Thursday 22 March 2012

Things That Happen at Carroll/Fletcher Gallery

Unrealistic Mountaineers, 2012

It is a rare treat to find a contemporary art show that is genuinely humorous, yet right now in London there are two such exhibitions on offer. Over at the Hayward Gallery, David Shrigley’s retrospective offers up the expected chuckles, while at new space Carroll/Fletcher on Eastcastle Street, duo John Wood and Paul Harrison deliver a series of wry observations on modern life, accompanied with a heavy dose of absurdity.

What unites all three artists is a sense of the futility and ridiculousness of human life, yet rather than tumbling into bleakness, this is expressed with light-heartedness and moments of genuine hilarity.

Bored Astronauts on the Moon, 2011

Fan/Paper/Fan, 2007

Wood and Harrison have worked together for nearly 20 years, and are perhaps best known for their video works, in which they often star. The Carroll/Fletcher show features work from the last five years in a number of mediums, including video installations, sculpture and drawings. Among the former are two new works that set out to puncture some of the more aggrandized human activities. Unrealistic Mountaineers (2012) sees Wood and Harrison appear in full mountaineering gear ascending to the top of a deliberately makeshift peak. There they stand, seemingly uncertain as to what to do next, before embarking on the ritualistic acts of photographing each other and gazing meaningfully into the distance. In a second video, Bored Astronauts on the Moon (2011), the duo take the joke even further, depicting the spacemen of the title drifting idly around a moonscape. The achievements here may be grandiose yet in Wood and Harrison’s hands are diminished to the point of ridicule.

Olympic Bomb, 2011

Escalator Disaster, 2011

A series of drawings uses infographics to satirise other human obsessions. In Olympic Bomb, another sporting institution (though one in receipt of more cynicism than either moonwalking or mountain-climbing) comes in for mockery as a series of running figures are shown dashing from a falling torpedo, while Shoot Out shows two stickmen inches apart with rifles trained on one another. Elsewhere, more everyday problems occur: people get tangled up on an escalator in Escalator Disaster, and Decision 1 shows a figure torn between taking the lift or the stairs.

English Disaster, 2012

Installation view at Carroll/Fletcher

A set of smaller video works depicts absurd yet charming experiments with everyday objects. A photocopier becomes the set for an animated film with each piece of paper spat from the machine displaying a new frame of a story; while in Fan/Paper/Fan (2007), two fans sit facing one another with a sheet of paper between held upright in the blasted air. These works feel like sketches or doodles made when bored, and the notion of passing time (as well as the process of making art) forms the subject of some works, such as 500 Thoughts (2010), a 12 minute-long film that shows a large stack of paper being slowly depleted as new ideas are born and then dismissed as screwed-up balls.

10x10, 2011

10x10, 2011

Wood & Harrison play with special effects in English Disaster (2012), a film showing a seaside pier on fire. Such drama seems out of character amongst the other works here, though any notions of realism are quickly dispatched by the sight of the burnt-out set from the film, placed alongside the screen. Another video work also shows off the artists’ interest in filmic techniques. In 10 x 10 (2011), the tedium of office life is elevated to epic proportions. A camera pans the outside of a fictitious office block offering a glimpse into a series of rooms. Inside the municipal set, the ordinariness is alleviated by the artists acting out unlikely scenes: riding a bike, inflating balloons or simply lying on the floor. There are narratives here, but they are nothing remarkable. Instead, like the astronauts on the moon or the men on Everest, they are simply tales of people battling with boredom, and finding new ways of marking their time on earth.

Things That Happen by John Wood and Paul Harrison is on show at Carroll/Fletcher until March 30. More info is at

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