UR-NOW, Installation view, 2010. Image: Simon Steven

UR-NOW: The Ruins of the Contemporary

Saturday 19 June – Sunday 4 July 2010

Gallery 1, Horsebridge Arts Centre

A programme of artists’ film works selected by Brian Dillon, UR-NOW collects film works that deal with different sorts of ‘anachronism’. A short essay to accompany the exhibition can be found in our Journal. On 19 June, Dillon discussed ruins, time, failure and comedy – ideas raised in the programme – with Bernd Behr and Tom Dale, two of the artists whose work featured in the programme.  


Bernd Behr, Weimar Villa (Unreconstructed) (2010)

Bernd Behr was born in Hamburg in 1976, grew up in Malaysia and studied at San José State University, California, and Goldsmiths College. He lives and works in London; recent exhibitions include Alexia Goethe Gallery, 2008, and Bloomberg Space, 2009. Weimar Villa (Unreconstructed) depicts a series of uniform white concrete housing shells set amidst mounds of dug-up earth.  Shot on the construction site of a new Bauhaus-themed gated community in China, Behr’s video chronicles part of a recent New Town development designed by Albert Speer Jr. The initial documentary nature of the video soon gives way to more ambiguously archaeological readings where distinctions between the new and ancient are suspended. Screened in reverse, Weimar Villa (Unreconstructed) shows an endless cycle of construction and excavation, leaving the development to drift between an incomplete destination and an uncertain origin.

Gerard Byrne, Homme à Femmes (Michel Debrane) (2004)

Gerard Byrne (b. 1969) lives and works in Dublin. In 2007 he represented Ireland at the Venice Biennale; recent exhibitions include a solo show at Lismore Castle Arts, Waterford, and Glasgow International Festival of Visual Arts. Homme à Femmes (Michel Debrane) documents an attempt to re-enact a 1977 interview conducted between the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre and journalist Catherine Chaîne, concerning Sartre’s relationships with women, which was published in Le Nouvel Observateur. The video develops from previous projects in which Byrne similarly engages a collective amnesia about our shifting cultural history. Byrne’s work often entails dramatic re-enactments of culturally loaded conversations and interviews gleaned from discarded popular magazines or the history of art itself. Like much of his video work, Homme à Femmes (Michel Debrane) subtly displaces its historical source, in this case using an actor who does not resemble Sartre.

Declan Clarke, Cologne Overnight (2010)

Declan Clarke was born in 1974 and studied at NCAD in Dublin and Chelsea College of Art, London. Recent solo exhibitions include ‘Loneliness in West Germany’, Goethe-Institut, Dublin, 2009, and ‘Nothing Human is Alien to Me’, Pierogi, Leipzig, 2008. Cologne Overnight considers the development of 20th Century western ideals through contemplating the ruins left in their wake and the legacy of Nobel Laureate Heinrich Böll, the spectre of ruins in his work, his connection to Ireland and the respective fates of Germany and Ireland as they developed through economic boom times. The economic collapse of the current recession is considered by setting Ireland’s ‘ghost estates’ alongside the abandoned village on Achill island that Böll poetically equated with the post-war ruins of Cologne. Böll’s personal archive was destroyed along with the Municipal history of his city when the Cologne Historical Archive building collapsed in March 2009.

Tom Dale, Shot Through (2007) and Rubble Carousel (2010)

Tom Dale was born in Kendal, Cumbria in 1974 and currently lives in London. He was recently appointed to a post-doctoral position at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge. Dale’s Rubble Carousel re-films, from a moving vehicle, projected footage of buildings being constantly demolished over the streets of East London. The chronology of the film is chopped up by the cadence of the passing buildings, effectively setting up a jump-cut narrative between the different layers of image and time. Through the façade of the contemporary we see echoes of ruins past and those yet to come. Dale’s Shot Through also shows a ruin of sorts: a drum kit set up in the countryside that is suddenly subjected to violent assault and reduced, in the course of a kind of lethal drum solo, to picturesque (or maybe abject) fragment.

Harun Farocki, Workers leaving the Factory (1995)

Since the mid-1960s, Harun Farocki (b. 1944) has made over 100 films, often concerned with the history of the moving image itself, whether cinematic or televisual. Workers Leaving the Factory is one such, taking its cue from one of the first films ever produced: Louis Lumière’s 1895 film of the same title. As Farocki writes, ‘Chaplin played a worker, and Marilyn Monroe once exited the gate of a fish factory.’ The workers’ film, however, has not become a central genre in film history. The space in front of the factory gate is far from being a preferred cinematic location. For this video Farocki collected images from several countries and many decades expressing the idea ‘exiting the factory’, both staged and documentary –  as if, says the artist, ‘the time has come to collect film-sequences, in the way words are brought together in a dictionary’.

Nina Katchadourian, Endurance (2002)

Nina Katchadourian was born in Stanford, California in 1968 and grew up spending every summer on a small island in the Finnish archipelago, where she still spends part of each year. She works in a wide variety of media including photography, sculpture, video and sound. Her work has been exhibited domestically and internationally at places such as PS1/MoMA, the Serpentine Gallery, New Langton Arts, Artists Space, SculptureCenter, and the Palais de Tokyo. Endurance shows a ten-minute excerpt from an archival film of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s 1914 expedition to the South Pole on the ship Endurance, projected onto Nina Katchadourian’s front tooth. While the film plays, she tries to smile without losing composure. Her increasingly distressed breathing and the sound of her slurping mouth constitute the soundtrack. Endurance is a comic reflection on history, duration and heroism.

Mie Olise, Into the Pyramid (2008)

Mie Olise was born in Denmark in 1974 and studied at Byam Shaw and Central St. Martin’s, London. She trained as an architect and often works with abandoned buildings and desolate spaces, producing paintings, sculptures and videos. In 2007 Olise travelled alone to an abandoned Soviet mining town known as The Pyramid, just by the Polar Circle. She wanted to examine the architecture of the abandoned society (a Russian communist utopia, on Norwegian ground left in 1998, now a ghost town) and the mine workings. In the summer of 2008, Olise returned to the site, this time with a professional film photographer and on a grant from the Danish Art Council. She lived in the city for several days, with a gunman at her side, as polar bears can attack at any time.

Olivia Plender, Monitor (2007)

Olivia Plender was born in London in 1977 and currently lives and works in Berlin. Her work has to date taken the form of video installations, texts, performances and comic books. Plender’s Monitor takes its title from a BBC television arts programme that ran from 1958 until 1965. Plender uses the original interviews from a report that followed four aspiring artists (none of them subsequently well known) as they tried to make their way in the London art scene of the 1960s. The video wryly asserts our present distance from the artists’ rhetoric of self-expression, but also from the somewhat high-handed commentary that was typical of arts broadcasting of the time. But Plender is well aware that economics and class have not ceased to determine success in the art world: her video shows the London districts once inhabited by poor art students, now gentrified and trading on their former bohemian reputations.

Brian Dillon U-R NOW discussion with Bernd Behr and Tom Dale, Sea Cadets Hall, 2010. Photo: Simon Steven
Brian Dillon U-R NOW discussion with Bernd Behr and Tom Dale, Sea Cadets Hall, 2010. Photo: Simon Steven