Richard Wilson

Barbican Curve

Art Monthly No 302 December 2006

A large screen filled the the entrance of the Barbican's gallery space and projected on it was a video of a man in a boiler suit and safety goggles. He was tunnelling into a into a dark tight place, grunting and twisting as he cut through metal with an angle grinder or peeled back padded material with shears. It was part footage from a science-fiction deep-space rescue scene, part stakhanovite celebration of sweaty labour and part extreme-d.i.y. The jagged sound recalled industrial music videos from the eighties, when Wilson with Anne Bean and Paul Burwell and the Bow Gamelan Ensemble had treated mechanical detritus as percession and attacked it with grinders and welders to make spectacular concerts of noise and vision. When you moved on around the screen you found a black London cab that had been hauled up on a scaffhold at an acute and crazy angle. The body-work had large sections cut out of it and smaller circles were bored into its mass, the yellow taxi light on the roof was still weakly flashing as if expiring and the object and the video joined in a forensic continuity of action and outcome.

'Meter's Running' was one of three works that Richard Wilson installed at the Barbican as part of the Gallery's new commission program for the space and he used the peculiar nature of the curved corridor to great effect. After 'Meter's Running', the white crushed tesselated planes of 'Hot Dog Roll' came into view; a mobile catering trailer that had been cut-up and re-assembled into geometric crystalline forms as reconstituted if in an alien cubist universe. At the end of the curve you came to the the blunt end of 'Trailer Trash'. Here a family caravan had been enclosed in a large metal framework and lifted off the ground on supports so that it could be rotated laterally through three hundred and sixty degrees as if on a spit over an invisible fire. At the further end you found that the back wall had been removed so that you could see into the brightly lit interior. The caravan's fixtures and furnishings tumbled in and out and up and down as the caravan span on its axis. There was a video camera mounted so that it rotated with the caravan and the image from this was projected onto a screen mounted on a stud framework at the end of the gallery. Because the camera turned with the caravan, here the room did not appear to spin, rather it seemed to be possessed by poltergeists: the hinged seat cushions rose and fell like lavatory seats and plywood and formica drawers slid out and then back in again as if moved by an invisible hand, curtains gusted, then rested, then moved again. For some reason this seemed to take place in slow-motion on the screen although you could peer back at the caravan to check that this was not the case. This image was dumb and powerful, combining an atavisic charge of possession with a shabby science fiction; footage of a plastic and plywood veneer Soyuz space station turning dejectedly and weightlessly in space.

Wilson's work often places the viewer in a particular relationship to the history of an object. Windows are stretched into rooms, floors out of warehouses, caravans and wooden volumes are twisted and conjoined - across town at Matthew Brown in Saville Row he was exhibiting a black laquered drum kit that had been split apart into sections by vectors of marine plywood. Even though we can intuit the actions that achieved these outcomes the viewer is at the end of the sentence and has to make sense as to what forces may have been bought into play and why. It's part of the pleasure.

Wilson's recent use of video seems to reveal and demystify and not only makes the means of production visible but establishes it as an active part of the product - 'Butterfly' 2003 documented the slow unfolding of a crushed Cessna aeroplane in time-lapse film. These works maintain their (seeming) simplicity and straightforwardness - after all in 'Trailer Trash' the mechanics behind the strange scene on the screen before us are plainly laid open to our view and in 'Meter's Running', the syntax is reversed, and the object the clear outcome of the action first encountered on the screen. However the removal of one layer of mystery has the paradoxical effect of opening up an wider and deeper area of effect and allusion. The moving image has been a primary site to explore and express the the fictional, the fantastic and the uncanny our culture - and its aspirations and hopes - for well over a century and these works, by drawing on this, take on a new resonance and charge