Black Sun Horizon at the Royal Standard reviewed

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Black Sun Horizon isn’t the first exhibition where all the artworks on display are also available to view online – in fact it isn’t even the first to be shown in Liverpool this year.  What does this trend say about seeing contemporary art in a gallery in the 21st century? Is this the beginning of the end of temporary exhibitions, or is there something they can offer that does not translate into the virtual realm?  We might not resolve this question today but keep it in mind.

The question du jour is boredom: what is it and how do we cope with it?  Artist-curator and Director of The Royal Standard Dave Evans has bought together four video artworks that relate to the phenomena of over and under stimulation in modern life.  The gender of the artists (all men) suggests that boredom is more pertinent to the modern male; however, Evans doesn’t intend us to read too much into this, explaining each artist was chosen because of what their videos reveal about “experiencing the passage of time and the changing texture of boredom.”

Samuel Williams has kept boredom at bay by producing the 5-minute narrative film Natural Habitat, using functional items from the home as characters and the English riverside as the scene. The resulting ‘video sculpture’ is an enjoyable cross between Huckleberry Finn and Batteries Not Included.  From this entertaining start the works become slightly more, well, boring; repetition and obsession their central concepts.

Dermot and Natasha by Dick Jewell is a montage of footage from BBC Breakfast News, distilled down to benevolent gestures, flirtatious blinking and awkward tension.  As the background track by soul group Imagination says, “No words are spoken, the only sound we hear is body talk, body talk.”  Viewing this for 43 minutes induces something akin to the sinking feeling of realising you’ve spent hours refreshing social media for updates.

Next up is Corey Arcangel’s Drei Klavierstücke op 11: a remake of Arnold Schoenberg’s landmark early 20th-century piano composition, produced by splicing together clips of cats on pianos and resulting in an interesting example of shared videos as material rather than distribution method.  After Arcangel and Jewell’s assault on your senses you might welcome the way the final work, Bill Leslie’s Perfect Geometry, coaxes the viewer into a kind of mantra meditation-induced trance using slow-moving retro computer graphics.

Undoubtedly the no-frills setting for the exhibition encourages the viewer to spend time with the artworks in a way that would be hard in the distraction-rich online world.  However, the real beneficiaries of bringing these artists to Liverpool are the members of The Royal Standard. This includes Evans himself who says participating in the mysterious world of curation, “helps me see artworks differently and understand my subject better.” Evans’ insights are vital to understanding the show, but you won’t find them written on the wall.  If you get the opportunity to visit the gallery in person, the best thing to do is find Evans or one of his contemporaries and discuss what you think about Black Sun Horizon face to face.

Article first published corridor8.co.uk May 2013

The next outgoing director exhibition is opening shortly at The Royal Standard, Liverpool

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