Isabelle Cornaro presents a series of film set-like tableaux at Spike Island, but the stages are filled with trinkets and tools rather than thespians.
At Isabelle Cornaro’s exhibition Témoins oculaires (translation: eyewitness) on display at Spike Island I find myself standing in front of a self-contained, miniature film set. Its base is raised above the gallery’s concrete floor and is painted and elegant deep blue to match the back wall of the stage, which, although it stands about 7ft tall, is dwarfed by the warehouse-like ceiling in the Spike Island gallery space (Scenes # 4, 2015).
Within the confines of the set stand three, plinth-like uprights. Again painted blue, but with some surfaces covered instead by a car dashboard-like, wood imitation – the material appears cheap but is reminiscent of an out-dated decadence.
Instead of being populated by actors, this stage houses a selection of apparently unrelated knick-knacks. On the floor of the set is a roll of rich, blue velvet, and atop the uprights sit a carefully curated array of objects: a Collins cocktail shaker, a decorative gold-painted letter ‘x’, vases and two metal lipstick cases.
A stage or set doesn’t require complete realism, but it does need to be coherent. The reality within a film studio can be an illusion that bears little relation to the ‘real world,’ but if it contains an internal logic and a coherent set of rules, it is possible to believe it and to be immersed within it.
In this case the trinkets contained within the set are made coherent by their cogent surrounding. The lush blue paint and faux-decadence combined with the delicate arrangement and material quality of the objects creates an illusion; that there is a reason for each of these trinkets – that they are a collection.
Moving around the gallery more scenes are on display, each with a different aesthetic character. This reinforces the impression of a film studio, numerous sets within different areas of a blank warehouse-like space.
Scenes # 3 (2015) is deeper blue, almost purple, and draped with metal chains. There are more cocktail shakers here, which in this strangely lavish surrounding look like antique urns. Scenes # 5 (2015) is red and dirty gold and houses plaster casts that look like masks and plastic model buildings scattered across the floor.
In each case the miscellaneous objects have been arranged for film, there can be no other explanation for their deliberate and very aesthetic arrangement and custom built, coherently painted environment.
Three 16mm films play in a room separate from the scenes. The projections predominantly present close-ups derived from the three stages in the gallery. The colours have all been heightened and, in the darkened space, take on an almost psychedelic hue. The small self-contained sets in the gallery space here have become large-scale immersive environments.
Whilst the screen to my right flashes erratically between still-life shots, the one directly in front of me relentlessly pans back and forth. Meanwhile, the screen to the left begins to ooze with wet paint, first white, then yellow, then black, covering the trinkets.
The final room of show is set apart, right at the centre of the Spike Island gallery space. It contains two more scenes (Scenes # 1 and Scenes # 2, 2015). These are comprised of plywood and gold mirror Perspex. They stand comfortably taller than the average viewer and, though their shapes in both cases are based essentially upon an upright oblong, their forms are filled with deliberate irregularities, such that they look markedly different from every angle.
Témoins oculaires by Isabelle Cornaro is on display at Spike Island (Bristol) Jan 24 - March 29 2015.
Scenes # 4 (2015), acrylic paint and varnish on MDF, plastic laminate, velvet fabric roll, miscellaneous objects, 200 x 320 x 150 cm
Scenes # 4 (2015), acrylic paint and varnish on MDF, plastic laminate, velvet fabric roll, miscellaneous objects, 200 x 320 x 150 cm (detail)
Left: Metronomie (2014), 16mm film transferred to digital, 4 minutes 22 seconds, colour, mute Right: Amplifications (2014), 16mm film transferred to digital, 2 minutes 12 seconds, colour, mute.
From background to foreground: - Reproductions (# 1, purple) (2010/15), acrylic spray paint on wall, 290 x 435 cm - Scenes # 1 (2015), varnished birch plywood, gold mirror Perspex, acrylic paint on glass, 220 x 96 x 70.5 cm - Scenes # 2 (2015), varnished birch plywood, gold mirror Perspex, stainless steel, acrylic paint on glass, 227.5 x 127 x 120 cm