Matt’s Gallery, 28 September – 20 November 2011

Things to do this week: Well, if you are interested in video art and happen to be art-ing around the East End, you could go and see TO DO, a solo show by British artist Emma Hart. Hart was recently chosen as the Guardian’s ‘artist of the week’ and her show at Matt’s Gallery doesn’t disappoint. Entering the exhibition, viewers are greeted by a barrage of fluorescent colours, a cacophony of sound, and cameras dressed up in comic-inspired graphics - initially it appeared as if someone had thrown Vito Acconci, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, and Pipolotti Rist together in a martini shaker and this was the resulting concoction. In actual fact, the show is altogether unique.

The exhibition has been described as ‘a sculptural video installation that performs itself’ as each of the 30 works incorporates a camera balanced on a tripod. The tiny camera screens glow with a strange, disconnected mix of still and moving digital video pieces - of people, of cutout birds, and of the artwork itself. Each of these emits its own soundtrack, so that the resultant auditory experience is not unlike being in the centre of a group of overly excited schoolchildren all talking at once. Walking in and out of the camera sculptures, I had the strange feeling that I was being watched, and low and behold, it wasn’t long before I peered into one of the screens and saw my own image. 

Some of the cameras are decorated with arrows, directing your path, and others carry messages, such as ‘Guess’, ‘Wait’, ‘Remember I was here first’, and ‘The past is always in 2D’. The interactions of sound and image make you feel like you have been unwittingly cast in a reality television show, or caught by one of the army of CCTV cameras in Mile End Park which line the paths like giant vigilantes. 

It is not simply the sound and trickery of the cameras that make the sculptures feel alive - it is also the fact that they all invoke a bird-like spirit. Some of the tripods have webbed feet and one of the camera lenses acts as a nose on an owl’s face, while many others are adorned with feathers and claws. Hart seems to be alluding to bird watching, the way we document things and how this depends on our angle of seeing and our way of scrutinising images. The play between paper birds and technology also acts as a reminder of the incessant interruption of technology in our lives and that even in nature it is difficult to escape it. In one video of a vibrating cut out bird, a woman’s voice repeatedly says, ‘take take take,’ referring to the repetitive ‘takes’ of film, but perhaps also to the greed with which we take over nature, without giving back. 

This new body of work marks a departure for Hart, who many might know for her work Lost, in which she shoved her camera under cupboards and beds on a search for her watch, taking the viewer on a journey through an underworld of mothballs and dirt. Matt’s Gallery has long been a place where artists can experiment with new ways of working. In 1987, Richard Wilson flooded the gallery space with 200 gallons of used sump oil for his piece 20:50, which was subsequently bought by Saatchi and now features as a main attraction in his west end gallery. This is Hart’s first collaboration with the gallery - and they surely have another star on their books. 

Matt’s Gallery is located at 42-44 Copperfield Road, Mile End, London E3 4RR.

During exhibitions the gallery is open Wed-Sun 12-6pm.

- Stephanie Harris

Posted at 3:39pm.

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