John Wood & Paul Harrison: There or Thereabouts (2009)

On Friday, 14th November 2009 at 5pm, Gallery von Bartha (Garage) opens the solo show “John Wood & Paul Harrison – There or Thereabouts”. The British artist duo shows a series of short videos, drawings and text prints from the years of 1993 to 2009. The works center around, like many others of the two artists, making space perceptible and making sense of the world.

On different levels, John Wood and Paul Harrison deal with expectations and with the unforeseeable. They present realities and confront the viewer with his own perception. The works range from funny to bizarre to almost documentary. Their aesthetics are always very minimalist and purist. This creates a visual stimulus which makes the viewer experience more than he is actually seeing with his eyes. The stunning minimalism, then, does not only refer to the visual, but to the conceptual level as well. And in spite of the alleged minimalism, the form of presentation and the path to the result are refreshingly manifold.

Wood and Harrison work with space as an experienceable stage. Their videos are mostly set within closed spaces or use the opening up of the space as a momentum to emphasize its seclusion. The unexpected links the works: whether as a viewer you get to see what you do not expect or exactly what you expect, the outcome is always a surprise. Especially the films which deliver what we expect are often the ones which surprise the most because we expect something else. In twenty six (drawing and falling things) (2001), the duo shows 26 short videos which treat exactly this. In Door floor marking for instance, the room is only perceived after an opened door draws “windshield marks” into the white powder covering the floor. The existence of the powder and the spatiality as such are only perceptible after the action has taken place. The image presented to the viewer suddenly contains a room with a floor, walls and a ceiling which previously have barely been visible.

The twelve text prints, created especially for the exhibition in von Bartha Gallery (Garage), consist of partly trivial, partly hidden truths or challenges. Here, too, the perception of the viewer plays a crucial role: the printed sentences or words open the stage for interpretation. The expectation that there must be a deeper meaning behind the messages makes us look for this meaning. Wood and Harrison do not, however, help us out with solutions. They rather provide a reason to deal with the small truths of the world. This is why the messages on the prints are never entirely self-explaining. They are often very close to the explicit, but always, as Wood puts it: “Slightly to the left of explicit”.

Standing Drawings 1-12 is a series of twelve minimalist sketches of a still-standing person, each one underlined by a different subtitle. An identical gesture, an identical posture are filled with an emotionality in the perception of the viewer which bases on the subtitle. Indeed, it is twelve times approximately the same drawing. But the changing context makes the figures appear different to the eye.

To play with the expectations of the viewer, to challenge and to engage them, is a unifying aspect of the artists’ work. They strive towards setting a stage on which we get to perceive ourselves. Again, the closed space play a role: the space within human perception, with its possibilities and constraints.

Wood and Harrison provide the visitor with something to take along. A challenge, so to say, which does not end when he leaves the exhibition. It is the small details of the world out there, that suddenly attract attention and tell a Wood&Harrisonesque story. And in the same way we ask what will happen next when we look at their videos, we can ask what Wood and Harrison will come up next. Because they do not seem to run out of ideas.

Text commissioned by von Bartha Gallery (2009). Publication on courtesy of von Bartha gallery. All rights reserved.

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