G39 29 September – 15 December 2012
Chekhov’s Gun is full of questions and surprises. The theme of the exhibition is difficult to pin down: the artworks lead the visitor through a range of scenarios, that encourage them to question the events they see, and what is making them happen. The aspect of control is an interesting one. We are led to presume that the artist is making the changes; and to understand them, we must actively relinquish our control of any ‘coherence in contemplation’. In short, sometimes getting lost in the artwork helps us to understand its narrative, as with John Smith, and at other times it doesn’t – and we have Benjamin Owen’s contribution to continue to think about throughout the exhibition.
Chekhov’s gun – a principle used in drama to indicate a future event – is used in this exhibition to confuse and therefore to engage the viewer in questioning what is going on in the artworks. John Smith’s The Black Tower (1985-7), leads the viewer into a world where a tower follows a man around London and haunts him. Or so we are led to believe. What’s most exciting is the way that Smith presents us with this information. He uses multiple filmic devices to cut, reverse and repeat scenes which bring our focus to the way the film is made. The artist’s concentration on painterly techniques which he uses during the film editing process is precisely what makes this work magical.
Other artworks in the exhibition are small, eerie indications of the future: Ryan Gander’s We never had a lot of Euro around here (2010) is a €25 coin, and is a similar shape and size to a €2 coin. Are we to think that this has dropped from the future onto the gallery floor as a real coin in circulation in the year 2036? Or is this a prediction of the future European economic gloom – a valueless currency?
Fact and fiction converge in Michelle Deignan’s film, which comes together on different screens that hang in a darkened space. Interestingly, their installation (in so far as their separation) reveal the artistry and artifice of their making. Journey To An Absolute Vantage Point (2009) shows a bench, and the voiceover describes this meeting place between a man and woman who wish to exchange information. But of course, the viewer is never told what this information is. The odd additions, such as three musicians playing a score and the fact that the audio is delivered in English by a German speaker, are superfluous happenings in the artworks that do not lead to answers. Instead, they incite the viewer to ask more questions, and perhaps that is what makes the piece a success.
This exhibition makes the visitor think, not only in terms of content, but also in the combination of modern and contemporary pieces, through which the curatorial principle presents itself as timeless. It’s got substance: underpinned by the theme Chekhov’s gun, from which the exhibition takes its title, this show is interesting and challenging in equal measure for its audiences.