci-fi future.

A crystal carries the particular essence of a petrified movement, an exquisite object in the course of being formed. The apparent hardness of the stone and the softness of its changeability offer a complex set of properties that can form the basis of a speculative, theoretical study concerning time, space and inter-dimensional travel.

CJ Mahony and Georgie Grace, in a collaborative project drawn from a diverse range of sources and disassembled pieces of previous work, use ideas surrounding the process of crystallization in an attempt to become closer to some kind of real representation of ‘the past’. They exploit the immersive, time-based nature of film and installation to mimic the faceted refractions and subtle manipulations of crystalline forms.

Though constructed from a number of separate works, Machines to Crystallize Time reads as one intricate installation, and the boundary between Grace’s and Mahony’s work is a subtle, almost unnoticeable kind of language. 

Angular, megalithic shards of timber and plywood are arranged in a fragmented, labyrinthine cluster, their peaks reaching towards the gallery’s high Georgian ceilings. Projections appear and disappear onto the surfaces of each structure – partially due to the loop of each film, and partially due to visitors passing in front of the projectors, elevated slightly above the ground. The films depict crystals that rotate and convulse within a void, as if emerging from the fabric of the gallery space itself. The fractured presence of both film and sculpture discombobulates the viewer, and plays with our perception of space: it is slightly challenging, for example, to trace the whereabouts of each projector, and to discern whether the shadows cast upon the timber frames are one’s own.

In his essay, ‘Machines to Crystallize Time’ (from which the exhibition takes its name) Maurizio Lazzarato suggests that video is the ‘first technology that corresponds to a generalised decoding of the flows of images’. The essay discusses video as a crystallization of duration or ‘time-matter’, and the implications of a technology which can depict the temporal perception of an experience unfolding. The conversation between Grace and Mahony’s work is informed by this idea: the sculptures are temporary, but present, and the films are glistening depictions of past images.

There is an interesting, referential ‘circuit’ that forms within the installation, a collage of two-dimensional and three-dimensional space. Certain surfaces of Mahony’s large plywood sculptures are painted a particular shade of grey that, although tilted and leaning, gives it the appearance of being completely flat, as if cut and pasted into existence. A series of delicately soldered maquettes nest within the larger structures, adopting a notional recollection of the floating crystals featured in Grace’s films. As projections, the films in turn transform each sculpture into a surface, and the three-dimensional maquettes become flickering two-dimensional shadows. The artists suggest, in their extended press release, that ‘both redistribute one another’.

In addition to projected images, films also unfold on slightly outdated monitors. The retro-technology has automatic connotations of an awkward stylized nostalgia, but is simple enough to provide an appropriate backdrop to elegantly revolving crystals and the acutely rendered Calabi-Yau manifold (produced by Jeff Bryant and Dr. Andrew Hanson) at the entrance of the show. The monitors, clumsy by contemporary standards, are ‘present’ surfaces that emerge from the tight passageways within the installation like small tokens from our own world, familiar items depicting contextless images from the ‘past’ that in turn appear to transcend any dimension at all.

Smiths Row is, shamefully, often overlooked due to being situated in the small, historic market town of Bury St Edmunds, stationed just that little bit too far out of London. Its programme has always drawn a mixed crowd, with a diverse variety of events and craft workshops. However, Machines to Crystallize Time feels like the next step towards becoming a contemporary art staple in the east.

Accompanying the exhibition is a discussion led by a panel including the artists and an astronomer, offering ‘propositions on time travel’. The gallery also include a small reading room in which the artists have provided a number of texts that construct a comprehensive environment behind the show. Far from simply existing as additional material, these resources support each fragment of thought that constitutes a loaded, non-linear discourse.

Citing Christian Bök’s 1994 book-length poem ‘Crystallography’ as an influence, the artists adopt a heavily research-based, almost literary approach. CJ Mahony’s sculptures and Georgie Grace’s films are the physical culmination of a conversation that touches upon multiple strands of a basic discussion surrounding time, space, form and technology. Executed through a process in pieces, Machines to Crystallize Time presents a careful collation of two distinct artistic practices.

Alicia Rodriguez

Machines to Crystallize time by CJ Mahony and Georgie Grace is on display at Smiths Row (Bury St Edmunds) from January 31 to March 14 2015.

All images by photographer Sam Foley

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